The Nigerian Army recently confirmed reports that some of its officers were involved in examination malpractice during the recent lieutenant-to-captain promotion exercise. The Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru, said 60 officers out of 315 that sat for the examination were being interrogated by the army corps of military police for the alleged offence
The examination, which took place in Kaduna between February 10 and 15, was to assess the officers' knowledge on land and tactical employment of a mechanized platoon as well as exposing them to practical methods and techniques of administering men and materials at peace time and in war conditions.
The accused army officers were said to have fraudulently obtained live question papers days before the examination was due. Although the army authorities sent out circulars advising participants not to enter the examination hall with cell phones, the alleged mastermind of the malpractice was caught with the gadget in which answers to some of the questions had been pre-loaded.
The examination malpractices law of 1999 states that a person would be guilty of the act of cheating at examination if he, in anticipation of, before or at any examination 'by any fraudulent trick or device or in abuse of his office or with intent to unjustly enrich himself or any other person procures, sells, buys or otherwise deals with any question paper produced or intended for use at any examination of persons, whether or not the question paper concerned is proved to be false, not genuine or not related to the examination in question'.
Cheating at examinations is an enduring challenge of the Nigerian education system, and cuts across all levels. It is such a detestable practice that virtually every public school in Nigeria prescribes summary dismissal of those involved in it. That the menace has now spread to the military is a very troubling development.
The army incident, apart from being a reflection of the general decay in the country, also appears to indicate that the circumstances in the armed forces may not be different from what obtains in the larger Nigerian society. The army's candidness in bringing the unwholesome incident to public domain is a refreshing departure, because it will reassure the public and the world that the authorities are determined to deal with the threat to its image that the cheating represents.
The desperation that drives people to cheat or try to outsmart others at competitive tests in the bid to gain an edge has impacted negatively on the mindset of Nigerian children and youths. And as a long term consequence, this variant of corruption among the rich and powerful and privileged has unfortunately become commonplace, almost part of the system itself.
Reforms are called for. In the meantime, invigilators and supervisors of any examination exercise should ensure that candidates are thoroughly screened at the entrance of the hall to dispossess them of any forbidden item.
The military authorities should not leave the matter at the level of public disclosure; at the end of the investigations that were said to be ongoing, those found culpable should be given the appropriate sanctions. Lax invigilating should be checked too, so that a repeat does not happen. It would also help to reduce the tendency to engage in malpractices if promotion examinations in the military are structured to be more of practical nature than theory-oriented. In practical assessments, candidates would be required to exhibit observable and assessable skills in order to succeed, in which case the need for using electronic devices to download, save or forward ready-made answers would be vastly reduced, if not completely eliminated.