Driven by circumstances beyond their control, many Nigerians easily take to age falsification without weighing the legal and social implications of their actions
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Mar. 17, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
AMOS Unuekwu was almost 30 years old when he graduated from Delta State University, Abraka, in 2010. As fate would have it, he was mobilized for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, programme just a few days before his 30th birthday, a development which made him celebrate his birthday in the camp. By the time he completed the national assignment in October 2011; Unuekwu was already 31. Securing employment with his new age became a serious challenges to him.
“It was very tough. There were lots of jobs I could not apply for even though I was qualified just because I was over-aged. Most of them came with a caveat that only people under the age of 26 are eligible to apply.” After several attempts to get a job with his real age failed, Unuekwu was advised by a friend to “reduce his age”. He took the advice and went ahead to obtain an affidavit in a Lagos State high court. In the affidavit, Unuekwu swore that he was 25 years old. He also claimed that his original birth certificate had been lost in a fire incident and that the details provided in the affidavit were true. I have been using that new date of birth since I got the affidavit. Although, I have not gotten my dream job, it has given me a chance to at least compete with my peers and I don’t feel guilty about it at all.”
Like Unuekwu, Shade Fatusin, a staff of the National Assembly in Abuja, also had to falsify her age in order to get her present employment. She told Realnews that the person who assisted her to secure the job, told her in clear terms to “reduce her age in order to go far. I didn’t want to do it but then she insisted I had to. She told me that many people in the civil service do so to avoid early retirement. I had to go to a court to swear an affidavit and reduce my age by five years before I got the job.”
Like every bad habit, age falsification is gradually becoming a popular trend in Nigeria. There are lots of people in various parts of the country who, like Unaekwu and Fatusin, have had to reduce their ages in order to get certain things done.
A youth corps member presently serving in Niger State, told Realnews how she had to falsify her age to ensure that she was mobilized for the scheme. According to her, missing out of the scheme just because she is ‘slightly’ over-aged, would have been unbearable for her. She didn’t want that to happen so she decided to reduce her age. “The incessant strikes in public universities affected me a lot. If everything had gone as planned, there would have been no need to reduce my age. I did it because I would have been heart-broken if my mates were mobilized and I was not just because I am slightly over aged.”
In civil and public services in Nigeria, for instance, there are regular cases of age falsification. On July 29, last year, the National Judicial Council, NJC, sacked Justice Shederack Nwanosike, the then acting chief judge of Abia State, from office over his alleged complicity in age falsification. According to a press release issued by Soji Oye, acting director of information, NJC, “The decision is sequel to the findings of the Council that Justice Nwanosike falsified his date of birth which invariably affected his retirement age. The Council, during the meeting also considered and deliberated on the report of its committee on performance evaluation of judicial officers of the superior courts of record in the federation.”
In a similar development, almost 3,000 workers in Edo State public service lost their jobs after a verification conducted by the information communication technology, ICT, department in the governor’s office. It was reported that those affected were found wanting as there were discrepancies in their ages and educational qualifications. The ICT unit found them to have either over-stayed in service because they falsified their ages and credentials. Before that, Edo State government had also disengaged some 962 primary school teachers, who were also discovered to have falsified their ages.
Although it is rampant in the civil service, age falsification is also common in other sectors of Nigeria. In sport, for instance, many Nigerian stars have been involved in age falsification scandals. About a year ago, Taribo West was reported to be 12 years older than he claimed to be. Trouble started when Zarko Zecevic, the president of Partizan Belgrade, the Belgian club where West once plied his trade, revealed that the player was already 40 when he joined the club even though he claimed to be 28. Zecevic went on to say that West, who is officially listed as 39 in Nigeria, has passed 50 years of age.
“He joined us saying he was 28. We later found out that he was 40, but he was still playing well so I don’t regret having him on the team.” Before West’s age falsification saga, there had been suspicions about the real age of Nigerian footballers. In 2012, 18 members of the Nigerian under 17 team, failed the magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, tests conducted by football’s governing body, FIFA, to determine their true ages. The test revealed that 17 of the players were much older than 17 years. Consequently, they were sent packing from the team’s training camp.
These developments have raised questions about what actually motivates people to falsify their ages. Anne Oneykwere, a consultant in Abuja, attributes the tendency to the harsh economic situation in the country. Another major reason, she added, was the demand for young people for certain jobs by employers of labour. Going by this age limitation, it means that lot of people who qualify for jobs but are limited by their ages, will never get employment unless they falsify their ages.
“It is a shameful thing but you cannot blame those who do it. Things are really hard in this country. There are no jobs and for the few ones available, the employers want only young people. If people play by such rules, it will triple the number of unemployed people in the country.” Even though it may appear harmless to many of those involved in it, age falsification does have some legal implication.
Onyeka Aduba, a lawyer, said even though there is no clear cut definition of age falsification as a crime in the Nigerian constitution, a person can still be sent to jail for it. “Even though the constitution does not clearly spell it out as an offence, falsifying any document is an offence. A court can ask a person found guilty of falsifying such documents to either forfeit something or even go to jail.”
LegalMatch, an online legal document stated that in developed climes like the United States of America, such offences are taken more seriously. “Falsifying documents is a very serious offense and is generally classified as felony. This means that a person charged with falsifying documents may be subject to the following legal penalties: Having to pay a monetary fine or incarceration in a prison facility. Depending on the nature of the offense, as well as individual state laws, falsifying documents can result in a prison sentence of between five and 10 years. Also, if government documents or authorities were involved, the legal penalties may be more severe. Finally, legal penalties may increase with repeat offenses.”
Aside the legal aspect of it, age falsification also casts doubts on the integrity of those involved in it. For instance, during the Taribo West scandal, soccer fans around the world questioned the credibility of the Nigerian soccer team which won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic games simply because West, who was the subject of the controversy, was a member of that team. Zecevic’s actually claimed that West must have been 34 years old rather than the 22-year-old person he was believed to be at that time.