Dr. Saidu Bangura, PhD: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 April 2022:
On the eve of the sixty-first independence anniversary of Sierra Leone, we are shocked as videos of a graduation ceremony under a mango tree made rounds on Social Media platforms, especially Facebook and WhatsApp.
Subsequently, Dr John Idriss Lahai alerted us of the deep-seated scheme of conferring fake degrees on Sierra Leoneans by unscrupulous individuals and universities, by publishing names of people who have been awarded master’s and PhD degrees.
Surprisingly, most, if not all, of these people hold top executive positions in government agencies and other public institutions. Private citizens, academics, tertiary institutions and the Tertiary Education Commission in the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education all came out decrying both the ceremony and the fake degree awards by these unaccredited institutions and self-made university dons.
As an academic myself, I am left with no option but to offer my two cents on the issue around the fake degree crusade in Sierra Leone spearheaded by Dr John Idriss Lahai. Let us begin with a few questions:
Can countries develop without real human resource capacity building?
Does that capacity resource development depend on rigorous and reliable training or on the conferment of spuriously misleading certificates, diplomas, and degrees from unrecognised universities?
How do governments and their educational and academic institutions plan, develop and manage their countries’ human resource potentials to ensure economic growth and stability, administrative competence and quality, a steady flow of brain gain mechanisms in tandem with state-of-the-art and world class standards; enhance human development, meritocracy, equal opportunities, and inclusiveness; prevent sociopolitical and socioeconomic instability in their countries, and promote the spirit of competitiveness at national, regional and international levels?
Is there a nexus between education and development?
While the above questions tend to be global in perspective, I will attempt to look at them by examining the Sierra Leonean context considering the current saga of fake postgraduate degrees supposedly held by prominent Sierra Leoneans in top decision-making and administrative positions in the civil service, government agencies and other state institutions as exposed by Dr John Idriss Lahai on his Facebook page.
This issue has dominated the Sierra Leonean social media environment for about three weeks now and has equally caused frenzy reactions from some of the affected people, other Sierra Leoneans living at home and abroad and working in tertiary institutions, and the Tertiary Education Commission of the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education in Freetown.
Sierra Leone needs to rebrand itself if we want to be considered a politically, economically, and an academically (scientifically) vibrant and reputable country in Africa and the world at large. We have natural and mineral resources; we have favourable climatic conditions and a rich and productive land, and we have a young population.
What these three resources guarantee us is that, if managed, nurtured and trained well, Sierra Leone can be an economic force to reckon with in Africa. Where have we gone wrong and how can we pick up from where we went wrong and take the country forward to real economic development and a realisation of the social contract and save Sierra Leone from becoming a fragile and failed state?
I do not intend to bore you with too many questions that you probably do not have answers to. And I doubt if this article will be able to address all the questions asked at the outset. My intension is to invite you to join the crusade initiated by Dr John Idriss Lahai as he exposes fake degree holders in state institutions that have contributed to the socioeconomic debauchery that have gripped our country for far too long, and how that have added to the brain drain that the country suffers today.
It is time we stopped these mafias holding us as a nation and people to ransom – our collective future, and the prospects of generations yet unborn.
Let us ignore the petty things – ethnic, regional, and political affiliations – that have held us hostage and hence, the underdevelopment we suffer today amid so many natural and mineral resources for less than eight million people. Let us join Dr Lahai’s fight and clean our civil service, the powerhouse of Sierra Leone’s development, albeit the cause for its underdevelopment, and other state institutions for the sake of posterity.
We were all taken by surprise when we saw the infamous graduation ceremony of the “Dominion Christian University” under a mango tree at Waterloo, in the Rural district of the Western Area, Sierra Leone. Before that graduation ceremony, we have heard of the “African Graduate University” which had given Doctorate Honoris Causa degrees to prominent Sierra Leoneans, among them the current Inspector General of Police. Both universities are unregistered and unaccredited tertiary institutions in Sierra Leone according to a press release by the Tertiary Education Commission.
What we did not know is how deeply entrenched these fake postgraduate degree holders (Master’s and PhDs in critical areas) are in the civil service, government agencies, and other state institutions, including universities, and how they have organised a syndicate to reap the state and damage the educational image of Sierra Leone, nationally and internationally.
My concern is neither about the above-mentioned universities nor about the history of fake degrees, and the institutions, both at home and abroad, that have conferred them on Sierra Leoneans, but about the crusade to expose and weed out these fake degree holders in the entire public service (and other sectors’) workforce in Sierra Leone launched by Dr John Idriss Lahai, and the raison d’etre why every hardworking and patriotic Sierra Leonean must join Dr Lahai’s crusade and make it our collective crusade to save the soul of Sierra Leone.
And it is urgent
What has held Sierra Leone in the margins of the least developed countries in the world before and twenty-years after the end of the civil war given the economic potentials of our natural and mineral resources, and the funds the country has received from international organisations since 2002?
Why has it been so remote to hear of tangible economic development happening in Sierra Leone? Is it because of bad leadership or are the people themselves responsible for such decadence? Why has it been so difficult for us in the diaspora, who are willing to go back home and contribute to national development, to be accepted in the institutions that we want to work for? How do we rebrand Sierra Leone?
Answers to the above, including my initial questions, rest on one fact: genuine human resource capacity planning, building and management. If our human resource potential is truly made our currency, this will consequently pave the way to the economic development of the country and the subsequent equal distribution of our resources to all Sierra Leoneans irrespective of their ethnic, religious, political, and economic backgrounds, including place of residence.
Here is part one of my take on this fake degree saga:
Dr Lahai’s audacity coupled with his tenacity to research and expose Sierra Leoneans in top management positions in the civil service and other key state institutions with fake master’s and PhD degrees is a saving grace to what could have otherwise been a global disgrace had it been researched and published by a foreign journalist, whistleblower, and/or press. Just imagine what the headline would have been! It is also a saving grace as we now know where the problem of our underdevelopment comes from: the civil service.
As we gear up to celebrate our sixty-first independence anniversary, let us go back to the drawing board and map out strategies to save the soul of our dear country, especially in /through the educational sector.
Dr John Idriss Lahai is an erudite scholar with an enviable curriculum vitae. We may not want to agree with him given the social media platform (Facebook) he has used to expose these supposed academic fraudsters and because some of our admired relatives, loved ones, tribesmen, political party members, and accomplices are affected. However, for some of us who have spent time and our hard-earned resources to pursue postgraduate studies abroad, even those who did theirs with grants, feel and understand his pain, disappointment, and anger.
His work should be applauded since it shows signs of his desire to see a developed Sierra Leone with the right people and the right qualifications, trained in accredited and well-established institutions of good repute, both at home and abroad, in top executive positions in different sectors of the state, and who put Sierra Leone above themselves and their immediate families and cronies.
The craze for terminal academic titles without working for them saddens one and makes one wonders where our nation is heading to; and using such titles to reach top echelons of our sociopolitical and socioeconomic ecology makes it even more annoying.
The people exposed in Dr Lahai’s investigation show symptoms of professional, academic, and social insecurity and unacceptability of who and what they really are. They lack substance. They lack the drive to dream dreams and pursue them. They don’t believe in themselves and what they can achieve without those fake academic credentials. That notwithstanding, the whole saga tells us a lot about the Sierra Leonean socioeconomic and sociopolitical milieu, and how “self-defined” social status dictates the dynamics of our society.
While this fake degree saga may have exposed a lot of people, the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education of the current government (including the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the previous government), the sector responsible for tertiary education in Sierra Leone, has equally been exposed.
This institution of government in the Republic of Sierra Leone failed to prepare and designate the responsibility of verifying all national and foreign certificates, diplomas and degrees earned by Sierra Leoneans and foreign nationals working in Sierra Leone since the days of the St. Clements University degree saga.
I will not delve into that embarrassing saga which should have taught Sierra Leoneans and policy makers in education a lesson, but for want of unmerited social status, we have failed to correct that dark episode. And it has repeated itself in a classic style. Now fake, and unaccredited universities with offices in Sierra Leone are conferring fake master’s and PhD degrees under mango trees. Blame should also be apportioned to the most emblematic institutions of higher learning in Sierra Leone – Fourah Bay College, the Institute of Public Administration and Management, and Njala University – for “market failure” or for failing to build a nexus between university/higher education and national development, an opportunity that these academic racketeers have used and well, though to the shame and chagrin of all Sierra Leonean academics, professionals of high repute in different walks of life in Sierra Leone, and well-wishers of our dear country.
It is, hence, a wake-up call for the University of Sierra Leone (FBC, IPAM, and COMAHS) and Njala University for a reengineering of their postgraduate programmes – a broadening of their scope in terms of the courses they offer to fill professional and technical gaps with regards the courses that are in demand in the civil service, and other public (including private) sectors for the socioeconomic development of Sierra Leone and the professional development of civil servants and other professionals in other public services.
The expertise of alumni of these two public universities and other Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora that are in academia can be tapped into for collaboration and support, and for the internationalisation of our universities.
It is time to decolonise our university programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels to discourage such ugly saga resurfacing and for the general development of Sierra Leone. (Photo: Author – Dr. Saidu Bangura).
In the second of my two part series on this saga, I will answer the following questions: What does education have to do with development and the success or failure of countries? What is the way forward for tertiary education in Sierra Leone? (Policy recommendations)
About the author
Dr Saidu Bangura is an Assistant Professor at the University of Cape Verde from 2016 to date. He lectures in the English Studies Course, Faculty of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, where he directs the Masters in English Studies: Linguistics and English Language Teaching, a new academic program he helped build at the University of Cape Verde. He also coordinates Languages and Literature in the Scientific Council of the university since 2019 to date. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Linguistics from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and a PhD in Translation, Communication and Culture with a specialty in English Linguistics from the University of Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.