The discredited culture of examination cheating has persisted in Nigeria. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board says the results of 43,120 candidates who sat this year’s University Tertiary Matriculation Examination were withheld as a result of widespread malpractices that characterised it. Another batch of 15,145 is undergoing further scrutiny, which explains the unusual delay in releasing the results.
A total of 123 candidates were arrested and are currently undergoing prosecution. This is the only remedy. The Registrar of JAMB, Isha’q Oloyede, who gave the details while announcing the results, said the swift response was made possible by the deployment of Closed Circuit Television cameras in the exam centres. A total of 1,886,508 candidates participated in the test. Already, five of the cheats have been convicted and are in jail in Zamfara and Kebbi states. The offence attracts between three and four years imprisonment.
The examinations were held between April 11 and 18. With 48, Bauchi State recorded the highest number of arrested suspected cheats among the 23 states that were affected, followed by Sokoto and Lagos states, with five suspects each. However, other states in this dubious roll call are: Abia, Ekiti, Delta, Gombe, Borno, Oyo, Plateau, Enugu, Edo, Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Rivers, and Adamawa, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Rightly, Oloyede decried the corruption of the UTME by those he described as “professional exam writers” – those hired to sit exams for candidates who, though academically ill-equipped, are desperate to secure university admissions. He explained that some of them hid in toilets for the candidates who hired them to sneak out under the guise of going to answer the call of nature, only for the mercenaries to walk into the hall to replace them. But with the CCTVs, some of the cheats were caught.
He was also forthright with the admission that some members of staff of JAMB helped to compromise the system as revealed by CCTV clips. “We see a lot. But we have problems,” Oloyede stressed, adding that if the Board were to punish every member of staff involved, it would be distracted. But as many personnel as the video clips indicted should be prosecuted. According to JAMB, 76 computer-based test centres have been de-registered for their roles in the infractions, as against the 22 centres its axe fell on in the 2018 exams.
Although this ugly trend is not new, its escalation is worrisome and depicts the failure of the government to deal with an evil that has permeated the entire educational system. Dealing with the problem should not be the concern of Oloyede alone, but that of all the stakeholders – the states, the Federal Ministry of Education and the universities.
In fact, the UTME malpractice is a carryover of the widespread cheating in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, which entered a new low in 2018, with its digitalisation. Answers to questions were uploaded for candidates in the hall through rogue platforms. The platforms were earlier widely advertised with specified sums of money to be paid into designated bank accounts for multiple-choice and theory-based question papers. They acknowledged receipt of payments through phone text messages.
With the connivance of invigilators and schools, the questions were sent to some websites via WhatsApp, SMS and other social media platforms, which then provided the answers and returned them to the subscribers in the exam hall.
This show of shame happened and the country moved on. From WASSCE, this ignominy graduates to the UTME and then to the universities. When post-UTME university tests were in vogue, many candidates who might have used mercenaries to record very high marks in the UTME, failed to turn up for interviews, while the poor performance of some betrayed them. The rot is the root cause of buying exam marks with cash, otherwise known as “sorting” in the ivory tower; or some students being compelled to withdraw for not meeting the minimum academic standards required to continue with their academic programmes. The University of Ibadan, for instance, flushed out 408 of such students in April 2018, mostly at the 100-level. Any university worth its name should, therefore, have a process to winnow intakes through the UTME.
Invoking the law of the land against UTME fraudsters, as Oloyede is doing, should be intensified and entrenched in our system. This gives bite to the Examination Malpractices Act 1999. The law exists to deal with delinquent candidates, impersonators, invigilators, agents, principals or schools or employees of examination bodies who, on conviction, are liable to four years in prison. In the 2012 SSCE, 193 schools were shut down for this malady and the punishment lasted for just two years.
This slap on the wrist has to stop. Exam malpractice is a criminal offence and it should be treated as such. In other countries where education serves as the pillar for socio-economic development, cheating in an examination attracts an emergency or decisive government response. In China, such an offence attracts a seven-year jail term. In Uzbekistan, internal internet traffic and SMS messaging were stopped between 8.30 am and 1.30 pm in 2004, one Friday before a high-stakes standardised test – qualifying exam for university admission – to prevent cheating. After its 12th grade national exam leak of 2016, also a university entrance examination, the authorities used digital safeguards to conduct that of 2017.
Nigeria is already socially atrophied. For it, therefore, to close its eyes to the youth laying the foundation of stealing, dishonesty and disregard for hard work in their lives, which cheating in exam symbolises, is to plunge itself further into an abyss of moral decadence.