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Special Report: 2017 Utme: The Untold Story

number of candidates caught in exam malpractice

• 72 centres, 59,032 candidates allegedly involved nationwide

• Shocking: Many de-listed centres unaware of development

• JAMB responds to allegations of nepotism, tribalism

By Chika Abanobi

Last Saturday, July 1, 2017, candidates numbering almost one thousand, gathered in various exam centres in the country to sit for the rescheduled Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). Out of the number were those affected by the inability of the biometric verification machines to recognize and authenticate their identities while the rest were candidates with claims of system logouts.

Tseva Ruth who sat for the exam at Gboko College of Education, Gboko, Benue disclosed that on that day, the system was just coming on and going off at random adding that by the time the exam officials succeeded in logging her in again, the system indicated ‘time up’ and submitted her paper. “At that point, I had only answered four questions,” she told The Sun Education. “I was not the only candidate so affected at that centre. At the end, all of us lodged complaints.”

Hassan Lawandi who, like Ruth, also wrote his exam at Gboko College of Education added that he had to be assigned three different computer systems but the network was very bad. “We lodged complaints and were asked to submit our email addresses and phone numbers.”

Candidates’ experiences with bad computer systems

Simon Utov said that whenever he attempted answering the next question the system would automatically take him back to a question he had already supplied an answer to. Later the computer started ‘freezing,’ he recounted. He called the attention of exam officials who asked him to wait for another system. It was only when his exam mate had finished and submitted that he was able to move over to his computer to continue with the exam. But though the computer system kept showing that he still had some time left, it could not display the questions, so he could not write anything. The JAMB officials at the centre tried all they could to no avail until his time was up. They took his particulars and promised to reschedule him for another date.

Lilian Agbenyo, a student of North South Power Secondary School, Shiroro, Niger State told our correspondent that her computer system refused to ‘boot’ during the exam and this led to her being rescheduled for the exam last Saturday. “I tried to boot the computer but it refused,” she said. “When I discovered that the time was running out on me after several trials, I decided to draw the attention of the examiners who also came and tried but it refused to boot.”

Another candidate, Isah Maryam Mamman, told our correspondent that unlike Lilian whose computer refused to boot, she could not get the LAN network working as to log in. The officials asked her to wait promising to get back to her. She was later rescheduled for the exam that took place last Saturday.

Ibrahim Yunus who had his centre at Kaduna Science Academy, said his own problem began when he logged in his registration number, 75548990CJ, twice, and the computer said there was no exam for him. But last Saturday, he was to retake the exam re-scheduled for him at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. Yohanna Dorcas Tukurah who initially tried to write hers at Prison Staff College, Kaduna, was given Islamic Knowledge which she did not register for.

JAMB preparations and disappointments

“In preparation for the 2017 UTME, the Board delineated the country into exam towns and created 140 of such towns”, JAMB noted in its post-exam review report. “Following the inspection of exam centres, the Board accredited a total of 642 Computer Based Test centres as venues for the exam. The inspection and accreditation exercise was standardized for the purpose of fairness, equity and integrity.”

But as the exam got underway, the Nigerian factor kicked in with a touch of uncharacteristic electronic/technological sophistication. The Board noted in its report that it was shocked to discover (1) deliberate creation of technical problems by some of the centres in order to assist candidates to cheat or to retain for ulterior purposes the questions downloaded for the exam (2) running of parallel communication to secret rooms where candidates were assisted to cheat. This was by extended cables or radio communication (3) extortion of candidates and (4) mass collusion.

This was in addition to cases of individual candidates caught in one exam malpractice or the other (see box story) such as impersonation, multiple registration and examinations, possession of prepared answer scripts (although this was discovered to be useless as questions were changed in each session), possession of electronic gadgets including telephone, unruly behaviour towards exam officials, violent conduct of candidates and collusion with other candidates to cheat in the exam.

This led to the mass cancellation of results and delisting and, in some cases, one-year suspension of the centres, depending on the gravity of the offence. At the end of the exercise, 72 centres were affected while 59,032 results were either withheld or cancelled outright.

How Abia, Imo, Anambra and Enugu came ‘top’

With the exception of Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe where no case of exam malpractice was recorded, almost all the states shared in it to varying degrees. While there’s no record indicating the distribution of the massive scale type on state-by-state basis, a document obtained by The Sun Education from JAMB shows that Abia, Imo, Anambra and Enugu topped the list on individual cases, placing a great burden on the governments of the affected states to do something drastic to remove their names from the list before next year exams.

The document showed that Abia had 420, Anambra, 148, Imo, 138 and Enugu, 122, of the number of recorded cases while Adamawa, Borno, Katsina and Zamfara had the lowest figures of 2, 2, 2 and 1 respectively. Incidentally, Abia topped the list in the number of centres either de-listed or suspended. While it has 12 de-listed and 1 suspended, Rivers, the state that came second on this wise, has six de-listed and four suspended, bringing the total to 10. It is followed by Anambra with six de-listed and three suspended.

“The statistics on 2017 UTME malpractice is noteworthy. Most of the affected states are from the South East and South South…while the states with the lowest number of cases are from the North,” Reuben Abati, noted in his column recently. “Could it be then that students and CBT operators in the North are more honest than their Southern counterparts, or perhaps less computer savvy? Does the 2017 UTME say anything about national character?”

When our correspondents tried to check up with some of the affected centres, in the spirit of that age-old journalism tradition of hearing from the other side, they were shocked to discover that none of them seems to have any inkling of their either being de-listed or suspended although the Head of Public Relations, JAMB, Dr. Fabian Benjamin “strongly believes” that the administrative section in charge must have “duly communicated to them” the Board’s decision before placing their names on JAMB website.

CBT Centre responds to JAMB ban

Our correspondent who visited the Global ICT Connect Limited, Makurdi, located in the premises of Symbols Complex opposite Benue State University, said no official was on hand to give information. But she observed that the centre which is situated on the first floor of the building was under lock while the staircase was filled with dust and cobwebs suggesting that it has not been in use for sometime.

A young man found sitting in one of the round huts in the premises but who refused to divulge his name, disclosed that the business centre had not been opened for a long time after the JAMB CBT exam. But he suggested she calls a number written on the wall of the business centre. When she did, the number could not be reached because it was switched off.

As early as 6:30am last Wednesday, our correspondent set out from Makurdi to Gboko College of Education located in Gboko West area of the ancient city. After about one and half hour drive, she arrived the office of the Registrar and was asked to wait for the Provost. He walked in at exactly 8:50am and directed our correspondent to the Proprietor of the College ICT Centre, Sir Ukor Ayem, who, describing the news as “very strange,” denied knowledge of the supposed delisting saying that he was yet to be officially communicated by JAMB authorities.

Ayem who disclosed that the centre has been doing business with JAMB for three years now said they had never had issues with the exams until this year. He stated that he had gone to see the Zonal Coordinator of JAMB who said he was not aware of such news because he had not sent any report to the effect that the centre be “delisted” and even those who supervised did not have such information.

Asked how he felt about the delisting, he said: “I want JAMB to think twice about the supposed delisting because this is the oldest approved CBT Centre in Gboko and had done two CBT exams successfully in the past. This is the third one. Delisting our centre is like killing a fly with a sledge hammer.”

He posited further: “I think that JAMB took a big leap and could not cope with the challenges arising from such a leap. The centres are partners with JAMB and should be encouraged rather than being delisted. I am appealing to JAMB to reconsider its decision and allow us to rectify our faults. It was when the centre connected to JAMB that the problem started. If not, our systems were working well.”

He revealed that the centre accommodated 250 candidates per batch of three sessions a day for about six days in previous exams but this year it could not cope due to technical faults experienced. Speaking on what transpired between the centre and JAMB, the technical consultant, Mr. Christopher Roberts, informed that, “when JAMB came to conduct the mock exams, they came with faulty computers. When they were unable to connect to our system they tried so much and at the end of the day, they were able to find a way around it. The problem was for their laptops to connect to our system.

“I sensed the problem then and was surprised to see the same faulty laptops brought to the main exam. During the conduct of the exams, I discovered that the systems were working very slowly so much that the exam couldn’t hold the first day. I had to try to maintain the systems. But I discovered that when next it was used, it was very slow.

“I discovered after so much troubleshooting that the problem was actually coming from the JAMB server. I tried to explain this to the JAMB technical staff but she refused to listen to me insisting that the problem was from us. At that point, other centres had already finished with the exams and some of her colleagues came over to our centre. One of her colleagues who listened to me ordered that another server be brought from another centre and it worked well. The next day, the same faulty server was brought but funny enough both that server and the one they brought to our centre refused to work again. We ran every command but the two servers did not connect to our system any longer.”

Confusion caused by communication gaps

The coordinator, Hajiya Jummai Babangida Aliyu Information Communication Technology Centre, Minna, Mr. Kola Oluwafemi, said, contrary to insinuations, the centre is yet to receive any correspondence from JAMB to the effect that it has been delisted as one of its CBT centres for exams.

“I actually learnt that some centres were delisted for technical deficiencies and I tried to find out from the state coordinator of JAMB here in Niger but he told me that he heard it too but cannot say which centres are affected,” he said. “But for my centre here, there is no official correspondence from JAMB, informing us that the centre has been delisted. We conducted the CBT here and it was successful.”

Although he admitted that on the first day of this year’s exam there were slight hitches, (“the computers were ‘dragging’ as a result of poor network and that affected about 500 candidates out of the 2270 candidates that registered at the centre here”) it was rectified and after that we had a very smooth exam.”

According to him, the Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Prof. Musbau Akanji, who was the Chief External Examination Officer in the state was at the centre on the last day of the exam and was quite impressed. Oluwafemi stressed that “until we receive a correspondence to that effect, the centre remains JAMB CBT centre.”

He added that if any of the centres needs to be delisted, it shouldn’t be for technical deficiencies because poor network from service provider cannot be said to be something new. “If the centres are de-listed for exam malpractices, one can understand, but for what you call “gross technical deficiencies” is what I cannot reconcile because we all know the problem with service providers in the country today.”

He said the centre which was established in 2011 went into partnership with JAMB in 2015. It handles over 2000 candidates every year, noting that, “this year alone, 2270 registered. Out of this number, 2250 were successful in the exam and this is because of the initial hitches that we experienced.”

When approached, the Director, Kaduna Study Centre of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Nuhu L. Garba, like others, denied knowledge of the centre being among the centres delisted for “gross technical deficiencies”, by JAMB.

When our correspondent pressed further, Garba simply retorted, “I am not permitted to talk to the press, and moreover, I am just hearing it from you for the first time. You may go to our headquarters in Abuja to talk to the authorities concerned.”

The Kaduna centre is said to have over 200 laptops and other related computer equipment. Contacted, a source at the centre said: “Since I don’ t know the nature of the gross technical deficiencies you are talking about, I cannot say much. All I can say is that we have a reliable generator that gives power to this centre for 24 hours.”

JAMB’s response to allegations of tribalism, sectionalism, etc

Reacting to the allegation of nepotism as insinuated in Abati’s remarks and witch-hunting as suggested by officials of some of the de-listed centres, JAMB noted that major stakeholders were engaged and categorized in different active groups namely, (1) Chief External Examiner comprising serving and past Vice Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts (“The Chief External Examiner engages three Proctors for each of the centre under his/her jurisdiction to complement the officers deployed from the National Headquarters of JAMB”); (2)Equal Opportunity Group comprising erudite scholars of repute under the chairmanship of Prof. Peter Okebukola (3) General Monitors Group comprising serving and former chief executives of education agencies, serving and retired educationists and technocrats (4) Peace Monitors Group comprising women of substance in the society, in their individual rights and accomplished in their careers (5) Secretariat/Bwari Group comprising erudite scholars, accomplished lawyers, eminent administrators and many others responsible for the collation of reports from all over the country (6) State Technical Advisors Group comprising experts and specialists in computer system two or more who handled a state and ensured that all technical issues were resolved (7) Youth of Virtues Group comprising youth corpers who served as Proctors in various centres (cool Civil Society and Media Group comprising activists and media gurus.

“Examination reports received from these various groups and the multitudes of persons who served in one capacity or the other were compiled and distilled,” Dr. Benjamin noted. “Most important of these reports were those received from the Chief External Examiners which were the aggregates of many other reports from each state of the country and the Federal Capital Territory. These reports provided the Board with deep insights as to come up with a number of decisions and options.” [to be continued next week]


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