Certificate forgers, drug peddlers and treasury looters occupy the high offices in the nation and young ones are already crashing into computer systems of examination bodies to forge a future they don't earn.
By Tunde Akande
The name Mmesoma Ejikeme may not mean much to many Nigerians. But the nation cannot ignore her any longer. She represents the changing moral question in the country to which the leadership has to pay attention. Mmesoma does not court popularity for herself. By every count, she looks like an innocent girl who’s being vilified because she’s brilliant and because of Nigeria’s inefficiency. What led to her notorious popularity? Mmesoma attracted wide acclaim when multi-billionaire CEO of Innoson Motors in Nnewi, Anambra State, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, invited and awarded her a 3 million Naira scholarship for being the best at this year’s Joint Admission and Matriculation Board examination, JAMB. She was said to have scored the highest mark of 362 in the examination.
For good, she attracted the admiration of all Nigerians until a report came from JAMB that she had presented an allegedly forged result. And then the heavens of criticisms busted forth, the popularity of this girl of 16 years turned negative. Though a teenager, the press gave her no time to defend herself before investing her with all sorts of labels. She was called deceitful: she was named a forger and a fraud. That she was only a little girl who still have a long road to travel to her future did not mean anything to her traducers in the press who displayed amazing unprofessionalism in the treatment of her story. Not even high officers who stole the nation’s resources were so treated. Mmesoma said she was traumatized. At her age when many of her colleagues are on the streets engaging in different scams and kidnapping girls for money rituals, Mmesoma who busied herself with her academics was treated like the scum of the earth.
Google has a lot on this little girl, a lot of venoms spitted out on her. At a little age, she is already a customer of the Department of State Services, DSS who interrogated her at the prompting of the Anambra State government and caused her to make a statement. Her parents rose in her defense. Mmesoma has been brilliant all her life, she has been a high-flyer in her educational pursuit, always taking the first position in her classes. The principal of her school, Anglican Girls Secondary School, Uruagwu, Nnewi, and her teachers rose also to her defense, their young girl cannot go near that kind of evil, she is brilliant and does not need to do that to make any impression. She is not under any pressure to pass her examination. The management of Innoson Motors who awarded the 3-million-naira scholarship to her also said the scholarship will be withdrawn only if she is found guilty. They do not think she possesses the ability to do any such thing since her parents are poor. Innoson Motors feel her case is that of societal suffocation of the poor adding that authority in Nigeria must allow “the poor to breathe”.
The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB said it is going to sue her. The Board withdrew her result and banned her from taking their examination for the next three years. At one time they denied that she wrote the examination at all. But Mmesoma has also taken to social media to present her case. She presented her result sheet which was printed out from the net. She said the QR code when scanned by DSS showed a Yoruba name that scored 138 but when scanned the second time the same name came out but with a higher score. She thinks that shows something is wrong with the JAMB system. She denied she ever forged the result because she has no reason to. The Anambra State government has instituted a probe while Innoson Motors said it will conduct an independent investigation. Mmesoma alleged that the authorities did not wait for the report of the investigation of the DSS before was labelled a fraud. Meanwhile, the award which should be presented to her by the Anambra State government has been given to another girl, from the same Anambra State, Umeh Kamsiyochukwu Precious of Deeper Life High School who scored 360.
Apart from the shoddy treatment that was meted out to this little and innocent girl that gave her no chance at all, her case reflects the decaying moral structure of Nigerian society. Nigeria allows no voice to her youth; she does not recognize their right to a fair hearing and does not care what becomes of the future of the youth under those intense denials. If Mmesoma is eventually found out to have been a victim of systemic inefficiency at JAMB, one wonders what is going to happen to her future, what is already happening to her mental health, how she perceives her nation, one that cares for her or one that gives her no chance at all? If Mmesoma indeed is found to have tampered with her result, then leaders of the nation must know how indeed they have encouraged corruption in the country. Certificate forgers, drug peddlers, and treasury looters occupy the high offices in the nation and young ones are already crashing into computer systems of examination bodies to forge a future they don’t earn.
Could Mmesoma have gotten that result via software as JAMB alleged? I don’t think so. But could her parents have helped her to do it? There is a possibility of that. That must be well investigated. Here the parents of this little girl are claiming that their girl is brilliant and need no such help, but parents are known to have paid heavy amount of money to secure leaked question papers for their wards or to pay invigilators to look the other side while pupils are being helped with answers in the examination hall. I have heard stories of private schools that collected huge sums from parents to help pupils to pass public examinations. It is said that the pupils have formed cartels on WhatsApp platforms where answers to questions are supplied even before the examination day. By these, it is certain the source of these leakages must be the examining bodies themselves. It didn’t start today; it began a long time ago even in the time of this writer, which is more than fifty years ago, but it has gained ugly fervency now.
I met a very brilliant boy a few years back and asked why he didn’t make all A’s in his WASC examination because I knew he has that ability. He told me he did it deliberately because “if I make all A’s my result will be suspected and withheld because cheating is so widespread in the Southeast where I wrote my examination.” I also got involved in a debate on Facebook. I responded to a published result ranking that featured excellent performance in the Southeastern states. In my own part of the country, the Southwest was conspicuously absent in the sterling performance and so I expressed my sadness, I saw that as a reflection of the fall in education standards in the Southwest region. I was amazed by the reply of a friend who said I should not be sad because the performances I saw were not reflective of the actual brilliance of the students. He told me he did his youth service in Rivers State and told of intense official pressure mounted on him to help students cheat. I heard another horror story of how some students in Abeokuta, Ogun State, who were about to begin a public examination first went to the house of their teacher and killed him in the presence of his mother. Their grouse was that they knew the teacher will not allow them to cheat in the examination billed to commence the day after. A teacher in a public school swore to me that the situation has become so bad that students will raise money to bribe teachers so they could be left to cheat and if the teacher does not agree to the deal they might kill him. A girl in one of the secondary schools in Ibadan confirmed the occurrence of organized bribery to cheat in most schools; that it happened in her school. Our tertiary institutions are not left out, student bribe lecturers with money and sex to collect grades. My son complained to me once. He was disturbed that those who made high grades were those who bribed for them and not those who worked for them.
What does the craze for cutting corners reflect and how can they be tamed? Nigeria must move away from the emphasis on paper qualification. The pressure to acquire certificates is the reason for all these do-or-die attempts to get certificates at all costs. Emphasis must shift to evaluation that is based more on what the student can do rather than what he or she can memorize and regurgitate. Schools must blend theory with practice and employers must desist from dependence on paper qualifications.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.