Saturday, June 15, 2024
Saturday, June 15, 2024

Inside Lagos’ Black Market for Forged Affidavits, Marriage Certificates, Police clearance, others – TheNation


Despite previous reports, forgers besiege Lagos Courts, Police Command

• What we are doing to curtail culprits – Govt, NBA

At the interchange leading to the once posh Government Reservation Area (GRA), in Ikeja, Lagos, the traffic lights are constantly on the blink. Chaos rattles at the junction as motorists plying Maryland, the GRA and Airport Road jostle to outwit the lights and the eagle-eyed traffic wardens hunting for defaulters.

Amid the chaos, a group of enterprising Lagosians dart in and out of the traffic: frantic youths and the elderly seeking to eke a living. Ultimately, they engage in a “felony” that few dare to acknowledge openly.

“Come for your affidavit and police report,” they called out to me at my umpteenth visit. It is their customary chant to engage prospective clients.

Amid the bustle, a buxom lady approached me. Her name is Blessing, and for a fee, she offered to get me an affidavit, police report, a court seal, or any other “legal” documentation I might need.

From her perch at the Conoil Petrol Station, opposite the General Hospital, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Blessing led me back to her base in the premises of the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja.

Situated directly opposite the Lagos High Court, Ikeja, the Police Command serves as a refuge and operational base to hundreds of hustlers juggling urgent requests for affidavits, police reports and other legal documentation by members of the public.

Blessing and cohorts claimed to work with certain judicial officers and police personnel to produce a series of fake documentation for unsuspecting public members.

They are the forgers of integrity, the architects of deceit, and their canvas is the very fabric of the legal system itself. They brazenly operate in front of the Lagos High Court, lining up the sidewalk that leads to the courthouse.

Despite successive reports of their activities, they persist in reckless abandon. Opposite the courthouse, they loiter and sit in the open, beckoning motorists and pedestrians plying the vicinity to patronise their services.

Inside the precincts of the Police Command, Blessing led me to an alley where she consulted with me in more explicit terms, offering to make me an affidavit/change of name, on behalf of my wife, at the rates of N3,000 and N5,000. An affidavit that would not be recorded in the court register will cost N3,000 while the one that would be documented with the court will cost N5,000, she said.

“The signature, stamp and court seal on both documents will be original. But only the one of N5,000 will be registered with the court,” said Blessing, adding that she had produced a lot of such affidavits for clients who needed to use them for bank transactions and processing of migration applications for relocation abroad.

Eventually, we settled for the N5,000 worth of affidavit, and I asked if we should wait for my wife to appear in person as the law requires the deponent to appear in person before the Commissioner for Oaths but she said that wasn’t necessary. “Just send me her picture. It doesn’t have to be an official passport photograph,” she said.

Thus I wrote the pseudonym, Morolake Abeni Bisoye, and an imaginary house address.

 Forgers operating in the law’s precinct

Immediately after I paid her fee, Blessing led me to a shop – built like a makeshift business centre within the Lagos State Police Command. There, she instructed a typist to input my so-called wife’s details in an affidavit template stored on a computer in the shop.

With the details entered, Blessing printed the document on an A4 paper and told me she needed to go inside the Lagos High Court, to secure the signature, stamp and seal of the Commissioner for Oaths.

She refused to let me accompany her to the latter’s office.

Nonetheless I tailed her until she disappeared inside a backstreet in the Police Command.

About 20 minutes later, she returned with the affidavit bearing what looked like an official stamp and seal. With the transaction over, she urged me to patronise her and recommend more people to her.

According to her, she produces other legal documentation including marriage certificates, land titles, and dissolution of marriage certificates.

 Court officers dismiss affidavit as a fake

To confirm her claims, I took the document to the office of the Acting Chief Registrar (ACR) of the Lagos High Court but even though he wasn’t on seat, officers in his department dismissed the affidavit as a fake one. “Everything about it from the stamp, and signature to the seal is fake,” said a senior officer with the department.

Likewise, the Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja chapter, Oluwaseyi Olawumi, declared, at first glimpse, that the affidavit was a fake one.

While it bears close semblance to three others, all fake, previously produced on March 7, 8 and 12 at the local councils in Amuwo Odofin, Ikotun-Egbeda and around the Lagos State Police Command, Area G Division in Ogba, Agege, respectively. Although they were all produced by touts in these areas, they all bore stamps, signatures and seals showing that the affidavits were produced at the Lagos High Court in Ikeja.

Interestingly, there are glaring discrepancies in the colour and quality of the court stamps, seals and signatures appended to each affidavit.

There is no gainsaying, fake affidavits and other legal documentation have become endemic and deeply rooted in our system, argued Olawumi. There are fake affidavits and documents everywhere, mostly at local governments, on the streets, gas stations and business centres. Banks, companies, organisations and even individuals who require affidavits do not know that what they have in their possession are fake affidavits and fake legal documents.

There are persons in some local governments and local council development areas in Lagos State who make affidavits for deponents where there is no Commissioner for Oaths. What they do once you approach them is to tell you to wait in a corner, and they would charge you even more than what is chargeable at court registries and other judicial designated centres where original affidavits are obtainable. They would now go to a hidden place, produce an affidavit (which unknown to you is fake) and hand over a counterfeit affidavit to you. These deponents would not have appeared to sign before the commissioner for Oaths (because there is no Commissioner for Oath anyway). These deponents also fail to attach their passports and other requirements that need to be met before a proper affidavit is executed.  They just prepare the fake affidavit, apply a fake stamp and seal and give it to the unsuspecting individual(s) and they go and use it for whatever purpose they need it for.

The pricing often varies across courthouses and local councils in Lagos. It depends on the bargaining prowess of the client as the same tout may do the same affidavit for different clients at different prices.

Ganiyu, who touts his services around the local council in Festac, Amuwo Odofin, stated that he also produces fake marriage certificates. “If you wish for it to be registered, I will collect N450,000 but if you want an unregistered one, I will collect N230,000 from you,” he said.

A fake Dissolution of Marriage certificate will cost between N150,000 and N200,000 depending on who recommends you to the tout.

The true cost of an original affidavit

Further findings revealed that the cost of a real affidavit is significantly lower than the cost of a counterfeit one obtainable on the street.

Sulaiman Tella, a Lagos-based lawyer, stated that even though touts hovering around court premises and local councils charge between N3,000 and N7,000 for an affidavit, one can type his affidavit and take it to the office of the Commissioner of Oaths for validation at the meagre cost of N500.

In most cases when the prospective deponent asks people for directions to the office of the Commissioner for Oaths, they would most likely lie to you so that they can sign the affidavit for you and extort you.

To get an affidavit isn’t as cumbersome as it’s made up to be. At the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere, for instance, the prospective deponent may approach through the Tafawa Balawa Square (TBS)/Kings College route and go straight to the Commissioner of Oaths’ office in the courthouse. There, the document will be initialised, after which the deponent can take his affidavit to the cash office, where a flat rate of N500 will be charged. At payment, the court seal will be appended to the affidavit, which will then be taken back to the office of the Commissioner of Oaths who will sign and stamp the document.

What the law says

The relevant section of Nigeria’s federal 2011 Evidence Act that deals with affidavits (Articles 107-120) is clear about its provisions. In particular, Articles 108-111 of the Act state that: “Before an affidavit is used in the Court for any purpose, the original shall be filed in the court and the original or an office copy shall alone be recognized for any purpose in the court.”

Legal sources indicate that there are two categories of affidavits: those used in court proceedings and those used in non-court proceedings.

The most common types of affidavits available in Nigeria include Written Statements “which accompany processes used to initiate court proceedings in court in proof of a party’s case before the court; Affidavits of facts “in support of applications filed in court which by the Rules of the court(s) must accompany all motions;” Affidavits of facts “which are generally filed to bring facts to the attention of a court;”

Affidavits “verifying the loss of documents or other property;” Affidavits for a change of name; Sworn declaration of age in lieu of a birth certificate; and Affidavits “of good conduct.”

And pursuant to Article 10 of the Federal Oaths Act, the following persons are authorised to administer oaths and therefore issue affidavits under federal law in Nigeria: The Chief Justice of Nigeria; the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal; the Judges of the Federal High Court; Notaries Public; and Commissioners for Oaths.

Commissioners for Oaths are officers of the court designated to administer oaths.

Verification of affidavits

According to an Assistant Superintendent with the Police Special Fraud Unit, the Police often rely on the “issuing authority to verify all documents,” including affidavits. Similarly, a Notary Public indicated that for affidavits sworn in the courts, the Assistant Chief Registrar of the court is “usually the authority to confirm the genuineness of any purported affidavit.” For affidavits sworn by notaries, the Notary Public who issued the affidavit can be contacted for confirmation of the genuineness of the document.

Further findings revealed that it is easy for forgers to replicate security features on an affidavit as it is almost impossible to determine the authenticity of a document via on-the-spot assessment.

An affidavit will carry the signature of the deponent, the signature of the Commissioner for Oaths/Notary that swore the document, and the seal/stamp of the court/Notary.

For court-issued affidavits, every court has its own rubber or plastic seal, and the Commissioner for Oaths will affix the seal of the court to the affidavit and sign his name at the bottom of the affidavit.

The Notary Public-issued affidavits will carry the stamp of the notary that issued the affidavit and sometimes a seal and the name of the Notary Public. Also, a notary will usually put his seal bearing his name and Supreme Court enrolment number.

Judicial officers and other court officials are also required to keep a record or copy of affidavits deposed before them, as the authenticity of an affidavit is verified by checking the records of the authority that administered the affidavit.

Thus, genuinely issued affidavits are usually properly documented and can be verified as the Commissioner for Oaths usually keeps a copy with the court registry. The only way that the court can determine the authenticity of an affidavit is to consult their records, according to legal experts.

In order to determine if an affidavit is genuine, the receipt number is confirmed in the court records, and the signature of the Commissioner of Oaths and the stamp on the receipt are verified.

There is no gainsaying a significant number of affidavits are procured by proxy, as established by The Nation’s findings at the Lagos High Court and Police Command, both in Ikeja, and across local councils in Amuwo Odofin, Ikotun, Idimu, Egbeda-Akowonjo, Ogba-Agege, to mention a few.

At all these locations, touts masquerading as court agents commit a series of fraudulent activities by producing fake affidavits, marriage certificates, Police Character Reports and other legal documentation featuring forged court seals, stamps and signatures.

These touts claim to work for highly influential court officials and police personnel as they charge exorbitant fees for documentation that significantly costs less to procure.

The court seal, according to lawyers and police personnel, does not establish an affidavit’s authenticity anymore as all fake ones also carry the seal and court staff involved in fraud will pocket a deponent’s money, forge the signatures of the Commissioner for Oaths and return the affidavit with “signatures and seal.

According to a Deputy Chief Court Registrar in Ogun State, the procedure to obtain an affidavit is as follows:

The deponent will state his name, in full, in a printed form. He must include his sex, tribe, address, religion and nationality. The applicant will depose to the information that he wants to state, which must be facts and not law. It must be duly signed before the Registrar or Commissioner for Oaths.

The Commissioner for Oaths must identify and confirm that the person swearing the oath is the actual deponent. The identification of the deponent is very important; it must be ascertained before the affidavit is commissioned.

The same source explains that the deponent is identified through personal identification documents such as a National Identity Card, National Driver’s License, International Passport, Voters Registration Card, and Passport photographs. Once the deponent is identified by the Registrar or Commissioner for Oaths, he obtains the requisite fees, issues a receipt, stamps the affidavit with the official stamp, he writes the receipt number on the stamp on the affidavit. The deponent is put on Oath and his document is later commissioned. The serial number of the receipt is quoted on the affidavit.

There is no standard form to be used for a Statement of Facts used in court, but a passport photograph is displayed on this type of affidavit.

For age declaration, the law stipulates that no declarant under the age of 50 years could swear to an affidavit personally. He or she is required to come along with an older person such as the mother, the father, an uncle or an elder brother, who would inform the commissioner about his knowledge of the time the declarant was born as well as provide other necessary data about such a person.

This provision of the law is daily circumvented as court commissioners sign declarations without following the stipulated procedure. This is also the case with other documentation in the court such as loss of items and change of name. The consequence of this is that anyone could simply falsify his or her age or any declaration and still get it signed in court.

But despite what the law stipulates as conditions for the issuance of affidavits, touts and court officials, daily circumvent the stipulations, and brazenly bend the rules, robbing the system of millions of revenues that should go into government coffers.

The NBA’s attempts to curtail the scourge

The NBA is doing a lot to curtail the excesses of forgers of court seals, stamps, signatures and other legal documentation, according to Olawumi. He said, “We have such matters in court and we have even arrested some persons in whose possession we found fake documents, court seals and even receipts. We have even arrested some persons parading themselves as lawyers and other impostors issuing fake affidavits and other documents. Their matters are in court.”

According to him, “You know as Nigerians we like things done the easy way and we like shortcuts. My number one advice is that if you need an affidavit you must go do it yourself, irrespective of your status. You need to appear before a Commissioner for Oaths or a Notary Public to depose to the affidavit yourself. You can’t just send someone to go get an affidavit for you. So many persons have been denied school admissions because of fake affidavits because once the school discovers they are sent out of the school while some have lost their jobs because of fake affidavits and when they come to us at the Secretariat to complain, and we ask them where they got the affidavit, they would say they met the person by the petrol station or outside the Court premises.

Stop giving your information to people by the roadside. Please note that if you do not appear before a Commissioner for Oaths or a Notary Public, with your passport photograph and append your signature before the affidavit is executed, then it is not a genuine affidavit.”

Learning the hard way…

Those who patronise touts eventually learn the hard way.

Rukayat Shonekan experienced a raw deal in the hands of such shady characters. In February 2024, Shonekan sounded the alarm after the United Kingdom (UK) consulate banned her for 10 years, over alleged forgery of a Police Character Certificate (PCC).

Shonekan recounted her ordeal at the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) annexe, Alagbon, Lagos, lamenting that a cybercafe operator whom she identified as Shina Obafemi, issued the forged certificate to her in Alagbon, very close to the FCID, last year.

She said, “I was issued the Police Character certificate in a cafe at Alagbon in September 2023. I paid N50, 000. I wasn’t lured; I believed I was in the right place because it was a police environment. I was directed to a person within the police station to assist me with the process.

“But the embassy said it was fake when I presented it in December 2023 and I was banned from entering the UK for 10 years. I informed the police, and upon investigation, they arrested those involved.”

The four suspects arrested were subsequently arrested. According to the FCID Public Relations Officer, ASP Mayegun Aminat, upon receiving a complaint by Shonekan bothering on the falsification of the Police Character Certificate, impersonation, forgery of signatures and official stamp and obtaining money under false pretence, the FCID Annex operatives took swift action which led to the arrest of  Osinowo Obafemi, 35; Sebastine Olamide, 21; Shittu Babatunde, 25; and Bilal Yekeen, 25.

The investigating team searched 267, Igbosere Road, off Obalende Area Lagos Island, Lagos State and uncovered a plethora of fraudulent documents which included fake Police character certificates, seven medical reports issued from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH belonging to several individuals, 65  fake international driving permits,18 international driving license permit forms with different pictures belonging to different persons, one pack of both booklets of the traffic foreign vehicle regulation license among others.

“Further investigation confirmed the suspects’ involvement in the criminal racket involving the issuance of the fake police character certificate that led to the 10-year ban of Mrs Shonekan by the UK. They also admitted to issuing forged documents to several individuals,” said ASP Mayegun.

Attempts to get the reaction of the Lagos State Police Command, Ikeja, to the activities of forgers operating within the command proved abortive as SP Benjamin Hundeyin declined The Nation’s call and failed to respond to a written query at press time.

However, a police officer, pleading anonymity, stressed that the Police can’t be held accountable for the activities of the forgers. Most of them are freelancers who operate in rented shops on the fringes of the Command. Those shops are owned by private tenants who have nothing to do with the Police Command.

Offenders risk seven years of imprisonment

Under the Criminal Law of Lagos state, forgers of government seals are liable to a seven-year imprisonment term. Section 365 (3) states that: “If the thing forged purports to be, or is intended by the offender to be understood to be or to be used as any of the following things — the seal of a Court of record in Nigeria or any other country or the seal used at the Chambers of the Head of a Court or for stamping or sealing summons or orders; the offender commits a felony and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven (7) years.”

According to section 362 of the Criminal Law of Lagos state, a seal is said to be “counterfeit if it is made without lawful authority, and is in such a form as to resemble a genuine seal or mark, or in the case of a seal, in such a form as to be capable of producing impressions resembling those produced by a genuine seal.”

 What has Lagos State done to curb the scourge?

Raphael John, a Client support officer at Cinfores Limited and the consultant for the Lagos State Court Management Information System (LaCoMiS) deployed to the Magistrate court, argued that LagosCoMiS has helped in mitigating affidavit forgery and other kinds of forgery in the judicial system.

LaCoMiS is an information management system that enables the State Judiciary and other relevant stakeholders to find a one-stop for all relevant administrative activities as it relates to the judicial arm of government in all the LGAs of the state.

“So, for affidavit, the system has made it difficult for affidavit forgery – every affidavit done on the platform has a unique Affidavit number and a QR scan code, which has made verifying affidavits very easy and convenient. Individuals or Institutions do not need to go to the court to verify affidavits, they just need to go to the URL (website)  or scan the QR code on the affidavit to verify it.

If any of the security measures are promised, when it’s been verified, the affidavit won’t display on the portal, or if it’s a case of replacing an authentic affidavit code to a fake affidavit, when verifying it the original affiant affidavit that will display.

The system also covers the aspect of swearing before the Commissioner for Oaths – when an affidavit is being made online, it goes to the Commissioner for Oaths to vet, and schedule for a virtual swearing (if need be) before commissioning the affidavit,” said John.

Notwithstanding these measures, itinerant touts circumvent, daily, the rules and procedures of the court, to fleece unsuspecting applicants, by procuring fake affidavits for them. These transactions are conducted openly within the precincts of the Lagos High Court and the Lagos State Police Command in GRA, Ikeja.

There it is not unusual for persons to obtain affidavits by proxy, without being physically present, while touts claiming to represent judicial and non-judicial officers of the court, arrange and procure affidavits at exorbitant fees – often beyond the statutory charges.

The majority of deponents, across Lagos, do not always get to see the Commissioner for Oaths as affidavits, marriage certificates, police character certificates, and other legal documentation, are rampantly forged.

Stressing his organisation’s mission to end the scourge, Adeniyi Quadri, a lawyer and Chairman of the Task Force/Security Agencies Relations Committee (SARC) of the NBA, Ikeja Branch, lamented that aside from Court precincts and local government secretariats, the counterfeiting of court seals, stamps and signatures to produce fake legal documentation is rampant in locations close to end-users like the telecommunications companies and examination bodies including the West African Examination Council (WAEC).

The anomaly, he argued, strikes at the integrity of Court instruments, proceedings and processes. These activities pose a significant threat to the pursuit of justice and due process while limiting the earnings of legal professionals and making the performance of their duties arduous. In an embarrassing contrast to this, “the touts acting in cahoots with Court officials get preferential attention.  They are availed a pride of place attention-wise at the Registries while legal professionals are subjected to sometimes excruciating delays as a result of touts jumping queues in the provision of these unauthorised “legal services,” said Quadri.

To remedy the situation the NBA has initiated a sensitisation and awareness campaign to educate unwary members of the public on the proper procedure as it concerns procurement of affidavits/documents from the Court and LaCoMiS has initiated similar sensitisation measures.

Against the backdrop of these efforts, touts like Blessing and Ganiyu will persist in their schemes thus fuelling a clandestine industry that thrives openly in police and court precincts.

In their grey market economy, a well-placed signature holds the power to alter destinies and a carefully crafted seal can open doors that were once firmly shut.

In the shadows of the Lagos State Police Command and High Court, for instance, peddlers of forged documents operate with a precision born of necessity, their actions driven by a primal urge to profit off a diverse clientele comprising criminal masterminds and unsuspecting victims.

However, the consequences of their actions reverberate far beyond the confines of their underworld. Innocent citizens fall victim to their schemes, facing wrongful accusations, loss of property, and even imprisonment.

And the judicial system’s integrity stays undermined, as forged documents flood the courts, blurring the lines between truth and fiction.



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