Education is defined by Oxford dictionary as a process of teaching, training and learning, especially in school or colleges, to improve knowledge and develop skills, while certificate is also defined by Oxford Dictionary as an official document proving that you have completed a course of study or passed an exam.
In line with this discussion, education shall be viewed as a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, abilities and habits are transferred by an organised formal training from person or group of persons to another, while certificate will be seen as a physical prove or evidence of knowledge, skills, and abilities formally acquired.
In Nigeria, the social menace wrecking havoc in the public and private services, though more pronounced in the public owned institutions, is the over emphasis Nigerians place on paper qualifications at the detriment of the real skills and abilities which the certificate supposed to serve as its physical prove.
Has such attitude done any harm or good to Nigeria as a nation and her future? The truth not far from us as it will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs below.
Nigeria like other colonised countries of especially the third world countries, adopted the Western form of education from her colonial master, Britain. This involves an organised formal training or teaching of persons who have to formally register for such, with subsequent examinations that follow as a test of knowledge acquired after which certificate is issued to the participants as a formal prove of those skills that they have acquired.
Such certificate is always taken as the first requirement for one who wishes to get a job in a bureaucratic organisation. Such applicant must meet minimum qualifications requirements which can only be formally ascertained by presentation of certificate. This is made to be the first step for one to be qualified to be tested further on his/her abilities or skills represented in his or her certificate.
The Western people that introduced certificate, introduced it not as an end itself rather as a means to an end in the opposite manner, many Nigerians see certificate required as an end itself in bureaucratic and quazi-bureaucatic organisations. As a result of this irrational attitude in Nigeria bureaucracy whether civil/public services, politics, armed forces and even in the private sector, almost everyone wants to acquire the certificate at all means in order to join in appropriating the benefit in white collar job.
I could remember in my first year in the university, one of our lecturers asked the class why were we in university? While many of us answered that we came to acquire knowledge, one boy answered that we were in the university to acquire certificate. The lecturer told the class that only the boy got the answer correctly, that if many of us were opportuned to get the certificate we came for, that many of us would leave the university in that 100level and forsake the remaining years. He was using that to encourage the class to go for the knowledge and not just only for the paper qualification.
In the same way, one boy would say every time, “guy na 2:1 or nothing no matter what it takes” and that boy was later known with that slogan. Any of my course mates in the university who will be opportune to read this article knows the boy with the slogan and will know he is the one referred to here.
The two examples above, were just used to portray the over emphasis place on paper qualifications rather than individual’s real skills and abilities.
In many Nigerian universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and even in O’level examinations, many students either pay in cash (mainly the males) or in kind (mainly female) to get ‘A’ or at least ‘B’ grades in order to graduate with good certificate (First class, second class upper and second class lower, Distinction, upper credits etc).
One girl once said that her father assured that once she graduates with second class upper divisions, that the father would see where to fix her in one of offices managed by his friends. Though, this girl was serious and prudent in her pursuit for upper class upper divisions, her father laid emphasis on certificate which would have changed the orientation of the girl negatively.
For one to be recruited, appointed, giving contract, stand for election, he or she must possess a specified minimum qualification which is only recognisable by a mere physical presentation of certificate. Whether the skills stated in the certificate are possessed by the bearer of the certificate, is most at times not the concern of the bureaucratic whose official duties are to clear anyone who presents a certificate that bears his or her name with the required minimum qualification.
Why is certificate being perceived in such manner in Nigeria?
Some of the perceived causes of this negative perception by Nigerians are;
i. Bureaucratic or Formalistic factor
ii. Historical factor
iii. Social factor
iv. Economic factor
v. Bribery and Corruption
vi. Political factor
viii. Federal character principle
i. Bureaucratic or formalistic factor: One of the key principles of Max Webber’s bureaucracy is selection of employees who have undergone formal training and possess the necessary skills for the job vacancies they are to be employed to fill. This principle is formally enshrined in every bureaucratic organisation in Nigeria and either recognised fully or partially by private enterprises.
The perceived simplest way to enforce this bureaucratic principle to those public and private institutions, is through the laying of emphasis on presentation of certificate while seeking for any post in any formal organisation, which serves as the easiest formal prove that such applicant has met this bureaucratic principle of possessing of the skills required for, in the post the applicant is seeking to take.
This is one of the major causes of the laying of too much emphasis on certificate to the detriment of real knowledge required.
This bureaucratic principle works well for the Europeans but has not worked well for Nigeria. This, some scholars, blamed on cultural differences between the Europeans and other African nations like Nigeria. The principle originated from Europe and works well for them because of their culture. Therefore, the failure of this is blamed on the culture.
For such principle to work effectively in Nigeria, subjectivity must be kept aside by Nigerians irrespective of who is at risk of losing an appointment, who the employee is to the recruiting officials and emphasis on skills and abilities as stated by Webber in his theory, than on paper qualification.
I used to tell my students when I was teaching, that they should not be over conscious for certificate without acquiring the real knowledge because fire can burn the paper called certificate and that water could also destroy it but could not destroy knowledge and skills acquired.
ii. Historical factor: Any honest Nigerian, who has the knowledge or knows the history of Nigeria civil service, will flow with what will be discussed without bias under this historical factor.
Within 1930s to 1950s, the Nigerian nationalist started agitating for removal of Britons and recruiting Nigerians into the Nigeria civil service which was hitherto occupied by the Britons. This move, the nationalists called or termed “Nigerianization of Nigeria civil service”. While the nationalists from Eastern and Western regions were pushing the Nigerianization of Nigeria civil service, their colleagues in the Northern region were agitating for “Northernization of Nigeria civil service”.
Because people from the Eastern and Western regions embraced western education, they had many educated people who would fill their slots in the Nigeria civil service, where as people from Northern region who were reluctant to embrace Western education, (may be because of some social factors and belief like religion) couldn’t boast of enough educated competent personnel to fill their own slots in the Nigeria civil service.
In order to prevent the dominance of the Nigeria civil service by people from Western and Eastern regions, the Northern region adopted the idea that where there were no qualified person from the north (as of then, emphasis were on abilities and competent skills not on mere certificate) to fill their slots, that such post, should be filled by a white man rather than people from other regions in Nigeria.
When the idea proved to be unfavourable to the interest of the Northern elites, systematically organised illegal acquisition of certificate through forgery and buying, hiring educated one to sit for examinations for someone who might never entered classroom in his or her lifetime and writing of examination questions’ answers on the blackboard for those who has learnt how to write to copy, became the latest strategy, the way forward and for them not to be left behind in the breaking and appropriating of national cake.
This back in education, was the principle reason that made Ahmed Bello to oppose Anthony Enahoro’s motion for self-government in 1957.
The strategy, worked very well for the interest pursued by the Northern elites. Seeing the benefit of the ugly act, they sustained it and argued that once certificate is presented and bears the name of the bearer, that there was no other requirement better than that for them to take their slots in the Nigeria civil service.
People from other part of Nigeria, having seeing how the ugly tactics worked for the Northerners, and gave them easy undue passage to recruitment into Nigeria civil service, perhaps in order to maintain balance and avoid been over taken, the people from Western and Eastern regions, started adopting the ugly strategy in order to meet to keep at the same or closer pace in filling positions in the Nigeria civil service. They gradually started leaving the normal way of recruiting into the civil service.
That was the major leeway to the recruitment of incompetent but with formal certificate into the Nigeria civil service, in many cases, the bearers of the certificate could not understand nor speak Pidgin English to talk more of English, rather, only knows their local language.
At the time, some people from the Northern region, could present a certificate as their own, whereas they could not pronounce any of the subjects included in the certificate neither can they define any concept in any of the subjects they claimed to have possessed adequate knowledge in them. Recently, in 2012, the election of a member of the House of Representatives, from either the North-East or the North-West was declared null and void because of forgery and buying of OND certificate.
Because the principle puts it that competent skills which could be formally ascertained by the presentation of certificates bearing, once they appear with certificates bearing their names, competent or not, they were made to fill their slots in order to keep to the principle of Federal character.
This ugly attitude is now all over Nigeria. I could remember that Governor Adams Oshiomole’s (Edo state) case of certificate forgery was dismissed from the court. Though he won the case, this shows that it is possible in any part of Nigeria now to forge or buy certificate as Andy Uba of Anambra State was accused of doing when he contested governorship election in 2007.
The discussion above formed major part historical factors that contributed to the over emphasis on certificate to the detriment of the skills acquired by Nigerians. The ugly attitude has also touched the private sector in Nigeria.
iii. Social factors: Social factors like tribal and religious affiliation have been a hindrance to the real application of merit principle in the recruitment or appointment of people into formal organisations. Once an individual presents a certificate, the officer in charge, pays little or no attention to the skills possessed by the applicant rather select such person base on sharing of the same religious faith or from one ethnic group. Hence any one that acquires certificate, (the means doesn’t matter) and he/she has same social background with the employers, his appointment is assured irrespective the applicant’s ability.
This has encouraged many people to believe that they should go for certificate rather than the real skill that is necessary.
iv. Economic factor: Many individuals are in schools and other formal training centres to possess certificate in order to get employed and appropriate other economic benefits such certificate can bring to them. Such individuals are not in the institution to acquire any reasonable skills rather to have their names appear in the certificate.
For an employed person to be promoted, acquisition of higher certificates, facilitate such which will increase their income; practices and belief, which have affected the perspective from which Nigerians view certificate.
v. Bribery and Corruption: Many employers collect bribes directly or indirectly through their so called agents, from applicants either in cash or kind before offering them appointment. It is common for people with good grades in their certificates without the skills and knowledge required to engage in this evil act. Most at times, the applicant who have the certificate and the needed skills are neglected and once those ones without the needed skills and knowledge make it, they will start blowing their own trumpet and their sole advise to undergraduates closer to them, is that they should do everything possible to make their certificate to at least second class upper divisions and upper credits, that once the certificate is in their possession, that they can easily manipulate their way through.
This has changed the orientation of many Nigerians especially the young people while in school, hence such persons manipulate their way to the acquisition of certificate instead of working towards knowledge acquisition.
vi. Political factor: If one has a critical observation in the Nigerian system, you will discover that any time somebody is elected in any political position, his or her relations immediate and extended, closer political supporters, and closer friends, who hope to be appointed in one position or the other but prior to the election have not acquired certificate that will qualify them to be appointed or recruited into public service or political appointment will easily make it to the top. In such situation, great grand mothers and fathers will make it to any higher educational institution to get the needed qualifications. Of course, no one would expect such persons to start burning their candle to possess skills rather they seek for the fastest and shortest way to acquire the certificate they need for possible appointment by their relation who is in power.
Such condition, result to mad scrambling for certificate and as a result, derail the essence of education and at same time undermine progress in any area such person might find him or herself. Just imagine that Bola Tinubu’s mother who was ninety something years, still hold office as chairlady of market women before she died. She could not offer anything rather she was there because she has the certificate and had someone a political officer holder who appointed. She was immediately replaced at death by Tinubu’s daughter.
In such case, ability and skills are neglected rather certificate and who you know takes over.
vii. Nepotism: Unfair advantage or favouritism has become the new order in Nigeria right from independent. In Nigeria, one easily hear highly placed officer tell their relations “just get your certificate, come to my office or give me a call and leave the rest for me”
For such people, high public offices become ‘come and get me’ to them once you have your certificate. Just because of who they know, who they are, their surname and who their family relations are. In such circumstance, one gets what he or she desires in terms of position in employment or appointment in as much as the person possess certificate. The ability is not the bone of contention here because the person knows somebody or somebody who knows somebody; Prof. F. Okoli called it “Tombo connection”. In Tombo connection, certificate is where the solution is not in skills and abilities.
viii. Legal factor: Federal character principle is enshrined in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In pursuit of this legal requirement, people with mere certificate qualification with little or no skills required to occupy an office, do so in order to fill their own state or local government slot, since they have to be included in order to meet constitutional requirement whether such person qualify base on their skills or not. Such practice has discouraged many and made them to believe that what they need is certificate not knowledge.
In general, the factors discussed above and some other factors contribute to the over emphasis on certificate to the detriment of skills and abilities required to overcome challenges one may encounter in his or her profession.
It is a common belief these days in Nigeria, that one goes to school just for certificate. If one is in primary school, whether he or she fails or not, the pupil continue to progress. There is no room anymore for repetition of classes like in our days in primary school. The general false assumption is that a pupil is in a primary school in order to obtain certificate that will take him or her to secondary school and in the same manner, in secondary school to obtain O’level certificate and possible also given admission in higher education institutions.
The very few benefit that can be observed in emphasis in certificate is that, it discourages school dropout, and makes the students to be serious in pursuing their academic requirement in order to get their certificates at the end.
This over emphasis on certificate against the real acquisition of knowledge, is not without its evil consequences such as youth restiveness, examination malpractice, buying and forgery of results and certificate, bribery and corruption, appointment of unskilled person in crucial position, decay in the educational system, lack of regard for the principal purpose for organised formal training, low pace of development or underdevelopment social decadency, lost of value for education, folding up of government owned enterprises due to the appointment of people with only certificate to manage such enterprise, it has increased economic burden on parents whose children, demand money for malpractice and buying of grades and many other negative effects.
One can observe that these negative attitudes of Nigerians towards embracing the real purpose for education, has dealt with us and our national development negatively. Can you think of the force that is driving Ghana to be ahead of Nigeria? Even Togo that is a small country still appreciates the value of skills and knowledge acquired without excessive emphasis on certificate.
Though the attitude, seems to have gone deep in our believes, all hope is not lost.
Self definition, definition of purpose and placing of value on things that deserves our attention, perceiving organised formal training as a means to self development, sufficient and fulfilment other than just to get job or other appointments whether political or otherwise.
Social reorientation starting from the smallest unit of the society, the family to larger society, is urgently needed.
The lecturers, students and employers of labour both in public and private sector who engage in such things that paint negative pictures of the importance of acquiring through knowledge, skills and abilities, should decease from such act and have a change of minds, if this country will be like those ones we run to for holidays and better lives such as England, Canada, United States of America, Japan, Dubai and so many others. No alien will develop Nigeria for us, the aliens are to exploit after which they return to their country. It is only Nigerians who can sincerely develop Nigeria. And for us to do this, we must place unquantifiable value on skills, abilities and knowledge acquired in the process of learning instead of putting such value on paper qualification which has been drawing our country back. This is very vital for the security of our nation and Africa at large.
The national Orientation Agency (NOA), the ministry of education, the press and the electronic media, political elites, educational, religious and local institutions, have to organise and start carrying an awareness campaign in the country to correct this ugly attitude that has eaten deep into our nation.
Let us pursue the dark goat in the day before the night falls when no one will make it.