THE recent needless controversy over a forged 2023 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination result emphasises the crisis of examination fraud and the primitive ethnicisation of all issues in the polity. A clear case of forgery by a misguided young lady was blown into a full scale verbal ‘war’ by misinformed and impetuous adults. The disgraceful episode should spur the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, and other examination bodies to step up their anti-fraud measures. On the other hand, the entire affair reminds Nigerians that unity and national cohesion remain elusive goals.
The drama was a national disgrace. Here was another case of attempted result fraud in a country that regularly witnesses such misdeeds turned into ‘civil war,’ exposing afresh the mutual distrust and disunity among Nigerians.
The facts were simple and admirably explained by JAMB. Mmesoma Ejikeme, a 19-year-old Enugu State indigene and student at Anglican Girls’ Secondary School, Uruagu, Nnewi, Anambra State, claimed to have scored 362 (out of 400) in the 2023 UTME, and petitioned the Anambra State Government to have her recognised as the highest scorer, instead of the person earlier so declared.
In response to enquiries from the state government seeking confirmation, JAMB provided evidence that the candidate actually scored 249. It further determined that Ejikeme fraudulently manipulated the result of a 2021 UTME candidate to deceive the public. It subsequently banned her for three years.
Ordinarily, that should have been the end of the matter. JAMB, as the legal authority organising the UTME, provided enough evidence to prompt the state authorities, her school and the police to follow up with sanctions and counselling for a youth exhibiting such negative ingenuity. Note that JAMB had insisted that with its upgraded IT platform, the crime could not have been perpetrated without her knowledge as its result checking processes prevented third-party access.
But Ejikeme stuck to her initial story that she obtained the higher result from the JAMB portal. Apart from being awarded a N3million scholarship by Innoson, a vehicle-assembly firm, without any due diligence (it has withdrawn the offer), she was also set to be honoured by the state government.
There had been previous frauds in the past exposed by JAMB without generating controversy. But, hasty critics, and promoters of ethnicity and a victim-mentality preferred this time to believe Ejikeme and discountenance the unassailable evidence of fraud. They precipitously went to town to tar the issue with the brush of ethnicity, misinformation, and victimisation.
In this, they ignored the fact that Nkechinyere Umeh, pronounced by JAMB as having the highest score of 360, is from Anambra State, the same geo-political zone as Ejikeme. Disappointingly, some respected personalities jumped heedlessly into the murky swamp of ethnic chauvinism and hasty judgements. Social media trolls were vicious, often uncouth, and unguarded in their posts.
But eventually, Ejikeme confessed to an investigative panel set up by Anambra’s Governor Chukwuma Soludo that she actually faked the result, shaming the ethnic gladiators, and the impulsive activists who had argued that an “innocent girl” could not manipulate the result.
JAMB and the mature voices emerged vindicated. But the agency must not be complacent. The charade showed that its incremental updating of its ICT systems to facilitate smoother examinations and prevent fraud helped. It should invest more in IT and cyber security to deter and detect cheats.
It should also address other challenges. Candidates complain that registering for the UTME is often not hitch-free. Some Computer-Based Test centres extort candidates who also suffer technical hitches during the examination. During the last examination, tests in about 100 out of the 708 centres participating were rescheduled due to technical problems.
Examination malpractice is a major national problem. In 2021, Ifesinachi John, 19, said he scored 380 in the UTME, but the board’s result checker portal showed he actually scored 265. His father, Ifenkpam John, accused JAMB of manipulating his son’s result and sued the board for N1billion. But the candidate, who had desperately desired to study medicine, later confessed to falsifying the result. In 2019, Kingsley Unekwe, 18, confessed that he upgraded his result from 201 to 269. That year, JAMB noted that numerous candidates used scamming syndicates to falsify their results. Adah Eche, 19, was nabbed for inflating his score from 153 to 290.
One Cletus Kokowa allegedly upgraded his UTME result from 162 to 206 using result manipulators. Similarly, Rejoice Mordi, also aged 19, changed her score from 164 to 264 through a fake result merchant she met via WhatsApp.
Nigeria is breeding dysfunctional youths. Parents, guardians and schools should scrutinise all claims by their wards to avoid the experience of Ejikeme’s father who vigorously supported his daughter until she confessed. Ejikeme’s parents and the state government should implement the panel’s recommendation that the candidate undergo psychological counselling and therapy. Fraud is a crime, and at age 19, Ejikeme is an adult under Nigerian law. However, the state government should opt for counselling rather than prosecution.
Other individuals and groups that were vilifying the board should like Ejikeme’s father, and Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister, apologise for their indiscretion. Everyone should learn vital lessons from this episode; before jumping into any fray, avail yourself of all the facts; second, never allow ethnicity to becloud your interventions. It is unedifying, and provides a bad example for the youth who are avid users of social media.
Reactions also arose from widespread distrust of public institutions; they should clean up and earn public approval through efficient, honest and transparent service delivery.
Meanwhile, the idea of a central examination body for admissions into higher institutions should be discarded and full autonomy granted to universities to freely conduct entrance examinations and choose their own students. Using UTME should be made optional for higher institutions. The federal and state governments, schools and examination bodies should intensify policies to stamp out examination malpractices, and the mercenaries and syndicates that compromise the legitimacy of academic certificates in Nigeria.