By Farooq Kperogi
It emerged late last week that Communications and Digital Economy Minister Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami (or his agents) possibly instructed Zamfara State governor Bello Muhammad Mutawalle to place an advertorial in the Daily Trust to congratulate Pantami on his “promotion to the Rank of Full Professor of Cybersecurity” by an unnamed university.
(In the advertorial, Mutawalle repeated the dishonestly hyperbolized claims Pantami cherishes and promotes, such as the claim that he has over 160 publications—which don’t show up in any scholarly repository—and that he was trained at Harvard, MIT, and Oxford even though he only attended a few days’ workshops there.
He used the American English “full professor” that the Islamic University of Madinah where Pantami taught also uses to describe what is simply called “professor” in British and Nigerian terminology. Since Mutawalle isn’t an academic, it’s obvious that Pantami wrote the advertorial for him.)
I later learned that Pantami’s “professorship” was granted by the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, where he has never taught. It doesn’t take much thought to see that the “professorial promotion” and, worse, its promotion in the media is some self-humiliating intellectual duplicity perpetrated by Pantami himself.
The last academic position Pantami held before he became DG of NITDA in 2016 was an assistant professorship (roughly equivalent to a senior lectureship in the Nigerian system) at the Islamic University of Madinah where he taught for two years after his PhD in 2014.
Before earning his PhD in the UK, he taught at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in Bauchi as a junior lecturer. At no point in his academic career did he ever teach at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. So, only ATBU or the Islamic University of Madinah could have legitimately promoted him to the position of professor.
But he couldn’t possibly be promoted to professorship at the Islamic University in Madinah because, having terminated his contract with the school to take up a government appointment, he is no longer in the school’s employ. Plus, his last rank at the university was an assistant professor.
To be promoted to full professor he would first need to be an associate professor for at least five years, but he was assistant professor for only two years, and you need to be an assistant professor for at least five years to be promoted to associate professor.
At ATBU, he was either a Lecturer II or a Lecturer I—or perhaps an assistant lecturer— before he left the school for his doctoral studies. To become a professor there, he would first need to be promoted to a senior lecturer and then a reader (which is called Associate Professor in the North American system) before becoming a professor.
That would take at least six years. In other words, Pantami is not qualified to be promoted to the rank of professor in the two universities he has some associations with. Most importantly, though, he is not qualified to be appointed professor by and at ANY university in the world because he does not teach, research, or render service at any university now.
A professorship isn’t a flippant, honorary title that can be arbitrarily conferred on people who pay for it—like honorary doctorates have become. It is the crowning accomplishment and the highest professional rank that is bestowed on people who teach and research at a university.
It’s like the position of permanent secretary for the civil service, editorship for journalism, ambassadorship for the diplomatic service, managing directorship or the position of a CEO for the private sector, or being a field marshal in the military.
You can’t be made permanent secretary and not work in the civil service, an ambassador and not work in the diplomatic service, an editor and not work for a media organization, a CEO and not be associated with the company that made you CEO, or a field marshal and be away from military service.
Pantami is a “professor” who doesn’t profess, who doesn’t teach, research, or render service at the university that supposedly conferred the title on him. That’s a down-the-line intellectual scam that he should be ashamed of. It’s one of the most intellectually violent vandalisms of time-honored academic conventions I’ve seen in a long while.
As a religious cleric whom many young people look up to, Pantami should know better than to perpetrate fraud, promote it through third parties, and then swank it himself with unabashed hauteur. If he has any honor and really desires a professorship, he should disclaim this fraudulent “professorship” and earn it the right way.
After his tenure in 2023, he should go back to either ATBU orthe Islamic University in Madinah and spend at least six to eight years teaching, researching, and rendering service. Then he might legitimately earn a professorship. Different universities have different criteria for promoting academics to the position of professor. Some prioritize teaching over research. Others prioritize research over teaching. Still others strike a happy balance between the two.
If he is too impatient to follow the conventional route to professorship, he can get the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, to make him a professor of practice in cybersecurity AFTER his ministerial tenure. This will, of course, require him to relocate to Owerri and actually teach students there. Professors of practice don’t have to go through the traditional protocols of academic promotion because it is their industry experience, not their scholarship or pedagogy, that is the basis for their employment.
My friend Kingsley Moghalu was a professor of practice at Tufts University in the United States. Although Nigerian universities don’t have a tradition for appointing professors of practice, there is always a first time. If Pantami can bludgeon a university into “promoting” him to the position of “professor” even when he has zero formal association with it, he can cause it to do anything.
But to pretend to be a “professor” when he isn’t qualified to be one—and when he doesn’t teach and has never taught at the university that conferred the position on him—is the sort of self-debasing fraud a religious leader shouldn’t be identified with.
To be sure, Pantami’s fraudulent “professorship” isn’t new.
As I pointed out in my June 25, 2011 column titled “Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s Fake Doctorate and Professorship,” former Nigeria Stock Exchange boss Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, whose PhD is fake, got her “professorship” the exact way Pantami got his: through intellectual legerdemain.
The University of Nigeria Nsukka made her “professor of capital market studies” in 2007 without having ever taught a course at the university before and after her conferral.
The late Dora Akunyili’s path to professorship was less fraudulent than Okereke-Onyiuke’s and Pantami’s but it was also unusual. As I wrote in the June 25, 2011 column, “Although she taught at [UNN] for long, she left for public service when she was many ranks away from a professorship. Curiously, however, it was while she was officially away from teaching, research, and university service that she mysteriously skipped several ranks and became a ‘professor’.”
In my December 5, 2020 column titled “Ganduje and Fraudulent American ‘Professorships’ for Nigerian Politicians,” I called attention to the growingly maddening titular vanity among Nigerian politicians that causes them to want to be known as “professors.” “You see, bought honorary doctorates have lost their gravitas and the ‘Dr.’ title has now lost its sheen among Nigerian politicians, so they are moving to the next level, which is bought ‘professorships’,” I wrote.
A U.S.-based Cameroonian academic by the name of Victor Mbarika used to routinely scam Nigerian politicians into thinking they had been appointed to “professorship” at a historically black Louisiana university called Southern University.
Ike Ekweremadu was told that he had been appointed “professor” at the university. Ganduje was also scammed by the same guy until his scam was unveiled.
Pantami appears to be leading a detour back to home universities for the conferral of fraudulent “professorship” on politicians who can pay compromised university administrators. Fortunately, the NUC is now headed by Professor Abubakar Abdulrasheed, a conscientious, ethically sound, thoroughbred academic who has a reputation for doing the right things.
I hope Professor Abdulrasheed will cause the NUC to sanction the FUT, Owerri, for the intellectual fraud it has perpetrated in “promoting” an undeserving non-employee to its highest academic rank and ensure that other mercenary university administrators don’t replicate this swindle in the future.
I also hope Pantami has enough decency left in him to renounce the professorial fraud he wears— in the interest of the sanctity of what remains of Nigerian university traditions.