Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Staggering Fake Certificates, Fraud In Nigeria Demands Stringent Background Checks

Preamble: Broadly speaking, Nigerians and employers of labour idolize paper qualifications, certifications and titles at the expense of competence. It is common to see individuals indiscriminately flaunt their academic or social attainments even when such are uncalled-for.
Permit me to paraphrase the name, appendages of a typical Nigerian ‘bigman’: Chief (Engr.) Dr. Alhaji Bukola Chike Abdulahi, O.N.D, HND, BSc, MSc, PhD, ACA, CPO, CPP, MBE, MFR. Not suggesting people should not take pride in their achievements, not bad if it’s toned down a bit, at least when it’s not necessary. How many people know that the German Chancellor – Angela Merkel has got a PhD in Quantum Physics or that President Obama is a lawyer, Barrister? If the duo were to be Nigerians, they will frequently be referred to as: Dr. Angela Merkel, BSc, MSc, PhD or Barrister Barack Obama Esq. The upshot of this fixation for certifications, titles in Nigeria is that not to be outdone, unscrupulous fellows also tack together, all manner of credentials through fair or foul-play, from non-existent institutions, roadside business centres. 

Nigeria’s Booming Certificate Forgery ‘Industry’

In 2005, police raid on the notorious ‘forgery capital’ of Nigeria a.k.a Oluwole in Lagos uncovered about 4,000 Nigerian passports, 50,000 assorted foreign cheques, 10,000 blank British Airways tickets, 10,000 United States Postal Money Order, 1,500 foreign international passports, several forged bank statement of accounts, amongst others. Mr. Salisu Buhari, former Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives was impeached in 1999 after it was discovered that he falsified his age and forged his university certificate from Toronto University. Certificate forgery also permeates Nigeria’s Ivory towers. A lecturer with the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi, Daniel Ishola Owaodemi allegedly forged academic certificates which enabled him lecture at the university for 12 years. Also, one Ms. Caroline Animan, a confidential secretary at the National Broadcasting Commission for over 20 years was said to have forged a National Diploma certificate in Secretarial Studies purportedly issued by Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State (formerly Ogun State Polytechnic).

Nigeria’s Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), revealed that the Commission uncovered 45,000 ghost workers and saved the Federal Government the sum of N100 billion. It went further to say that, ‘’50 out of the 156 major contractors to Nigeria’s Ministry of Works were found to have submitted forged tax certificates’’. A while ago, one Mr. Martins Ugwu Okpeh, a Benue State indigene was arrested by the police for practicing as a senior medical officer at the federal ministry of health with a stolen medical licence for over nine years! Another fake ‘doctor’, one Bamigboye Olusegun earning N160,000.00 monthly salary was also arrested in Niger State for operating as a medical doctor for three years.

During the ongoing 2016 recruitment into the Nigeria police, the Nasarawa state police command confirmed the arrest of five applicants over forgery of certificates and theft. The Department of State Security Services, DSS, Kwara State Command also reportedly arrested five persons, who allegedly specialize in forging academic certificates. In 2013, the DSS charged nine National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members to court over forgery of academic certificates and credentials. Few years ago, the University of Calabar expelled about 107 students who used fake O’level certificates to gain admission into the school. The Lagos State police arrested a 26-year-old banker named Daniel Makanjuola, for using a forged West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and a Lagos State University (LASU) statement of result to secure employment at the Marina Branch of Wema Bank Plc. 

The foregoing are just random incidents, the penchant for forging credentials is entrenched in Nigeria. 

Note: Background check, background screening, background investigation, background check, criminal record check, security vetting and due diligence investigation are interconnected and will be used interchangeably in this essay.

What is Background Check or Background Screening?

Background checks are steps taken to ascertain the credibility and authenticity of the information, credentials which an applicant, organization submitted during the course of applying for a position, business transaction. In other words, a background screening seeks to establish the character, integrity and whether an individual or an organization concealed important information or misrepresented himself/itself. Contrary to popular belief, background screening is not always about pinpointing negative information as it can also be a tool to identify positive traits that will make a candidate stand out from the crowd. Since it fosters a culture of proactive security and risk management, background screening is a fundamental feature of a holistic security measure that forestalls potential risks, fraud and likelihood of criminal incident in an establishment.

Why Background Checks, Security Vetting is Very Important

From government to private security establishments to corporate organizations, educational institutions, recruitment of medical professionals, teachers, care-givers, domestic helps, drivers, child adoption amongst others, the importance of background screening cannot be overemphasized. In terms of national security, the absence of a diligent criminal background check, poor records management and paucity of a comprehensive national criminal database updatable in real-time makes it very easy for say a dismissed police officer, public official, a criminal, terrorist to (re)enlist in the security, intelligence agencies. In 2015, a Lagos nanny – Mary Akinloye kidnapped 3 children of the same family under her care and demanded a N15 million ransom. In Abeokuta, Ogun State, a nurse – one Miss Maureen allegedly conspired with others to kidnap the son of her boss, a medical doctor whom she worked with in the past. Also in Lagos, four employees of a company allegedly kidnapped their Chinese boss. Now the problem is, given lack of diligent prosecution and a comprehensive criminal database in Nigeria, it is plausible that some of the above-mentioned culprits will not go scot-free, ‘rebrand’ their identities and possibly re-offend. Trusting, hiring or delegating certain responsibilities or doing business with someone, organization(s) you don’t know from Adam is fraught with risks. This is why criminal background check is very important.

Here are some of the benefits of background checks:

1.     It Eliminates And Discourages Forgeries, Fraudulent Claims: Crime, malfeasance and employment fraud is not just a Nigerian thing. According to a UK firm - Experian, ‘’in 2013, employment screening helped to detect a 70% increase in false employment applications’’. Inter-alia, the report went further to say, ‘’employment application fraud accounted for over 50% of all internal frauds recorded in 2013, employee fraud costs UK companies an estimated £2bn a year, that 90% of application fraud is unsuccessful with background screening, an estimated 20-50% of candidates embellish their credentials on CVs, 15% of candidates back out of an application when told a background check is required, 27% of applicants have given false references and 11% of candidates have falsely claimed to have a degree ,three quarter of UK employers hire the wrong people, costing the UK economy £12bn a year, more than 40% of property letting agents reported an increase in tenants struggling to meet rental payments’’. In a 2014 Global Fraud Study, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ (ACFE) estimates that globally, businesses lost approximately $3.7 trillion to fraud. It is reported that about ‘’33% of Nigerian graduates brandish fake credentials’’.

2.     Background Screening Eliminates or Reduces Likelihood of ‘’Insider Threat’’: A dangerous security trend is that which stems from insiders or what is called ‘’insider threat’’ in cybersecurity parlance. Remember Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden? Recently, a telecom provider in Germany reportedly ‘’notified 2 million of its customers that their financial information may have been compromised after a highly sophisticated intrusion by an insider’’.

3.     Background Check Can Forestall Negligent Hiring Lawsuit: The upswing in negligent hiring lawsuits also necessitates stringent background screening prior to employment. An employer may be liable if an employee's actions hurt someone (workplace violence, rape, terrorism etc). For instance, it recently emerged that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a deliveryman who deliberately rammed his truck and killed about 84 people in Nice, France recently, had a long history of violence and mental illness. Such security threats and liabilities obligate employers to take reasonable care in ascertaining whether an applicant/employee has a criminal or violent past.

 In the United States, in 1999, ‘’Trusted Health was ordered to pay $26.5 million dollars to the family of a murdered patient. U.S. courts declared, "prior to the time the employee is actually hired, the employer ... should have known of the employee's unfitness" and is liable if they did not perform an adequate background investigation. It is estimated that United States employers ‘’lose 72% of all negligent hiring lawsuits’’.

4.     Other advantages of background checks are: It encourages honesty, reduces employee theft and fraud, increases productivity, reduces workplace violence and insurance premiums, ensures the best gets the job thereby saving money and time that will be spent recruiting new staff and training them.

Types, Facets of Background Screening

1.     Pre-employment background screening: A typical pre-employment check scrutinizes the authenticity of information an applicant provided in his resume or employment application form. Minimum level of vetting during pre-employment check include establishing: (a) applicant’s identity – given the prevalence of identity theft, ascertaining the identity of an applicant is one of the most fundamental checks to be performed (b) right to work in the country (c) criminal record (d) academic qualifications (e) Professional certifications (f) confirmation of recent, past employers, post held, salary and dates of employment (g) reason for leaving employment (h) professional or personal references (i) residence - present, former and possibly permanent address (j) social media or online reputation. There are also situations where a post-employment screening may be needed after an employer has been hired already. This suffices if the individual is to be deployed to a sensitive position, a post with additional responsibilities or requires higher level of trust, capability or security vetting. Establishments should not go to sleep after carrying out a pre-employment screening. A Post-employment background screening policy can identify criminal complicity say if an employee is living above his means, abusing or doing drugs. For instance a Nigerian Air crew member was reportedly arrested in London on suspicion of peddling substances suspected to be cocaine. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the dude owned amongst other acquirements, a latest Range Rover SUV.

2.     Criminal background record checks: This entails determining if such a person has a criminal past (spent and unspent), fraud convictions, cultism, driving offences (for positions where driving is involved). In the United States, a criminal background check is required for those wishing to purchase handguns from licensed firearms dealers.

Note that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says, ‘’a person cannot be denied employment based on a criminal record alone. Instead, the EEOC says, ‘’the decision to hire or not must be based on a “business necessity’’. EEOC requires employers to consider: the nature and gravity of the offense or offenses, the time that has passed since the conviction and or completion of the sentence, the nature of the job held or sought’’.

3.     Financial background checks: For some sensitive positions especially those that involve handling money, it is important to carry out a financial background check on a candidate to ascertain whether s/he has ever filed for or declared bankrupt, involved in financial crime, money laundering, holds any current or previous directorships or disqualified directorships.

4.     Due Diligence investigation: ‘’Is a type of investigation carried out prior to employment or a business transaction aimed at uncovering information about a company's history, credibility, assets, management, financial health, performance, clients or vendors, and other details that may affect how the company does business’’. Due diligence investigation helps companies make informed decisions hence minimizing losses at the long run. There is also a self-due diligence or “reverse due diligence” i.e. assessment of a establishment, typically by a third party on behalf of the establishment, prior to an acquisition, a merger or quoting it on the stock market. Given the corruption challenge, advance fee fraud commonly known as 419 scams perpetrated by some unscrupulous elements in Nigeria, carrying out a robust due diligence investigation or background screening of their potential Nigerian business partners will surely boost the confidence of prospective foreign investors. Ideally, due diligence investigation should be mutual; Nigerians wishing to do business or enter into partnerships with foreign investors should also establish the veracity of the claims of their potential partner, client’s as some foreign firms might misrepresent themselves.

5.     Social media or online reputation checks: It is becoming increasingly common for employers to examine an applicant’s ‘online reputation’ or ‘online footprint’. Just recently it was announced that the United States is set to start asking applicants for US Visa to provide their social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn handles amongst others. Critics fear this trend could lead to ‘profiling’ and hasty generalizations.

6.     Sex Offender Background Screening: This is carried out to determine if a candidate was a sex offender or a pedophile. This is usually recommended for employees that will be working with children, teenagers such as teachers, care-givers, house-helps amongst others.

7.     Litigation Support: Background screening investigation, gathering nuggets of information, evidence which substantiates the unreliability, untrustworthiness of an adversary could tilt the case in favour of one of the contending parties during litigations. For instance, in his bid to win his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), ThisDay Newspaper reported that Nigeria’s Senate President – Dr. Bukola Saraki, ‘’flew in United States and Israeli forensic investigators who were mandated to ferret out and scrutinize thoroughly, all available information on the eight EFCC prosecution witnesses, including their school records, service records from the past and present, places of employment and personal information that may help the defence team in the course of the trial’’.

8.     Relationship, Romance Scams, Landlord-Tenancy Agreement: Given the prevalence of romance or dating scams, a due diligence or background check is recommended to ascertain the true identity, character, integrity and genuineness of a prospective suitor especially where a long distance relationship is involved. A landlord may also wish to do a background screening on a prospective tenant before renting out or leasing an apartment to the tenant. 

Factors Hindering Background Screening in Nigeria

1.     Paucity of a centralized, comprehensive criminal database updatable in real-time.
2.     Lack of a data protection law, legislation and regulatory framework such as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which enforces a federal law that regulates background reports for employment, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which enforces federal laws against employment discrimination.
3.     Preponderance of manual, paper-works rather than electronic systems unlike in the United States, UK etc. with electronic, online databases or public records searchable in real-time.
4.      Poor or slow pace of service delivery: A request for information from an organization could take weeks or months to be processes.
5.     Lack of a national vetting standard or best practice. For instance there is British Standard 7858 which sets out recommendations for the security screening of individuals to be employed in an environment where the security and safety of people, goods or property is a requirement of the employing organisation’s operations or where such screening is in the public interest. 

Recommendations:

1.     It is recommended that Nigeria takes a cue from Western climes such as the United Kingdom which boasts of Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), an executive agency of the Home Office which is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for organisations seeking a criminal records disclosure service. The UK CRB access data, information held on the Police National Computer. There are two levels of CRB check in the UK: (a) Standard disclosure and (b) Enhanced disclosure – which includes access to local police intelligence. The United Kingdom also has a National DNA Database (NDNAD), a Violent and Sex Offenders Register (ViSOR) while the United States department of justice coordinates a searchable National Sex Offenders Public Website (NSOPW). The closest we have in Nigeria is the newly-formed Lagos State Sex Offenders Register. The United States FBI’s National Crime Information Centre (NCIC) maintains a computerized index of criminal justice information encompassing information on fugitives, stolen properties, missing persons amongst others and the database is searchable in REAL TIME and is operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

2.     Digitalizing and synchronizing court records and searchable database of criminal convictions

3.     Establishment of an efficient, avant-garde credit reference agency

4.     In line with global best practice, Nigeria urgently needs appropriate legislation, regulatory framework which regulates background screening in Nigeria.

5.     Just as they have National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) in the United States, I think a national think-thank or umbrella professional body for background screening practitioners, establishments in Nigeria will also be of help. This will create awareness about the need for background screening while also discouraging quackery.

Conclusion: Absence or lax background checks, security vetting have far-reaching ramifications. In the words of a practitioner, Mr. Kola Olugbodi, ‘’corporate organisations should not be in haste to employ staff without conducting thorough background screening as such hasty decision exposes the tangible and intangible resources of the organisation to fraud and abuse’’. A stringent background check is definitely a win-win for organizations.

Written By: © Don Okereke
(Security Junkie/Analyst/Consultant, Writer)

Follow Don on Twitter: @donokereke

Phone number: +234 708 000 8285
 
July, 2016