CLEMENT IDOKO, writes that there will no longer be a hiding place for those who specialize in forging certificates to gain admission into tertiary institutions or secure job in the country as the National Examination Council (NECO) has vowed to make life uncomfortable for them in nationwide crackdown.
THE National Examination Council (NECO) is worried at the rising cases of certificate forgery and examination malpractice in Nigeria and has vowed to make life miserable for the perpetrators of the heinous crime tarnishing the image of the examination body and the country at large.
The plague of certificate forgery afflicts both the high and the low in Nigeria. For instance, Nigerians woke up recently to be astounded by the report of alleged 100 fake professors in Nigeria University System as revealed by the executive secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed.
There were also scandalous cases of candidates trying to upgrade their scores in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) with the false hope of securing admission to their choice institution and course of study. Majority of them had been apprehended and prosecuted by the management of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
Intelligence by NECO revealed how some Nigerians out of desperation now fake Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and General Certificate in Education (GCE) Ordinary Level to gain admission to tertiary institutions or secure jobs.
One thing was certain that when in 2018 the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu appointed Mr Abubakar Gana as the acting registrar, nothing less than a stellar performance was expected of him in order to rid the indigenous examination body of extraneous loads impeding effective delivery of its mandate.
NECO is the only indigenous public examination body in Nigeria charged with the task of conducting school-based (June/July) and external candidates (November/December) Senior School Certificate Examinations and General Certificate in Education respectively. It also conducts national entrance examination into Federal Unity Colleges.
The council was confronted with several challenges which tend to undermine its smooth operations. One major challenge was examination malpractice. The council lacked adequate utility vehicles for distribution of examination materials thereby relying on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for support with their vans.
Other challenges include delay in release of results and certificates to candidates, staff welfare and of course, raising the bar of the examination body to be at par with similar examination bodies in the world.
Accordingly, Gana came on board as an insider, and has continued to lead the transformation and reforms in the council. He made it clear to all the staff from the outset that steps would be taken not only to reposition NECO but to ensure the integrity of the certificates issued to candidates.
He said: “Immediately I resumed, I embarked on critical reforms, which had led to the successful conduct of the 2018 June/July SSCE under compelling circumstances, and released the results of the examination within 40 days of completion.”
He further stated that the council abolished the use of scratch cards following the scam that surrounded it, which led to the loss of hundreds of millions of naira in revenue. He subjected all printed 2018 November/December registration cards to activation only after the money for each card must have been credited to the council’s Single Treasury Account (TSA).
He went about on how to deal with the intransigent issues of examination malpractice and slow process of operation, by acquiring 8000 biometric machines and 20 Toyota Hilux Vans worth over N800 million. In the course of the operation, however, the acting registrar felt it was wise to undertake a forensic audit of staff certificates in order to clean up the system. This was to be extended to all tertiary institutions in the country.
According to the maxim, “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands,” the acting registrar, Gana, in declaring the war against certificate forgery, is currently cleaning up the council and the exercise is very revealing. Head of Information and Public Relations Division, Mr Azeez Sani, confirmed this when he disclosed that the examination body felt there was a need to put its house in order first.
Already the certificate verification exercise among the NECO staff has led to dismissal of about 89 workers for alleged certificate forgery. Tribune Education gathered that the council has already perfected plans for massive crackdown and certificate verification across tertiary institutions in the country to fish out and punish those parading its fake certificates in the system. This will be done in collaboration with the respective institutions.
The pilot phase of the exercise led to the recent arrest of about nine students of the University of Abuja who allegedly forged NECO results to gain admission into the university. Three of them were on 3rd March 2020 arraigned before a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Magistrate’s Court, Wuse Zone 2.
The suspects, Effiong Theresa, Solomon Victor and Abdulkabir Mohammad, who however, pleaded not guilty to the one-count charge of forgery preferred against them, were granted bail in the sum of N200,000 each, with one surety in like sum.
The development has already made universities and other tertiary institutions to ensure that screening of credentials of candidates before registration is now made more thorough and strict.
Investigation by Tribune Education revealed that universities have adopted more stringent measures in the screening of candidates.
The governing board of NECO had approved the Staff Certificate Verification Committee saddled with the responsibility of verifying its workers and examination officers in order to fish out those in possession of forged certificates and to sanitise the system.
The committee was headed by the Director of Human Resource Management, Mr Mustapha Abdul in 2019. On November 15, 2019, it dawned on the affected staff that the game was over, when the governing board approved the dismissal of 70 workers allegedly involved in certificate forgery.
Tribune Education gathered from the staff certificate verification committee that about 157 members of staff of NECO had cases to answer concerning their certificates.
Abdul, the chairman of verification committee, said: “Over 1,000 members of staff have been screened by their institutions, but only those with cases to answer are invited for further screening by the verification committee. So far, 157 members of staff of NECO that had cases to answer from the responses of their institutions were invited for further screening by the Verification Committee.
“Other cases that require further investigation are inconclusive. More cases are, therefore, being expected as the institutions respond accordingly. However, the screening is not limited to results/certificate.”
The NECO governing board directed that the 89 staff, the initial 70 inclusive, confirmed to have been involved in certificate forgery were not only dismissed but also their files should be transferred to the police and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission for prosecution.
Tribune Education gathered that most of the 89 dismissed workers were executive officers and general duties personnel. Five of them were Chief Examination Officers, four were Principal Examination Officers while six were Senior Examination Officers.
Head of Information and Public Relations Division of NECO, Mr Sani, said the second phase of the verification exercise took place in February 2020 and 19 workers were found to be in possession of fake certificates while the governing board of the council, led by Dr Abubakar Saddique, reconvened on February 25 for its 52nd regular meeting and approved the dismissal of the affected staff.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has also attested to the outstanding performance of the acting NECO registra. Its Senate president, Mr Abubakar Gambo, particularly, said that Gana had been able to prudently manage the resources of the council resulting in the elimination of wastages and stealing thus giving rise to the remittance of almost N1 billion into the Federal Government’s coffers a year ago.
Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, had slashed the NECO registration fees from N11,500 to N9,850 while that of Junior Secondary School registration was cut down from N5,500 to N4000.
He said: “Since Mr Gana took the reins of office on May 10, 2018, we have consistently watched the activities of the council. We are delighted that Mr Gana has been able to dig into his deep pouch of experience as the oldest management member and director in the council to marry all the conflicting factors which hitherto hampered the progress of NECO.”
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