PUNCH undercover reporter exposes mass cheating at NECO ‘Miracle Centre’
TOBI AWORINDE went undercover to sit for the 2015 Senior Secondary Certificate Exams conducted by the National Examination Council at a private secondary school in Lagos
Earlier this year, I bought the form for the Secondary School Certificate Examination and registered for the examination with a fake name, Oluwatosin Joseph Adedayo. The home address, and all other information that I supplied to the National Examination Council were doctored.
In the photo that I submitted, my beard was shaven and I looked several years younger than I looked in 2004 when I had written the same examination in secondary school as an authentic candidate.
This time I took the examination as part of a SUNDAY PUNCH investigation into reported mass cheating at special examinations centres in Nigeria.
In search of miracles
A few weeks before I registered for the examination, I had contacted an unofficial ‘exams liaison officer’, Mr. Emmanuel, and told him about my need for a special centre.
Special centres are schools that guarantee candidates good exam results through the connivance of rogue invigilators and corrupt school officials that provide answers to examinations questions to students for a bribe. Over time, these centres have come to be known as ‘miracle centres’ among students.
Emmanuel told me the registration fee was N30,000 ($150), though the official exam fee was N20,000 ($100). I tried to haggle and offered N25,000. But he was adamant. I had missed the registration deadline, he said, I couldn’t pay any less than N30,000.According to him, the online registration portal had been closed and it would require more money to get to reopen it for my registration. I knew when to back down.
He then asked me to meet him at Ultimate Tutors, a small business café, in the Ojo area of Lagos to make the cash payment in person.
Emmanuel introduced me to Kodi, a man with a large scar on one side of his face, the coordinator of the centre, which was a small room of about 10 by six feet in a shoddily built mini-shopping complex.
A young lady in the room gave me a form to fill before asking for the N30,000 fee.
I filled the form with my alias, Oluwatosin Joseph Adedayo, and a false age of 22. I also filled Osun State as my state of origin. I indicated that I was an Arts student which meant that for the exams, I would write eight pre-selected secondary school subjects—English Language, Mathematics, Economics, Biology, Christian Religious Studies, Literature-in-English, Civic Education and Government.
After filling the form, Emmanuel led me to a photo studio which was about five minutes from Ultimate Tutors. Emmanuel explained to the photographer that I needed passport photographs for the examination at Nodos International Secondary School, located at No 1, Tedi Road, opposite Ojo Barracks, Lagos.
To my amazement, the photographer reached for a rack holding different school uniforms. The uniforms, I quickly realised, belong to different schools in the neighbourhood. She selected one, a blue shirt that had Nodos International School emblazoned all over.
I put on the shirt and had my photograph taken. After printing the requisite eight passport photographs, she asked for N400 ($2) which I again paid. Emmanuel and I returned to the café to submit four of the photographs.
After the 45-minute-long registration process, Emmanuel told me that to complete the registration, I would need a biometric capture and yet another payment for the uniform and identity card, which I would use for the exams. He added that for all these, I needed to pay an additional sum of N4,000 ($20) to his personal bank account.
When I informed him that I needed a receipt for all the payments, he gave me a knowing smile and said, “You should understand. We don’t give receipts.”
Later on, over the telephone, he informed me of the need to get an ash-coloured pair of trousers which would serve as part of my uniform for the exams. He explained that the school would only provide the uniform shirt I would wear.
On May 13, I made the N4,000 payment for the uniform and exam ID card into Emmanuel’s Union Bank account.
On May 25, I received a text message saying I should visit Great Heritage College, Isashi, the following day at 9:30 am for my biodata registration. When I got there, I met about 50 pupils.
When it came to my turn, the man in charge, sitting behind a dated computer and a fingerprint scanner, asked if I was a pupil of the school. I answered in the negative and he told me to step aside and carried on registering and taking the biodata of others who apparently attended the school.
When he finished, he asked 10 of us where our registration centre was. When he heard that some of us where from Ultimate Tutors, he compelled us to pay N500 each before attending to us. After paying the mandatory N500 fee, he took scans of the thumb and index finger of each hand. With this stage completed, I was eligible to take part in the exams and Emmanuel’s role in the illegal activity came to an end.
Demand and supply
Across Nigeria, ‘exam liaison officers’ like Emmanuel are the middlemen between desperate examination candidates who want to pass exams and the special centres. This desperation is often driven by the need of the candidates to get good SSCE grades for university admission.
Olayiwola Olurode, a Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, explained that there is a demand and supply paradigm to the growing menace.
“It is like a tripartite kind of cartel—you have the school authorities colluding; you have the parents on one side also colluding; and you have the examination body. In most schools, especially the so-called private ones, that is what goes on. The general belief is that every stakeholder in the school establishment has a price,” he said.
The professor added that mass cheating at examination centres is responsible for the poor quality of students admitted into universities and also responsible for the rot in the country’s education sector. He illustrated this point with what he described as ‘a nasty experience’ he had about a decade ago.
“I traveled to the village one weekend and met somebody back home. He showed me his results and they were full of distinctions; he had only one credit. I decided to take him with me to Lagos. We (UNILAG) admitted through the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board that year, but I said he could come in through the UNILAG internal exams. We got home and, lo and behold, each time I spoke to this fellow in English, he would look down and not respond.
“I was wondering, ‘What could be the cause? Could it be self-doubt or because he just didn’t know what to say?’ Then I took from the shelf some titles I had written for nursery school pupils and asked him to read. The boy was stuck to the chair; he couldn’t stand up. The following day, I took him to the university and I asked a professor of Economics to pretend to conduct an exam for him to enter into the Economics department.
“The boy could not figure out anything; he didn’t even write anything. At the end of the day, I asked him what happened and he told me his parents paid for him to write exams at a special centre.”
Money is the game
I arrived Nodos International School for my first paper, Civic Education on Tuesday, June 2, with wads of naira in my pocket. I had been told I would have to spend more money during the examination.
Entering the towering two-storey school building, I was directed to a similar structure at the back of the compound. I met the principal, a light-complexioned, plump woman. She was engaged in a heated conversation with a pupil’s mother, a politician who was arguing that, contrary to the school’s claims, her daughter’s fees had been paid in full.
In between their conversation, the principal sent for Bash. Bash turned out to be a fair, unshaven man of about five feet. He was clad in a white long-sleeved shirt atop dark trousers and appeared to be in his mid-30s. He was the chief exam coordinator of the school.
When he appeared, I introduced myself and explained that I was a candidate for the NECO exams. He asked for N2,000, which I handed over to him. He then ushered me to the office of the school principal’s secretary.
After sitting there for about 15 minutes, the principal came in and pointed to three ragged uniform shirts in a corner of the office for me to choose from. Of the musty faded shirts, there was only one which had a complete row of buttons. I wore it. With that I was transformed into a student of Nodos International and I could walk into a classroom and sit for the national exam.
The external candidates, about 15 of us, kept mum in the principal’s office. Save for a few, many of the candidates looked young and could have passed off as school pupils.
After another 15 minutes of waiting, the principal brought out a stash of ID cards, which had yet to be laminated. She asked each of the external candidates to search for his or her ID card, while she monitored the activity.
The subject which we were about to sit for, Civic Education, was not a general one, so only about one-third of the entire population of candidates at the centre sat for that paper.
I found my ID card but it did not have a passport photograph attached to it. The principal noticed that a number of others did not have photographs attached either. She asked where I signed up for the exam. When I told her I registered at Ultimate Tutors, she then asked me to return to the centre to get the passports of all the candidates that registered there.
With about 20 minutes to the paper, I returned to Ultimate Tutors and collected the passport photographs of seven of us, excluding a female candidate who had already come back to pick up her passport.
When I returned to the school, I gave the photographs to the principal and was asked to go to the topmost floor of the building where the exams would be conducted.
I was the first examinee in the hall. I met the invigilator seated on a desk. He sized me up and asked, “Are you an external candidate?”
I said yes and then he asked what my name was. I told him, “Tosin Adedayo.”
He then asked what state I was from and I told him Osun State. He replied in native Yoruba, “I know one other Adedayo, but not from Osun.”
Still speaking in Yoruba, the invigilator lowered his voice before telling me matter-of-factly that I would have to give him some money.
“External candidates are expected to drop something before they will be taken care of.” I asked him how much and he said N500. I, however, ended up parting with N1,000 because he didn’t have N500 change to give me.
With the money paid, the invigilator ushered me to a seat in the front and proceeded to give me special treatment, in spite of the freedom the entire hall enjoyed.
TO BE CONTINUED