Sunday, December 17, 2017

My life turned a new page after certificates scam


Early this year the government embarked on an exercise to identify civil servants who did not have genuine academic certification. More than 9,000 people lost their jobs as a result.

37-year-old Nicodemus Munema, a resident of Ilemela District in Mwanza was among them. He had to leave his teaching job because he could not produce his academic certificates for verification. He had obtained a job using someone else’s certificates.

The father of three completed secondary education in 1994 but did not pass his final examinations.

“I had to repeat school, and my father wanted me to go back to Form Two. Unfortunately I scored the same zero division in Form Four,” he recalls.

The firstborn out of Mzee Alex Munema’s five children, Nicodemus, had a passion for teaching but his examination results did not allow him to go for a teaching course. He tells me he was a bright student in class and wonders why he never did well in the final exams.

It reached a time, he says, where he thought those in charge of marking exams had something to do with his failure.

College at any cost

In 1998, some months after the Form Four national examination results were out, he approached his father, a retired soldier with an idea.

“It was hard approaching him given that my plan was not genuine. I had planned to use a cousin’s certificates because I so badly wanted to continue with studies,” Nicodemus shares.

His cousin, Nicodemus Mahende, was at the time pursuing further education in Uganda. He had agreed to give him his certificates to present to college for enrolment.

“My father said he did not want to be involved but agreed to pay my tuition fees if I managed to get admission.”

With his cousin’s certificate, Nicodemus enrolled for a teaching certificate course at Bunda Teachers Training College in Mara Region in 2000. He was now known as Nicodemus Mahende instead of Nicodemus Munema.

“It was not easy at the beginning considering that I was using someone else’s name. Thank God none of the students I went to school with was studying at the college. They would have found out my little secret.”

Nicodemus says he was among the best ten students in college. He wondered why this never happened in secondary school even after repeating classes.

When he graduated two years later, Nicodemus obtained both a teaching certificate and a wife, whom he believes was attracted to him because he was smart in class.

After graduation in 2002, Nicodemus left for Mbeya to look for a job. His elder brother lived there. He left his wife with his family in Musoma.

He taught in several schools in Mbeya Region for two years and because he only had temporary contracts, he decided to return home. All this time, his newly acquired name, Mahende gave him a hard time. He always feared people would find out he was not Nicolas Mahende. He even missed many opportunities because he did not want people to ever find out about it.

He did not apply some of the job opportunities because people knew who the real Nicodemus Mahende was.

“I never even told my wife about my real name. I had decided to do what I did because of the passion I had for teaching since I was young,” he reveals.

In 2006, Nicodemus finally received a job offer letter to teach English and Social Studies at Mabatini Primary School in Mwanza city. Because he did not want to disclose his second name, he introduced himself at the school as ‘Mwalimu Nico’ (Teacher Nico).

“I made sure the name Nico became popular rather than my full name. This would put me on the safe side and would also make me feel more comfortable at work.”

Mwalimu Nico says his pupils adored him.

“At Mabatini where I worked for about four years, my pupils nicknamed me ‘mtaalam’ (expert). They said I was good at what I did,” he says.

Nico taught at various schools in Mwanza city and from time to time, his cousin, Mahende would ask for his certificates when applying for jobs. This annoyed Nicodemus. What if the papers would be needed at work at the same time his cousin needed them? He found this so inconveniencing.

His cousin landed a job in one a financial institution and worked as a teller for several banks. In 2014, he got a job as an auditor with a big private firm. “I worked in Mwanza while my cousin was based in Songea Region. But the tendency of sending him his original Form Four certificates became annoying. I had no choice though. He was the rightful owner of the certificates. It reached a time when I wished I had bought them or even obtained them from another person.”

Nicodemus did not have the certificates to present for verification when they were needed this year because his cousin would not give him the certificates to present for fear of risking his job.

Saved by father’s wisdom

He thanks his father for he cannot imagine how his life would be like today had it not been for his precious words of wisdom. His father used to advise him to save money for the rainy days and thanks God he heeded his father’s advice.

“When I started working, I made sure I saved at least Sh150,000 every month. I mostly invested in land and livestock. My wife’s salary would cater for the basic needs at home and the needs of our three children,” he says.

Nicodemus who used to earn Sh 360,000 a month has several pieces of land back in the village and in Usagara, Misungwi District. He bought the land at cheap prices back then. When he quit his job, he sold some of this land and some livestock and invested in livestock business.

He is grateful his livestock business is doing well. Nicodemus buys cows and transports them to various places including in neighbouring Kenya. But what was his wife’s reaction after the truth about her husband unfolded? Scolastica, who knew her husband as Nicolas Mahende all this time says she was dumbfounded to learn the truth.

“I had to tell her the truth. I could not continue playing hide and seek,” says Nicodemus.

He says his wife took it easy considering the situation that was looming at that time. He says his wife is always polite and that she just asked a few questions, like ‘you never told me, is there anything else that I do not know about you?”

“Teaching was my childhood dream and that is why I cheated to get a place in college. I did so to fulfill my heart’s desire. I don’t advise anyone to even think of trying what I did as it can lead one to jail.”

Nicodemus will always miss his beloved pupils and the songs they used to sing together before breaking for home.