Sierra Leone’s fake education qualifications scandal: My two cents

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.

6 Comments

  1. The fake degrees saga and by extension the “quality education “ can be easily fixed if we have the Will to do so. As a starter, can someone answer why our Heads of State should or must always be awarded a doctorate even when they are uninterested in educational development? I know a few did merit theirs anyway.

  2. The more PHDs Sierra Leoneans acquire by hook or crook, the more we tumble down the UN socio-economic indices such as the Human Development Index and the world happinness index – even propping-up for years now our next door neighbours Guinea and Liberia. Since the late Siaka Stevens named Sierra Leone’s most PHD-laden cabinet then in the 80s, the PHD-craze among Sierra Leoneans has gone into overdrive. Our presidents, our ministers, our heads of parastatals tend to feel inferior and Inadequate without being called a Doctor. Our graduates who have no desire to be a medical doctor, go into research or academia will be on a PHD-ego-trip in all sorts of ludicrous and mickey-mouse subject areas even if they end up being unemployed and their addition of a new body of knowledge to their field of study being of no use to themselves or their field. There are just a handful of Sierra Leoneeans who have earned a PHD certificate but are not using the doctor title. They will just chuck it in the drawer for safe keeping ahd dust it off whenever they are contemplating a job change.

    As far as i am concerned, anyone who has not achieved a second class first division grade in his/her undergraduate studies has not got the fine intellect to pursue any rigorous PHD programme in any notable Uni or credible field of study. Online degree mills offering PHDs willy-nilly to every dim-witted and vainglorious Joe Blog with deep pockets is unfortunately now ubiquitous. Responsible Governments should be aware of that and set up qualifications-checking mechanisms to weed out academic imposters and prevent them from distorting any semblance of meritocracy that may prevail in the country.

    The Sierra Leonean media should be reticent in calling every one a doctor without 100 percent certainty that the person being called a Doctor is a genuine Doctorate-holder from an accredited institution. Accompanying such rogues and cheats in such a vainglorious ego-trip could be fuelling the mushrooming of such fast-churning degree mills such as Dominion, Africa Graduate University, St Clements, Commonwealth.. Free Quality Education should not be allowed to become a misnomer and act as a subterfuge for incubating or cloning fake philosopae doctors.

  3. Two of the richest and innovative men in the world namely Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are college dropouts. Even the richest Black Man in the world Aliko Dangote of Nigeria only did his Islamic study in Egypt based on moderation. The most important educational requirement any citizen need is Basic education,(GCE O level and High School graduation) which is the requirement to even be the president, parliamentarian, or MDA employees. That’s the reason why even the president needs a Speech Writer which is a profession and a teleprompter to read the prepared speech.
    Personally, I believe that having a degree is just an advantage for boosting your earning potential which will primarily benefit your family and secondarily your community.
    I also noticed that apart from medical doctors, most of the other “doctorate degrees” is more about prestige and bragging rights.
    Basic education is what is required to not only express yourself without using colorful jargons, that’s the reason w most reputable newspapers, television and radio stations always target grade five students in the USA and Europe.
    Finally, anything “Fake” is supposed to be illegal and should be handled by the law enforcement officers like the CID because it is a crime, but not the ACC.
    The link below shows that fake school operators is not unique to our country:
    https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/nursing/fbi-3-nursing-school-operators-accused-of-selling-fake-diplomas-certificates.html

  4. Fake Diplomas and Degrees: Advantages and Disadvantages

    There are many people who cannot progress in their life because they lack that important diploma and certificates which are required and are necessary to apply for those best top-ranked posts. Because of that, there are many problems for them and even if they got the skills to qualify, they lack those important certificates and degrees which are needed for that post. There are many advantages of having a fake degree/diploma when you want to give an early start to your career. But now, you can buy fake diploma that can help you in getting those top-ranked jobs in no time. Many universities won’t even recognize or check the certificates which they ask for and it becomes an unfair situation for those people who have talent inside them.

    There are also those people who don’t want to study much further and want to start their career as soon as possible. They can buy fake degrees online to complete their qualifications and with the help of that, they can give a jump start to their successful career as soon as possible. With a fake degree, you can get rid of those excessive amounts of money you have to spend to get it in the legal process. Many use this formula when they want to get better placements. These degrees like MD, LLB, and JD are quite difficult to fake as they involve government copyright laws and problems which can make one get into trouble. The fake degree for the medical purpose can get involved in prescribing drugs which are not valid and can cause several problems for the patients.

    Some institutions don’t allow the printing of those fake degrees, which are related to one’s allowance towards flying aircraft or for aeronautical purposes. One can be responsible for the lives of many people, which can lead to the strict action of law.

    Printing such details in the fake documents which point a business or school address directly can also make a fake diploma/degree noticeable in terms of law inquiry. So, some institutes avoid adding or printing the business or the school address as recipients so that it doesn’t get traced when presenting it in the submission.

    Although there are many advantages of having a fake diploma or degree, there are also some disadvantages too. While you buy fake degrees, you cannot apply yourself in the government posts which can be one of the worse disadvantages of having a fake degree/diploma. Many struggles a lot in the government sectors and now helplessly and are working in the private sectors.

    Yes, buying a fake degree will be like breaking of the law as they will count it as one of the illegal crimes which can bring you severe punishment. So, these were some advantages and disadvantages of having a fake diploma/degree. Everything has its benefits and loses so it is up to you to decide your future on how you want your career life. Make your own quality replacement diplomas and transcription. Buy college diploma and digital transcripts online. Perfect for replacing high school, home school, college, and university diplomas and certificates. Corruption, corruption, corruption! Government agencies needs to apply requisite attention in vetting prospective candidates.

  5. I was perplexed and ashamed to read Prof. Kelfala Kallon’s failed attempt to defend Sierra Leoneans who have fake degrees, especially those humbugs with fake and unmerited honorary doctorate degrees. Kallon argued that people who make large donations, like Bill Gates, to universities in countries like the United States are awarded with an honoris causa degrees, and then concluded that “therefore, there are no FAKE honorary degrees.” What an unfounded conclusion by an academic and Bank Governor of our country. I expected such baseless, amateurish argument and conclusion from Dominion and AGU graduates, like Paran Tarawally, not from Prof. Kallon.

    Prof. Kallon and those who identify with Kallon’s argument, here are reasons why the exposed FAKE degrees by Dr. John Idriss Lahai are FAKE. Honorary doctorate degrees should be awarded only to those who merit them and issued at the discretion of the university, not sought after by the donor or perspective awardee. In the case of the FAKE degrees saga in Sierra Leone, those who have been exposed by Dr. Lahai of having FAKE degrees deliberately sought after the FAKE awards by paying for them.

    Second, a university that awards honoris cause degrees must be an accredited institution with the qualified academic authority and legality to confer such degrees. The FAKE universities in Sierra Leone that have been accused of conferring FAKE degrees, like DCU and AGU, have been charged by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), the accrediting agency in Sierra Leone, to be unaccredited, unrecognized, and unsuitable for accreditation. In other words, those FAKE schools are indeed FAKE, hence the degrees they have conferred on people are also FAKE, be they academic or honorary. Sadly, those who have been exposed by Dr. Lahai of paying for FAKE degrees from the abovementioned FAKE schools did so with the knowledge that the awarding institutions were FAKE.

    Here is another attempt to help our Bank Governor, Prof. Kelfala Kallon, understand what FAKE means. According to the Webster Dictionary (2022), FAKE is “one that is not what it purports to be.” So, if a person donates money to any university with the hidden agenda of getting an honorary degree unknown to the awarding institution, then such an act would be unethical and the conferred degree labeled as insincere and FAKE.

    With the above, I would like to advise Prof. Kallon to not waste his time and jeopardize his integrity defending the indefensible FAKE degree holders like IG Michael Sovula, Hon. Paran Tarawally, Col. Alex Massaquoi, Hon. Matthew Nyuma, Sanpha Pius Kargbo, Brima Baluwa Koroma, Abu Hindolo Moseray, Tuma Adama Gento-Kamara, Ibrahim Sorie Kamara, and the many other charlatans. We understand that your boys and girls are your boys and girls, but please let us call a spade for what it is. FAKE is FAKE. We do not need a new definition for FAKE.

  6. The fact remains that we have people in high positions in government claiming titles and credentials that they do not deserve and does not exist. For instance the Africa Graduate University is a total sham and not accredited in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Simple checks could have saved these high profile people the embarrassment they and their families are facing.

    Taking short cuts to achieve status in society rather than hard work by title obsessed people sets a bad precedence. This fake degree scandal is a national disgrace with international dimension. It’s about time the heads of Institutions holding these fake degrees do the right thing by issuing an apology for misleading the public and renouncing their titles. This will set the stage for others. Trying to defend the indefensible is no longer tenable. The illegal institutions should also face the law for this fraud they have committed.

    The government should review the qualifications of every public sector worker. Failing to take this seriously will undermine the human capital development agenda.

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