18 September 2000

Nigeria: War Against Exam Malpractices

Lagos — Threatening the fabric of ordered society, the incidence and echoes of examination malpractices now transcend the four walls of the traditional classroom to the hallowed halls of the National Assembly and beyond. Lillian Okenwa recently interacted with an NGO crusading against the status quo

Amidst the controversies that have bedevilled the educational sector, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) has joined in the campaign for renaissance in the sector. The initiative, Exam Ethics Project, launched in 1996 has been campaigning hard for the enthronement of examination ethics in the system as malpractices have become the norm rather than an exception. The campaign, the group explained became necessary "in a situation where our educational institutions are likened to preparatory camps for fraudsters and criminals." With reference to Mr. Benton Gup, best-selling author of Bank Fraud: Exposing the Hidden threat to financial institutions, the organisation said the author actually believed the Nigerian government establish schools for the purpose of training fraudsters. In page 94 of his book, Gup said " It is rumoured that a government owned school in Lagos, Nigeria, train Nigerians on how to defraud..." But in a swift reaction to Gup's statement, Mr. 1ke Onyechere the Executive Chairman of the organisation said "before we call for Mr. Gup's head, we must remember that exam malpractices have become the norm in Nigerian schools; that most schools in Nigeria are operated by government, and that exam malpractice sows the seed of fraudulent and criminal values in the fertile minds of students who eventually develop into fraudsters and criminals." Onyechere therefore stated that National rebirth is impossible without ethical renaissance in education.

"The spate of malpractices in healthcare delivery by medical professionals sworn to the Hippocratic oath, the auctioning and miscarriage of justice by the judiciary, the mindless looting of public treasury by Generals and Senators, the chronic political and electoral fraud by politicians, the regular collapse of buildings designed by 'engineers' and 'architects', the mindless theft of 'customers' money by bankers, all have root in an educational system bedeviled by malpractices," Onyechere lamented. And more..."Examination Malpractices is the mother of corruption in Nigeria. And unless this scourge is eradicated, the campaign against corruption as well as the effort for national rebirth will come to grief. For herein lies the reason why WAI, WAIC, MAMSER, etc. all yielded harvests of monumental failures", lamented Onyechere.

It is against this background that Exam Ethics project is asking the President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration to pay special attention to the problem of exam malpractices adding that the policy of openness, transparency and accountability should start from educational institutions. The organisation alarmed by the increased level of fraud and malpractices regrets that even after one year of democracy, the government is yet to look into this area.

Exam Ethics Project stated that it has identified 34 types of exam malpractice perpetrated at the primary, post-primary and tertiary level of the nation's educational system. These it claims range from common entrance fraud in primary schools to impersonation, leakages of question papers, collusion and mass cheating in post-primary schools to sales of admissions, forging of certificates, and sale of marks in tertiary institutions. According to the organisation, 24 categories of Nigerians are involved. These they claim include Parents, Teachers, Professors, Vice Chancellors, Provosts, Rectors, Governments and Students. By their analysis, within one year of democracy, exam malpractice in the educational institutions increased by 33%.

Indicting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Exam Ethics Project said they made presentations to INEC about the high level of impersonation by exam mercenaries hired by illiterate wealthy political aspirants, the massive alteration/forging of certificates and the back dating of admission letters. "We warned about the dangerous consequences for the nation as certificate screening processes were in almost all cases compromised and short- circuited by bribe-drunk election officials. Exam Ethics Project had duly warned that the Nigerian Nation in general and the political process in particular will be brought into serious disrepute by scandals associated with fake claims of qualification and forged certificates by appointed and elected politicians. "Unfortunately, our prophecy came true within one year of democracy.

The Buhari scandal should never have happened. A situation where the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria found it expedient to re-screen the credentials of senators should never have happened," said Onyechere. In which case the outfit is calling on INEC to make proper allowance for adequate screening of aspirants in the new political Laws being formulated.

It then advised that courage must be summoned to re-screen, once and for all, the credentials of everyone in the various arms of government. The organisation maintains that unless this is done, there will be intermittent eruption of scandals of forged credentials in the high echelons of government. Besides the public it believes could become so worked up that a spontaneous protest might break out for the rejection of the entire political class.

One devastating damage done to he fertile minds of students within the nascent democracy the organisation disclosed is the presidential pardon granted Alhaji Salisu Buhari. With that singular act, it maintained, the executive arm threw ice-cold water on all the efforts aimed at ethical renaissance in education. Beyond that it averred the government jeopardised her moral authority.

"The consequences," said Onyechere "were almost instantaneous. Fraudulent students, parents and teachers openly and brazenly indulged in malpractices in this year's WAEC/NECO examination. Members of Exams Ethics Project on monitoring missions were openly challenged and attacked by exam fraudsters as 'enemies of progress'. Students across the country told us to take our campaign to Aso Rock, to the national assembly and to the various state houses of assembly. Not a few school principals asked us where we were when illiterate but influential politicians were blackmailing them for back- dated admission letters with which to back-up forged certificates presented to INEC for accreditation. Where were we when those who were unlucky to be caught were being granted presidential pardon? Such was the magnitude of the collateral damage inflicted on the ethics campaign by the presidential pardon."

But it was not all criticisms. The initiative commended the courage of the Senate for initiating the re-screening exercise saying "it is the first real practical act of National rebirth. It is absolutely essential that other arms and agencies of government emulate the courageous example of the Senate if they are to regain the moral authority for leadership. Exam Ethics Project estimates that 25% of elected/appointed politicians or one out of every four is either parading a fake certificate or a certificate based on exams taken by hired exam mercenaries. A comparison of the passport photographs, hand writings and signatures on their WAEC scripts it believes will show amazing disparity when compared with the authentic versions."

One of the major achievements of Exams Ethics Project was the successful battle for the promulgation of the new exam malpractice act signed into Law as the Exam Malpractice decree No. 33 on 10th May, 1999 by General Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar. This new Law, which replaced the moribund exam malpractice decree no. 20 of 1984, creates over 20 offences relating to exam malpractices and prescribes over 10 categories of stiff penalties. It even became an offence to attempt to commit exam fraud. Penalties under the new Law include fines ranging from N50,000.00 to N100,000.00 and jail terms ranging from three to five years without options of fine. Candidates, teachers, principals, invigilators, supervisors, examiners, custodians, printers, examination bodies, educational ministries, parastatals and institutions as well as their agents and employees are made liable. But since May, 1999, when the new Law and the new government came into force, it was believed that many people have been caught in the act of breaking the exam malpractice Law as some of them were paraded on the national television. In this year's JAMB exams, over 10,000 candidates were involved. But the question is, why have these offenders not been prosecuted under the new Law? Perhaps the answer as Exam Ethics Project said "lies in lack of political will by the government to summon or prosecute exam fraudsters in line with the anti- corruption campaign."

On Satellite campuses, it stated that this is one area "the government has demonstrated ambivalence and lack will power". Tertiary institutions in Nigeria it pointed out operate over 300 satellite campuses. They go by all sorts of names and despite arguments to the contrary, it maintains that these outfits are more of financial than academic institutions. Besides the group pointed out that there is also the problem of turning out illiterate graduates in a society that already has illiteracy as a major problem. The University of Lagos, (UNILAG) Korea outreach programme it noted embodies many of the things that are wrong with this scheme. Yet the government appears lost regarding to how to bring those involved in the UniLag Korea issue to order. Exams Ethics said that "In line with the avowed policy of openness, accountability and transparency, and in line with the anti-corruption posture of the administration, government should make its position on the UniLag scandal public. Government should also find the political will to close down all satellite campuses in line with the decision of the National Council on Education".

The organisation equally revealed that some public officers have been associated with admissions into Unity Schools. These officials it alleged routinely sell admissions into Unity Schools for amounts ranging from N15,000.00 to N50,000.00. However these officials it claims do not get directly involved as they operate through agents. The proof perhaps is evident as classes meant for 30 students now contain over 100 students. Schools built for less than 1000 now hosts up to 3000 students. The amalgamation of fees/dues/levies and all paid in some federal government colleges are higher than those paid in most expensive private schools.

Concluding, Exam Ethics Project emphasised that: "Within one year of democracy, Exam Malpractices in educational institutions increased by a factor of 33%; the Presidential Pardon granted to Alhaji Salisu Buhari seriously dampened the enthusiasm of Exam Ethics crusaders to push for ethical renaissance in education; INEC should live up to its responsibility for proper screening of politicians in order to save the country the embarrassment of certificate scandals; All arms and organs of government should emulate the courageous example of the Senate and re-screen the credentials of elected/appointed politicians." Exam Ethics Project further estimates that about 25% of elected/appointed politicians parade fake credentials; the upsurge in the theft of NYSC call-up letter and certificate of National Service in 1999 may not be unconnected to illiterate politicians looking for fake credentials. The NYSC secretariat should publish all stolen certificates for the benefit of re- screening task forces; the government should summon the political will to prosecute Exam fraudsters based on the Exam Malpractice Act No. 33 of 1999; Satellite Campuses are institutionalised 419 scams that promote private financial aggrandisement of few individuals at the expense of the institution; financial exploitation of desperate Nigerians; academic mediocrity; and Exam Malpractices. They should be scrapped; the interview for admission into JSI of federal Unity Schools for 2000/2001 academic session is unnecessary. The interview is a ruse and an alibi to scuttle admission based on the National Common Entrance Examination results; it is unjustifiable and contradictory to charge primary school pupils N75.00 for admission interview at a time when government is promoting Free and Universal Basic Education; the audit of agencies under the Executive arm of government should be extended to Unity Schools as a matter of priority; the National Association of Nigerian Students and Student Union Governments in tertiary institutions must rise to protect their members against the scourge of handouts/'Books' racket by lecturers. The cost of handouts has become a source of major concern to parents. Many students join cult groups in order to raise the money for handouts. It drives many indigent female students into prostitution. The racket must be stopped now!

To sum up, Exam Ethic Project warns that the drive for National Ethical rebirth and the anticorruption campaign against fraud and corruption cannot achieve any long-term success unless the educational system is cleansed of fraudsters.

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