by Eromo Egbejule
As the 14 February, 2015 date for the presidential elections draws closer, supporters and critics of the country’s two major parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have been at loggerheads over the candidates of their respective parties.
In December, it crystallized into a debate over the academic credentials of both candidates, especially those of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
The president’s profile on the State House website reads thus: “He graduated with Second Class Upper honours in 1981. In 1985 and 1995 he studied for his Master’s and Ph.D degrees in Hydrobiology and Fisheries Biology, and Zoology respectively, from the same University.”
This gave him the status of being Nigeria’s most educated President ever. This was until the masses inspired by the increasing influence of social media and improved citizens participation in governance, began to ask questions.
Some began to ask, for a president with issues of eloquence and clarity of thought according to his critics, where was the evidence of his doctorate degree? For one whose campaign team has asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to disqualify his main challenger over the same issue of academic qualifications, wasn’t this being a proverbial case of removing the speck in another’s eyes when a log is embedded in the accuser’s?
It caused so much of a storm; we went in search of the president’s thesis.
Mrs. Victoria Boyo was Head of Department (HOD) of Home Economics at the time when Dr. Jonathan was a lecturer at the Rivers State University of Education confirmed that he was a colleague then. “He was one of those very quiet people who couldn’t hurt a fly,” she recalls. “He hardly participated in even campus politics but as far as his qualifications are concerned, I don’t know anything.”
At the departmental library of the Department of Zoology (now Animal & Environmental Biology), a dedicated two-hour search by two volunteers combing through the shelves, yielded nothing.
The resident librarian, who joined the departmental staff in 2006 says she got to the task of arranging the projects, dissertations and theses of past students at the undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels as soon as she arrived. “I never once came across the president’s doctoral thesis,” she said, on condition of anonymity.
The catalog in the library was no help as it lists only theses submitted from 2007.
The entire department moved to its present location on third floor of the four-storey building that houses the entire College of Sciences in 1993 from the old Choba Park campus that at present still has the Faculty of Education. While it is possible that many copies of such documents were misplaced in the relocation, Jonathan’s could not have been among the affected ones, as he supposedly submitted it two years later, in 1995.
Another member of staff who wouldn’t want her name in print, mentioned that during an accreditation exercise and inspection tour of the school as recently as 2014, officials of the National Universities’ Commission (NUC) asked to be shown the departmental library. While inside, they asked to see the thesis of Jonathan, the department’s most prominent export ever, but it was unavailable. At the time, she says, a new HOD had just been appointed who claimed not to know the status of the missing document, leaving the NUC officials bewildered.
Interestingly, Jonathan’s Master’s dissertation obtained in 1986 in Hydro-Biology and Fisheries Biology specialization in the same course (Zoology), was also nowhere to be found – even though there are some that date back as far as 1981.
Of course, record-keeping in Nigeria is notoriously poor and many universities are yet to digitize their libraries.
Roseline Konya, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and one-time Commissioner for Environment under the administration is currently the Dean of Graduate Studies at the university. Back in 1995, she supervised one Asim E. Eno. By virtue of the time of submission, Konya could have also supervised the President if he was a doctorate student then. Attempts to reach her proved abortive as she was “not on seat” when this reporter visited. Mails to her have been unreplied.
“Who you wan put for trouble,” someone in her office said after offering her email address, while refusing to give up her mobile number. “She will never reply you on this matter.”
Below are pictures from the thesis of one Asim E. Eno who also submitted a thesis in 1995, the same year Jonathan supposedly did his too.
The current Head of Department for Animal & Environmental Biology, Professor Florence Nduka, also could not be reached for comments as at the time of publishing this report as she was also “not on seat”.
An official enquiry submitted to the school administration has not been replied.
An extensive search online revealed a conference paper, “Identification of West African Estuarine Shrimp and Crab Larvae” which was co-written by Jonathan, G.E. with Powell, C.B. and Hart, A.I. (1985) on Aquatic Commons, the directory for publications on natural marine, estuarine, brackish and fresh water environments. At this time, the president was still a lowly lecturer in the Department of Biology at the Rivers State College of Education.
In the aforementioned 1985 paper, Jonathan self-references a publication which is in all likelihood, his Master’s dissertation. Titled “Stage 1 larvae of fresh and brackish water decapod crustaceans (excluding Natantlal) of the Niger Delta”, it is however dated 1984, two years earlier than the quoted date which is present in all his official profiles and bios. Further search on Aquatic Commons for the PhD thesis turned up no results whatsoever for the year 1995.
There were a few other conference papers online in the Web of Science journal under the name “G.E. Jonathan”. While it was not possible to determine accurately the identity of the author, they were published in 2003, 2006 and 2010 which would make him (if he were the one) a multitasker and intellectual of the highest order, combining the challenges of governance with the rigours of academic research.
No single academic journal has an online record of his research from 1985 – 1995 when Jonathan should have been very active as an academic scholar, which is why the renewed activity between 2003-2010 when he was in active politics, seems suspect.
“The first person listed is usually the author of the publication and other names are usually those of scholars or senior colleagues in the field, to give the paper weight and attract favourable reviews”, explained the Librarian. ”It is very possible that he did not author those papers.”
So we thought to ourselves – how about the vice president?
Recently, there was an admission by the normally taciturn Namadi Sambo that both his Bachelor’s and Masters’ degree certificates were burnt in a fire, the circumstances of which were unexplained. The controversy about the suitability of his person to lead Nigeria, given the uncertainty surrounding his academic qualifications or the lack of them, has also extended to him.
His official profile on the same State House website reads: “He attended the School of Basic Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1972, after which he gained admission into the famous Department of Architecture, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria 1973 and graduated in 1976 with Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Architecture (B. Sc. (Hons) and holds a Master’s degree (M. Sc.) Arch 1978.”
In submitting his documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Sambo attached a letter signed on behalf of the institution’s registrar by one Alhassan Garba, the Principal Assistant Registrar, verifying that he indeed obtained both degrees.
A staff (who did not want his name in print) at the Public Affairs Department at the main campus of Sambo’s alma mater – the Ahmadu Bello University, in Samaru, Zaria said the school Public Relations Officer was not available to comment but that the Vice-President was indeed an alumnus of the university. “I can assure you that he is an alumnus of this institution”, he said. Sometime ago, his certificates were razed in a fire and the university authorities have given him a letter to that effect so people should stop playing politics with that.”
YNaija also checked in at the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Environmental Design. There was an up-to-date catalogue of theses from 1963-2010 in the data room of the departmental library, which from the look of things was far more organized than the one at Port Harcourt. It was compiled by the umbrella body of students in the department, the Society of Architecture Students (SAS) in February 2011, a few months to the presidential elections that year.
Right there along with other students in 1978 is the name “M.N. Sambo” with the title of his thesis: “Brick Factory” beside it. For most of the other theses in the catalogue, there was a title with a location for the project work e.g. “THOMSON A. – Car Service Station for Kaduna” Both librarians checked the inner store at different times on separate occasions and couldn’t find it, saying it was unavailable.
“I don’t know why it’s not here”, said one of them who also checked the list of borrowed theses but could not find any record of it there. An official enquiry to the university authorities has not been replied as at the time of sending this report in.
Barr. Joseph Agu, a Lagos-based lawyer argues that getting an FOI request for the universities to produce the thesis of both men would be a waste of time as section 15 (1) and (2) of the FOI act covers both men and any judge would dismiss the case, ruling that his private rights outweigh public interest.
The section reads:
(1) A public institution shall deny an application for information that contains –
(a) trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person or business where such trade secrets or information are proprietary, privileged or confidential, or where disclosure of such trade secrets or information may cause harm to the interests of the third party provided that nothing contained in this subsection shall be construed as preventing a person or business from consenting to disclosure;
(b) information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party; and
(c) proposal and bids for any contract, grants, or agreement, including information which if it were disclosed would frustrate procurement or give an advantage to any person.
(2) A public institution shall, notwithstanding subsection (l), deny disclosure of a part of a record if that part contains the result or product of environmental testing carried out by or on behalf of a public institution.”
The controversy continues as it becomes pertinent to ask if both men lie under oath to INEC and their party, the PDP.