About four years ago, a “university” in “Ghana” wrote to announce its decision to award me an honorary doctorate degree for my “contribution to humanity and service to the nation”. My heart skipped a beat. Which service and what contribution? I asked myself. The “university” also informed me that I didn’t need to attend the convocation in Ghana as they can arrange for me to receive it in Nigeria. Is it free? NO. It comes for a fee. Thank God I hadn’t the money they wanted me to give for the “award”.
And again, I was (and still am) not crazy about cheap titles. I rejected the offer outright – without even giving the “university” the honour of a reply. But aren’t all honorary doctorate degrees “fake”? Sometimes even prestigious universities give honorary degrees to rich and influential persons in order to get returns for their investment, sorry investiture.
I learnt on good authority that my alma mata, a university that always prides itself on integrity, once chose a superrich US-based Nigerian for an honorary degree in order to make him donate to the university. It is even rampant in other Nigerian universities. Recently, the new chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler’s honorary doctorate degree has caused a stir on social media, with commentators offering viewpoints of different shades.
While I can’t explain why people would flaunt an honorary degree, even from a serious institution, I also don’t understand why people haggle over a nugatory aspect of a person’s entire record. And his is a radiant record. Should the acceptance of an honorary degree from a fake university overshadow one’s entire service record built for nearly 40 years? It may be possible that Fowler was swindled by the fake university. Remember, at times fake currency is palmed on unsuspecting persons and spent without knowledge.
But one of the features that distinguish Lagos from other states across the federation is its huge internallygenerated revenue profile that skyrocketed from about N3 billion to over N20 billion in the last decade. While the credit for this achievement is mainly given to those at the foreground, particularly governors under whom the achievement it is attained, the unsung hero remains in the background engineering a silent revolution.
The man at the centre of the storm, Babatunde Fowler, is he who ballooned Lagos State’s revenue profile from a shrinking N3 billion to a soaring N20.5 billion every month. The same man grew the branches of Commercial Bank (Credit Lyonnais Nigeria Limited) from two to 11 in five years as the Head of Branch Network of the bank in the 1980s. Under Fowler, Lagos became the only state in Nigeria that financially stood on its feet by generating more revenue than the monthly allocation it received from the Federation Account. President Buhari, like most Nigerians, might have fallen for this record — not Fowlers’ honorary or academic “Doctorate”.
The question here is: why will Nigerians overlook the whole contents of the man’s CV and go after the word “Dr”? But Sometimes I don’t blame Nigerians. Buhari gave the impression that he is searching for chastely unsullied characters to give appointments to. Perhaps there would not have been this uproar if Fowler was appointed under Goodluck Jonathan.
Well, as Professor Moses Ochonu remarked, Buhari administration is paying a price for the failure to make key appointments three months after inauguration. Although I didn’t see enough justification for the furore over Fowler’s honorary degree, President Buhari cannot escape blame for not digging well enough to ensure Fowler is free of fouls.
I think this is one reason Professor Farooq Kperogi has hammered on the issue. Had there at least been a private secretary or Chief of Staff appointed by the president, all the relevant integrity tests would have been done before appointments are announced. If Fowler has some wrinkles in his credentials, the key aides would have uncovered and ironed it out or thrown it (him) away. There is no vacancy so important to fill than positions in the president’s office.
The president’s office is the engine room that moves the nation. I always fume inwardly whenever I try to figure out why President Buhari has failed to appoint even a private secretary, who will write and process correspondences, sort files, explain some memos to him, among others. Why the procrastination? Why the indecision? As I have always noted, if the president has key aides in his office, the presidential zig-zag in the appointment of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairperson would have gone on a straight seam, much as, in KAROTA’s solecistic tone, the “You Tone” in the appointment of the managing director of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) wouldn’t have happened.
With an adviser on National Assembly matters, the crisis that forced Buhari to intervene, against his earlier avowal of neutrality, wouldn’t have occurred as the adviser would been at the centre of the crisis. Even in the recent appointment of the managing director of AMCON, the president may not have had a little affray with the company’s act. It is surprising that despite Mr. President’s delay in appointing the FIRS boss, such an “embarrassing” issue that gives critics room for criticism is happening. This tells you a Nigerian president needs advisers around him on his first day in office.
-GUEST COLUMNIST JAAFAR JAAFAR