opinionBy Soyombo Opeyemi
Lagos — Recently, the West African Examination Council (WAEC), released the results of the General Certificate Examinations (GCE), conducted in 2003. As usual, close to 40,000 results were withheld as a result of examination malpractices. This figure, as alarming as it is, is far from the truth. The fact is, over 70 per cent of candidates who sit for such an exam commit one form of fraud or the other.
The scale of exam misconduct in Nigeria is phenomenal. Unfortunately, however, only a fraction of compatriots understands the many faces of exam fraud in the country. Like electoral fraud, malpractices occur before, during and after the exam. From the elementary school to tertiary level, exam fraud is perpetrated in one form or the other. The criminals are not only the students. Other stakeholders in education are culpable by design, default or both.
Consequent upon inadequate preparation, indolence and outright disdain for hardwork, candidates go to any length in order to make their papers. They pay huge sums to get possession of question papers (Expo) before the exam date. Sometimes, before tests are administered in the class, such students already possess the answers. Some come to the exam hall with textbooks, notebooks, micro-sheets and well-inscribed letters on parts of their bodies. They contract teachers and students of tertiary education to write for them, paying thousands of naira. Such impersonators are called mercenaries. Some of them would purchase forms and sit in the exams like other candidates while others come to the exam centres to help their clients, having previously settled principals or proprietors of the centres to be used. This is especially common in GCE and Joint Matriculation Examinations (JME). The mercenaries do not need the results but sit in the midst of their clients to teach them, in any form, during the exams. It is an organised crime that involves the officials of the examination body. This ensures that such contractors and their clients are put in the same centre.
If students are guilty of malpractices, their parents are much more guilty. A woman was caught by a proprietor of a primary school while hiding a question paper to be administered to pupils the next day. She wanted her ward to come first at all cost. Parents pay teachers or give them gifts so that their children come top in the class. They contract mercenaries on behalf of their children and pay teachers, school authorities, officials and staff of examination body for assistance before, during or after the exam. The more the pay the better the grade or score!
The teachers who release exam or test questions to students, assist candidates during examinations and tinker with marks are guilty of exam fraud. Some tutors go their way to demand advance pay from candidates so they might assist them during exams. The randy ones among them who have amorous relationship with female students either leak test papers, assist during exams or simply award marks after the exams. Some of them are empty-brain classroom traders who neither know the topics they are paid to teach nor possess skills to impact knowledge to their wards.
Certain malpractices are even beyond the control of the students. While paying for WAEC or NECO, the school authorities (private and public) require them to pay additional sum for assistance during the exams. Sometimes, parents are informed in advance to co-operate so that their children can make their papers at one sitting. The management rips off parents a substantial sum through this means. The school teachers are employed to provide answers to candidates during the examinations and the results are a near hundred percent success. Good public relations is achieved through this corporate fraud. The WAEC or NECO officials who are more interested in how much they can make through this scandal concentrate on the sumptuous repast prepared for them while fraud is perpetrated in the exam halls. At JME level, the authorities collect their settlements in advance and employ their teachers to be used to perpetrate malpractices in their respective centres.
Examination papers can be leaked through the printing agency. They may become public knowledge through the staff of the exam body, either in the offices or distribution centres. Collusion between such officials, police chiefs and bank managers, where such papers are kept for distribution to nearby examination centres, is equally a practice. It is an organised crime. While obtaining forms, the officials of the examination body collude with mercenaries so that all their clients are put in special centres where examination crime will be committed. Such forms are processed at the last minute. It is also possible for well-connected candidates to have their results pre-determined by officials of the examination body. Usually, the pay will determine the grade or score obtained by the students. Candidates are sometimes asked to contribute money to supervisors and invigilators during exams so that fraud can reign in the exam hall.
The law enforcement agents are supposed to apprehend examination fraudsters. But it is obvious that a police officer who kills over twenty naira would be hard put to it to arrest faudulent candidates who are armed with naira notes. In fact, examination centres provide another source of income to law enforcement officers! How many candidates, mercenaries, school officials, supervisors or parents have been arrested? Even when arrests are made on television, the criminals still go home smiling once they settle the officers.
There are 49 universities in Nigeria. Yet, over a million candidates sit for University Matriculation Examinations (UME). Only about 15 per cent of them get entry to those institutions. This ensures that examination malpractices have to be committed in order to get the required marks. There is pressure on students, there is pressure on parents. The scale of exam fraud is however lower during Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Matriculation Examinations (PCE) because only about two hundred thousand candidates sit for such exams, leaving rats and cockroaches to share the remaining spaces (apology to JAMB registrar) in the over one hundred and twenty institutions Why send your wards to polytechnics and colleges of education if government and private institutions would consider them inferior to their counterparts from varsities? Are universities graduates more equipped for the challenges of nation development than products of polytechnics? No proof! Why not convert all post-secondary institutions to universities? No explanations So, government aids and abets exam misconduct, by default!
The society rolls out the drums in praises of lazy students who made As, Bs or scored 290, 300 in UME. No one asks questions. Students who roamed the streets, observed vigils during exam period in order to obtain expo come back with good grades or marks and society welcomes them with a red carpet like a valiant soldier who saw, fought and conquered! When such students join the secret cult or a couple of them are rusticated, the society is not alarmed. We treat exam fraudsters the way we treat corrupt politicians whose exploits in public looting is rewarded with chieftaincy titles! The society aids and abets exam fraud.
The import of exam fraud is far-reaching on the society. These same fraudulent students find themselves in higher institutions where they perpetrate greater fraud in collusion with other stakeholders (lecturers, non-academic staff, management...). A threatening culture of moral decadence is already foisted on the nation and the manpower needed to accelerate development is ill-prepared and ill-equipped to take up the challenges. Now, we are daily confronted with graduates who could not speak a modicum of English. We have graduates of English who cannot draw a line between few and a few. We hear and read comprise of, can be able to, should in case, and other grammatical howlers. There are graduates of engineering who cannot describe how a simple grinding-machine used in the homes works. We are bound to have more licenced medical assassins who diagnose every ailment as malaria infection till their victims die of tuberculosis. We now have products of tertiary education who cannot reconcile a simple account, understand the import of wage increment in a non-productive economy. There are teachers who teach what they don't know and lecturers who can privatise a company by liquidation! A student of political science has said Berlin is in Egypt! In fact, the prognosis is that of doom.
The solution to exam malpractices is essentially political. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, no principals, parents, students, supervisors, law enforcement officers engaged in examination misconduct. The principals were comfortable. High value was placed on morals. Students were diligent. Teachers got their pay regularly and satisfactorily. Supervisors were well remunerated. The law enforcement officers were disciplined and got their salaries as at when due. The pressure on varsities was less and society placed a high premium on industry as the only ticket to success. Of course, there were examination malpractices but the scale pales into insignificance when compared with what we have today. Like corruption, examination misconduct has become institutionalised in Nigeria. The underlying factor is poverty, abject penury!
Unfortunately, education cannot be divorced from other facets of Nigeria life. Nonetheless, students must desist from examination misconduct. Why get a certificate you cannot defend? Parents must inculcate in their children virtues of diligence and discipline. Why destroy the future of your children by purchasing certificates for them? Teachers must go back to the basics. Students won't forgive you in the future when the full picture dawn on them. School authorities should desist from fraud. Future Nigeria will print your names in black book. The law-enforcement officers must abide by their oath of office. Exam criminals must be severely punished. Government must give due recognition to polytechnics and colleges of education graduates both in public and private institutions. Society must recognise only results that are products of hard work and honesty. Above all, the nation must seek first the kingdom of political transparency, political accountability, political discipline, rule of law, and all other things like examination misconduct, indolence and corruption shall become a thing of the past.