EXPOSED: Foster Ogola, Bayelsa senator, caught in PhD certificate scandal

Nigerian lawmakers have lately come under fire for various reasons. From their ridiculously huge salaries to unproductive and unsatisfactory representation, especially in the implementation of constituency projects, the National Assembly has had a tumultuous journey so far.

In addition to the above, lawmakers who possess false academic certificates from questionable institutions are now being uncovered. This did not start with the eighth Assembly. Since the inception of democracy, lawmakers have been exposed for this wrongdoing.

NOT THE FIRST CERTIFICATE SCANDAL

In 1999, for example, Salisu Buhari, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was entangled in several lies. The disgraced lawmaker had falsified his age and academic qualifications, claiming he had attended the University of Toronto, Canada. This was vehemently refuted by the academy, while the Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna State, had also expelled him for using fake credentials to gain admission.

The embattled lawmaker eventually apologised to the country, pleading: “I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them.

“I was misled in error by my zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”

Similarly, SaharaReporters had published a report accusing Dino Melaye, the senator currently representing Kogi West at the current Assembly, of not graduating from the Ahmadu Bello University. The Senate Ethics Committee said the allegations were unproven, leading to Melaye’s hit single ‘Ajekun iya’.

However, Melaye was not completely vindicated as he had included Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science as some of the schools he had attended. This turned out to be false, as both institutions denied his supposed studentship, stating that he had not completed any degree courses with them, hence could not have graduated.

On March 30, Nse Ekpenyong, a member of the House of Representatives, was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for allegedly forging a polytechnic diploma.

OGOLA — THE LATEST EXAMPLE

Now, Senator Foster Ogola has taken his spot as a prominent Nigerian with a certificate scandal attached to his name.

A few weeks ago, a confidential report was made using the Leaks.NG platform, an independent whistleblowing platform for revealing information the public interest, hinting that Ogola, currently representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District, has fake credentials from an unaccredited university in the country.

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“Senator Foster Ogola has a fake PhD. His official profile on the NASS website says he has a Ph.D. from GMF Christian University,” read the alert. “There is no official site for the university and it is not accredited by the NUC. There is also no research paper or thesis to his name online, although he got the degree in 2012.” the reported alerted.

On his official National Assembly profile, the senator is credited with having a PhD in Christian Leadership from the GMF Christian University Lagos, the same course he reportedly has an MSc. in from the Imo State University, Owerri.

NOT LICENSED

Upon enquiry by the ICIR, it was revealed that the Federal Government had not licensed the GMF Christian University, Lagos, where Ogola claims to have earned his PhD from in 2012.

When contacted on the validity of the institution, Ibrahim Yakasai, Director of Corporate Communications at the National Universities Commission (NUC), said: “We have never heard of that name.”

A copy of the commission’s weekly bulletin provided by Yakasai showed a list of 57 illegal universities operating in the country; GMF Christian University was not among, confirming that the commission was not aware of its activities.

Yakasai also said that since 1999, the NUC had approved of 74 private universities in the country and any certificate obtained from the GMF Christian University or any similar institution would not be recognised by their authority.

The Leaks.NG coalition also confirmed that the GMF Christian University still has no website offering information on the institution or its courses, and there is no information on the Christian Leadership course the embattled senator purports to have a PhD in.

Premium Times reached out to Ogola, who is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information Communication Technology and Cybercrime, to speak on the allegations levelled against him and give his reaction to GMF Christian University being an unaccredited institution in Nigeria.

He said: “Kindly clarify for me if Premium Times does exist, to entertain allegations from third parties, whose identities are not mentioned, especially when they are criminal in nature.”

The lawmaker went on to note that the allegations could be a product of “mischief makers with potential to foment distraction from weighty matters of state.”

On the unaccredited stated of the GMF Christian University, the Senator was asked if there was an exemption from the NUC on the Christian Leadership course, which Ogola purportedly has a doctorate degree in. Misunderstanding the question, the lawmaker retorted: “When did students or products of universities become accrediting bodies?”

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AN UNDERCOVER VISIT TO THE UNIVERSITY

In an attempt to verify GMF Christian University existence and understand how it operates in Nigeria, a member of the Leaks.NG coalition, TheCable traced the Gospel Missionary Foundation (GMF) Theological University to 165 Isolo road, Cele bus stop, Egbe-Ikotun, Lagos. The so-called university occupies the first floor of a two-storeyed building.

Besides the one and only lecture room, which was empty at the time of visit, there are about three other rooms serving as offices. Hope Obioha, the Registrar and wife of the President of the university Daniel Obioha, a self-acclaimed Professor, received the reporter who went there under the guise of a prospective student.

She took the reporter to her office where she introduced him to the university and the courses it offers.

According to the material she gave to the journalist, GMF Christian Theological University was established on May 4, 1988 and is registered by the Federal Government. It seeks to fulfill its commitment to individual special ministry calling, through graduate education, professional development and spiritual formation in all its activities, including teaching, nurturing, worship, service, research, publication and missions. Apparently, Obioha and his wife are the founders of the university.

When asked if the university was accredited by the NUC, Mrs Obioha said they do not operate like a secular university, hence the university is not registered with the NUC. She, however, presented the “accreditation certificate” of the universities by some international bodies. Checks revealed that all the bodies that purportedly accredited the university do not have an online presence.

Also, one of the materials obtained by the undercover reporter contains names of students who graduated from the university between 2013 and 2016. Senator Ogola claims to have obtained his PhD in Christian Leadership in 2012.  The course, however, was not on the list of courses offered by the university at doctorate level.

On a second visit to the GMF Christian University on March 13, the centre was empty again as the man who introduced himself as a lecturer said it was examination time. He said while the full-time students attend lectures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the part-time students attend only on Saturdays.

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He was reluctant to release the list of students who graduated in 2012 but the reporter obtained a Skye bank account of the university in order to pay for the admission process for a ‘diploma in theology’. At the end of both visits, TheCable was still unable to establish the veracity of the Senator’s claim that he attended the university and has a PhD. in Christian Leadership.

A UNIVERSITY WITHOUT STUDENTS

The Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) was unable to find any Christian Leadership course offered in Nigeria but a university in Boston explained that the course teaches how to apply biblical and theological principles to leadership situations. Courses may cover topics such as cultural diversity, Christian ethics and church history. Students may need to complete an internship or field experience amongst other things.

In an attempt to verify whether or not the Senator has used the skills acquired through the purported doctorate degree from the shady GMF Christian University, OrderPaper NG reached out to his office in the National Assembly to enquire about bills he has sponsored or motions he has raised. Unfortunately, his legislative aides proved highly unhelpful, claiming they could not reveal such information without Senator Ogola’s approval.

A quick search through National Assembly archives shows that the Senator has sponsored just two bills and one of them was stood down. While he is credited with contributing a lot to motions and debates, it is lamentable that there is nothing exclusive Ogola has spearheaded to bring positive outcomes in the eighth Assembly.

We are yet to see how Senator Foster Ogola has applied the teachings he supposedly received from an unaccredited university that does not even offer the Christian Leadership course as a doctorate degree but, we hope his constituents have benefitted from it in one way or another.

This report was put together by Leaks.NG, a coalition of news and civil society organisations, which provide a platform for Nigerians to submit evidence of wrongdoing by public office holders in Nigeria. To make a submission, please go on Leaks.NG and follow the simple steps involved.

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