Monday, April 29, 2013

Desperation, fraud mar 2013 UTME … as FG moves to widen access


Candidates writing UTME exams.
SEGUN OLUGBILE highlights how inadequate space in universities enhanced fraud in the conduct of 2013 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination
Last Saturday, 1,735,720 candidates sat for the 2013 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. Out of this number, only 520,000 will be offered admission to all the tertiary institutions across the country.
About 320,000 of this number will make it to the university while the rest will be shared between the polytechnics and the College of Education. Due to this lack of access, some desperate parents and candidates colluded with some unscrupulous security men and invigilators to compromise the integrity of the examination.
In the Federal Government’s initial response, the National Economic Council has approved the upgrade of six federal universities to what it calls ‘mega institutions’, with a view to enhancing their carrying capacity and thus enabling them to increase student population from about 30,000 to between 150,000 and 200,000 each. The NEC also approved the lifting of the moratorium on the creation of more than one university hitherto placed on state governments. These actions are to widen access to university education in the country.
The Federal Government had, in 2011, created nine new universities and another batch of three in 2013. But in spite of these efforts, many university admission seekers are, yearly, denied admission not because they do not have the required qualifications, but because of the low carrying capacity of the universities.
Due to this, and the emphasis Nigerians generally place on academic certificates, matriculation examinations have always been fraught with malpractices. The 2013 examination, which held last Saturday, also had its fair share of corruption and underhand cuttings.
Though the Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, has described the 2013 UTME as successful, reports from various centres across the country revealed that there is still room for improvement in the conduct of the examination. This is because in spite of the security measures put in place by JAMB, some unscrupulous ad hoc officials and security men it engaged to monitor and conduct the exam colluded with desperate parents and candidates to cheat.
In most of the centres visited by our correspondent in Lagos and some parts of Ogun State, these people attempted to compromise the integrity of the UTME. Though it was observed that the questions did not leak in the centres visited by our correspondent, some ad hoc officials quietly gave out the question papers to ‘mercenaries’ around the centres shortly before the commencement of the examination.
These mercenaries hurried to a corner, solved the questions and passed the answers to the candidates through mobile phones that were smuggled into the exam halls. This is in contravention to JAMB’s instruction that no candidate should come to the exam hall with mobile phones.
Some invigilators who were obviously sympathetic towards the candidates facilitated this. But a JAMB official who pleaded anonymity said such efforts would be in vain.
“Question papers given to candidates were not the same. Even though they wrote the same subjects, we had organised it in such a way that questions were not similar. A candidate writing Government could have Type A question, while the one sitting beside him could have Type D. I can tell you that this is one of the best examinations we have organised in recent times,” the official said. He also said that there was no act of violence or disruption before, during and after the examination.
“This is a very good development that we (JAMB) should be commended for. If you have observed some lapses, you will discover such did not come directly from JAMB officials,” the official, who spoke with our correspondent after the examination in Ikeja area of Lagos, said.
However, some officials, particularly invigilators and security men, appeared to be in alliance with some parents to help the candidates in some centres in Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos. Some of these desperate parents bribed invigilators and policemen attached to some of these centres to perpetrate the fraud.
One of the parents, who thought our correspondent also wanted to pay his way through for a candidate, said she paid N5,000 to enable her son to go into the hall with his mobile phone. The essence of the phone, according to her, was to allow him to receive prepared answers from a mercenary outside the hall. So, rather than apprehend errant candidates, invigilators encouraged them to cheat.
One of them was overheard telling a junior officer to leave the candidates alone.
“You had better leave them; you know that admission to universities is now extremely competitive and they need to score very high marks. Leave them, let them help one another,” the senior security man instructed his junior colleague.
However, security was tight at King’s College, Lagos centre, as those who did not have anything to do at the centre were not allowed to enter its premises, let alone the examination halls.
In Ogun State, similar scenarios played out in the 108 centres spread across the state. But men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps from the state Command did well by frustrating the examination fraudsters. The NSCDC arrested about 82 candidates for alleged violation of the UTME regulation on cheating.
The state Corps Commandant, Aboluwoye Akinwande, in a statement signed on his behalf by the command’s Public Relations Officer, Kareem Olanrewaju, said the candidates were arrested from different centres across the state for alleged involvement in examination malpractices.
Thirty of the candidates, he said, were arrested in various centres in Abeokuta, nine in Ewekoro Local Government, while others were arrested at a centre in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye; and Molusi College in Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode Local Government Area of the state.
“Some of them were caught using their phones, while others were in possession of prohibited materials like books, palm tops and scientific calculators,” he stated.
He added that the command would take appropriate actions against whoever was found guilty.
”The first thing is that they have been made to complete relevant forms. Investigation will be conducted, which will determine their culpability and then we can decide on their trial. Necessary information about them has been collected,” Akinwande added
Commenting on the general conduct of the examination, the NSCDC boss said that apart from the arrest, no violence was recorded in any of the centres.
“The large number of arrest recorded was as a result of effective coverage by Civil Defence. They were taken by surprise, as they thought it was business as usual. We will continue to do our best at all time to ensure that examination malpractices are reduced to the minimum, if not eradicated. We will continue to appreciate the support of candidates, parents and other stakeholders,” Akinwande said.
In Benin-City, the Edo State capital, like in other states of the federation, some Internet scammers uploaded some questions and answers purportedly meant to be the 2013 UTME as early as 6am on Saturday. They urged willing candidates to visit the site to access the materials. This caused panic among some candidates. But at the end of it all, they were found to be fake questions and answers.
On why some Nigerians would do anything to secure admission, the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqquayat Rufa’i, identified lack of space in existing universities and inadequate number of the institutions in the country as reasons.
“The major challenge is that, we have 1.7 million candidates sitting for the matriculation examination when we have only 520,000 spaces for federal, state and private universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
“If one million passed, what are we going to do with the remaining 500,000? We will not expand the carrying capacity without expanding the facilities.
“What are we going to do with the large number of students out there? I feel the pain. Mr. President is very much concerned. If you have students that have passed an examination and they cannot have access, you can imagine their feelings in the long run.”
She, therefore, called on private firms and individuals to invest in tertiary education.
But in order to widen the academic space, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, who briefed the press after the NEC meeting on Thursday, said the council decided to upgrade the status of some first generation universities in Ibadan, Nsukka, Zaria and three others to mega universities.
Obi said the council’s decision was sequel to the recommendations of a Technical Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities.
He said NEC endorsed the committee’s recommendation that each of the six mega universities should be located in each geo-political zone. Obi said the upgrade of the designated universities would be in medium term and it would assist in clearing the backlogs of candidates seeking admission.
But in order to ensure quality, NEC also endorsed the recommendation of the committee that both the federal and state governments should raise budgetary allocation to tertiary institutions.
Stakeholders, who responded to this new move, noted that this initiative ought to have been taken before now.
The Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, said rather than create “political universities” in 2011, existing institutions should have been upgraded.
“Yes, it is a nice move, but it came a bit late. They should have done this about three years ago instead of creating politically-motivated universities across the country. Federal universities in Zaria, Lagos, Ibadan, Ife, Nsukka, Benin, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and others, I believe, have enough land mass to expand. They should have given them money to expand lecture rooms, hostels, laboratories, libraries and municipal facilities,” he said.

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