THE Cross Rivers State Government claimed it detected crime in its education system. Dr. Stephen Odey, Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board announced that over 758 teachers who used fake certificates to get employment had been detected. He said there was the case of a Head Teacher “who transferred his late wife’s certificates to his new wife and made her a classroom teacher.” The affected teachers were subsequently demoted. In one case, a Head Teacher on Grade Level 13, was demoted to Grade Level 4. Another step was the confiscation of the fake certificates. Dr. Odey explained the Government’s handling of the issue: “If we sacked all the teachers with fake certificates, the crime rate in the state will increase and also the governor of the state believes that there should be food on the table of everyone in the state.”
This type of ‘punishment’ the State Government has adopted, amounts to pampering criminals rather than ensuring they are punished in accordance with the law. Certificate forgery is a crime. Seizing the forged certificates cannot be a punishment as the culprits can always replace such forgeries with another set. If a person gets a job under the false pretence that he is a teacher; merely demoting him, amounts to allowing him profit from his crime. Retaining such teachers is an encouragement to other criminally-minded persons that they can profit from their crime, and if caught, will not suffer loss of jobs.
When the government claims that it decided not to sack the crooks because it does not want to increase the crime rate, it means government assumes that some of the fake teachers or their dependants will take to crime. So what the State is doing, amounts to paying these people so they do not commit other crimes. I think there are better ways of putting food on people’s table; these include social security. The fake teachers are already involved in crime and I do not think that it is advisable for a government to use criminals or criminally-minded people to teach our children in school. Has the government bordered to weigh the unquantifiable damage these fake teachers would have done to the education of the children? What knowledge would a fake teacher have impacted on the children? In any case, what is the moral lesson for pupils who see their Head Teacher transformed into a gateman?
We teach the wrong lessons and abate crime each time we allow a person who has admitted to looting the treasury, to pay a percentage of the looted funds and walk the streets free. Recovery of the funds should be a basic, in addition to the appropriate punishment. This path which allows criminals to profit from their crimes, leads to impunity. The kind of impunity displayed by killers who massacre other citizens in the name of ‘communal clash’ or ‘herdsmen – farmers clash’ and are allowed to roam free.
When I was an undergraduate from 1978, cults were not allowed in our universities, and cultists caught, were punished, most times by expulsion. Tragically, at a point during military rule, government which wanted to rid itself of the patriotic Student unions which were challenging its dictatorial rule, promoted the cults to sabotage the Student unions and even attack union leaders. Soon, the cultists, encouraged by the State began to operate openly, and seized the leadership of the student union. This was the case of the University of Benin amongst others. While the military regime succeeded in suffocating most of the Student unions, it gave oxygen to the cultists who have now graduated into being political leaders winning ‘elections’ through the type of violence they perpetrated in the campuses. Quite a number who were used to kidnap rival cultists, now engage in kidnapping, as a lucrative profession. These cultists who were handled with kid gloves rather than punished for the crimes they committed, have entrenched themselves in many parts of the country. Just last week, the Edo State Police Command claimed that as many as sixteen undergraduates were beheaded by rival cultists. While the number might be disputed, what is indisputable is the reign of cultists not only in a number of campuses but in the wider society.
It seems that with the level of impunity we have witnessed, nothing can shock us again, more so with the frequent announcement of huge funds discovered in various parts of the country. Some of the funds are enough as capital for the establishment of commercial banks. Yet, we should not become numbed by the stories of these discoveries. The perceptive Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah confessed that with the discovery of such huge sums of money: “ I feel more demoralized and very humiliated as a Nigerian but the confusion is that we are dealing with monies that are of the size of budget of some African states.I think it’s unthinkable that we are having such money running into billions of naira and we don’t know who owned such monies. Frankly, if I were a foreigner, my respect for Nigeria will dwindle seriously. ”
While the announcement of such recoveries have become like some trophies indicating the war against corruption is being won, , the Bishop has a different perspective: “ “Even me as a Nigerian, I feel quite violated and I don’t really know if all this theatre is the best way to go. I think the agencies concerned should have less dramatic but effective way of telling us the work they are doing, rather than this endless washing of linen whose owners we don’t know. It’s not helping the fight.”
I agree with him, but wish to add that we must as a people, come to terms with the fact that while crime is committed across a broad spectrum of society, many go unpunished. When it comes to punishment, all sorts of colourations are introduced including the person of the culprit, his ethno-religious background and political affiliation. We cannot hope to curb criminality by making excuses for some while eagerly wanting to punish others. The fake teacher, fake doctor, fake engineer and the thieving technocrat and political leader should be brought to justice irrespective of other considerations.