For a fee, a foreigner can get Nigerian certificate of origin without hassle (II)

By James OJO and Samad UTHMAN

IN this concluding part of the investigation on how officials are issuing the certificate without due process, TheCable’s JAMES OJO and SAMAD UTHMAN examine how the situation is prevalent in other parts of the country. You can read the first part of the story HERE.


NASARAWA

With Usman as the surname and Aminu as the first name, this reporter wended his way into Kokona LGA in Nasarawa state claiming to be a Togolese in search of a certificate of origin for a job offer from the state government.

The reporter bumped into a young staffer at the LGA who pointed him to an office. There, he met a short man in a brown Kaftan holding a national identification number (NIN) slip with two teenagers conversing in their local language in a tone suggesting an argument.

The short man would later introduce himself as Oga Alex. He prided himself in solving all issues around NIN registration, land, origin, birth and death certifications. Just name it, and Alex will crack it for a fee.

In less than 15 minutes of discussion, Alex requested N6,000 to process a duly signed certificate of origin by the local government chairman, one of the district heads in the LGA and a local king. He also asked the reporter to pay another N2,000 for “recharge card and transport”.

Oga Alex walks out of his office… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable

Oga Alex walks out of his office… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable

He was not done yet. Alex demanded an additional N2,000 to “fortify the certificate of origin” and also prove that “Usman Aminu” is truly from a lineage within the LGA.

“You will get it before Friday. I will put all my machinery on the move and you will get it. I will take the certificate to the district head and the paramount ruler. I will have to put more energy into your job because you came from a far place,” he said.

Alex promised to make the two certificates ready within 48 hours after being paid. He did not ask for the reporter’s passport photograph or any other information. All he asked for was his cooperation and trust.

Alex was a man of his word. At the agreed time, he called the reporter to inform him that the certificate of origin was ready and pleaded for more time to process the birth certificate.

Alex provided this certificate with a fake passport.

A dispatch rider called in later in the afternoon to deliver a package from Alex. The package contained a certificate of origin with the reporter’s fictitious name, someone else’s passport photograph with the stamp of the secretary of the local government; signature and office stamp of Garaku Kokona LGA district head, Garaku village head; the emir and another signature of the secretary of the LGA all affirming that the Togolese Usman Aminu is a certified indigene of Kokona LGA of Nasarawa state.

Hours later, Alex called again to appreciate the reporter for his trust and patience as he also bided for referrals.

From indigene certificate to residency… welcome to Keffi

Again, this reporter made contact with two staffers of the Keffi local government with the fictitious “Usman Aminu” as the cover name.

The reporter was ushered into an office housing a rusty file cabinet, shattered glass windows and a faded floor rug. The atmosphere reeks of the smell of old papers, too many that some had to be placed on the bare floor outside the entrance of the office.

Keffi LGA origin certificate office… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable
Keffi LGA origin certificate office… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable

At the entrance of the office was a short inscription which reads: “NYSC desk office/indigene certificate office”. A man with tribal marks on his cheeks welcomed the reporter.

His name is Awwal Yusuf and he works as the “assistant indigene officer” at the LGA. After listening to the reporter who said he was not an indigene of the LGA, Yusuf said to get a certificate of origin in the office, one needs to go through some herculean tasks; but with N8,000, the prospective indigene can circumvent the process.

The money was paid into Yusuf’s bank account. After confirming the payment, he called on his colleague Muhammad Na’allah, a senior executive admin officer at the LGA, to start working on the certificate for it to be ready before the close of work.

Yusuf filling out the certificate of origin request form for the reporter… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable
Yusuf filling out the certificate of origin request form for the reporter… Photo credit: Samad Uthman/TheCable

Yusuf would later get busy with some other administrative work and left Na’allah to handle the reporter’s request. When they realised the certificate of origin won’t be signed by either the chairman or the secretary of the LGA before the close of work, they worked out a letter of attestation asking “to whom it may concern” to “kindly accept this letter pending when the residence certificate is issued, please”.

In the attestation letter filed on behalf of the LGA chairman, Na’allah attested that Usman Aminu is a resident of “Keffi local government area of Nasarawa state from Sabon Gari, Jigwada ward”.

Na’allah promised to get the certificate of origin ready in four days. By then, what he produced was not what was paid for.

He provided a residency certificate instead of a certificate of origin. The residency certificate is N2,000 while a certificate of origin is N3,000.

The residency certificate
The residency certificate

“Aminu (referring to this reporter), no one will give you an origin certificate in this council without you going through the due process. We tried it. But it will amount to a waste of effort because our chairman will not sign it. They will ask you to speak our local language. If you can’t do that, that means you are not qualified, and that shows you are not from here,” Na’allah said persuasively when the reporter queried the discrepancy.

FCT

In Abuja Municipal, just have a Gbagyi/Christian name and hold N15,000

It was 12 pm on February 13. Conversations on the general election dominated the atmosphere at the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).

AMAC gate
AMAC gate

But Bashiru Shuaibu – who would be called Bash — was standing all by himself in front of the pensions office waiting for potential customers to fleece by posing to solve their problems through the back door.

Bash is one who does every job in the local council. As he sighted this reporter walking through the blocks of the council, he approached him seeking to know the purpose of his visit.

Upon hearing that his visit was to get a certificate of origin, Bash asked if he is of Gbagyi descent or can speak the language.

The Gbagyis are traditionally regarded as the indigenes of the Abuja.

When he was told that the reporter is from the south-western part of the country, Bash told him not to worry, assuring him that he would fix a certificate of residency for just N3,000 and an origin certificate for N15,000. The money for the certificate was sent to his bank account.

Bash rests his body on the front rail of his office building calmly waiting for prey to fleece.

Bash rests his body on the front rail of his office building calmly waiting for prey to fleece.

“I can mention four names of politicians here in Abuja that we have provided with origin certificates. The N15k you sent to me now is not for me alone. The document will pass a lot of desks. Do you know how stressful this thing is? Can you speak Gbagyi? Can you take the form to the local chief? But don’t worry. I will help you,” Bash said grinning.

This reporter had adopted “Elisha Ajewole” as a pseudo-name.

Bash requested two passport photographs, and the name and address of his ‘client’. It was on a Monday and he promised to deliver the certificate duly signed by either the secretary or chairman of the local council before the close of work the next day.

A week later, Bash called to explain how he was arrested by a groom who paid him for a marriage certificate but he wasn’t able to deliver it due to the absence of the local council chairman who was meant to sign the certificate. He asked the reporter to exercise patience as he was still working on it.

By March 11, Bash said the reporter’s certificate was not signed by the council’s secretary due to the “Ajewole” in his name. He advised the reporter to change the surname to a Gbagyi or another Christian name which can be repealed with a court affidavit. The reporter agreed, while Bash requested another N10,000 processing fee.

At this time, Bash had introduced one Elkana, who was said to be working in the certificate of origin issuing office, into the show.

On March 15, Bash finally sent the certificate wherein the reporter, addressed as “Elisha Yohana”, was certified “an indigene of Lugbe-Abuja in Abuja municipal area council of the FCT”.

Why certificate of origin issuance should be digitised

Speaking on the outcome of the investigation, Festus Ogun, a human rights lawyer, said the fraud and irregularity in the issuance of an origin certificate stem from a lack of a proper framework.

Ogun said many LGAs in Nigeria do not have the birth and death data of people, which would have formed the base data for certifying one’s origin.

“I honestly think that the outcome of the investigation has clearly shown the inefficiency of our system and the greatest problem that is ravaging it. I mean that the local government system is not efficient and may not be until we have a proper framework in place,” the lawyer told TheCable.

“We must also ensure that the record of birth and death are in place. Ordinarily, there should be proper documentation to identify who is an indigene or not an indigene. We shouldn’t just have a system whereby anyone can get into a local government and get this certificate for a fee. This is not just about corruption, it is also about a system that is designed not to work; it is also about a system that is inefficient.”

Corroborating him, Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, told TheCable that there should be mechanisms in place to checkmate corruption among officials in charge of the certificate at the local government level.






     

     

    “That is happening due to corruption and officials at the local government level see it as a revenue-generating process.  As a result, the process has been commercialised, and that is why anyone can now pay money to get it without being subjected to the necessary check to determine if someone actually hails from the particular community being claimed. So, it’s a corruption issue that can be addressed,” he said.

    “Both the officials issuing such a certificate and the person receiving it can be prosecuted. One way to fix that is to digitalise the process. Every local government should have a portal or platform where anyone that wants to collect the certificate is required to submit some essential details before getting the document.

    “Also, there should be a task force in place to checkmate corruption among officials across the LGAs. The state house of assembly should also streamline the process by way of legislation. The review process is what is currently lacking.”

    This report is republished from TheCable.

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