Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nigeria’s fake professionals

I am worried about the growing cases of fake professionals in Nigeria. There is hardly any week that arrests of some of these impostors, quacks, and charlatans are not made. Virtually every profession has them. There have been many reported cases of fake doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, journalists, teachers, pharmacists, soldiers, police and clerics to mention but a few. They are the chaff in the wheat; the weed in the beautiful garden of many otherwise noble professions. These quacks are often smooth operators. They are bold, articulate, well dressed and understand the buzz words or the lingoes of the professions they are impersonating. Even though they are not properly certified by the regulatory body of their adopted profession to practise, they nonetheless are able to wangle fake certificates and identity cards to back up their fraudulent claims.
Early this month, this newspaper reported a sensational case of a fake medical doctor who had been practising for nine years with a purportedly stolen certificate of his friend. It was reported in the Sunday Punch edition of June 7, 2015 that a senior official of the Federal Ministry of Health, Martins Ugwu, who had been practising as a medical doctor for close to 10 years, had been arrested by the police upon discovery that he stole the medical licence from his friend. Ugwu, who is a Senior Medical Officer II on Grade Level 13, was found to have impersonated his friend, Dr. George Davidson Daniel, who is undergoing a residency training programme in Jos, Plateau State.
The culprit, who was due to be promoted as an Assistant Director in the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health, had been working in the civil service since 2006 under the name of Dr. George Davidson Daniel until he was indicted by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as an impostor. The council said so far, it is investigating and prosecuting some 40 cases of quacks in courts. Imagine what threat fake practising doctors constitute to public health. Some of these counterfeit doctors operate in the cities while many of them are to be found in rural communities. Because they are unqualified, they carry out wrong diagnoses and treatments; some even carry out surgeries and other highly technical medical procedures. Many preventable deaths are traceable to these impostors.
In the same medical profession, there have been several reported cases of fake pharmacists who gave wrong drug prescriptions to patients. Some genuine pharmacists who operate private pharmacy stores sometimes run their shops like hospitals where they double as the medical doctor carrying out diagnosis, laboratory tests, drug prescriptions and dispensing. The import of this is that while they are certified pharmacists, they are however operating beyond their level of professional competence by doubling as medical doctors which they are not. Similar stories have been told of qualified nurses who operate private hospitals as medical doctors. I am not saying that a nurse cannot set up a hospital but he will need to hire other health professionals such as medical doctors and pharmacists and not operate as trinity – nurse, pharmacist and medical doctor- when the only qualification such a person has is that of a nurse.
Fake builders, architects and civil engineers are largely responsible for the high incidences of building collapse in this country. Given that they are not qualified ab initio, they then offer wrong services to clients leading sometimes to huge economic waste and threat to lives. There are also many unqualified teachers and lecturers in our academic institutions. The Vanguard of July 14, 2014, reported that the Plateau State Government had dismissed 1,400 teachers found with fake certificates during the biometric data capturing exercise. The Chairperson of the State Universal Basic Education Board, Mrs Lyop Mang, allegedly disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Jos. She said the institutions where the certificates were obtained had confirmed that the certificates were not authentic.
I have heard of fake university and polytechnic lecturers too. Indeed, there are also fake students who are referred to as NFA meaning “No Future Ambitions”. Some of them are initially genuine students who probably in the course of their studies performed woefully and had been advised to withdraw or had been rusticated for some unbecoming behaviour such as cultism or exam malpractices. These NFAs often do not inform their parents about their ordeal but rather keep it to themselves while pretending to be students loafing about the school campus, collecting tuition fees and other maintenance allowances from their parents and guardians.
Even in the noble profession of journalism, the fakes are as many as there are genuine ones, if not more. Many of these quacks are to be found at notable hotels and event centres where training, workshops, conferences and social events take place. Some of them are well dressed and possess multiple identity cards of different media organisations including non-existing ones. They often approach guests for interviews which are never published and demand gratifications for performing what should be a normal professional assignment.
Recently, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, raised the alarm about the intolerable number of fake lawyers in the country. According to the CJN, “Indeed, judges find it difficult to identify which counsel, appearing before them, is genuine or otherwise. Of even greater concern is the fact that members of the public are often left in a quandary over who they can place their trust, property and even lives in.” One of such cases in point happened three years ago when Magistrate O.O. Martins of the Igbosere Magistrate Court in Lagos sentenced a 74-year-old Ghanaian, Keinde Dodo, to five years’ imprisonment for pretending to be a lawyer and representing litigants in courts in Nigeria for 15 years. The septuagenarian had pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, forgery, stealing, escape from lawful custody and falsely representing litigants on February 10, 2012.
Among the causative factors of this sad development in our society, which incidentally is a global phenomenon, are high rate of unemployment, grinding poverty, greed, psychological quest to fulfil a desire and pervasive culture of impunity.
It is heart-warming that the Nigerian Bar Association had risen up to the challenge of fake lawyers and has come up with measures to exterminate the ugly phenomenon. The NBA recently re-launched its seal and stamp for legal practitioners. This is in fulfilment of the requirement of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 which makes it mandatory for every legal document signed and filed by a lawyer to bear a stamp and seal approved by the professional body. This is a commendable effort. Each regulatory organ of every profession needs to institute similar counter measures to deal with the bad eggs among their professions. Those that have instituted such mechanisms need to enlighten the public on how to identify the black sheep or sore apples among them and where and how to report these scoundrels. The security agents, particularly the police, which have the power of arrest, investigation and prosecution, should endeavour to work collaboratively with the regulatory bodies to stamp out these undesirable elements in our noble professions.