This Document Matter

I’ve looked at so many documents in my life, so many to make me a document analyst. Most times I look at them to determine when someone is lying or when misconduct has been committed. Whether for recruitment or intelligence gathering purposes, document analysis can be a very useful tool for explaining character and predicting future behaviour. Documents hardly lie, at least not as much as their owners do. I’ve seen all sorts of lies told in documents and in many cases it’s very easy to detect. Unfortunately, many of us gloss over documents, and by that means, fail to detect the red flags.

Sometime ago, I had the arduous task of poring through some documents of a corporate organisation to determine compliance with certain procedures. A member of staff had lost an organisational work tool and reported the matter so that it could be replaced at no cost to him. When I reviewed the documents, I looked at just one thing: signatures. I looked at the signature in the court affidavit he swore about the loss and the signature on his formal complaint. They were no-near match. Obviously, he had sent someone to get the affidavit for him and the person signed as the deponent. Unfortunately, he now signed his usual signature on the complaint memo. You want to know my view? Oh, I said he should have been made to bear the cost of replacing the lost item. What was obvious was that, even if there was a loss, there was a huge question mark about the truthfulness of the claim. Organisations don’t want to incur losses and therefore, if you must claim from them, leave no doubt.

A few months ago, the media reported how a man faked the documents of a medical doctor and got a job with the General Hospital, Calabar in Cross River State. I was irked by that incident, but certainly not by the man’s effrontery. My angst was towards the team that recruited the man. If I had the powers, I would sack them. Yes, I would, for not verifying the man’s claims. In addition to their sack, I would’ve prosecuted them for “vicarious homicide,” if there is a legal phrase like that, for the deaths caused by the fake doctor’s negligence. What would it have taken the hospital management board to run a background search?

I don’t want to talk about the forgeries which students get involved in. They fake result for admission and employment and go further to bribe someone in the issuing institution to confirm that the result is genuine. But there is always a way around this, if we really want to. If you need consultancy services to go about this, then get one. But I’ll let out a simple and often overlooked tip. If you’re recruiting for a graduate position and someone turns up with an age declaration certificate that dates later than the year the person started higher institution, there is a very high probability that the individual has faked his or her age. Often the reason for this forgery is that the organisation probably demanded a cut-off age that the majority of unemployed are above. If you asked such prospective employees about the dating on the document, their excuses are similar: they lost their documents to fire, accident, theft or Hurricane Jonathan which has overtaken much part of Nigeria recently. But a little effort on your part could unravel the mystery: checking with their past institutions or the court, hopeful that the court can even authenticate the age declaration document, much more have a file to search through.

I’ve heard of a case where a guy filled out an application for a job online and after about two years he was called for an interview where he was asked to bring his relevant documents. When he turned up for the interview, he tendered an age declaration and curriculum vitae that had no correlation with the data he had submitted earlier. It was later established that he had declared his age several times within the past two years and wasn’t sure which date he had submitted. Like the proverbial cat of many lives, he could not remember which life was the shortest or the longest. Truth doesn’t need a memory; it always is.

Corruption and laziness of members of staff have fortified the common rationalization that with the unemployment rate in Nigeria, we can let these things pass. That is circular fallacy. People who could forge documents for placement in jobs stand a chance of being emboldened to forge documents that could lead to financial losses for organisations. If the system must work, people must be judged on the integrity of the information we gather about them. So, next time someone throws a document at you, dare to look a little bit more closely. It always costs much less in the long run.

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