By Nsikak Ekanem
Following the withdrawal of certificate of return earlier given to David Lylon and Biobarakuma Degi of the All Progressive Congress, APC, on February 13, less than 24 hours to when they were billed to assume the office of the Bayelsa State governor and deputy governor respectively, a new and bizarre sobriquets called “former deputy governor-elect” and “former deputy governor-elect” have been introduced into Nigeria, a country that already has international reputation for bogus and frivolous titles. The withdrawal of the certificates was ordered by the Supreme Court after establishing variations of name in credentials submitted by the deputy governorship candidate in the November 16, 2019 governorship election, which was won by the APC.
As sorted out by the court, the different names purportedly answered by the person are “(a) Biobarakum Degi Eremienyo (b) Degi Biobaragha (c) Degi Biobarakuma (d) Adegi Biobarakumo (e) Degi Eremienyo Biobarakuma Wangagha. So, what really is his established name? From affidavits sworn and deposed to the court, the real name is Biobarkuma Wangagha Degi-Eremienyo. Eremienyo is said to be a chieftaincy title.
Beyond the appropriateness or otherwise of the Supreme Court decision, which, of course, is of no bearing, since the finality of decisions of the apex court is not contestable, there are quite a number of salient points that Nigeria and Nigerians, as a country and citizens in world populated by others, should ponder on, particularly relating to the discrepancy in the name of the former deputy governor-elect.
How come about, and who is the creator of the disparity found in various documents owned and submitted by Degi to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC? In his own words in one of his handwritten documents: “At birth I was named Biobarakuma with Degi as surname. These were the names with which I started my early academic life. However, after writing my First School Leaving Certificate Examination with my correct names above, the Headmaster of my school erroneously spelt my first name as ‘Biobaragha’ but with my surname rightly spelt as Degi.” According to him, there were further mistakes, among which, is his General Certificate of Education examination. In an attempt to correct the allegedly institutionally-caused mistakes Degi had secured relevant affidavits and deposed same to the courts, but unfortunately for him he could not convince the jury.
Unlike that of the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, and some others that had been embroiled in forgery of credentials, the authenticity of Degi’s educational institutions attended and qualifications obtained have not been disclaimed by the respective schools. From this standpoint one finds hard to deduce what Degi could have wanted to cover up or achieve through alleged dubious means. The gravamen of his matter that he lost out at the court, culminating in losing the mandate given to his joint-governorship ticket with his principal was maintaining several names without effecting changes as required by laws.
The mistake that he is now flying the flag of a folly in the eyes of the law is certainly not peculiar to him as far as Nigeria and Nigerians living in Nigeria are concerned. Cases of dissimilarities in bio data of Nigerians in Nigeria abound. While most are dubiously fashioned out by those with ill-motives, a greater number of others are caused by the printer’s devil, as alleged in the case of Degi.
Issues arising from incorrect personal data of a number of people in Nigeria are commonplace. Check customary service of any bank close to you! Listen to issues arising from students doing examinations conducted by bodies, such as JAMB, WAEC, NECO, among others! Take a research on Permanent Voters Card issued to eligible Nigerians for elections. It shows institutional failure in our society. It is Nigeria’s and Nigerians’ collective shame.
Apart from schools he attended, Degi has had a steady rise of occupying official public positions – councilour, local government vice chairman, chairman of Nembe local government council, commissioner in different ministries in Bayelsa State and a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before vying for the deputy governor of Bayelsa State. At no time was the issue of his name variations, which now toppled him at a point he was about mounting another podium of political post, raised.
Another inherent trait in the Nigerian nation that Degi has become a scapegoat and got himself trapped is the use of titles along names of the well-heeled in our society. Just like the Eremienyo chieftaincy that contributed in depriving Degi the title of a deputy governor, titles such as, Alhaji, Asiwaju, Obong, Bashorun, Igwe, and many of their likes across Nigeria, have mixed up with names of some topnotch individuals such that it is difficult to differentiate between titles and names.
At many instances at public event, some highflyers have been declining to answer their names because their names have not been prefixed with titles or lower titles are used in place of exalted titles. That is why it is very common to hear event compere mentioning names with clumsy titles such as Rev/Dr/Obong, Pastor/Mrs, Dr/Barrister/Mrs, Right Honurable/Chief/Elder/Architect. It is a show of superfluity and bogusness characterizing our national life.
Degi is a Nigerian of no mean status, and there was probably no way he could have demeaned himself by not adding a title to his name. Degi is said to be a devout Christian, and not just an ordinary church goer. He is an ordained Bishop of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. He should, therefore, be commended for his simplicity and humility demonstrated in not adding Bishop to his tongue-twisted and elongated names.
The unfortunate thing is that Nigeria has a void database and to worsen matters, the nature of Nigeria, quite unnaturally, has not abhorred this vacuum. In Nigeria, it is difficult to get basic information of one’s birth even from the hospital a person was born in contemporary time. So many primary schools cannot provide record of those who pass through the schools.
From the foregoing, it would be wrong to conclude that Degi is the architect of the misfortune that has occurred to his joint ticket with Lyon. While there are legions of lessons to be learnt from the misadventure of Lyon-Degi joint ticket, the poignant issue that Nigerians need to ponder with prime-time attention is the scapegoatism of systematic failure in Nigeria that Degi finds pretty difficult to disentangle himself from the cobweb.
Though Nigerians also seem good at collective amnesia, let us not forget so quickly that recently there was an issue of Muhammadu and Mohammad answered by one person and of which the Supreme Court decided differently from that of Degi. Let us not mock Lyon and Degi. Let us all pity ourselves as Nigerians. Let us use the Degi case to bailout our collective national life from doldrums of institutional dysfunctions
-Ekanem, a journalist, sent this from Lagos through email@example.com.