- There are better and less disruptive options
The National Examinations Council (NECO) has asked for greater involvement of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the conduct of school leaving certificate examinations, particularly in checking examination malpractices.
NECO’s acting registrar, Abubakar Gana, also sought for the collaboration of DSS in “building an intractable open and secure filing system for the council to prevent possible incidence of tampering with staff records, especially in response to the on-going staff certificate verification exercise.”
And the Director-General of DSS, Yusuf Bichi, has pledged the continued support of his department in ensuring the credibility of NECO examinations.
It is reassuring that the Governing Board of NECO under the chairmanship of Dr Abubakar Saddique, and the agency’s management are concerned about the integrity of the examinations the agency conducts.
The depth of moral decline in the country in low and high places, and the influence of such decline on rise in all forms of criminality – political and bureaucratic corruption, terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, identity theft, etc – should give those charged with proper assessment of students concern.
It is therefore not surprising that NECO, the country’s second examination body, is ready to go to any length to fight examination malpractice.
But the decision to use the nation’s secret service to fight this scourge is rather extreme. Cheating in examinations should not require the use of DSS, a body charged with gathering intelligence about national security, in a country that has a regular law enforcement agency.
Such policy choice by NECO seems to be a knee-jerk response to a matter that can be resolved via innovative use of technology, such as had happened in sister agencies like the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Saddling DSS with such function may have unsavoury effects.
Deploying a paramilitary agency to engage in surveillance over conduct of secondary school leaving certificate examination in a democratic state is akin to using a hammer to kill an ant or a fly, given the many other challenges to national security.
The intrusion of force in NECO’s examination process can incense otherwise peaceful examination candidates who may perceive that they are under siege by a military force with a modus operandi that is distinct from police methods. It is therefore advisable for NECO to look at other options.
JAMB, another examination agency that used to be marked by exam malpractice in the past, has now become enviable for its use of technology to reduce, drastically, exam fraud.
Like NECO, JAMB used to have in the past problems of impersonation and other forms of cheating before and during examinations for admission to tertiary institutions, but the agency has taken advantage of technology to strengthen its use of biometric capturing of candidates while adopting other mechanisms to discourage fraudulent examinees.
JAMB’s examination process has become an example of best practices in the country, to the extent that the agency now conducts appointment and promotion examinations for members of the staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Nigerian Customs Servic.e.
Similarly, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), NECO’s sister agency charged with secondary school leaving certificate examinations, also used to have serious problems with cheating on its exams, but it too has made significant strides in arresting exam malpractice.
Nothing should stop NECO from learning from peer agencies within and outside Nigeria to achieve its noble goal of protecting the integrity of its exams.
Given the current state of insecurity in the country, the DSS ought to be too busy to be dragged with all the lethal force it commands to get involved in what JAMB has largely accomplished, without involvement of the country’s top national security agency.