As the paper was about to begin, the principal appeared with our ID cards, which still had not been laminated. She distributed them. She added that we must return the ID cards immediately after completing the paper in order to laminate them.
Afterwards, the invigilator distributed the question papers and answer booklets at the same time. He asked us to start as soon as we got the papers. Normally, the papers are distributed to everyone before the invigilator asks the candidates to begin, so as to ensure orderliness and that everyone starts the paper at the same time.
As the exam started, the invigilator called me and asked which of the four question types—A, B, C or D—I was given. I told him I had Type C. He then asked if I had the instant messaging application, WhatsApp, on my phone.
After answering in the affirmative, he told me, “Let me call some other centres to find out if they have your question type. Once they do, they will send it to you via WhatsApp.”
He then made several phone calls to other invigilators. With no answers forthcoming for my question type and noticing that I did not know anything about Civic Education, he moved a candidate from the back and placed him next to me.
The invigilator instructed the tall, slender boy with dark skin, who I quickly realised was a pupil of the school, to help me. The boy then took out his smartphone and placed it in the full glare of the invigilator, and logged on to http://www.examsanswer.net.
The site contained the answers to all the questions for Type A. He had already shaded nearly all of the 60 multiple-choice questions within 15 minutes of starting the paper and would intermittently go back and forth from the webpage to WhatsApp, where he had received the answers from another source.
The boy used the WhatsApp answers as a means of cross-checking the answers on the site. Though I had Type C and my partner had Type B, the invigilator encouraged me to follow suit, regardless of the fact that the answers we were both using were for Type A.
“Just shade the answers. When you’re done, write ‘Type A’ on your answer sheet,” the boy told me, pointing at the top-right corner of the answer booklet provided for candidates to indicate the question type they received.
With the boy too far ahead for me to keep up, he gave me the URL of the website and the login code for that day: “rule”. He also introduced me to http://www.jazzyfans.net, which also had only Type A answers.
About 30 minutes into the exam, Bash, who is also the school’s Economics teacher, entered the classroom with a textbook and began to write out the answers to the questions in the essay section. All the pupils in the hall copied from the board hurriedly.
Though the time given for both the multiple-choice and essay sections was three hours, I finished them in 50 minutes. The pupil beside me finished in even less time.
Comrades in crime
The chief examination coordinator was Bash. He was the man who ran the show when it came to exam-related activities. He was often the one who went round collecting the random N100 fee from each candidate in the middle of general papers like English Language and Mathematics in order to provide the answers.
He was assisted by — Mr. Ugochukwu (Physics), Mr. Silas (subject unknown) and the Biology and Geography teacher (name unknown) who were responsible for making sure the answers were available for each paper and assisting with collecting money when the need arose.
Typically, at the beginning of the paper, the external invigilator would begin by keeping an eagle eye on the candidates, but soon after the paper started, the invigilator would be beckoned on by one of the school’s exam coordinators and he would be gone for several minutes.
Shortly after, the invigilator would return with a more relaxed disposition and the candidates would have a field day, albeit with varying degrees of freedom per invigilator. While a few invigilators at this special centre would allow the use of phones by candidates, others would insist that all phones must be left outside the hall no matter what.
Daring candidates would, nonetheless, still sneak in the phones. As a result, it was common to have at least one case during each paper whereby a candidate’s phone would be seized.
Phones or no phones, one common liberty which the invigilators granted was the freedom for exam coordinators to write the answers to essay questions, unhindered, on the board.
There were times when the external invigilators from NECO allowed the coordinators to call out the answers to the multiple-choice questions, according to each type.
Also part of the exam coordinating crew was a standby member of the National Security Civil Defence Corps. Save for the last few papers, an unarmed NSCDC officer was always present. Such officers were expected to ensure that candidates, who were caught in exam malpractice, were arrested but they turned a blind eye at the centre.
The restitution angle
The Examination Malpractices Act No. 33 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates a minimum punishment of N50,000 and a maximum of five years imprisonment without the option of fine for violators of the offences stipulated in the Act. However, only a handful of examination malefactors are ever prosecuted.
What is common is that NECO sanctions secondary schools for malpractices in different parts of the country every year. In September 2012, the then Registrar of NECO, Prof. Promise Okpalla, announced the blacklisting of 13 secondary schools in the country for alleged involvement in malpractice in June/July examinations.
Okpalla said the schools cut across seven states in the federation, including Cross River, Imo, Rivers, Anambra, Benue, Kano and Nassarawa.
Similarly, the West African Examinations Council blacklisted 113 secondary schools nationwide as punishment for examination malpractices in 2012. In addition, the results of 30,654 candidates, who sat for the May/June 2012 West African Senior School Certificate Examination, were cancelled. The exam body also placed a two-year ban on 3,321 candidates from sitting for its exams over misconduct.
Another common occurrence, according to examination officials, is the growing number of students who turn up at the examination bodies’ office to confess involvement in past examination malpractices. In 2013, WAEC announced that a total of 256 candidates, who admitted to have cheated in the past, returned their certificates because they had “found Jesus.”
Deputy Director, Public Affairs, WAEC, Mr. Yusuf Ari, said the 256 cases were just the ones the examination body got between April and November 2013.
He said, “It is very common to get requests from such born-again Christians, who are usually from a particular Pentecostal church I won’t like to name. The individuals come to our office or write letters. Some of those who come even start crying. They say they cheated and they have decided to return their certificates because they are now born-again.”
On Friday, June 5, I arrived at the school 45 minutes early for Biology practical.
The school’s tall, dark-skinned teacher of Biology and Geography (name unknown) summoned me to his laboratory on my arrival. He handed me a sheet of paper which resembled one of the exam question papers.
On top of the paper were the words: “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL: The information contained here is highly confidential. Efforts should be made, therefore, to avoid candidates getting to know of this either directly or indirectly before the examination.”
I discovered that this was the sheet of paper known in Biology teachers’ circles as the “yellow paper.” A top-secret list of specimens for practical which the exam body makes available to the centre ahead of the exam, in order for the school to make timely provision of the needed specimens.
The teacher then asked me to find a small piece of paper and quickly copy out the items from the list of specimens.
“Use a sheet of paper that is small enough to carry into the hall,” he told me.
As I began to tear out a piece of paper, a female candidate joined me and the man asked her to copy the specimen too.
Shortly after, we went upstairs for the paper and found a bench placed in the corridor outside the four classrooms used collectively for the NECO exams.
On the bench, the specimens were arranged in a row and labelled ‘A’ to ‘P’.
Soon after the paper began, the Biology teacher, who was one of four exam coordinators in the school, ordered all the 95 candidates to file out from our classrooms in pairs, glance at the specimen and then return to our halls before identifying each specimen in our answer booklets.
“Don’t waste time. Just briefly look at the specimen and go back to your seat. It is just to fulfill all righteousness,” he repeatedly said.
When we all got back to our classrooms, those of us in the know discreetly pulled out our sheets of paper and started copying out the specimens.
The answers for Specimen A to P were: Housefly, toad, prawn, hibiscus flower, bean seed, coconut fruit (with husk), maize grain, mango fruit, tomato fruit, cockroach, earthworm, thoracic vertebra, cervical vertebra, caudal vertebra, sacral vertebra and humerus. Some candidates found the answers using their phones to browse websites, including jazzyfans and waploaded.
TO BE CONTINUED