I almost lost my job as editor of a national newspaper in this country three years ago for publishing an interview on one self-acclaimed professor Chris Imafidon, who claimed to lecture at Oxford University (Keble College), in the United Kingdom.  

Imafidon was in Nigeria to deliver the 33rd convocation lecture of the University of Ilorin in October 2017.  Apparently, Unilorin was convinced that it caught a big fish in Imafidon and flaunted this on its website.  The institution boasted as being the only Nigerian university that brought a professor of Imafidon’s status back home for the first time in 30 years. 

To be candid, it is easy to fall for Imafidon’s antics going by his impressive profile on the Internet. On his LinkedIn page, for example, he claims to have “mentored, supervised and acted as examiner for several Master’s and PhD students in various aspects of computer security and informatics at London School of Economics, Imperial College, Cambridge, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London, where he also claimed to have been a former Head of the Management Technology Unit. According to him, he serves on the Board of Governors, Woodford and that of Excellence in Education programme-all in the UK.

Imafidon also describes himself as a “world’s foremost scholar on leveraging informatics for learning and exceptional achievement (genius).”  His profile adds: “As Honorary Board Member/Director of Research, Chris mentors and supports young leaders, teachers/tutors, teaching assistants/researchers from University of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Kings College, UCL and Queen Mary University of London. He also collaborates with and consults for Ohio State University (USA); London and Oxford colleges that are keen on mutual areas of collaboration.”

 He claims to be a consultant to governments and industry leaders. As a former university lecturer in Cambridge, he says he has been a guest lecturer at the University of Oxford (Keble College) and a visiting professor to US universities, including Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, SUNY, Georgetown, Miami, LSU (Louisiana State University), and has collaborated with scientists at Yale University.

Impressive, isn’t it? While I may not say for sure that all the beautiful things in public domain about Chris Imafidon are completely false, I can authoritatively state that his claim on links to Oxford is completely false. Unfortunately, I realised this after the interview on him was published. As a matter of fact, the only formal connection between Chris Imafidon and the Keble College where he claimed to have lectured is that his daughter was once a student at the college.

Anne-Marie Imafidon (2006) according to the College Communications Manager, Boriana Boneva, is listed on the college’s website as one of the beneficiaries of the 2017 New Year Honours given to Keble Old Members, whose achievements were recognised.  Oxford in a response to a mail sent to confirm if Imafidon was either a member of its faculty or one of its guest lecturers, said it had no such records. One Lanisha of Oxford News and Information office, said: “Our records show that Chris Imafidon has no affiliation with Oxford University or any of its colleges or departments. I hope this information is what you are after; please let us know if we can be of any further help.” This same response was repeated by the School’s Media Relations Manager, Dr. Julia Paolitto.

 I must state that I paid heavily for being misled by Imafidon. I worked for a company that had zero tolerance for mistakes so I was placed on an indefinite suspension for publishing the interview. That was my first time of going on a suspension in my journalism career and it was traumatic. Actually, the company’s plan was to relieve me of my position as editor  but  mercifully God overturned that plan and I was recalled after about five weeks suspension.  

But the saddest and most disturbing aspect of this unwholesome experience  for me is  that Imafidon still goes around claiming to be who he is not. Oxford is probably too busy to push a case of impersonation against him. Another unfortunate thing is that all through the time this thing was happening, Imafidon remained cool, calm and collected.  It was as if nothing was amiss. When confronted with the responses from Oxford that he was not on the institution’s faculty, Imafidon simply said it was strange for the school to have denied having any relationship with him. At a point, he said it was difficult for him to take the university up because the university didn’t give him permission to come to Nigeria to deliver a convocation lecture. His words: “I went on my own private initiative. You don’t understand what the system here demands for somebody to represent someone officially.”

One can only imagine the number of people that Imafidon must have deceived, deceiving and yet to deceive. But as bad as Imafidon’s case is, what Victor Mbarika, the man at the centre of the controversial professorial appointment of Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje has done, is beyond comprehension. It is still possible to argue that Imafidon probably has nothing to lose for namedropping. After all, he is not working for Oxford and may not even qualify to do so because his profile does not even have any information on his educational qualifications per se.   But Mbarika is acknowledged by the United-States based East Carolina University College of Business to be a lecturer at its International Centre for IT and Development. What could have made a man to sacrifice his integrity and career so cheaply?

Recall that Mbarika had sent a letter purportedly appointing Ganduje as a professor at the United States-based ECU.  The governor was said to have been appointed a Senior Mentoring Scholar and Visiting Full Professor of e-governance and International Affairs by the university. The letter said the governor would be providing mentorship for PhD students, junior lecturers and advise the institution’s research centre on academic issues related to e-governance and international affairs.

Abba Anwar, spokesperson to Ganduje, quoting the purported letter of appointment, said the governor was selected for his “accomplishment in good governance and genuine investment in human capital development.”

The letter reads: “You have been a source of motivation to the Nigerian youths both at home and in the Diaspora at large. We are amazed at your accomplishments both as the Executive Governor of Kano State, Nigeria, Fellow National Association of Educational Administration and Planning, Nigeria, and your investment in Human Capital Development”.

“Looking at your academic, administrative, and overall leadership record in Nigeria and Africa, you fit perfectly in East Carolina University’s goal to remain a leading research and teaching institution in the United States and beyond.”

 Mbarika’s letter made it seem as if there are other definitions for words like motivation, good governance and genuine investment in human capital development. Otherwise, how can anyone describe a governor enmeshed in bribery scandal in a viral video as motivating Nigerian youths – motivation to do what? Or how can the governor of a state that leads in the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria with about 1.5 million children out of school be described as investing in human capital development? Besides, it appears only people like Mbarika can ask a governor of a state  whose ministry of  higher education does not have a web presence and whose ministry of land and physical planning’s website  was last updated in 2011, to advise an American institution’s research centre on  e-governance!

No wonder, another letter signed by the university’s Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, B. Grant Hayes, informed the governor that there was no such appointment. The letter read: “It has been brought to my attention that you received a letter from a faculty member dated November 30, 2020, that appeared to offer an unpaid appointment in the “International Centre for IT and Development” at East Carolina University College of Business.

“I must inform you that the letter you received from Dr. Victor Mbarika, on November 30, 2020 does not convey an authorized offer of appointment or establish any position of scholar or professor at East Carolina University (“ECU”). Only the Chancellor, myself, or another official identified in ECU’s published statement on Delegation of Contracting Authority for the Division of Academic Affairs may authorize or sign appointment letters under which faculty are employed. Dr. Mbarika is not such an official.”

Now, Ganduje is asking the East Carolina University to apologise over the conferment of a fake professorship on him. Ganduje is also calling for a disciplinary action against Mbarika. Inasmuch as some of us may have an idea of what could have transpired between Mbarika and the Kano governor before an unauthorised letter of appointment was written to him, I think it is within the governor’s rights to push for disciplinary action against Mbarika. The whole thing has become messy and too embarrassing to the governor. Meanwhile, this 419 appointment would have subsisted but for enquiries by a Nigerian news medium. Come to think of it, assuming this appointment was real, what is the big deal in a governor being appointed a guest lecturer? Why should such mundane appointment become an object of media celebration?  It all shows our penchant for celebrating mediocrity at the expense of substance. Our leaders love accolades and it seems Nigerians too love big titles. No wonder, we have so many people laying claims to fake certificates and all kinds of things.

An article written by Farooq Kperogi in 2011 is currently trending online. The article was on an alleged fake doctoral degree of a former head of Nigeria Stock Exchange. The article claims that it has been established that the former DG’s claim to have earned a Ph.D. in business from the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1983 is fake. How come our people find it so easy to use foreign universities’ fake certificates and titles?  I guess it is all because of our colonial mentality. Anything from abroad is superior and we hardly fact-check those claims.   It is only hoped that Nigeria will develop its local educational institutions and start placing the right value on competence and not certificates whether foreign or local.

Meanwhile, I think ICU should make Mbarika pay for his atrocities. Oxford may choose to spare Imafidon because of the complexities involved in prosecuting his case, but Mbarika shouldn’t be that lucky. He is on ICU faculty. The university should have rules and regulations guiding its activities. I doubt if the university rules support forgery. Some of us are eagerly waiting to hear from ICU on this.   

Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]

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