– University degree certificate goes for N3000, Polytechnic -N1500
– Drivers license -N500, International passport -N1000, Police identity card -N3000
FROM ALOYSIUS ATTAH, ONITSHA
Vice Chancellors of universities, the Inspector-General of Polic e, Comptroller General of Immigration and the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, are some of the chief executives that should be scratching their heads now, and asking God for wisdom to deal with the damage being done to the institutions they head because criminally skillful forgers are producing their cherished documents for little sums of money.
In Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the South East, and highly valued economic hub in Anambra State, Old Market Road, connotes different meanings to different people. To some, it is simply a major road leading to Ose Okwodu market or the Onitsha main market and marine market beside the River Niger, while for others, it is the headquarters of the newspapers distribution industry in Anambra State.
To the Okada riders in the state, the place is also a meeting point to discuss the raving political issues of the moment, while for the members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Old market road is also their point of rendezvous where they regale themselves with tales of how their organization has toppled the Nigerian government.
In all descriptions, depending on how one looks at it, the lasting impression about Old market road is the fact that it is a major area in Onitsha with the highest concentration of offices for newspaper houses in Anambra State. It is also characterized by a major concentration of business centers, cyber cafés, printing press works and all other services that have to do with computers.
But beyond the concentration of those business centers, Sunday Sun investigations have revealed that the area is Anambra’s fake document producing headquarters, very much like its better known ‘twin brother’ Oluwole Street on Lagos Island. The operators of the business centers in the area, in a bid to survive in the competitive environment devised the strategy of getting involved in producing fake documents and pirating original documents popularly known in Yoruba parlance as Oluwole document.
At Old Market Road, Onitsha, university degree certificates which undergraduates spend between four to seven years toiling and burning the midnight candle with its attendant difficulties to obtain can be produced within 20 minutes with as low as N2000.
The most interesting part of the story is that the fake and pirated certificates when placed side by side with the original certificates often become very difficult to differentiate owing to the dexterity of the computer operators.
Investigations carried out by Sunday Sun revealed that a larger percentage of the business center operators in the area are involved in the “Oluwole” business, while they do it with extreme care and vigilance to avoid running into the arms of the law.
At Old market road, fake drivers license which the original one goes for N6,500 official fee and N10,000 for assisted procurement at the Federal Road Safety corps office can be obtained for as low as N1,000 or less. Nigerian International Passport which goes for N15,000 and N25,000 after the necessary documentation at the Nigerian Immigration Service offices can be cloned and produced in a jiffy for N2000 within the area. Fake drug dealers and other fake products discreetly print labels, packets and other embossments within the area.
It is the same story for the current national identity card, voter’s cards and any other means of identification in Nigeria. In that place, the expiry dates of vehicle particulars like insurance, vehicle license, certificate of roadworthiness, etc, can be amended.
Yearning to experience the happenings in the area first hand, the reporter recently approached one of the business center operators for a deal of changing an NYSC discharge certificate to a new name. The lady in charge who was working on an Oluwole driver’s license for another customer at the time, after asking a barrage of questions probably to ensure that the reporter was not a security officer, informant or spy, collected the document, scanned it and got busy on the request. At the end, she produced a similar copy with the stipulated name after collecting N1500.
Through a source, after much persuasion and assurance of iron-clad confidentiality, Sunday Sun was given graphic details of how the business is run.
Though the source acknowledged and even mentioned names of some people in the business at old market road, who maintain strict professional work without getting involved in the forgeries, she said that the method is the only survival strategy left for the business center operators in the area in surmounting the high cost of sustaining such business and be able to pay the exorbitant rents in the area.
“Don’t be fooled when you see them charging N2.50 these days at Old market road for photocopying documents. No one can survive with that pittance up to three months without closing shop because you can’t even buy diesel or fuel your generator for one month with that. What we do is that we recoup our expenses and also make profit from the Oluwole business. The easiest certificate to manipulate is that of Oko Polytechnic because it doesn’t have much security seals, but we can replicate almost all documents in Nigeria. That of seal like the Nigerian Coat of Arms or designing of logos is also easy if you are proficient in computer packages.
“I used to have a regular customer who brought me the job of replicating international passports. Many of them use the passports for this Bureau de Change business and sometimes in a month, the man can give me up to 30 pieces to duplicate. When we do it for N2,500 each, that gives me at least N75,000 for the month.
“Another of our major customers are those people who serve as licensing agents in different government licensing authorities. When they collect money from prospective motorists for drivers license, Autoreg and others, they just bring their details and passport photographs to us and we replicate all those things and collect our charges. They in turn go back and hand over those fake documents to their owners who collect them and flaunt it around thinking that their papers are now intact for them to drive around.
“This is how we survive because at Old market road, a cubicle of just a small wooden counter where one can attach one computer with printer goes for at least N14,000 per month which is N168,000 per year. Consider that amount and you will calculate how the person can cope without this Oluwole stuff, while there are others in bigger shops that pay about N400,000 per year,” the source said.
But the business of replicating documents and identity cards at Old market road is not without its own consequences and risks. Our source also went further to throw more light on the inherent dangers.
“There have been instances when some of our colleagues fell into a trap. One was a case of replicating a Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC) identity card which is one of the things we mass produce for people at a cost of between N2000 and N3000. One of the people who procured such was caught in Abuja during a security summit. When he was grilled to ascertain how he got the identity card, he mentioned a particular business center at Old market road and the police came all the way to raid the place. They seized the man’s automatic ID card printer valued at N1.5 million and other valuables. For a mere profit of N2000, the man spent nearly N2 million before he could regain freedom,” she said.
Rent a passport picture in bulk for N20
While the business center operators are engrossed in their faking business, another booming business at Old market road, which the reporter discovered on investigation is the deal of buying other people’s passport sized photographs for special purposes.
The various emergency photographers scattered inside the Onitsha Post office and along the Old market road supply passports to those in need at the cost of N20 each or less depending on the quantity needed. This kind of business thrives among those who want to fill some forms that require people in a group, but may decide to fill the forms with fictitious names.
“This deal is mostly during election monitoring, from cooperative societies looking for loans from banks or some other cases where somebody is required to fill slots for training programmes, where some specified amounts of money are expected to be paid to the participants. This kind of people who want to cut corners will just approach the passport photographers and supply them loads of abandoned passports or some others that were not too sharp which the original owners refused to collect. At the payment of the specified amount ranging between N10 to N30 each, one can get any quantity needed and go back home to fix fictitious names across the pictures and the deal is sealed” disclosed another source.
Fake vendors on the prowl
As earlier stated, Old market road is Anambra’s version of Fleet Street, London or Kakawa Street in Lagos, where all major newspapers are distributed. In fact, any publication whether old or new that one cannot find in Old market road simply means that such publication is out of circulation.
This concentration also attracts huge number of vendors who struggle daily to pick copies from the agents for distribution thereby bringing an influx of infiltrators as well.
The Chairman of Onitsha Newspaper Distributors Association, Jude Isiguzo told Sunday Sun that they have had cases of some people, who pretended to be vendors only to vanish into their air after collecting papers.
“To forestall such incessant cases, we now devised a means whereby any vendor, whether moving along the road or has a permanent place of sales must attach with an accredited agent and a guarantor whose full identity and contact address must be stated and verified. When we introduced these measures, it curtailed to a large extent the rampant cases of fake vendors who collect our papers, sell them and bolt away with the cash and even fail to return unsold copies,” he said.
Speaking on the scenario at Onitsha Old market road, a Public Affairs Analyst, Simon Chukwuleta told Sunday Sun that the business of pirating and producing fake documents thrives in the area as a result of system failure.
“The actors do it because they receive patronage. It’s just like prostitution – it will continue to thrive as long as men patronize those who sell their bodies for money. It is unfortunate that Nigerians now seek the easy way out; that is why everybody is looking for shortcuts. Those who falsify documents are seeking shortcuts while those who do it for them want to maximize profit too. If the system is working well in Nigeria, both the patrons and the perpetrators would go in for it and the crime would stop,” he said.
In a chat with the Police Public Relations Officer in Anambra State, Okechukwu Ali, he said that the command is poised to deal with anybody caught producing or possessing fake or forged documents.
The Anambra State Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Sunday Michael Ajayi, confirmed that the command is aware of the proliferation of fake drivers license in Anambra State but said that the offenders are being apprehended and prosecuted according to the law.
Another spectacular feature of Old Market road is the high concentration of members of the Free Readers Association and some brainwashed members of Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), who now live in the illusion that their days in paradise is around the corner.
For the FRA members, it is a mixture of the intellectuals and the I-too-know individuals including loafers. Some among them are legal practitioners, jobless graduates and other educated people, who have been forced by vicissitudes of life to become commercial motorcyclists. For this set, they throng most of the newsstands reading one paper after another. Some among them who have familiarized with the vendors are allowed to read free most times while others pay N20 for newspapers and N50 for magazines. Those whose faces are not familiar with the vendors are reprimanded to drop the papers while they now “giraffe” and read from other people’s copies. Sometimes, heated arguments can ensue based on the disagreements on some trending political stories or sports issues of the moment leading to exchange of fisticuffs among the analysts.
The MASSOB fanatics are often in another world of their own. Some of their members are commercial motorcyclists, who park their bikes within the area in the morning and begin to regale each other with tales of how the United Nations has granted an Observer Status to MASSOB, and how their government has taken off in exile. Some among them have even shared offices among themselves in the Biafran government as ministers, commissioners and defence teams and their favorite past time is indulging in debates and tales from morning till evening before they will retire home with little or nothing in their pockets.
The advent of Radio Biafra broadcast by Nnamdi Kalu recently added tempo to their activities. Some among them carry radio sets and place them in any nearby kiosk along the Old market road and focus their attention to the inciting broadcasts. The temporary jamming of the station by the Federal government somehow unsettled them, but as at the time of filing this report, the signals of the illegal radio station are back on 102.4 FM and the same scene has continued with renewed vigor.