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From manual cheating to cyberspace forgery of results

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Many Nigerians have written extensively on the concept and consequences of examination malpractices. On 12th July 2012, Chinedu Ugwu, a final year student of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Ibadan, posted an article on examination malpractice on the Internet. Ugwu defined examination malpractice as a deliberate wrong doing contrary to official examination rules designed to place a candidate at an unfair advantage. It comes in different forms like the leakage of examination papers prior to examinations, impersonation, external assistance, writing the answers on the blackboard dictation during examinations, illegal candidates, electronic assistance using phones, pagers etc, smuggling small papers (microchips) into the hall, reproduction of another candidate’s work with or without permission, inadequate spacing, lax supervision and inflation or reduction of a candidate’s original mark by those who grade the scripts. These malpractices have been baptized with so many esoteric nicknames such as “symbiosis, mgbo, help, memory backup, mercenary, missiles, giraffing, dubbing, xeroxing, towing, ECOMOG, etc”.

The root causes of this social evil called examination malpractice in students were listed by Ugwu as: laziness, inadequate preparation for examinations, pupils not taking their studies seriously, indolence, depending on fraudulent means to make it without any hard work. In many cases, the cheating is done with the support of unscrupulous and indulgent parents, corrupt government officials, guardians, teachers, lecturers, host communities of exam centres, traditional institutions, peer groups, security agents, school administrators and the mass media, all of which are integral parts of a corrupt system of national life.

Towards the end of the last century, private examination centres sprang up in every nook and cranny of the country. It was observed that one of the things they did was to aid and abet examination malpractices under the disguise of coaching students for examinations. Parents and guardians paid exorbitant fees for the services they rendered. This malaise became a prolific business enterprise. The situation reached a point that more than 90 per cent of all students sitting for all sorts of examination such as Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, National Examinations Council, Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), etc. engaged in this despicable act.

In an article on the effects of examination malpractices, M. Wilayat of the Institute of Educational Research in the University of Peshawar, stressed that examination malpractices among other things discourage good candidates from studying hard; denies innocent students the opportunity for admission; increases the number of dissatisfied candidates; and decreases job efficiency.

In the tertiary education sector where I belong, the trend of admitting brilliant students to ‘juicy’ or ‘prestigious’ professional courses became reversed. Many apparently dull applicants were admitted into prestigious courses such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Law, etc. This was what led the universities in the country to insist on conducting post-UTME examinations with the sole objective of screening candidates before admission. This exercise started earnestly in 2007/2008 session in many universities in the country and it has yielded positive results. For example, many innocent students with genuine excellent results are no longer denied opportunities for admission. Prospective students now study hard before and not after admission. Many university dons rejoiced on realising that the menace had been curbed to a great extent.

As we were rejoicing, so also were the candidates and their collaborators re-strategising for advanced cheating techniques. This was not unexpected in a national life ridden with endemic systemic corruption. The post-UTME committees in each university, however, did not relent in their efforts to curb cheating in the screenings. It is true that some universities did not achieve appreciable success in this effort but many did. The mode of conduct of the examinations in universities that succeeded changed from year to year to pre-empt cheating. With the advancement of knowledge in ICT, UTME examinations and post-UTME screenings metamorphosed into the purely electronic Computer-based Tests. When candidates found out that they could no longer cheat with impunity, they perfected cyber attacks and thus, the era of manipulation of UTME and post-UTME examinations came. Business centres that ran out of business in the manual systems of cheating perfected their cheating acumen. Cyber crime took another dimension. Apps were designed to generate UTME scores that did not originate from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Students seeking admission started submitting fake results, not knowing that universities use the results sent to them directly by JAMB for admission exercise.

I had the misfortune of experiencing this ugly situation a few years ago where the result of a candidate I submitted for admission on discretion was discovered by the handlers to be fake. I invited the parents of the candidate to our computer centre where both of them saw that their daughter submitted a fake result that must have been generated from a cybercafé. The fake barcode of the fake results when scanned failed to show the information that a genuine barcode would show. This is quite depressing and unfortunate.

In her desire to boost her score to facilitate admission on merit, a 19-year-old girl called Mmesoma Ejikeme thought she could outwit JAMB. It boomeranged. She ended up, inadvertently, exposing at a national scale this recent dimension of cheating among candidates seeking admission into our tertiary institutions. The top management of JAMB should be commended for ensuring a dynamic system that is impenetrable by cyber criminals. Mmesoma’s offence is purely criminal. It is a clear case of forgery. She must be prosecuted according to the Law in addition to JAMB’s punitive measures. I am convinced that the more severe her punishment is, the more we get closer to sanitizing our educational system by bringing sanity into the conduct of our examinations in this country.

All along in my career as a university lecturer, I have been involved in accosting cheats right from my early days in the profession. In Obafemi Awolowo University, students who failed to show remorse at the Investigating and Disciplinary Panel are expelled. Those who show remorse and confess are suspended for one academic session. That video clip by Mmesoma does not qualify her for such leniency.  The most disheartening situations that I had experienced were when co-invigilators suggested that rather than report the students caught cheating to the school authorities, they should be given a mark below the pass mark so that they could repeat the course. More disheartening was the behaviour of security operatives who were invited to arrest the culprits pleading on their behalf on flimsy and false excuses such as: “he is my nephew, she is my niece”, etc.  This is exactly what we see happening, today, in the case of Mmesoma. Anybody, no matter how highly placed in the society, who pleads for leniency for Mmesoma is part of the problem of this country. How I wish there was a law similar to aiding and abetting laws that can be used to prosecute such people. If we dig into the past of these people, they perhaps, must have benefited from cheating as they fraudulently passed examinations and climbed the ladder in their respective careers. All suggestions about counseling and psychological therapy for Mmesoma will not achieve the desired result unless it is done in a correctional institution. The old name for such institutions is prison.

For seven years at the turn of this century, I served as the Chief Executive of a tertiary institution in this country. Of the 39 students that were expelled in that institution in those seven years, nine of them were expelled for examination malpractices. Other categories of offences were physical assault, breaking of bounds, theft, indecent exposure and acts, secret cult tendencies, unruly behaviour and smoking of Indian hemp. These are social menaces that if not curbed in our youths will lead the country to the path of destruction.

If we are serious about good quality tertiary education in this country, Mmesoma must face the full wrath of the law. A country where examination malpractices are condoned or treated with levity is a rudderless ship whose destination is self destruction. We must do every right thing possible to prevent the enthronement of mediocrity that produces only half-baked, incompetent and corrupt workforce.

Prof. ‘Tola Badejo is of the Department of Zoology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He was Vice Chancellor of Wesley University in Ondo from 2008 to 2015

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