By Aisha Yesufu
Nigeria has been a country where many are ready to support the atrocities of the rich and mighty. There is almost an unwritten code that if you are going to commit a crime just ensure that you have the wealth and power to back it up and all will be good. The audacity to commit a crime when you are neither rich nor mighty is almost an unforgivable sin. Many are ready to bring in the tires, petrol and matchsticks when someone steals a phone or even some food items and those same people will go the extra mile to defend and justify the stealing of billions by those who are supposed to serve them. One wonders, is it cowardice, fear or hypocrisy? Or is it even a case of admiration that some are able to pull of audacious crimes and disdain for those who are only involved in petty crimes?
Nothing exemplifies this anomaly than the forgery saga currently unfolding against the person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu who currently sits on the highest political office in the land (contentiously I must add). Many notable Nigerians and even citizens have been defending, justifying and finding excuses for Tinubu. Some journalists have even gone as far as proffer reasons why Tinubu had to submit the alleged forged certificate. One of the more fantastic submission is that he didn’t have enough time to get a replacememt before INEC deadline so he went ahead and got himself a fancy one that can be submitted before the deadline.Some of the arguments that have been put forth are so comical and would have been such a comic relief if not for the gravity of the issue at hand. One man even went on live TV to say Tinubu has the right to redesign his certificate because it is a ceremonial certificate. When Tinubu himself had said at the Chatham House that he had received his original replacement certificate from Chicago State University. Ironically, it has been reported that during the deposition, the representative of the Chicago State University had stated that the original certificate was never collected and there are reports that in a 1999 affidavit Tinubu had said that the certificate had been looted.
The veracity of the forgery allegations is not what my write up is about. The courts and the school in question have that job cut out for them. My write up is simply to ask the question: Why is the reaction to this forgery allegation different to that exhibited when it was the case of a school girl accused of forging her JAMB result?
A few months ago Nigeria had a forgery issue that was the talk of the town just as what we currently have today. A schoolgirl that had paraded herself as having the highest JAMB scores was accused of forging her result. It was almost unanimously decided then that forgery was a crime that needed to be punished. The same people who wrote long treatises and demanded that Jamb should ensure accountability and transparency and ensure that MmesomaEjikeme the girl in question be punished are now writing longer treatises to tell us why Tinubu’s alleged forgery is not really forgery. They have come up with all sorts of technicalities and arguments. Mmesoma also had arguments and technicalities that could have been used for her. Indeed she bought JAMB form and sat for the exams. She even had a result with JAMB and could have produced those that were in the same centre with her when she wrote her exams if she had been asked. All she did was to help herself to a few marks some would have argued but that did not mean that there was no forgery. What was good for Mmesoma should be good for Tinubu. No one person should be above the law.
Our reputation as a country is at stake. Nigerians have faced too much discrimination and profiling over cases of fraud by a few and to add the case of someone masquerading as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having such weighty allegation of forgery will do untold damage to every citizen. Nigerians that will be seeking admissions abroad are going to face unnecessary scrutiny because there are many who will now take cue from the words of the representative of the Chicago State University who was reported to have said that it is a Nigerian thing to forge stamps of organizations. That is a dangerous statement to be used to describe over 200 million citizens of a country because of the action of one man. It is not a Nigerian thing to forge documents. Nigerians are known as hardworking people who put in the work to get the academic accolades that are accorded to them.
For those who travel out of the country, the degrading treatment meted out to those carrying the Nigerian passport is a familiar sight and somewhat accepted with resignation and this would most likely be taken up a notch with all that have been coming out of this forgery allegation saga. Nigerians will now be put through the rigours of extra and unnecessary scrutiny.
Nigeria is much more than the ambition or desire of one person especially one who does not follow the process and makes the whole nation a laughing stock. We cannot allow ourselves to be debased on the basis of one person. There will always be incidences that tarnish the image of a country and the way the people of the country react to those incidences speaks volumes to what the values of that country is. If the people are seen to defend such anomaly instead of condemning it then it would be assumed and rightfully so that such anomlies are a norm for the people. We cannot afford to have such being attached to us as a country.
This is not the first time that certificate forgery issue involving a person holding a high ranking political seat in Nigeria has happened. In 1999, the number four person interms of political hierarchy, the then Speaker of the State House of Representative Salisu Buhari was accused of Certificate forgery amongst other things and amidst pressure, he voluntarily retired and would go on to be prosecuted and sentenced to two years imprisonment with option of fine. He would later receive a Presidential pardon. This was 24 years ago. The children that were born in that year are bow adults that can vote and be voted for yet the country has done nothing to ensure that such embarrassing situation of a high ranking political office holder being embroiled in a certificate forgery becomes a thing of distant memories. Instead citizens that should know better are busy defending certificate forgery and even gaslighting citizens and telling them to move on. If 24 years ago Buhari had the decency and shame to resign, what degrading values has led us to today having someone occupying the number one seat facing the same forgery issues but instead stays put and have an army of defenders? What moral values are we teaching the younger generation? That crime pays as long as you do it big? How do you tell a child that the forgery by Mmesoma is wrong but that by Tinubu is right? Is it because Mmesoma was young and forced to sit before a committee and Tinubu has no committee that he has to sit before? No country progresses if there are no societal values that everyone has to adhere to. Neither does a country progress when rule of law is repeatedly flaunted. As long as there are people who are above the law then many will continue to test the law.
What is so ironic about the case of Nigeria is how godly people profess to be. Fridays and Sundays have Mosques and Churches repeatedly packed yet the values that both religion teach seem not to follow Nigerians back to their homes and about their daily lives. People profess to be religious but you do not see it in their act. Infact, political rulers and religious rulers seem to have found a common ground and they are in a partnership that favours them to the detriment of gullible citizens. The religious rulers need bad governance to sell cheap miracles while political rulers need the citizens to be kept under leash so they do not speak out against the atrocities going on in their country. Traditional rulers and elder statesmen and women have not been left out of this. It seems the elders that should be at the forefront in ensuring values are the ones who are defending that which should not be defended.
There have been a lot of talk about moving on and focusing on Nigeria. For those who have decided that they will focus on the forgery case they are often accused of not loving Nigeria. Love for truth and justice must be much more than love for country. Any country that is not build on the foundation of truth and justice should be dismantled and rebuilt on the foundation of justice, equity, truth, rule of law and a shared identity that everyone can be proud of and work towards sustaining. The anyhowness that have been allowed to take root in Nigeria needs to be stopped. We need to do the needful and stop asking citizens to pray for the country.
Prayers will not solve the problems of a nation. God wil not do for us what he has given us the capacity for us to do for ourselves and we have been given the capacity for nation building. Nation building can only be accomplished by citizens who are active participants in the governance of their country. Years on when the issue about this forgery is being discussed what would you say your contribution was? Would you be one of those who defended what is indefensible just because it was done by the rich and mighty or will you be one of those who stood on the side of rule of law and insisted no one must be above the law? History keeps notes.
Aisha Yesufu is a Nigerian Activist, a businesswoman and supporter of Peter Obi
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