The rampant allegations of forgery, perjury and personation in Nigeria’s public service have attracted a lot of uproar in recent weeks.
Some senior members of the federal executive, legislature and public service, including professional bodies like law, medicine and engineering, military and paramilitary services are allegedly replete with individuals who gained entry with falsified documents or personated actual holders of the qualifications.
Lawyers point at the dysfunctional nature of the Nigerian society and lack of application of the relevant provisions of the criminal law as the factors responsible for the growing culture of forgery and perjury in the country.
“It is probably the nature of our society because there is hunger, desperation and joblessness in the land,” said Ilorin-based lawyer, Abeny Mohammed (SAN).
“Even those who have genuine certificates cannot get gainful employment talk less of those who are school dropouts but want to work.
“If Nigeria was to be a normal society where things are working, everybody will have a place to fit in. If you are a school dropout you can get a job commensurate with your qualification, so also if you are an NCE holder.
“If you are HND or NCE holder you see that there are job opportunities. But we find that there are no jobs for both the educated and uneducated and yet Nigerians want to work. Even those who are working will say ‘I have to remain on this job, if I go out what will I eat?’ So if it is time for retirement, he goes back to swear to an affidavit reducing his age so that he can continue on the job. They are incidents of a malfunctioning society. These are the root causes,” he said.
On the criminal side, “people with information should come forward and report so that those who are involved are prosecuted. For ghost workers, those who brought in the names and prepared the vouchers should be arrested,” he said.
Also speaking, constitutional lawyer Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said, “There are adequate laws to punish for these offences, but they’ve never been enforced. The reason is that those to enforce them are themselves guilty of involvement in this despicable crimel.”
He said both the Criminal and Penal Codes that apply in the southern and northern parts of Nigeria prohibit forgery, citing Sections 463 of the Criminal Code which provides for three years imprisonment for forgery while sections 362 to 364 of the Penal Code deal with forgery with punishment of up to 14 years imprisonment with option of fine or both.
“It becomes life imprisonment if, amongst others, the thing forged purports to be a document which is evidence of title to public debt of Nigeria or a state, or of another country, or forges a document that purports to be a debt of Nigeria, or signature of the president or governor of a state,” he said.
He traced the root of the malaise to “the warped nature of the moral ethos of Nigerians, celebration and glamourization of wealth and power no matter how illicit, illegal or illegitimate it was acquired. Without adequate prosecution and punishment, recidivism of cases of forgery will continue to rear their ugly heads.”
In his assessment, Abuja-based lawyer E.M.D. Umukoro called on the government and law enforcement agencies to nip the country’s descent “into a monumental people of fraud.”
He said both forgery and perjury are criminal offences, explaining that Criminal Code views perjury as an offence whether made under judicial oath, that is a court proceeding or document or not, while under the Penal Code, perjury must be an evidence given under oath or under express provision of law compelling a person to state the truth.
“But having regard to Section 36 of the same Code, such statement may be made in order to prove a particular fact in a court of law or not. The Criminal Code in classifying false evidence or the offence of perjury made no distinction between statements made under oath; under the Penal Code, if the statement is made in a judicial proceeding oath is a sine qua non for the statement to assume the character of false evidence or perjury.
“One thing is clear age declaration or re-declaration of age, or falsification of results or claiming to be a graduate of an institution, whatsoever and however named, described or practiced is a criminal offence, the public must realize this,” he further stated.
In his contribution, Lagos-based lawyer, Barrister Joe Nwokedi explained that though the punishment for forgery under the country’s criminal law is three years, the court may give more punishment to the offender considering what the forged document or material was used for.
On the reports of mass falsification of documents in some of the states’ civil service, he said: “I advocate that they should be immediately prosecuted and sentenced accordingly. It’s time we begin to purge and rid our society of this menace of forgery whether certificate, age, academic qualifications or anything whatsoever.”
On his part, the Director General of Change Ambassadors of Nigeria (CAN), Prof Chris Mustapha Nwaokobia Jnr said forgery and perjury are both criminal offences that goes to one’s integrity and credibility.
“It vitiates the moral and legal trust that public service demands. It calls to question a person’s qualification and competency. And we must etch new paradigms in public services by proceeding in the Courts of Law against forgers and those who lie under oath.”
He said except this is done the “nation may not be able to stem the moral decay and the subversion of our laws which is presently prevalent and predominant.”