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By Bola Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com

It is often said that crime, criminal activities and criminals are one or two steps ahead of the law, law enforcement and law enforcement agents or agencies. So, the latter often have to engage in catching up with the former. Everyone admits that prevention is better than cure and to be proactive is far better and less expensive than shutting the manger after the horse has bolted; but technology now appears a two-edged sword that is not making the fight against crime any easier. A recent example is the education sector where the scourge of examination malpractice has assumed a new, even frightening, dimension.

In my own secondary school days in the 1970s, the most prominent examination malpractice was the leaking of examination papers, which was infamously known as “orijo”, a corrupt form of the word “original”, which meant that the leaked paper in your hand was authentic or original and not fake because, in those days, many leaked papers also turned out to be fake and those who set their stores by them gnashed their teeth in the examination hall! Examinations still leak but the technology of cheating is more advanced these days; the impunity with which the criminal activity is conducted and the calibre of people involved beggars belief.

Teachers are bribed to help students in examination halls or to look the other way or take a stroll while mercenaries recruited for the purpose are at work. Anyone who fails to cooperate runs a risk. In many instances, authorities themselves are known to encourage examination malpractice so that their students can be said to have the best results at local, state and national level; especially so where some reward or remuneration is attached. States with the best result in this or that examination; students with the best result in this or that result are other instances of the competition that has fuelled desperation in those involved. Parents have also been known not only to buy “orijos” for their wards but they also enrol them in “special centres” where the students are aided for a fee. Parents have been caught going right into examination halls to personally and physically write examinations for their ward!

Then there are those for whom examination malpractice is a lucrative business; the avalanche of study and CBT centres all over the place is not just about the love for education but because of the “kill” that can be made therefrom. This is not to deny that there are honest study and CBT centres but the few bad eggs in their midst coupled with the desperation of examination candidates and admission applicants have compromised the sanctity of many examinations and called the worth of many certificates into question. I do not envy those charged with the responsibility of conducting examinations at any level in this country.

In the past few years that I have been privileged to observe at close quarters the efforts of the Prof. Ishaq Oloyede-led Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to clean the Board’s Augean stable and maintain the sanctity of its examinations, it has been one challenge after another. Catching up with the entrepreneurs of examination malpractice is difficult enough; beating them to their game and pre-empting them doubly so. Application of cutting edge technology has been of immense help; ironically, the same technology has proved a challenge in that it has also been available for the examination cheats to deploy.

A trending case is that of, not just one but two or more candidates brandishing “best JAMB results” – results that JAMB has said did not emanate from it. In one of the instances, the so-called best candidate did not even sit for the JAMB examination in question! JAMB’s Head of Public Affairs and Protocol, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, issued the following statement: “The attention of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has been drawn to several publications in both print and online media celebrating certain candidates for being high scorers in the 2023 UTME. The Board is constrained to set the records straight and wishes to state unequivocally that many of the results which many of these candidates are parading are fake (results). In many instances, some of these candidates had actually obtained far lower scores than they are claiming and had used some funny software packages to manipulate their results to deceive unsuspecting members of the public. The most pathetic of them all is the case of Miss Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma, who claimed to have scored 362 in the 2023 UTME and was awarded N3m scholarship by Chief (Dr.) Innocent Chukwuma. She was even set to be honoured by the Anambra State Government when one of its top officials put a call through to JAMB to confirm her claim only for the Board to reveal that Miss Ejikeme Joy Mmesoma had actually scored 249 and not the 362 she claimed (to have scored). She had manipulated her UTME result to deceive the public to fraudulently obtain scholarship and other recognition.

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“The Board would like to state that the likes of Mmesoma are still out there deceiving those who are always in a hurry to bestow honours on candidates without confirming from the Board. A similar case was that of one Atung Gerald in Kaduna who claimed to have scored 380. His ethnic group had taken the issue up, requesting that he should be given special recognition only for the Board to disappoint them with the incontestable fact that Atung never obtained the 2023 UTME application documents, not to talk of sitting the examination!

“The Board would, therefore, want to advise the public to always crosscheck (result) claims by candidates with the Board before rushing to honour them with undeserving awards as certain software have been created to fake their (own) version of their results and put same out in the public space for fun and this is what the sponsors of these candidates are using to defraud good-spirited Nigerians such as Dr. Innocent, the founder of Innoson Motors, who sincerely desires to celebrate academic excellence by investing in the education of a young Nigerian.

“We commend the likes of Dr. Innocent Chukwuma and wish to encourage other Nigerians, who desire to invest in the future of genuine youngsters, never to be discouraged but to always ensure that they get the authentic results from the Board as done by the Anambra State Ministry of Education; otherwise, they will be celebrating criminality as this is just another new fraudulent method in town.

” However, these candidates only succeeded in manipulating what they are holding (as their results) as the authentic results are with the Board and would be transmitted to their schools of choice at the appropriate time. It is to be noted that Miss Mmesoma had sent a message to the Board’s platform to request her UTME result after which she manually inflated her scores and pasted the same on the 2022 UTME result sheet.

“Unknown to her, the Board had changed the design of the 2023 UTME result sheet. Her original result remains 249 as nothing can change that. With this her ignoble act, Miss Mmesoma would be prosecuted and her original result withdrawn. This is not all as the Board would, in due course, investigate all candidates laying claims to higher scores than they actually obtained. Once discovered, such candidates’ original results would be withdrawn forthwith and they would be handed over to relevant security agencies for prosecution.”

This new development, we must admit, is very scary. So, every JAMB result must be clarified with JAMB henceforth – and there are hundreds of thousands of such results each year! Then, how long will it take JAMB to neutralise the new technology being employed by the fraudsters? Since the matter is said to be under investigation, let us refrain from further comments. Suffice it to say that since the matter has now come to this, JAMB should stop celebrating “best student this” and “best score that” until further notice!

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There are issues, however, that have become recurring decimals at each year’s policy meeting on admissions into tertiary institutions by JAMB. One is the scandalously low marks that qualify candidates for admission into some of our tertiary institutions. The marks are as low as 140/400 for (some) universities and 100/400 for (some) polytechnics and colleges of education (with some colleges of education even advocating for 80/400!) Something must be wrong with our primary and secondary school education system. Secondly, every year, the preponderance of candidates fails to find space in our institutions of higher learning. Despite the avalanche of state and private universities, the carrying capacity of these schools all combined still falls far short of our needs. Thirdly is the lopsidedness in the vacancies available and the preference of candidates: Medicine and related courses, Law and Pharmacy are courses that thousands of candidates want to read but only a handful are – or can be – admitted. This happens year-in, year-out. Is there nothing that can be done to expand the carrying capacity in these areas? Lastly but not the least of my worries is that Agriculture and Education, critical to national development as they are, are the least preferred courses; every year while hundreds of thousands of admission seekers get frustrated running after Medicine, Law, etc, vacancies exist in these courses that nobody wants! Something very fundamental is wrong with an education system that bears little or no relevance to its own basic and fundamental needs!

*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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