NUC and the battle against fake professors in universities
By Iyabo Lawal
Most universities around the world grapple with issues of academic corruption, hence the recent directive by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for vice-chancellors to compile a comprehensive list of full professors in their respective institutions over reports of fake professors becomes an eye-opener.
The commission had asked VCs to forward the list, which must include names of professors, departments, years of professorship, and areas of specialization.
The order, it was learned, followed reports about the prevalence of fake professors in the nation’s tertiary institutions. The commission in November 2019, said it uncovered about 100 fake professors in the universities.
NUC’s Executive Secretary, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, who disclosed this during a retreat with vice-chancellors, said the commission had to send their names to various universities for verification, adding that details of fake professors had been published on the official website of the commission.
“About 100 fake professors also uploaded their details but we detected them. This measure helped in identifying fake professors in the system. The fight against fake professors is a collective responsibility,’’ he said.
In the latest directive, the commission said it received a correspondence from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on the need to check fake professors in Nigerian universities.
In March 2019, it was reported that the Academic Fraud Investigation Committee of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) was probing two professors of law over academic fraud.
Professors Israel Worugji and Emeka Uhuka, the accused, were both of the Faculty of Law. There were questions over Prof Worugji’s promotion to the rank of a reader (associate professor) without a Ph.D. and his status as a professor of Law in UNICAL, with the suggestion that he has no degree in Law.
It was alleged that he holds a Ph.D. in African Peace Studies and not Law from the University of Ibadan, after several failed attempts to get a Ph.D. in Law from UNICAL and others.
His counterpart, Prof Uhuka, was alleged to be “grossly under-qualified to be a senior lecturer,” for having “zero teaching experience in any university before his appointment straight to the rank of professor at the University of Calabar.”
He was said to have published less than five academic publications with unknown publishers but had not supervised an undergraduate or postgraduate student before he was appointed a professor of Law at the university.
There were more shocking incidents concerning the perpetuation of fraud in Nigeria’s higher institutions. Take, for instance, the issue of 15 lecturers with fake doctoral and master’s degrees at the College of Education in Ebonyi State.
According to reports, the affected lecturers were demoted for alleged involvement in certificate forgery and false declaration of doctoral degrees from foreign universities.
“Findings by the committee set up to investigate the matter, letters from NUC and Federal Ministry of Education showed that institutions the lecturers claimed to have acquired the qualifications were neither approved nor recognized by the Federal Government.”
In 2018, the Rector of Igbajo Polytechnic in Osun State, Akinola Olaolu, did not appear to have received a slap on the wrist when the University of Ibadan wrote the school concerning a Ph.D. certificate allegedly obtained by him.
The letter addressed to the Chairman of the Governing Council, Prof. Olu Odeyemi, stated that Olaolu did not have MSc and Ph.D. in Economics from UI.
At the University of Lagos, where Olaolu claimed he obtained a BSc in Economics, his story was regarded as fiction.
Facts later emerged that Olaolu obtained his first degree in Biology from the University of Lagos, Akoka, in 1977 and completed his National Youth Service Corps in 1978.
UI added that Olaolu was offered provisional admission for MBA during the 1992/1993 academic session.
“From available information in his file with the records office of our postgraduate school, he was admitted by the Senate of the University of Lagos to the degree of Bachelor of Science (Biology) with a Second Class Honours (Upper division) on June 29, 1977. However, his academic transcript was not recorded to have been verified to confirm its genuineness,” said the university.
The minimum entry requirement for an MSc in Economics is BSc from a recognized university. Therefore, he could not have used the Bachelor of Science (Biology) to secure admission for MSc Economics. To obtain Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Ibadan, BSc and MSc degrees in Economics were prerequisites, it was stressed.
A few years before Olaolu’s case, Nigerians woke up to the news of a ‘professor’ of statistics who was arrested by NUC while trying to set up a private university.
Identified as Ambi P.N, the man said he got his professorship from Obong University, Akwa Ibom State, and studied at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana up to Ph.D. level. He also studied at the University of Ewe, Ghana, and claimed he was a staff of one of the private universities.
However, a professor of Botany at the University of Uyo (UNIUYO), Prof Effiong Monday, said there was no institution in the country that had not been affected by fakery, adding that they exist everywhere.
He clarified that to be appointed as a professor in any tertiary institution requires due process.
“I am not aware of any fake professor in UNIUYO throughout my tenure. That does not mean it does not exist elsewhere. There has always been the process of appointment that includes scientific excellence and research publication or medical papers. That the NUC directed a list of professors in each of the nation’s universities does not mean that the system is in trouble. It means we need to do more to get the best out of the system.
A former vice chancellor at the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Prof Benjamin Ozumba, said: “During my tenure at UNN, I ensured that anybody that was elevated to professorship is properly scrutinised because you must have published in international journals for the system to assess you. So, the appointment does not come easy. You must show sufficient proof to be adjudged a professor. It is not a dash or political favour.”
Prof James Onuoha of Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri, said NUC was legitimately positioned to furnish Nigerians with the health of the tertiary education system, pointing out that there was no better way to grow a system than making agencies effective.
On the criteria for one to become a professor, Onuoha said it varied from one institution to another, adding however that what balances the system is the assessment by external examiners.
“It varies from one university to another but what normalises it is that every professor undergoes what is called external assessment, which is taken to a qualified professor in another university that can now give his opinion on whether the person has attained the level to be given such recognition or not. To me, it is crucial for these things to be observed. The professor looks into submissions and publications and subjects them to rigorous scrutiny to arrive at a judgement,” he said
Onuoha believes the idea of jumping from one university to another for the sake of positions and filling up requirements for accreditation may have triggered the development, saying he had always observed that the attitude was not in the best interest of universities.
“Somebody like me has refused to jump from one university to the other. If you are looking for adjunct positions or part-time positions, you jump into one institution and there, you could be called anything to satisfy a requirement. It does not pay in the long run.
“I have never marked WAEC in my life; I am not a part-time professor in any university. The only thing I do is that when a university hires me for external examination or assessment of professors, I do it as national service but I don’t fraternise with those in private universities so that I make money. I believe in staying at a place and turning out the best students,” he said.
While commending the commission for taking the right step at this time, Onuoha stressed the need for stakeholders to come together to find workable solutions to issues confronting education in the country.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics), Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Prof Adamu Tanko, doubted the possibility of any university having fake professors. The Professor of Geography noted that the fundamental rules guiding the appointment of professors are difficult to adulterate.
He said: “In Nigeria, anything can happen truly. We do have universities that are fake, so, we can have fake lecturers. Many people like different titles. Today, you see those who are not engineers being addressed as one, and so also are doctors. The same way you find people who are not professors claiming to be one.
“NUC has a list of all professors in Nigeria, at least in the last three years and for a university like BUK, we have a list of our professors. It will be difficult for anybody to claim to be a professor within the university if he is not one.
“For you to attain the status of professor, you must have all your publications assessed and read by another professor from another university; that is a fundamental rule and not one person but two professors. That is a fundamental rule to ensure the element of quality assurance is inbuilt into the production of a professor.
Former Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, said there is no fake staff in the university, pointing out that the processes of appointing staff members are strict.
“We don’t have fake staff in UI, whether a non-lecturer or professor. We have a very strong tradition and ethics here that we cannot desecrate. It is unthinkable to imagine that we have fake staff. The structure has been put in place. Nobody can just walk up from Mokola and take up an appointment here even as a clerk without going through the due process,” Olayinka said.