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Opinion

Is the Education System of Benin and Togo a Photocopy of Nigeria? –By Matthew Ma

“Some degree-awarding institutions in Cotonou and Lomé may not be legitimate and may be collaborating with individuals in the Nigerian education system. These institutions lack a reliable website and may not even have accurate information on it. Additionally, it is essential to note that officials in leadership positions, such as the vice-chancellor, registrar, and librarian, do not hold valid degrees from reputable Nigerian universities or have postgraduate qualifications. It is even more disheartening to hear that some of the officials leading those universities obtained degrees from Nigerian universities without attending full-time studies or defending their own projects.”
There has been a significant amount of discourse about Nigeria’s education system and the purported corruption within it, which is said to be more prevalent than in any other African country. Nevertheless, a recent scandal in Benin and Togo has caused some to wonder whether similar practices are being utilized in these neighboring nations. The incident in question involved an individual who allegedly obtained a degree in just six months without attending any classes. The question now is, are these countries birds of the same feather? Most of you must have heard the famous adage “birds of a feather flock together” and wondered about its factual significance and potential implications. If so, you have come to the right place. As your reliable author, I am here to offer a comprehensive and detailed analysis of this age-old saying, elucidate its intended message and provide concrete examples of how it manifests in the education system of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. Upon completion of this article, you will possess a comprehensive understanding of why I deliberately chose to commence this discussion with this phrase because of the profound insight it offers and the significant impact it has on our lives.

The proverb “birds of the same feather fly together” is a famous saying that suggests that people who share similar interests, values, and personalities often tend to associate with each other. The underlying concept is that individuals with common traits or characteristics are more likely to form groups or cliques because they feel more comfortable and connected with those who share their beliefs and attitudes. For example, as a writer or publisher, your social circle likely consists of individuals who share your interests and passions. Among these like-minded individuals, you can collaborate, exchange ideas, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s often said that authors, particularly those within the same genre, are birds of a feather drawn together by a common thread. Another example would be how sports fans are more likely to engage in social activities with fellow sports enthusiasts, such as attending games or participating in sports-related discussions. Similarly, book lovers may prefer to socialize with other bookworms by joining book clubs or attending literary events. This tendency to seek out like-minded individuals can lead to deeper connections and a sense of community among individuals who share common interests. This phenomenon is not just limited to humans, as birds of the same species also tend to flock together. The proverb highlights the importance of finding like-minded people, as it can foster a sense of belonging, support, and understanding. When people connect with others who share their interests and values, they have an increased sense of social support and are more likely to be understood and appreciated. Additionally, being part of a group can provide a sense of purpose and meaning, as individuals can work towards common goals and pursue shared interests. However, the proverb can also lead to the formation of exclusive groups that may exclude those who don’t fit in. This can result in feelings of isolation and alienation for those who don’t share the same interests or values as the group. Therefore, it’s essential to balance the desire to connect with like-minded people with the need to be open to new experiences and perspectives.

The proverb can have both positive and negative connotations depending on the context. On the positive side, it can refer to the formation of strong bonds and the sense of community that comes with finding like-minded individuals. This aspect of the proverb can be particularly beneficial for individuals looking to build meaningful relationships with those who share their aspirations, values, or hobbies. Being part of a group of people who share similar interests can be incredibly fulfilling as it offers a sense of belonging and validation. On the negative side, the proverb can also imply the exclusivity and tendency towards groupthink that can arise when people only surround themselves with those with similar selfish interest. This narrow-mindedness can lead to a lack of destruction and a lack of exposure to different perspectives, which can make it harder for individuals to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, this destructive behavior can lead to a lack of corruption, as it can be challenging to relate to people who are different from oneself. Overall, while the proverb “Birds of the same feather fly together” can have positive implications, it is essential to recognize and address the potential adverse effects that can arise from associating exclusively with like-minded individuals.

The proverb “birds of the same feather fly together” seems to be an appropriate description of the recent university certificate scandals involving an undercover journalist, Umar Audu, who shed more light on how easy it was to get a certificate from Cotonou-based University in Benin Republic within six weeks. Recall that a few days ago, the Nigerian government announced the suspension of the evaluation and accreditation of degree certificates from universities in neighboring Benin and Togo. This decision came after an undercover report by the Daily Nigerian Newspaper exposed certificate racketeering from a university in Benin. Augustina Obilor-Duru, who signed the statement on behalf of the Director of Press and Public Relations of the education ministry, confirmed that the suspension was a result of the Daily Nigerian report. She said it was an unfortunate development that highlights the reality that some people in Nigeria resort to immoral methods to obtain degrees, which they use to secure job opportunities for which they are not qualified. According to her, the suspension will remain in effect until the outcome of an investigation involving the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education of Nigeria and the two countries, as well as the State Security Service (SSS) and the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC). The issue of degree mills institutions, which are institutions that operate covertly outside the control of regulators, is a global problem that all countries face. The Federal Ministry of Education has been working to combat this problem, including illegal institutions located abroad or at home that prey on unsuspecting, innocent Nigerians and some desperate Nigerians who deliberately patronize such outlets. The Ministry and NUC have issued periodic warnings against the use of such institutions. In some cases, reports have been made to security agencies to clamp down on those responsible.

In a recent investigation, a reporter from Daily Nigerian posed as a student in need of a degree certificate and was able to obtain one in Mass Communication from ESGT University in Cotonou. Shockingly, the reporter was able to get this degree without attending any classes or writing any exams, and even applied for and registered in the one-year mandatory NYSC scheme with the certificate, despite having already undergone the NYSC program some years ago. The NYSC has denied the possibility of manipulating its biometric checks to allow someone to experience service twice. However, the reporter explained that he changed his phone number and email address to register for the scheme. The reporter contacted a syndicate that specialized in selling degree certificates in December 2022 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication from Ecole Supérieur de Gestion et de Technologies, Cotonou, Benin Republic, in February 2023. This scandal is similar to other recent university scandals in Nigeria and the Benin Republic, with allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and lack of accountability. It is concerning that some of the individuals implicated in these scandals have connections with each other, raising questions about the broader culture of corruption and impunity in the higher education sector. Urgent reforms are needed to restore public trust and confidence in these institutions.

The problem of degree mills, which are institutions that operate outside the control of regulators also exist in Nigeria. In 2020, the National Youth Service Corps announced it would prosecute Nigerian graduates with fake credentials, many of which were obtained from West African countries. Additionally, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, noted that some Nigerians were purchasing fake degrees from degree mills within and outside of Nigeria. In September 2023, a newspaper exposed the London Graduate School for selling fake honorary degrees to Nigerians. The Federal Government has since banned the school including 18 foreign universities from operating in Nigeria due to their status as “degree mills.” It has warned parents and prospective students to avoid enrolling in them. Of the 18 universities, five were from the United States, six were from the United Kingdom, and three were from Ghana. The Federal Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the National Universities Commission has issued a statement alerting the public, especially parents and prospective undergraduates, that these “degree mills” have not been licensed by the Federal Government and have been shut down for violating the Education (National Minimum Standards) Act of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The following schools have been affected: University of Applied Sciences & Management, Port Novo, Republic of Benin (including its other Nigerian campuses); Volta University College, Ho, Volta Region, Ghana (including its other Nigerian campuses); International University, Missouri, USA with Kano and Lagos Study Centers (including its Nigerian campuses); Columbus University, United Kingdom (operating anywhere in Nigeria); Tiu International University, UK; Pebbles University, UK (operating anywhere in Nigeria); London External Studies, UK (working anywhere in Nigeria); Pilgrims University (operating anywhere in Nigeria); West African Christian University (serving anywhere in Nigeria); EC-Council University, USA with Ikeja, Lagos Study Centre; and Concept College/Universities (London) Ilorin (including its Nigerian campuses). Additionally, Houdegbe North American University has campuses in Nigeria. Irish University Business School London operates anywhere in Nigeria; University of Education, Winneba Ghana, serves anywhere in Nigeria; Cape Coast University, Ghana, works anywhere in Nigeria; African University Cooperative Development, Cotonou, Benin Republic, operates anywhere in Nigeria, and Pacific Western University, Denver, Colorado has an Owerri Study Centre and Evangel University of America & Chudick Management Academic, Lagos.

The Nigerian University Commission has once again cautioned young people against the risks of obtaining fake certificates from institutions outside of Nigeria. In an article penned by Samuel Okocha on January 13, 2022, concerns were raised regarding the proliferation of low-quality and even fraudulent universities and colleges in Benin, which have become a popular choice for Nigerian students seeking higher education. This trend has been driven by a shortage of higher education opportunities in Nigeria, which has created an opening for unscrupulous operators in Benin to take advantage of unsuspecting Nigerians. The National Universities Commission (NUC) of Nigeria has pointed out that many of these rogue administrators are actually Nigerian nationals running private universities in Benin. Sarafadeen Adebisi, the national general secretary of the Association of Nigerian University Professional Administrators, argued that a large number of English-language universities in Benin are owned and operated by Nigerian proprietors who specifically target Nigerian students, as public universities in Nigeria are unable to accommodate the high number of qualified applicants. To combat fraudulent certification practices, the NUC has to collaborate with the NYSC, which facilitates one-year development programs for Nigerian graduates, to ensure that those with unreliable qualifications are prevented from participating. Professor Stephen Afolami, a former vice-chancellor at Augustine University in Lagos State, Nigeria, explains that demand for admission is driving these issues. Despite the existence of almost 200 private and public universities in Nigeria, qualified students still need assistance to secure placements at their preferred institutions. Higher education consultancy firm Empress Consult, based in Benin, echoes this cautionary sentiment for Nigerian students. They warn that many universities in the Republic of Benin lack accreditation for specific courses, and students who unwittingly attend these institutions end up wasting their time and money. This persistent problem has damaged the reputation of legitimate universities in Benin, leading many to believe that not all schools in the country are accredited. Professor Abubakar Rasheed Adamu, the executive secretary of the NUC, has revealed that the commission has uncovered phony higher education institutions in certain African countries that bestow doctoral degrees upon Nigerian students in under a year. Additionally, the NUC has discovered institutions selling academic projects and theses for an undisclosed amount of money per copy. The commission is also concerned about the prevalence of sexual harassment in universities. In a visit to Nigeria’s Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission in 2021, Adamu spoke about these issues and stated that fake institutions of higher education in Benin are awarding Ph.D. degrees to Nigerian students after completing fraudulent studies in less than a year. He added that sometimes they award degrees in six months, while our degrees in Nigeria run for four years and above.

Reacting to this issue, the National Association of Nigerian Students has appealed to the Federal Government to reconsider the suspension of accreditation of degree certificates from Benin Republic and Togo. In a statement by its Senate President, Akinteye Babatunde, the students’ body stressed the importance of considering the impact of this decision on legitimate students who have invested significant time and resources in their education. The suspension has caused uncertainty for a large number of duly registered students, who face potential delays in their academic and professional pursuits. Many have completed several years of study, while others have already graduated and are awaiting approval to participate in the National Youth Service Corps program. While the integrity of academic qualifications must be upheld, it is crucial to carefully review the impact of this decision on genuine students who have pursued their education in these countries. For him, it is essential to distinguish between those involved in fraudulent activities and the vast majority of students who have adhered to academic regulations. To suspend the accreditation of all certificates risks unfairly penalizing these genuine students. Mr. Babatunde is optimistic that the government will take these concerns into account and reassess its decision. He emphasized that the actions of a few should not bear consequences for the many who have worked hard and followed the rules. The NANS senate president believes that the suspension could harm diplomatic and educational relations and negatively impact opportunities available to Nigerian students in neighboring countries. He expressed concern that legitimate students now face uncertainty regarding the fate of their education and future endeavors due to bureaucratic limbo. In order to alleviate stress and uncertainty, the apex student body suggests that the Federal Government reverse the suspension while maintaining a rigorous and transparent evaluation process. This action would demonstrate the government’s commitment to justice and fairness, ensuring that those who have legitimately pursued education in Benin Republic and Togo are not unfairly penalized. Mr. Babatunde emphasized that addressing the causes of corruption in the evaluation process through stringent oversight, robust checks and balances, and accountability measures will serve to strengthen the credibility of the accreditation system.

The recent undercover investigation once again highlight the issue of Nigerian students obtaining fake degrees even in Nigeria. It is essential to note that this phenomenon is not limited to oversee countries alone. It is a reflection of the deeply rooted problems in the Nigerian educational system. Until these underlying issues are addressed, the trend of seeking quick-fix alternatives to acquiring degrees will continue. One of the main problems is that some private universities outside of Nigeria, Africa, or anywhere in the world may prioritize financial gain over imparting knowledge to students. They focus on acquiring a degree certificate rather than developing practical skills, which is not an ideal approach. While a degree certificate is undoubtedly necessary, the skills that we receive after graduating from school are the best gifts we can offer to our country. Hence, graduates who lack problem-solving skills or have difficulty communicating effectively in their workplaces must rely on their degree certificates and the skills they have obtained to prove their competence. The fake certificates highlights the need for the government to verify such qualifications from working places. Professor Idris M. Bugaje raised the question of whether skills or a degree make a career. According to him, skills are undoubtedly essential for building a successful career, but they are not the only factor to consider. While skills can help you secure a job, a degree can provide you with the knowledge and expertise required to excel in that role. Therefore, it’s crucial to start by honing your skills, but it’s equally important to pursue a degree to enhance your career prospects. It is now up to the government to address this issue and take one of the two options. In order to combat the problem of students seeking quick-fix alternatives to obtaining degrees, the Nigerian educational system must be revamped. This would involve addressing the root causes of the problem, such as the lack of proper funding, infrastructure, and resources. By doing so, students would receive a quality education that would prepare them for the job market and prevent them from resorting to quick-fix alternatives. Ultimately, this would not only benefit the students but also contribute to the growth and development of the country.

Today, when it comes to establishing a successful career, there are several different paths one can follow. While some individuals believe that having a degree is crucial for a successful career, others argue that skills and experience are more important. Degrees can offer a structured way of learning and provide a foundation of knowledge in a particular field, which can be helpful when pursuing a specific career path. A degree can also make an individual more competitive in the job market and help them stand out from other candidates. On the other hand, acquiring skills through hands-on experience or specialized training can be just as valuable as having a degree. Experience and training can help individuals develop practical skills which can be applied directly to the job. This can be especially beneficial in industries where experience is highly valued, such as healthcare or technology. Ultimately, the answer to what makes a successful career could vary depending on the individual’s goals, interests, and the requirements of the job market. While some careers may require a specific degree or certification, others may prioritize skills and experience over formal education. Individuals need to consider their career goals and research the requirements of their chosen field to determine the best path for them.

Based on the above argument, the individuals responsible for facilitating the illegal six-month degree program must be held accountable for their actions. Their fraudulent scheme has caused significant harm to the individuals who were misled into believing they were obtaining a legitimate degree. It is unfortunate that today, there are doctors who cannot treat patients effectively, engineers who require assistance to manage a project successfully, academicians who struggle to write articles or books, pilots whose skills are limited to military operations, and students who resort to cheating to pass exams. Additionally, some educational institutions prioritize profit over providing quality education. The government must conduct a thorough investigation and a form a committee to examine all aspects of this unlawful practice. The committee should include experts from various fields, including education, law enforcement, and regulatory bodies, to ensure that all angles are explored. The investigation must be conducted with utmost seriousness, and those found guilty of participating in this malpractice must be held accountable. They must face the full consequences of the law, and there should be no leniency towards them. This will send a strong message to others who may contemplate engaging in such activities in the future. Furthermore, it is crucial to ensure that the affected individuals receive justice. Those who have been misled and have invested their time, money, and effort into this program must be compensated fairly. It is also essential to provide them with alternative options to obtain a legitimate degree so that this disaster does not hinder their education and future career prospects. The government must tackle this issue with the utmost seriousness to prevent such malpractices from occurring in the future. Regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies must work together to ensure that such fraudulent schemes are identified early and prevented from causing any harm. By taking swift and decisive action, we can ensure that justice is served and the affected individuals are adequately compensated.

In Nigeria, it is unfortunately common to encounter fraudulent institutions that offer Ph.D. degrees in under a year, as well as institutions that sell academic projects and theses for exorbitant amounts of money. As a current Ph. D. student in the US, I know that a master’s degree typically spans over two years, whereas a Ph.D. degree takes five years or more. Currently, in my fifth year of the Ph.D. program, it baffles me to hear about these counterfeit institutions in Nigeria that award Ph.D. degrees to students who have completed a substandard curriculum in just six months. It seems implausible, given that degrees in the US require a minimum of four years to complete, why, in Benin and Togo, it takes six months to get a Ph.D. Given the similarities observed in these countries, it is worth considering whether this replication stems from corruption or greed that occurs in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country where the attainment of a Ph.D. is highly regarded and considered a prestigious achievement. However, there is a growing concern about the quality of education in the country as many people who hold PhDs (whether in politics, government, and academia) have yet to make any significant contribution to their respective fields in the form of scholarly articles or books. Despite the lack of published work, these individuals still refer to themselves as Ph.D. holders, which raises questions about the value placed on rigorous academic research and the credibility of academic degrees in the country. This phenomenon is particularly worrying as it suggests that the pursuit of higher education in Nigeria may not be entirely focused on academic excellence but instead on obtaining a degree for a selfish interest. It remains to be seen whether the government and educational institutions in Nigeria will address this trend. This will restore the credibility of academic degrees and promote a culture of academic excellence in the country where everyone will want to study in Nigeria than study outside of the country.

Today, it is very common to come across individuals who are referred to as “doctors” or who have earned a Ph.D. degree, even if they have not attended any recognized educational institution. While these individuals may possess a remarkable amount of knowledge and expertise, it is natural to be curious about the methods they used to acquire their qualifications. This is particularly relevant given the prevalence of fraudulent activities in the country’s education sector, where unscrupulous individuals sell fake certificates to unsuspecting individuals. As a result, it is crucial to verify the credentials of individuals who hold key positions in various fields to ensure that they are qualified and competent to carry out their duties effectively. This verification process may involve contacting the institution where the individual claims to have obtained their degree, checking with professional bodies, or conducting background checks. It is important to note that while some individuals may have acquired their knowledge through unconventional means, many individuals have obtained their qualifications through legitimate means, such as distance learning or self-study. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain an open mind and conduct thorough investigations to ensure that individuals in influential positions possess the necessary qualifications and skills to perform their job duties effectively.

The question now is whether Benin and Togo are copying Nigeria’s education system. Some degree-awarding institutions in Cotonou and Lomé may not be legitimate and may be collaborating with individuals in the Nigerian education system. These institutions lack a reliable website and may not even have accurate information on it. Additionally, it is essential to note that officials in leadership positions, such as the vice-chancellor, registrar, and librarian, do not hold valid degrees from reputable Nigerian universities or have postgraduate qualifications. It is even more disheartening to hear that some of the officials leading those universities obtained degrees from Nigerian universities without attending full-time studies or defending their own projects. Unfortunately, similar scenarios are unfolding in neighboring countries where Nigerians are occupying top leadership positions in their education systems. The trend raises concerns about the leadership quality of Nigerian leaders and the impact it has on their neighboring countries. It’s a wake-up call for Nigerian leaders to step up and improve their leadership skills to be able to impact their countries and the entire African continent positively. Therefore, in order to prevent fraudulent practices, Nigeria, Togo, and Benin republic must prioritize maintaining high standards in education. These standards should encompass not only academic rigor but also ethical and moral principles. The education system should be designed in a way that promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity while also instilling values such as honesty and integrity. By doing so, we can empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions and contribute positively to our respective countries.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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