Chris Imafidon claims to be a genius and a professor at Oxford University and has been making the interview rounds in Nigeria, making sure to wear an Oxford keychain, which you can buy for 10 Pounds from any Oxford University souvenir store, on his neck. PUNCH interviewed him and ran a glowing headline and story on him afterwards. Then the University of Ilorin invited him to deliver its 2017 convocation lecture–the respected University of Ilorin!
Turns out Imafidon is our latest high profile international academic scam artist, in the tradition of Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo. An explosive investigative report just published by the same PUNCH (they’ve redeemed themselves after being scammed initially by this self-promoter) proves conclusively that this man has no affiliation whatsoever with Oxford University or any of its affiliated colleges. Not only that, it is not even clear that he possesses an advanced degree of any sort. Yet he claims falsely to be a professor at Oxford and a visiting professor at several US Ivy League institutions.
Like his ancestors in academic fraud, Imafidon has parlayed his fraudulent claims into stardom in Nigeria, making the Nigerian lecture circuit and garnering the visibility and pecuniary rewards that come with life on that circuit.
Why is it so easy for these fraudulent individuals to dupe people at the highest academic and governmental levels of Nigerian society? Oyibo was feted by the National Assembly, the National Mathematical Center, and Ahmadu Bello University before he was exposed as a charlatan. Emeagwali too was repeatedly praised and lauded by successive Nigerian authorities before he was spectacularly exposed in a series of write-ups.
I want to argue that we Nigerians may be the most intellectually gullible people on earth. That may be an exaggeration, but we tend to be drawn to bombastic, self-promoting persons and are thus easy prey for fraudulent claimants to academic genius. We also hunger for heroes, making it possible for dubious persons to fulfill that longing for us.
Another factor is that we are lazy. We won’t be bothered even in this age of informational democracy enabled by the internet to do due diligence and check the veracity of individuals’ claims. Checking academic affiliations in Western institutions is one of the easiest things to do as institutions and academic departments have websites that list affiliated faculty members. But were too lazy to do that.
Another reason we are so easily seduced by these fraudulent characters is our deep-seated xenophilia–or obsession with any and everything foreign. These men tend to pop up every few years claiming qualifications and recognitions in foreign universities and societies. For us, that is enough. If, according to the scammers, the white man says they are praiseworthy, who are we to object or scrutinize their claim? That is our approach to these men. We cannot conceive of a world in which people and objects purportedly authenticated by the white man should be questioned or verified.
Yet another factor is our ethnic and regional loyalties, which make us amenable to fraud and condition us to tolerate and accept fraudulent conduct from our kinsmen and women.
I remember working, alongside Ikhide Ikheloa and Toyin Adepoju, with Saharareporters.com to expose the elaborate fraud of Philip Emeagwali. It was a daunting task of research and sleuth-like investigations. The resulting Saharareporters story was later adapted and published by the defunct NEXT newspaper.
Did we get a thank you from Nigerians? Did Saharareporters get an award for exposing one of the most sophisticated academic frauds of recent times? Did Nigerians commend us for rescuing them from the deceptive seduction of Emeagwali and from his evil manipulation of and profiting from their naive search for positive role models?
The answer to these questions is no. Instead, we got hate mail from Nigerians who alternately accused us of envy, ethnic prejudice, and the most popular Nigerian cop out–Pull Him Down syndrome (the other PhD). Not only that, it was depressing to see the discussion on the story ignore the trove of evidence, commentaries, and logics we provided while concentrating on an imaginary ethnic dimension of achievement and non-achievement.
This fellow ran a scam for two decades, hoodwinking our people in Nigeria and the diaspora and profited from his fraudulent claims, causing outsiders who knew of his scam and our people’s sheepish, lazy acceptance of it to laugh at us.
Yet, Nigerians’ responses to the story seemed unmoored to the issue of fraud and lies. Instead, the discussion diverged along largely ethnic lines, with many Igbos (not all), attacking Saharareporters for publishing the story and many Nigerians of other ethnicities largely supporting the story, but not because they frown at the fraud per se but rather because they could use the story to further their own ethnically flavored stereotypes and attacks on the Igbo as fraudulent people. Even some non-Igbo Nigerians joined in condemning Saharareporters, arguing that even if Emeagwali was a Fraud, he should have been left alone as the story would reflect poorly on Nigeria and reinforce stereotypes about Nigerians.
Only a few respondents saw the larger import of the story and commended and thanked Saharareporters for doing the right thing, putting the scammer out of business, and helping to enlighten young, gullible Nigerians who might have been conned by him.
I will not be surprised if some Nigerians come to the defense of Imafidon or reprise what happened after the Emeagwali expose.
We like to glibly criticize fraud, graft, and deception in governmental circles. However, when it comes to doing the same in the case of individuals who misrepresent themselves, forge certificates, engage in academic fraud, and are actively profiting from their fraudulent enterprise, we tend to balk. It’s as though we have two moralities–one for those in government and another for non-governmental entities. That’s why, today, if you mention Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s certificate forgery scandal, it is met with a shrug. It is also why Andy Ubah, another certificate fraud, is in the Nigerian Senate and has many supporters.
We tend to excuse frauds that profit people at individual levels and supposedly do not result in the loss of government money. We also tolerate frauds perpetuated by people we love.
We forget that this attitude, if sustained, numbs us to governmental graft, and seeps into and shapes our sentiments on governmental corruption.
It is the same attitude that informs our ethnicization of corruption, whereby we compartmentalize “our thief” as better than “their thief” and thus make the curious case that our thief should be freed while all other thieves should be punished for ruining Nigeria.
These things are all connected.