…Nigerian-Malawian woman married to a Pastor at the centre
Details have started emerging of the elaborate doctoral scam that awarded honorary degrees to musician Patience Namadingo and his brothers in arms: Pemphero Mphande and Mansoor Ashraf Karim. Information that Malawi24 has sourced has established that there is a syndicate robbing people of hard earned money but equally capitalising on the appetite for titles. According to our sources, a Malawian-Nigerian woman is at the centre of this elaborate scheme which has seen awardees parting with over 10 million Kwacha to get an honorary degree lying to them that it is from the University of South Africa (UNISA).
Sources that we have spoken to have revealed that the scheme operates across three countries of Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa. According to a person with the knowledge of events, the scheme has been running for a long time with Malawians only joining in the fray in 2020.
“There is a woman with a dual nationality which she obtained by marriage,” the source said. “It is this woman who is at the centre of events in this scam. She is the one who penetrated the Malawian market through Patience Namadingo.”
No patience for Patience to become a doctor
According to another source privy to events leading to the award of Namadingo with a bogus doctorate which he refuses to disavow this far, the woman was put in touch with Namadingo through a mutual friend.
“The woman knew Namadingo as a celebrated musician. They have been living here together with her Nigerian husband so they knew how much Namadingo was celebrated and loved fame. She sold Namadingo the idea of an honorary doctorate and he salivated at it,” said the source.
According to the source, the woman did not outright tell Namadingo that he was to be involved in a scam. However, she told him that she could help him get a doctoral award from the University of South Africa. Namadingo was at first coy, thinking that he would end up scammed, however it was the way that the woman in question presented it to him.
“She sold it as a genuine thing. She assured him that UNISA would confer the degrees. At first, it was just a conversation but once they saw Namadingo get hooked, it moved to emails and then he was in. It was the allure of the title that got him hooked,” the source said. While the source could not disclose if Namadingo paid money directly to the scammer woman, we have it on authority that some of the victims of the scheme have paid their fees through other miscellaneous fees.
Some of the people awarded from the scheme, who are not Malawians, would be asked to pay a fee for gowns as well as other miscellaneous costs. For instance, some would pay what the scammers called a procession fee or a certificate printing fee. It was through such fees that the scammers would get money out of their victims. A source said that all the people who went through this scam paid the fees either directly to the woman who is sometimes based in Lilongwe together with her Nigerian husband or they would be scammed through the fees. We have not yet verified how Namadingo paid for his bogus paper.
For Namadingo, we have established that even if some people within his circle had doubts, he dismissed them. All he wanted was to become a doctor.
“You can see it from the way he boasted about the title, it was as if he earned it,” said a source. As per tradition indeed those holding honorary titles are not expected to be called doctors and indeed address themselves as doctors. However, Namadingo changed his name immediately after the fake award.
Becoming an honorary doctor: do charity works
If Namadingo was scammed, the same is not true for Mansoor Shariff Karim who was awarded his own doctorate by the same scammers in 2021. Karim is a friend of Namadingo, he runs a garage in Blantyre called K Motors.
From around 2020, K Motors embarked on charity work of fixing grounded ambulances in Malawi’s district hospitals for free. They said the exercise would run for 12 months with an ambulance fixed each month. At the time, Karim said that K Motors would be embarking on that as a part of social responsibility exercise. However, Malawi24 can confidently reveal that it was in readiness for an award of an honorary doctorate degree by the same institution.
“Even before awarding Namadingo, the woman had told him that he needed to do charity works and he should be visible in the media. This, she said, would be used as evidence before UNISA that they should be awarded the honorary degree,” said the source.
Another source corroborated saying that the scam operators told the participants in the scam that they could only get their awards after doing some charity work.
“The charity work that K Motors was doing was not altruistic at all, it was because he had been convinced by his friend (Mr Patience Namadingo) that the only way he could get his own paper was to do charity works as per instructions from the woman running the scam in Malawi,” the source said.
One year after embarking on that exercise, a little known Karim who even in the storm of fake honorary doctorates has managed to stay out of the storm, was awarded an honorary PhD by the same institution. This, as a respected academician has told us, should have been enough to raise eyebrows.
“Two honorary doctorates from the same institution, to the same country, among friends? The chances of that happening in the world are so slim,” the academician said.
According to the academician, the process of honouring one with a doctorate award were so involving that if UNISA were to receive the names of the two put forward, one year apart, they were likely to raise red flags.
“This was the same department putting forward these names. If it were the real UNISA, somebody would have said let us halt and evaluate these people,” she said.
The pyramid falls, enter Mr Pemphero Mphande
Fashioning himself firstly as just a social media celebrity, Pemphero Mphande holds a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science from the College of Medicine of the then University of Malawi, now Kamuzu College of Health Sciences (KUHES). Mphande, a son of a celebrated academic, is one who appeared uninterested in the allure of fake accolades. In 2020, writing on Facebook, Mphande himself lambasted people buying fake PhDs claiming that they were diluting education.
Slamming people in a rush to get PhDs, especially politicians, Mpande wrote that: “stop going to unaccredited and not well recognised universities to buy papers and titles. You are embarrassing our country and setting a bad example to us kids that in this country we buy papers”.
Unknown to him, three years later he would be a recipient of a fake honorary degree and would bring about the unravelling of a pyramid scheme that has criss-crossed countries in Africa by pretending to be the University of South Africa (UNISA). According to Mphande, he is a victim of an elaborate and organised scheme. Writing after UNISA discredited him and his two colleagues, Mphande offered that he is available to work with the University to bring an end to this scam. However, a person privy to the issue has told us that the statement was only made to save face.
“Pemphero met with the woman scammer in question,” the source told us. “It would be naïve to think that they did not meet to discuss about this PhD. He had been doing all the things that people preparing for this fake award do, what more evidence does one need to know that he was aware of what he was going into?”
According to the source, Pemphero Mphande who recently got married to songbird Keturah with whom they have a child, shifted to doing more charity works positioning himself for the award.
“Apart from the stories he posts and the love connections he claims he does, you should have seen that his focus was on charity. And he made sure that the press covered those things and that social media was awash with his contributions. He had been convinced that he needed to be visible to end up with the award,” the source said.
Did these people know that it was not UNISA?
Malawi24 has established that despite the three Malawians participating in this scheme with somewhat good enough knowledge of them cutting corners to get the coveted PhD, they might not have known that it was not UNISA that was awarding them. For the three, we have been told, all they believed was that they had found a shortcut to a recognised honorary award from a recognised university.
It did not help that some of the ceremonies took place at UNISA. For instance, the 2020 fake crowning of Namadingo took place at the University campus, in ZK Matthews Hall. It was well attended by other people, something which has prompted Namadingo to challenge that the fact that the event took place at UNISA and was attended by others makes his fake doctorate paper legitimate. We have established however that the scammers just rented the facilities.
“UNISA rents out facilities and on this occasion the people had let them and presented those fake awards. As for the audience, most were family of the people who had been scammed and were there to equally get fake honorary accolades,” a source said.
Malawi24 has concluded, after speaking with various sources, that the three Malawian ‘celebrities’ did not know that they were not being awarded doctorates by UNISA. However, their victimisation ends at that. They were equally trying to get honorary doctorates through dubious means. We have been made to believe that the three knew that they were not qualified for such an honour but still went ahead because they believed that they had found ways of beating the system.
Investigations have revealed that on average, the Malawians paid at least 10 million Malawi Kwacha per person through whatever fees that were imposed on them to be awarded the honorary degrees. While it has been difficult to ascertain the amounts paid directly to the Malawian woman with a Nigerian Pastor husband at the centre, it cannot also be ruled out that she was given some money to help the Malawians in question get their awards.