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General News of Saturday, 30 July 2022


The Oluwole Epidemic: Fake documents, counterfeits, everywhere!

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Oluwole was the street in Lagos where you could forge anything document. Birth certificates, vehicle paper, marriage certificates, degree certificates. Once you had a likeness of the original they reproduced it. It was also there that those who could forge signatures within minutes lived. Once a driver took his boss’ cheque leaf there, all they needed was a specimen of his signature and a few minutes. The police knew. The embassies knew. The public knew.

Oluwole became the name for forgery. And Oluwole streets sprouted in many towns. In Onitsha, Old market road became Oluwole Street.

And decent people patronised Oluwole, albeit from afar. Once in a while a tax clearance certificate is needed to sort out a nuisance and a gentleman closes his eyes and hands, someone, two thousand naira. A moment or a day later, a document is put in the file for him and the box is ticked. A man goes to stand as surety for the bail of his friend. There is an uncomfortable condition attached. A clerk tells him he could meet it if he pays a fee. He scratches his head and pays. He is saved the trouble of a cumbersome process somewhere else. A document bearing his name appears from somewhere and is authenticated by the clerk. He is told not to worry, the file will be thrown away later.

The entire clearing and forwarding business in Nigeria is governed by the Oluwole philosophy.

Many of our footballers bloomed a little late. And European clubs placed premium on youth. So our footballers found a way around that predicament by having many ages. An age for football. An age for school. And perhaps another age for their umunna, kinsmen.

So a man could have three sworn declarations of age for different purposes.

I heard one of them, many years ago, say that forgery was not involved. I listened to him keenly. He meant they didn’t involve Oluwole. All the declarations were sourced from government offices. They simply lied about their age, paid someone at a court registry, and walked away with a sworn declaration of age.

Did he take the oath? Not exactly. Nigerians are superstitious, they would avoid oaths if they can. But that’s not to say they cant lie through it. They do that every day in court. And plead the blood of Jesus subsequently or give alms to a beggar in atonement. It’s just that people procure sworn affidavits every day while sleeping in their bedrooms.

So that footballer was right. Perhaps there are many kinds of Oluwoles.

That day he had argued that changing ones age to meet Oyibo demands abroad wasn’t evil. He said evil Oluwole was forging of degree certificates, illegal manufacture of drugs, counterfeiting of alcoholic beverages, and such like. Many years ago a certain barracks in Lagos was the Oluwole headquarters for counterfeiting beers, bleach, non-alcoholic wines, drivers licenses etc. In recent years that facility has been cleaned up. But Oluwole activity has mushroomed and spread into many neighbourhoods. Somewhere in Lagos, someone is bottling a French wine in his backyard. And another is running an illegal Lever Brothers annex.

The NYSC has been in the thick of Oluwole ‘things’. Social media has been inundated with the story of a certain Deputy Governor whom it would appear has two NYSC exemption certificates. The man could be innocent but the taciturnity of the NYSC has not helped him.

When this deputy was running for senate in February 2019, he submitted an exemption certificate issued in 1998, signed by Brigadier Dule, the NYSC DG in 1998. When the same man ran for Deputy Governor in November 2019, he used another exemption certificate. The new certificate was apparently issued in 2019 yet signed by Brigadier Dule who retired from the Army ages ago.

The two exemption certificates issued 21 years apart, bear slightly different names yet they have same reference number. Ordinarily, the NYSC can clear the air in minutes. But the NYSC which was established to reform the youths and inculcate in them national values would neither quickly explain the confusion nor disown forged documents expeditiously, if there are any, in the interest of the integrity of its certificates.

It took the NYSC many months to say anything during the Adeosun saga.

There is this other Oluwole, or cousin of Oluwole, that is threatening the future of the country. Teachers in secondary schools now arrange with WAEC and turn their centers into Oluwole stadiums during school certificate exams. Before now, that academic brothel business was associated with special centers.

Today big schools around the country have imbibed the Oluwole philosophy to enhance their positions on the school certificate exams league tables. Decent schools, otherwise decent teachers turning decent students into academic ashewos just to claim bragging rights and put themselves in a position to add one extra million naira to the school fees paid by incoming students.

The other day we heard about a Senator who smuggled himself into a secondary school exams hall, in school uniform, to write school certificate exams. Seated beside him in the hall was his ECOMOG, his mercenary. The police got a tip-off and went for him, he bolted. He didn’t return for the rest of the exams he registered for. But when the exams body released its results the senator scored good grades in all the subjects he registered for. Till today the police haven’t explained the miracle that happened in Osun.

Nothing aids the Oluwole epidemic more than the failure of institutions to find moral outrage when their certificates are forged.

The NYSC sees a story about its certificates. Two certificates with different names but same Reference number released 21 years apart. Yet the NYSC keeps mum. What is destroyed when an institution keeps mum in the face of such a discrepancy is public confidence in the institution. When a certificate scandal breaks, the implicated ought to rise quickly and clear the air. It shouldn’t wait for a court pronouncement before it tells the truth. It shouldn’t wait for an investigation. It should find odd things sufficiently odd to respond promptly.

But in 2020, we have to be better. Institutions must have digital record-keeping systems that allow instant verification. Brand protections and copyrights laws enforcement have to be speedy and vigorous. The integrity of our examinations can be enhanced if papers are computer-based and CCTV monitors are used in exam halls. But above anything else, we must inculcate the right values in our youths.

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