The Arts of Exam Malpractice


Undergrads in many Nigerian Universities have elevated the ‘business’ to a new art form. Diverse and ingenious strategies have been invented, fine-tuned, and deployed by students, to outsmart lecturers and score underserved marks in examinations.

But last week, the University of Calabar, Unical, expelled 24 students. Their crime: examination malpractice. A few weeks ago, the University of Jos, Unijos, announced the expulsion and suspension of 32 students. Their crime: examination malpractice. Mid-April, some eight weeks ago, the University of Lagos, Unilag, dismissed and rusticated 54 students. Their crime: examination malpractice. The previous week in Katsina, a “lover boy” lecturer in the Federal College of Education was sent home on indefinite suspension. His crime: assisting his “sweetheart” in examination fraud. Earlier in the year, the wife of a commissioner in Ogun State cabinet, who is a student at the Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, returned from the Christmas break to receive the bad news of her indefinite suspension from the teachers’ college. Her crime: examination fraud.

This week, as the second-semester examinations begin in nearly all the universities and 84 other tertiary institutions in Nigeria, campuses are tense and school authorities are alarmed more than ever before by the prospects of massive and systematic examination fraud, perpetrated and perfected by students, lecturers and non-academic staffers. Said Para Mallum, Professor and worried Vice-Chancellor of Unijos, in an interview with Newswatch last week: “Examination malpractice is breaking new grounds and fast becoming a culture in Nigerian institutions. Regardless of what the school authorities are doing, students are becoming more sophisticated in perfecting the (art) of cheating.”

Inside the Engineering School examination hall of the Calabar Polytechnic last October, a drama was acted out before an audience of more than 200 students. A few minutes after the examination started, Bassey Utin, a Mechanical Engineering lecturer, spotted a student copying copiously from a foolscap sheet he had smuggled into the examination hall. The lecturer walked quietly up to the student, stood by his side, and demanded for the sheet of paper that students here nickname as “bullet.” In a flash, the boy folded the paper and threw it into his mouth. In an attempt to swallow the “bullet’ he choked as the bulge of paper stuck in his throat. “Get him a glass of water, hurry please, get him a glass of water,” the frightened lecturer called out. There was pandemonium. Minutes later, the water arrived. As soon as the culprit washed the “bullet” down his throat, he took to his heels to the amazement of the lecturer and other students. Security men gave chase. He was caught.

In the University of Cross River State, Unicross, Uyo, where another student swallowed “bullet,” the lecturer was not so kind. Ukana Ikpe, a young political science lecturer, went straight for the student’s neck. He grabbed it with all his might. “Bring it out, now, now.” He succeeded and dangled the damp piece of paper openly for other students to see. But at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, the lecturer was not so lucky. The student almost bit off his finger in the struggle to extract the paper from the culprit’s mouth. Students who prefer this method of cheating have found out that white tissue paper is easier to swallow than rough foolscap sheets.

When the Unijos Senate Committee on Examination malpractice sat last month to consider a similar case against J.Y. Salihu, a student of Management Studies, and D.C. Atori, a Zoology student, it had no alternative than to punish the two students. Said the Senate committee’s report: “Salihu (like Atori) went to the examination hall with tissue paper which contained information relevant to the examination and when invigilators tried to examine them, Salihu (like Atori) snatched, chewed and swallowed them. The committee considers the destruction of evidence a serious matter and in line with earlier decisions on such cases, expulsion is recommended.”

In most universities, rich students simply hire their brilliant counterparts with mouth-watering fees to write the examinations for them. In the University of Benin, Uniben, last semester, a third year sociology student dressed in a colorful native caftan took permission mid-way into the examination to visit the toilet. Two minutes later, a different boy dressed in the same caftan emerged from the toilet. The examination attendant who accompanied the boy to the toilet did not notice that it was a different person that emerged from the toilet. So he escorted him back to his seat. But the invigilator could not be fooled. He approached the new boy and requested for his identity card. The game was up. Said Patrick Igbinovia, Associate Professor of Criminology, and chairman of the University Examination Malpractice Committee: “The two students had to be dismissed from the University.

In the University of Lagos, six of the 54 students sent home last April were found guilty of impersonation. Ola Showunmi, a third-year Actuarial Science student, was found guilty of impersonating Adekunle Adelabu, a third-year business administration student. O. Aderinwale, a fourth-year computer science student, was caught impersonating Oniwinde Adeniran, a first-year business administration student, A. A. ogunjobi, a third-year student of the same department, was caught impersonating B. D. Edward, a second-year student of the same department. In all cases, the punishment was dismissal.

In the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ife, five of 14 students punished, three months ago, were on grounds of impersonation. Joseph Adewunmi was dismissed for impersonating Okechukwu Owelle. Owelle was suspended for two sessions. Jika Adudu was suspended for one session for “procuring one Adebayo Sanniowo to impersonate him” in a first-year mathematics course called MTH 101. Makinde Abiola was suspended for two sessions for “procuring Adebayo Patrick Ajayi to write a physics exam for him.” Ajayi, who took to his heels when apprehended during the examination, also earned a two-session suspension for the crime.

Unlike the University of Lagos, where such crimes earn outright dismissal, OAU culprits earn just a two-session suspension. Owelle, who was an exception and was dismissed, earned a heavier punishment because the Disciplinary Board for Examination found that “he had been involved in examination malpractice for three consecutive sessions. In Unijos, the penalty, like in Unilag, is stiff: expulsion. Last month, a third-year Political Science student, A. Owobu, was expelled but his co-conspirator left no traces and went scot-free. Owobu, in two separate examinations, had “smuggled the question papers minutes after the examinations began to another colleague outside the examination hall. The unknown student sat back and wrote excellent answers to the questions, then sneaked into the hall during the usual melee that follows the end of examinations and submitted the well-written scripts while Owobu submitted nothing. Said the report of the Senate Committee on Examination Malpractice: “When Owobu’s handwriting was compared with (his previous scripts), incredibly there was dissimilarity in POL. 315 and 318. He is found guilty and expulsion is recommended.”

More bizarre episodes abound in many other higher institutions. There is a case in the University of Lagos, where an associate professor in the biochemistry department of the medical school was alleged to have answered, in his handwriting, “part of some questions for a female student.” A senate committee that was set up to investigate the matter unanimously concluded that “the allegation made against the lecturer is proven.” Similarly, there is the case of Sunday Isah, a student of the College of Education, Kafanchan, who was caught writing an examination for his wife, Attracta, during a Grade II Teachers’ Certificate Examination. And early in the year, security agents in Benin quizzed a final year female student of the Bendel State University, Ekpoma, for writing examination for her mother, a schoolmistress, and final year National Certificate of Education student of the University of Benin. The dutiful daughter had successfully sat for a paper the previous day before she was arrested the next day as she was writing another course on the education curriculum.

For more than one year now, the Institute of Physical Education of the OAU has been rocked and virtually brought to a standstill by examination fraud. Seven lecturers, apparently led by Samuel Salokun are pitched in a battle of wits against Joseph Fawole, the acting director of the institute. Both factions are pointing accusing fingers at each other in the celebrated case of examination fraud allegedly committed by Jane Williams, a star handballer and final year student of the university. During the 1989/90 rain semester examination in the university, Williams was said to have answered a particular question in the psychology of coaching examination, which was not in the final question paper but was in the original draft questions submitted to Fawole for vetting. The course, PED 468, was taught by two lecturers, Salokun and J.T. Ogundari, who jointly set the examination.

But the big question of who leaked the draft question to Williams or whether it was leaked at all became a puzzle. Salokun fired the first salvo. In a protest letter to Fawole, September 14, 1990, he said he discovered while marking the answer scripts that the answer booklets of Williams bore some “irregular features” that suggested that ‘the candidate had a foreknowledge of the questions before the actual examination took place.” An internal three-man committee within the institute was set up to investigate the matter. The committee was bedeviled from start to finish. First S. Adeniran, a lecturer appointed as chairman of the committee, turned down the offer. All other committee members threw back the job at Fawole, saying almost in every case, that the case was too complicated and “requires the care and thoroughness which may be beyond the capacity of the panel.” No one in the institute wanted to touch the case, even with a 10 feet long pole.

By October, the case had gone to a powerful probe panel of seven headed by T. O. Fasokun, deputy dean of the faculty of education. The case against Williams was that the offending question she answered was not related to or among the questions asked. The color of a blue pen used in answering that particular question was also alleged to be different, meaning she brought prepared scripts into the examination hall. Williams mounted a spirited defense that left the probe panel confused and still puzzled. She said nobody apprehended or caught her in the examination hall cheating. On the controversial No. 3 question, she said she answered the question the best way she understood and it was the duty of the examiner to judge whether she was wrong or right. On the different colours of blue pen used on her script, she said that was a non-issue, as students go to examination halls with more than one pen in case of problems with the pen of the first choice. On the inconclusive word on one of her scripts and the changing positions of the pin on her script, she said time was against her and such inconclusive words are common under examination conditions. The committee got stuck. Said one of William’s friends: “It will be interesting to see how the Gordian knot of this celebrated case will be untied in the coming months.”

Last February, as the probe panel’s work ground to a standstill, a group of students, who called themselves “Concern Students,” sent a petition to Adeniyi Osuntogun, the vice-chancellor. They said William’s case was the handiwork of Fawole, the acting director of the institute. Said the protest letter: “We have seen this head of department (Fawole) running for shelter under your (VC) canopy, but we know you will give a good account of yourself and that of your stewardship to the Almighty God. Justice must prevail. You have to tell the committee set up on this matter to let you know who, out of the lecturers, leaked the question papers to this student.” The petitioners said it was “not the first time (similar) things have happened in the institute.”

Two months after the students’ petition, academic staff in the department wrote also to the vice-chancellor. “We are no longer ready to perform any functions in the Institute of Physical Education under the leadership of Fawole,” the petition dated April 18, said. Last week, Newswatch could not reach Fawole but the man defended himself enough in the probe panel set up by the vice-chancellor.

Probe Panel: Do you keep photocopies of lecturers’ question papers?

Fawole: I have not done that once.

Probe Panel: We want to know your opinion, whether or not a leakage had occurred?

Fawole: I strongly believe that the exam was not leaked.

Probe Panel: Do you think the candidate answered the question that was asked?

Fawole: Mr. Chairman, sir, I have not got the marking guide. You did not give me time to read it.

Newswatch investigations showed that Fawole and Salokun, the man who blew the first whistle on the alleged malpractice, have a long history of bitter relationship. In a 1988 internal memorandum to Fawole, Salokun had accused his boss of falsification of 1986/87 rain semester results in his course and putting pressure on him to alter grades. “Remember also that during the 1987/88 harmattan semester examination, you again pressed me to change the grades of two female students,” the memorandum said.

Female students appear to be at the centre of the storm in many cases of examination fraud. Most care-free female students, from Newswatch investigations, spend more time scheming, planning and perfecting how to entice examiners and literally sweep them off their feet. And they appear to always be one step ahead of the authorities. From a method called ‘super-print,” whereby girls copy expected examination answers on immaculate white underskirts, they have graduated into a method called “tattoo,” whereby they copy the expected answers, deep on their smooth, delicate thighs. Said Felix Ajoku, head of department of mass communication, Calabar Polytechnic. “They put (or write) these things in the innermost places on their bodies, where you cannot reach in examination halls. So, you often see a girl sitting in a very unbecoming position in the examination hall (her loose skirts all pulled up nearly to her waist, her things bare) and she is not alone.”

One lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, told Newswatch his encounter with the ‘tattoo’ method of cheating: “I had stood in for a colleague as invigilator. As the examination got underway, I spotted a girl looking down and twitching on her seat constantly. I walked up to her and noticed her thighs were uncovered and wide apart. I said to her in a stern voice: ‘Sit as a woman’, she just took another look at her near nudity and looked straight back into my eyes, smiling. I was embarrassed. When I looked away, I noticed nearly half a dozen girls around that part of the hall were sitting in that curious position. I simply walked away. I didn’t want to be dragged into any unnecessary controversy by a probe panel.”

That apart, “unholy examination alliances” between brilliant male students and their freaky, bubbling and gum chewing female mates are common place. At the University of Port Harcourt, brilliant boys are the toast of their female “subscribers” who pay with food, money and of course sex. Most lecturers interviewed told Newswatch they have been enticed by girls, “though unsuccessfully” to quote them, for sex, usually a few weeks before or after examinations. Here is one incredible story told by Ajoku. “Sometimes, a female student goes to a guest house, hires a room, comes back and tells the lecturer: “Here’s the key, take me out,” Aba Onukaogu, English lecturer in Calabar Polytechnic, said lecturers are actually the ones being sexually harassed by female students. “The student comes to you and says, sir; I must pass this your course by all means.” Of course, that is clear enough for you to know what ‘all means’ means.

For the boys, they pay cash, most times; to get question papers in advance or substitute their poor answer scripts later with another written in the comfort of their rooms. Last month, when an examination fraud scandal rocked the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, a committee set up to investigate the scandal found out that more than 40 students had prior knowledge of the examination questions on political science and international relations. The committee also discovered that the students paid between N200 and N500 to obtain the examination questions. One lecturer told Newswatch that “some shameless lecturers” even go to the extent of demanding fixed sums of money. Most lecturers, Newswatch investigations show, are on the payroll of some rich and influential parents. Richard Ekanem, rector of Calabar Polytechnic, told Newswatch his lecturers are being “induced with cash” and it is not impossible a few bad eggs among them are falling for it.

Even the prestigious and only Nigerian Law School in Lagos has not gone untarnished by examination fraud. The myth of the purity built around the legal institution was dented when two law school students were caught last year making frantic efforts to substitute some bar examination answer scripts with fresh ones in the director’s office. “The problem is endemic in all school campuses in the country. Those who are caught and punished are just a tiny fraction of the culprits. They are regarded by students as the unfortunate ones,” said one student of agric economics in OAU.

Some few years ago, examination malpractices were rare and isolated occurrences in Nigerian universities. Now it is, from every indication, the new normal. The statistics in Unijos, for instance, tells a story. In the 1988/89 session, only three students were suspended and a student warned. The following session, the number rose from four the previous year to 52. Among them, four were expelled, 47 suspended and three warned. In the current session, 36 students have already been punished, while more than double that number of cases are pending in disciplinary committees. Among the 36 so far punished this year, 23 were expelled, nine times more than the number expelled in the last three years.

At the secondary school level, the situation appears to be worse. Three years ago, Nigeria ranked No. 1 in examination malpractices in the General Certificate of Education, GCE, conducted by the West African Examinations Council, WAEC. Concerned educationists, university administrators, lecturers and government officials are asking themselves the question; why is the problem getting out of hand?

At the tertiary level, shortage of facilities such as classrooms, hostels, recreation facilities, as well as lack of books, adequate manpower and poor feeding have been identified as part of the root cause of the problem. Said Robert Itam, deputy rector of Calabar Polytechnic. “The condition under which students study and write examinations is conducive for malpractices. Proper examination must be conducted under specified conditions and when that is not done, you create room even for a saint to cheat.” In the Calabar Polytechnic, for instance, no new classroom block has been built since the institution started in 1973 with 250 students. Now the polytechnic crams up more than 5,000 students under the same facility.

Mbuk Mboho, lecturer in the Communication Arts department, Unicross, talked about books and libraries. “Most universities in Nigeria today are making do with substandard and overcrowded libraries. Books are scarce and where found, are very expensive. It is common to find a student using one or two notebooks for all his courses because he cannot afford more. This is certainly not a conducive atmosphere for serious study.” Mike Ibezugbe, sociology lecturer at the University of Benin, blames the problem on shortage of manpower. “There is little or no invigilator in the true sense of the word because the size of students easily outnumbers the lecturer or examiner. One lecturer may be supervising more than 300 students, who may not even find a desk to write with,” Ibezugbe said.

Then there is the problem of low morale and morals of lecturers. “Lecturers have suffered status degradation and their commitments have plummeted. The close monitoring of students is not even there, partly because it is very difficult to even recognize and monitor students closely when you have more than 500 faces in a crowded hall,” Etannibi Alemika, a senior lecturer in Unijos said. But the words of lecturers, too, are a write-off. The University of Ilorin, in 1988 punished three lecturers for “serious malpractices with regard to the assessment of examination scripts of female students, the falsification of examination results and improper intimacy with the same female students.”

The same year, the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, Benue State, suspended a head of department and six other lecturers for examination malpractices bordering on intimacy with female students and aiding them during examination. Similarly, two lecturers of the Federal College of Education, Gombe, Bauchi State, were sacked in April 1988 for “submitting inflated course work marks for the female students.” A third lecturer was warned and demoted. And in 1989, the appointments of three senior lecturers of Kaduna Polytechnic were terminated, while two other lecturers were retired, “on compassionate grounds,” after a probe panel found them guilty of various degrees of examination fraud. But as one student in the University of Port Harcourt said: “More than half the number of guilty lecturers goes unpunished.

Most academic staff of Universities blame the problem too on dubious admission processes. Said Sam Alamika: “There is so much corruption now in the admission processes. The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board Examination, JAMBE, question papers are leaking and being paid for by influential parents. Some parents get their wards admitted by all means, even when they had failed the entrance examination. So the universities are saddled with materials of low quality who know they cheated their ways into the university and are poised to cheat their way all through to the end.” Sam Egwu, Political Science Lecturer in Unijos, agrees. “The autonomy of the departments over admission matters has been eroded by too much concentration of powers in the hands of the vice-chancellor. In the process, the vice-chancellor, in league with corrupt JAMB officials, actually overburden the universities with academic invalids, “Egwu said. In addition, Igbinovia of Uniben traces part of the problem to frequent and indiscriminate closure of universities. “Each time the university is forcible closed down, semesters and course works are condensed and students become panicky and start to explore the best means to pass their examination,” Igbinovia said.

Perhaps the best explanation of widespread examination fraud in Nigeria is that it is clearly a reflection of the larger society. Muzali Jibril, Professor and Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Bayero University, Kano, BUK, articulated the problem succinctly. “Examination malpractice is the product of a society that nurtures cheats and mediocres and turns them into celebrities. It is a reflection of the moral decadence of our country. In this country, we have pen robbers, armed robbers, smugglers and drug barons who are glorified by the grace of their ill-gotten wealth,” Jibril said. Modegths Uwalaka of Unilag, in a National Concord story, says Nigeria is a “haven of cheats.” As he puts it: “The society has (turned the blind eye) to the accumulation of these cheats in our polity. Okechukwu Onuoha, a student of the UNN, throws a challenge: “Let that vice-chancellor, let that commissioner or minister of education, let that politician, governor, top military or police officer, or even journalist who has not cheated his way through in various ways cast the first stone.”

Last week, as some concerned citizens talked about the problem, many more were worried about the solution. Mallum, the vice-chancellor of Unijos, advocates a “de-emphasis of paper qualification.” Gabriel Umezurike, vice-chancellor of Imo State University, in a recent matriculation speech, recommended that the problem should be handled with a ‘firm hand and ruthless approach,” which includes severe punitive measures. The Sogbetun tribunal set up in 1977, following the first major mass leakage of WAEC examination, made three major recommendations, namely: “Tightening loopholes in the present system of examination; abandoning examination completely and replacing it entirely with a continuous assessment method: and reducing the 100 percent weight placed on final examinations; and conducting examination based only upon the objective types test.”

The Decree No. 2 of 1984 stipulates a 21-year jail term for culprits as a deterrent. But university authorities look at the decree with scorn. Eno Usoro, Professor and Dean of the Social Science faculty at Unicross, compare the punishment in decree 20 to “killing a fly with a sledge hammer.” While other institutions and persons are worrying about the solution, the Sokoto State Polytechnic, Birnin Kebbi, has found a solution, albeit comic already. Mohammed Gulma, rector of the polytechnic, decided last year to paint black all desks and tables in the school to prevent examination crooks from writing answers on them ahead of time.

But this problem goes far beyond comic and cosmetic solutions. Said the National Concord editorial: “Examination leakages make nonsense of educational qualification and discredit the institutions and the nation as a whole.”

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