Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier-General Shuaibu Ibrahim, stirred public debate last week when he revealed that graduates with questionable academic certificates were participating in the one-year national exercise. He told journalists at a press conference in Abuja: “If I give you some of the write-ups of the graduates, some were told to write ABCD, they could not. They could not say what a bank statement is. They don’t know. If I show you their papers, you will feel sad. Some people have asked me if NYSC has the power to cross-check the certification of graduates, I said no, but we have the power to ensure that unqualified Nigerians are not mobilised for service.”

While that observation might sound hilarious, it represents a serious indictment of higher education in the country, the dodgy and shoddy procedures for admission into universities and polytechnics, the widespread corruption that defines the character of our society, the growing interest in falsification of academic certificates, the frail state of an economy that cannot provide job opportunities for graduates, the extreme state of misery that drives some unemployed youth to participate in the NYSC scheme even when they are not qualified to serve, and the lax procedures the NYSC uses to vet the certificates of youth wishing to participate in the national scheme.

Before anyone shouts blue murder because of the revelation made by the NYSC director-general, it is important to refresh our memories about previous cases of certificate fabrication involving eminent politicians. In essence, certificate forgery is not by any means limited to NYSC members. Here are a few cases in history to buttress this point.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, was embroiled in a certificate scandal and questions about his true age. First, he claimed to have studied at the University of Toronto in Canada, which, he said, conferred him with a degree in Business Administration. The university promptly disowned him and his fake bachelor’s degree. He was also accused of forging his academic credentials in order to gain entry into the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was thrown out of that institution and, therefore, rendered ineligible to serve in the NYSC as he did not complete his degree programme. Again, while he claimed to be 36 years in 1999, his accusers countered that he was actually born in 1970 and so he could not be 36 years old in 1999. The 1999 Constitution stipulated that anyone seeking election into the House of Representatives must attain a minimum age of 30.

Revelations about Salisu Buhari’s falsifications of his credentials and age emerged in 2000 when the discredited Speaker was forced to confess his moral transgressions. He told the nation in teary eyes: “I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by my zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”

Another high-profile politician, Evan(s) Enwerem (the correct spelling of his first name is still disputed), was the Senate President in 1999 when he was accused of not only fabricating his academic credentials but also his names. Although he was eventually removed from office in late 1999, he was never prosecuted before he died in 2007.

These are just two examples. There are many other politicians, including former and current governors, who were accused of falsifying their academic qualifications. These scandals reinforce the point that what the NYSC director-general revealed last week about fake graduates serving in the scheme is only a tip of a larger problem in society.

It is not only graduates of tertiary education institutions who are academically challenged. The knowledge gap that exists among secondary school students is equally disturbing. There are many secondary school students who cannot put together grammatically correct and coherent sentences that make sense. There are those who still wrestle with the fundamentals of arithmetic. A deficient education system will always produce defective outcomes. A society that encourages the production of half-baked graduates must be prepared to endure the consequences sooner or later.

We live in a society in which many people see no value in upholding the high moral and social codes that define acceptable and unacceptable standards of behaviour. The scandal in the NYSC is a reflection of the level of corruption in the country.

When impoverished people are desperate to earn a living by any means, they do anything to transform their lives. This is why Nigeria is currently experiencing higher than usual rates of crime such as abductions, premeditated murders, embezzlement of government property and money, illegal drug trafficking, and persistence of sharp practices such as the notorious financial crime known as “419.”

In our current environment, people look forward to a good life but all they see is hopelessness. When the youth look for role models, they see criminals and politicians exchanging roles. When people dream of a bright future, they wake up to see darkness and their lives wrapped in misery. When people go to church to listen to the word of God, they hear sermons dominated by talk about sowing regular seeds and tithe that leave them even more indigent and ruined than they expected.

Our society has been messed up beyond redemption. It is now more difficult to set apart genuine pastors from charlatans who take advantage of the vulnerability of their church members to enrich themselves and enjoy the good life on earth.

In a society that has no welfare schemes to take care of the basic needs of the poor, everyone is left to struggle, scheme, kill, and manipulate others to cater to their own selfish needs. It is a cruel world reminiscent of life in the animal kingdom. The social fabric that should hold the society together has been disconnected and replaced with nothing. There is nothing to cushion the effects of the rapid decline of the wellbeing of citizens. The word “anti-corruption” means nothing anymore. Surely, there cannot be a war against corruption when the crooked members of our society are shielded by the same state and federal government, as well as agencies that should apprehend them.

Academic dishonesty is a form of intellectual property theft that has blemished the image of universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and secondary schools. Now, the NYSC has been caught in the scandal.

Our society has fostered a culture of cheating. Everywhere you look, you find that nearly everyone is trying to cheat the system. Students cheat. Parents cheat. Lawyers cheat. Journalists cheat. Religious leaders cheat. Traditional rulers cheat. Senior public servants cheat. Workers cheat. Businessmen and women cheat. Marketwomen and men cheat. Members of other professional groups are not spotless. Is there any way we can salvage the system?

We live in a society in which high moral character or integrity is no longer valued.

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