Certificate Scandal: HEDA demands investigation of Nigerian senator

Foster Ogola
Foster Ogola

A non-governmental organisation has demanded an investigation into the certificate scandal involving a Nigerian senator, Foster Ogola (PDP-Bayelsa West).

In a petition to the Commissioner of Police in the Police Special Fraud Unit, Human and Environmental Development Agenda Resource Centre (HEDA) said its call is to put “a halt to the ugly trend of certificate fraud/forgery especially in the ‘hallowed’ chambers where the laws of our land ordinarily originates”.

The petition, according to a statement on Sunday, was signed by HEDA’s National Chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju.

PREMIUM TIMES partnered in the investigation by Leaks.NG platform, which exposed the certificate scandal.

In the petition to the SFU, the organisation stated that:

“HEDA as a member of the Leaks.NG is privy to the said report which was published on The Cable.ng; an online newspaper on the 11th day of April 2018.

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“The Leaks.NG is a coalition of news and civil society organizstions, which provide a platform for Nigerians to submit evidence of wrongdoing perpetrated by public office holders in Nigeria.

“The said report contained details of the discovery on Senator Foster Ogola; the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Communication Technology and Cybercrime. His official profile on the National Assembly website says he has a Ph.D from GMF Christian University.

“Discoveries show that there is no official site for the university and the said university is not amongst the universities approved by the National Universities Commission. An online search also showed that there is no research paper or thesis to his name online, though he purportedly got the degree in the year 2012.

“The said senator is credited with having a Ph.D in Christian Leadership from the GMF Christian University, Lagos, the same course he reportedly obtained his Masters from the Imo State University, Owerri.”

HEDA noted further that, “It is worth noting that an inquiry by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) revealed that the Federal Government has not licenced the GMF Christian University, Lagos, where Ogola claimed to have acquired his Ph.D in 2012.

“Also, the Director of Corporate Communication at the National Universities Commission; Ibrahim Yakasai was contacted on the validity of the institution and his response was that ‘We have never heard of that name.’

“In addition to his response, he provided a copy of the commission’s weekly bulletin showing a list of the 57 illegal universities operating in the country; GMF Christian University was not among, buttressing the fact that the commission is not aware of its existence and operations.

“The said director also pointed out the fact that since 1999, the National Universities Commission has approved of 74 universities in the country and any certificate obtained from the GMF Christian University or any other degree will not be recognized.

“The Leaks.NG coalition has also made discoveries on the fact that the said GMF Christian Universities as at the time of the publication of the report has no website offering information on the institution or its courses and there is no information on the Christian leadership course in which the embattled senator claims to have a Ph.D.”

HEDA stated further in the petition: “PremiumTimes, another online newspaper, reached out to Senator Ogola to speak on the allegations leveled against him and give his reaction to GMF Christian University being an unaccredited institution in Nigeria.

“In response, the senator said: ‘Kindly clarify for me if PremiumTimes does exist, to entertain allegations from third parties, whose identities are not mentioned, especially, when they are criminal in nature.’

“The lawmaker went on to note that the allegations could be a product of ‘mischief makers with a potential to foment distraction from weighty matters of state.’

“On the unaccredited state of the GMF Christian University, the senator was asked if there was an exemption from the NUC on the Christian Leadership course which Ogola purportedly has a doctorate degree. Misunderstanding the question, the lawmaker retorted: ‘When did students or products of universities become accrediting bodies?’

“In an attempt to verify GMF Christian University existence and understand how it operates in Nigeria, The Cable Newspaper, paid the academy a physical on-site visit.

“TheCable traced the Gospel Missionary Foundation (GMF) Theological University to No. 165 Isolo Road, Cele Bus stop, Egbe-Ikotun, Lagos, and realised that the controversial university lies on the first floor of a two-storey building.

“Besides the one and only lecture room, which was empty at the time of visit, there are about three other rooms serving as offices. Hope Obioha, the acclaimed registrar and wife of the president of the university, Daniel Obioha, received the reporter who went there under the guise of a prospective student.

“She took the reporter to her office where she introduced him to the university and the courses it offers. According to the material given, GMF Christian Theological University was established on May 4, 1988, and is registered by the federal government.

“It seeks to fulfill its commitment to the individual special ministry calling, through graduate education, professional development and spiritual formation in all its activities including teaching, nurturing, worship, service, research, publication and missions.

“Daniel Obioha and his wife established the university. When asked if the NUC has accredited the university, the registrar said they do not operate like a secular university, hence, the university is not registered under NUC. She presented the ‘accreditation certificate’ of the university by some international bodies. Checks revealed that all the bodies that gave the debatable accreditation do not have an online presence.

“However, one of the materials she released contains the graduating list from 2013 to 2016. It is worthy to note at this juncture that 2012 is the year Ogola claimed to have obtained his PhD in Christian Leadership.

“Additionally, the Christian Leadership course was not reflected on the list of courses offered by the school at doctorate level.”

HEDA explained that, “On a second visit to the GMF Christian University on March 13, the centre was empty again as the man who introduced himself as a lecturer said it was examination time. He said, while the full-time students attend lectures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the part-time students go on Saturdays alone.

“He was reluctant to release the list of those who graduated in 2012 but the reporter obtained a Skye bank account of the university in order to pay for the admission process for a ‘diploma in theology’.

“At the end of both visits, The Cable was still unable to establish the veracity of the Senator’s claim that he attended the university and has a PhD. in the Christian Leadership course.”

Concluding, HEDA said it has observed that since the inception of democracy in Nigeria, lawmakers at various times hd been exposed for the offence of certificate fraud.

“From the Salisu Buhari scandal in 1999, the recent Dino Melaye Harvard certificate issue, the most recent being the Nse Ekpenyong certificate forgery issue in March.

“We thereby humbly urge you to use your good office to address this issue vide a detailed investigation and prosecution of the embattled Senator where indicted.

“This is expedient in putting a halt to the ugly trend of certificate fraud/forgery especially in the ‘hallowed’ chambers where the laws of our land ordinarily originate.

“Failure to forestall this unfortunate development by a decisive action that will serve as an effective deterrence is likely to make our legislature a laughing stock of the global community, in addition to offending the sensibilities of well-meaning Nigerians who believe and also choose to work towards the possibility of a ‘corruption free’ Nigeria.”

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