Nigeria: Obaseki - Putting UI On the Spot

21 June 2020

Despite University of Ibadan's recent clarification that Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State was an alumnus of that venerable institution, controversies over the latter's certificate line-up are scaling up, culminating in his jumping ship to PDP, as his former party, the APC, disqualified him at its governorship primary screening. Louis Achi looks at some of the key issues surrounding the muddle.

There are probably three things that make the study of Classics distinctive: the field is interdisciplinary, rigorous and provides perspective. Studying Greco-Roman cosmology and Latin can sharpen one's understanding of the way language works in general and also help to understand how people in a distant time and place organised and described the world.

Studying the languages is in turn crucial for the full appreciation of Greco-Roman and Latin literature, which remains a touchstone for all later European literature and which contains profound and challenging insights in the human condition that are as relevant today as when the works were first composed. Were these the quaint intellectual attractions for young Godwin Obaseki who opted to study Classics at the University of Ibadan?

Is Obaseki's current political quandary laid decades ago, when he chose to upscale his educational clout, a quite legitimate aspiration? His former party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, says an emphatic yes - alleging he short-circuited due processes.

Was the party merely trying to extract a pound of flesh from Obaseki for cheekily falling out with his erstwhile political godfather and suspended national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole? What are the facts?

The 70s represented the golden era of Nigeria's education and all associated admissions and certification processes were diligent and strict. This background possibly accentuated the laser-like focus on Obaseki's admission, graduation and certification at the University of Ibadan. The 70s was the period Obaseki had his varsity education.

Hence, when APC's Edo State governorship screening committee announced that the Edo governor was unfit to contest the primaries, saying it could not vouch for some certificates he claimed to possess, this spawned many posers and opened a can of worms.

In the affidavit sworn to by Obaseki, before the High Court Registry, Abuja, on June 7, 2016, he stated under oath that he graduated from the University of Ibadan with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Classical Studies, in 1976. However, the varsity certificate he attached to his nomination form bears 1979, which represented a material contradiction.

Moreover, it is inconceivable for Obaseki to have gotten admission to read Classics at the University of Ibadan with only three O'Level credits and without a credible evidence of any additional qualification - such as A'Level, Diploma or NCE.

Moreover, the O'Level certificate clearly shows that he sat for six subjects. In a petition dated June 8, 2020, by a certain Solomon Ogbegie, the attention of the APC screening committee was drawn to two voters registration identifications belonging to Obaseki, where the petitioner complained that Obaseki on June 12, 2016, presented a temporary voter's card to INEC claiming to have obtained the same while living at No. 11 Oghosa Street, Benin City, in 2011.

Meanwhile, on November 10, he wrote to INEC, asking for transfer of his voting centre from Ikoyi, Lagos, to Oredo Ward, Unit 19, to enable him vote henceforth.

Similarly, in a petition by Hon. Thomas E Okosun, dated June 9, 2020, he referred to a testimonial reportedly issued by Institute of Continuing Education, Benin City, which was expected to validate his attendance of the said school for his GCE and A'Level education. The said testimonial was however not on the school letterhead and he didn't state that he passed the said subjects listed on the testimonial. Students are only permitted to sit for a maximum of four subjects, one that must include General Paper, but he stated that he sat for five subjects, which included English Language. However, English Language is not one of the subjects a student can offer in Advanced Level examination.

The APC committee found out that from paragraph three of Obaseki's affidavit of June 7, 2016, he stated that after he finished secondary school in 1973, he proceeded to UI, where he obtained his BA degree in Classical Studies in 1976, whereas he submitted a testimonial of Institute of Continuing Education, which indicated he finished his A'Levels in 1975.

In the APC Expression of Interest Form, Obaseki stated that he was in the Institute of Continuing Education, Benin City, for A'Levels, between 1974 and 1976. He could not have conceivably attended two institutions in different cities simultaneously. Not surprisingly, the APC committee found inconsistencies in Obaseki's testimonial.

In 2016, Obaseki presented a degree certificate from UI dated and signed by the Vice Chancellor and Registrar, which was filed at INEC, leading to his qualification to contest for governorship. However, in 2020, he presented a degree certificate purported to have emanated from the same UI. The same degree certificate was undated but only signed by the VC with unidentified seal.

It is inconceivable that the same varsity would issue two different certificates relating to the same person in respect of the same course with marked differences. Not surprisingly, the committee doubted the authenticity of the certificate.

Besides the misspelling of his apparent surname: Obasek instead of Obaseki on his NYSC discharge certificate, which he never corrected, there is also no indication of where he served and there was a discrepancy in the digit number of the certificate.

On its part, the APC Screening Appeal Committee led by Abubakar Fari, penultimate Saturday corroborated the report of the screening committee by stating that, "It is inconceivable that the same University will award two certificates with separate dates for the same graduate.

Presenting its report to the National Working Committee headed by now suspended Oshiomhole, Fari added that, "We also find it difficult to vouch for the authenticity of his National Youth Service Corps certificate. There is no indication as to where he served. We find that he should be disqualified."

However, UI has now confirmed that Obaseki graduated from the institution. According to a statement from the institution's Registrar, Olubunmi Faluyi, Obaseki is indeed a UI alumnus.

Her words: "Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, the Governor of Edo State graduated from the University of Ibadan, where he studied Classics," the statement read. Obaseki gained admission to the University in 1976 and graduated in 1979 with a Second Class Honours, Lower Division. Records of his Admission and Graduation are intact in the archives of the University."

Curiously, UI's position has hardly diminished widespread belief of the existence of a flaw in the whole process. Governor Obaseki's Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, on his part defended his embattled boss.

His words: "The hullabaloo over the governor's certificates is a lame and weak effort to cause crisis and stir unnecessary controversy. The governor's displayed results are duly earned from the institutions he attended.

"If any individual or group of persons has issues with the results, they are free to approach the institutions to make enquiries as regards the authenticity of the particulars. They are free to go to St. Mathews Anglican Primary School; Eghosa Grammar School; the University of Ibadan (UI) and others, to verify the results.

"The criteria for admission are the sole preserve of the institution and anyone with issues over the criteria can also approach the institution for clarification. It is not the place of a political party to query an institution over the requirement for admitting its students."

This position cannot be acceptable considering the massive reputational damage this controversy has wrought on Nigeria's premier university. Three credits without credit level passes in Literature and English - fundamental subjects for studying Classics?

University of Ibadan had better come up with a rather sound explanation for how the three credits without English Literature and English were admissible to study Classics or risk being tarnished forever.

What this means in the absence of plausible clarification contrary to the high esteem placed on the admission processes in those good old days, is that some underhand dealings took place. The golden age of education was not so golden after all, particularly, in Nigeria's premier university.

In an unexpected escalation of the simmering controversy, the APC said it would go to court to challenge Obaseki's certificates if fielded by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September governorship election in Edo State.

The suspended National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, said last Tuesday that his party would take that option.

Obaseki, who formally resigned from the APC last Tuesday morning, the platform atop which he became governor of the state in 2016, has also formally joined the PDP last Friday.

Oshiomhole, who spoke at the Court of Appeal premises, said the party would take Obaseki to court over the alleged discrepancies in academic qualifications if the opposition party in the state presents him as its governorship candidate.

"Fortunate enough, it was the PDP that exposed him in 2016. PDP filed a case at the Federal High Court, amplifying every forgery segments in his certificate. APC just managed to escape that because PDP filed out of time and the case was struck out.

"Now, the case has life so when they field him, we will be at the court to adopt what PDP filed before the court against him with additional evidence we now have against him. So, we can't wait to have PDP field him as their candidate," he explained.

Oshiomhole noted that soon, the boys would be separated from the men. "So far, we are good. We will soon separate the boys from the men. He has had a good day abusing, saying half-truths against me, that's fine.

"When you forged a certificate like you saw in the case of Bayelsa State, where we won an election, and on account of irregularities on the certificate of our candidate, we lost out at the Supreme Court level. "Only a foolish political party will not with due attention, meticulously screened those who want to contest election on the platform of the party after that incident."

Meanwhile for the Edo masses, caught in the crossfire, its morning yet on creation day.

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