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Investigation… Extortion, mercenaries, swapping hold sway despite JAMB CBT

Investigation... Extortion, mercenaries, swapping hold sway despite JAMB CBT
By Editor

By Patrick Egwu…

In efforts to eliminate widespread allegations of corruption, mass cheating, extortion of candidates and collusion by officials, as well as other malpractices and irregularities in the conduct of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board’s (JAMB) Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), the Board introduced the use of Computer-Based Test (CBT) in 2013  to replace the Paper Pencil Test (PPT) in the country. The initiative was led by its former Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde.

However, the CBT was not totally functional until March 9, 2015 when the examination body imprinted a landmark in its 37-year history by kicking off the first nation-wide use of CBT for exams as a way of ending examination malpractices.

But despite this widely applauded innovation, investigations reveal that the use of mercenaries, swapping of candidates, extortion, collusion by JAMB officials and CBT Centre owners as well as malpractices of different sorts still continue.

In this investigative report, a Ripples Nigeria operative went undercover to enrol as a candidate to write the 2018 JAMB computer administered examination, during which period he spoke and interacted with some JAMB officials, CBT Centre owners and other candidates who participated in the exam.

Findings revealed corruption and collusion by JAMB officials and CBT Centre owners to aid in examination malpractices by extorting and swapping candidates with pre-arranged mercenaries, who write the exams on behalf of the candidate, for an agreed price.

Trip to unravel the truth

On February 7, 2018, three days before the end of the extended deadline for registration for the JAMB examination, Joseph (not real name) who had worked as a supervisor at a JAMB-CBT registration Centre in Nsukka, the serene town of the University of Nigeria Nsukka in Enugu state, told Ripples Nigeria operative about Prince Academy – a miracle centre for candidates seeking examination breakthrough in their results in order to gain admission into the university.

Our operative did necessary background checks, established contacts and other sources, then left for Nsukka to chase and establish the truth or otherwise of Joseph’s claims.

After a 45-minutes’ drive from Enugu, he arrived Nsukka town on Thursday, February 8, to register for the JAMB-CBT at Prince Academy.

Outside the park where the vehicle dropped off Nsukka passengers, he approached a commercial motorcyclist to seek directions.

It was 3pm and with the scorching harmattan sun peeling at his skin, he inquired of one of the bike-men if he knew where to locate Prince Academy.

“Yes, I know am,” the bike-man answered in the affirmative.

After the bargain was concluded at N200, the 10-minute trip ended at the place – with a conspicuous sign post reading “Prince Academy” boldly inscribed in front of the building.

The Registration

Prince Academy….along Odenigbo road, Ebeano shopping plaza

Prince Academy is located along Odenigbo road, Ebeano shopping plaza – a very busy road in the heart of Nsukka – about one kilometre from the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus and about fifteen minutes’ drive to Onuiyi – the official residence of late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president.

On this day, a visitor to the premises of Prince Academy, was greeted by a noisy environment of prospective candidates – young boys and girls, even older ones too, about 100 in number, all holding their already purchased JAMB forms and moving from one direction to the other within the Academy’s vicinity.

At the front desk, Ripples Nigeria asked one of the two receptionists who were busy attending to prospective candidates who came to purchase their forms and register, how much it cost to buy a JAMB form.

“N6, 500” she replied while speaking to her colleague who was seated close to her.

Our operative  then demanded to see Mr Prince, her boss and owner of the set-up who it was earlier alleged handles and organizes contracts for swapping of candidates and other such deals relating to the CBT exam.


Prospective candidates obtaining their forms

“He is not around now, but you can buy your form and fill it while waiting for him,” she advised.

After making payment, the receptionist registered the details provided and handed over a form. While filling the form, Ripples Nigeria operative  provided details like name, date of birth, home address, place of origin, phone number and email address. He also included Law as a choice course of study in the university.

The crowd was intimidating and by the time our operative could finish purchasing and filling the form, it was already 6:15pm.

Gloria, the front desk receptionist who attended to him, asked him to return by 7am the next day for biometric registration, which include thumb-printing, passport capturing and filling out of other details on the computer, as it was time for close of work.

Normally, after filling out the form and submitting it, depending on the crowd, you might continue with the next stage or asked to come back the next day to complete the registration.

Searching for the mercenary

Candidates of Prince Academy at the registration centre

By 7:15am, our operative was already at the centre. Likewise, over 30 other prospective candidates who were there earlier, most of whom Gloria said had been there as early as 6am.

Having submitted the form, and while waiting for his turn to do the biometric registration (thumb-printing, passport capturing, and filling out of other details on the computer), Ripples Nigeria demanded to see the owner of Prince Academy who had gone straight into his office upon arrival a few minutes earlier.

Our operative after being ushered into his office which is situated in the same building, told him of his intention to arrange for a mercenary who could write the JAMB exam for him as he needed to make a higher grade to enable him get admission into the university to study Law.

His office was more like a mini-library, and a workshop of some sort – books, shelves, his framed pictures, old and new calendars of him presenting awards and gifts to best performing students in his Academy and some plaque of awards he received in the past. His table looked like a playground – unkempt books and sheaf of single papers.

“What’s your name?’” he asked.

Ripples Nigeria operative told him.

“Can I see your passport to know if you look like the person who will impersonate for you?” he asked me.

Our operative showed him a passport photograph, and he said he needed to send it to his boys to verify if the mercenary-match could be found. He immediately makes a phone call and said “How long will it take you to get here? 15 minutes? OK” he said to the person at the other end of the phone.

He told me to wait that one of his boys who would do the work is coming so we can talk and agree on terms.

Owner of Prince Academy

While waiting for the arrival of the person, Ripples Nigeria enquired how much the services of the impersonator would cost.

“N150, 000 is the last price,” he said while flipping through a register on his table containing the details of his candidates.

On why it was so high, he said it was because of the subject combination of the course (Law) our operative wants to write.

That aside, he continued, he would not reduce the price because our operative  came late since it was already three days to the deadline for the sale of forms.

“You didn’t come on time and now you want to put me under unnecessary pressure. Others who came earlier had got people who would write for them,” he said while continuing with what he was doing.

According to him, if our operative  had come earlier and wanted to write for courses like Mass Communication, Social sciences or Political Science, that the price might be placed between N50,000 – N80,000.

But for courses like Medicine and Surgery, Law and Pharmacy, their prices are always on the high side because they are highly sought after.

On how the payment process works: Cash or wire transfer? After or before the exam?

“Of course before the exam,” he snapped. “Whether cash or transfer is fine,” he said.


Owner of prince Academy attending to prospective JAMB CBT candidates

How it works? He said he would find someone who looks exactly like me to enter the hall on my behalf and write the exam for me. The applicant will follow them to the venue, sign in and enter as though he is the one writing it before the swapping will take place.

When asked what about the JAMB officials at the exam Centre?, Mr Prince assured that “They will be taken care of to allow the swap happen. We have been doing this for years before CBT. So we know how we sort them out,” he boasted.

After about 20 minutes, the mercenary he had called arrived. Standing about five-feet, lanky, dark, the young man wore an over-sized trouser and shirt.

Unfortunately, after assessing the would-be mercenary, it didn’t work out as the Ripples Nigeria operative was obviously younger, taller and bigger than the would-be mercenary.

“This one will not work,” Prince said frowning his face while comparing both individuals who were sitting close together.

“Can’t you see the way your head is? I need to find someone who has this type of head and eyes too so that it will work perfectly without any hitch. You are also taller than him,” he said.

So another search begins.

Woes in the exam hall

One month after having registered with Prince Academy, our operative printed his examination notification slip on March 7 and surprisingly, was posted to Enugu again for the exams.

Ripples Nigeria did not pay the N150,000 Mr Prince had asked for as payment, since the practice of use of mercenaries, swapping of candidates and collusion with officials to help candidates who registered with him carryout examination malpractice, had been established.

He also on his part never called back since phone numbers were exchanged to inform whether or not he later found a matching mercenary for the job.

Our operative did the JAMB CBT exam on March 13, 2018 at IMT Learning Management Institute Centre 1, Campus 3, Enugu. Scheduled to start by 9am, the exam started two hours behind schedule after much delays and scrutiny.

At the first entrance gate, a local security of the school was stationed with three officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) who were there to assist in screening the candidates who were already queuing up under the scorching sun to enter the exam hall.

While the male NSCDC official was searching the male candidates – their pockets and caps, the female officials concentrated on searching only the female candidates – their hair, bra, skirts and even underwear.

At a point, the screening process became very slow and the candidates under the hot sun murmured and complained, prompting the officials to hasten up the process.

Candidates were told to drop all bags and items like caps, wrist watches, sun glasses, mobile phone, handkerchief, pen and other such items in front of the gate as the NSCDC officials will keep an eye on them. Those who weren’t comfortable with this directive gave their items to those they came with, or found other places where they kept them at a fee.

After passing through the screening process at the first gate, candidates met another screening point inside the compound, just after the gate. Here, they were asked to thumb-print by two female JAMB officials using their index finger. At this point, the candidate’s information displays on the computer screen before he/she is allowed to go further.

If the information provided during registration does not appear on the screen, such a candidate won’t be allowed inside. Finally, inside the compound before entering inside the main exam hall, candidates are faced with the last screening: this time comprising of JAMB officials and NYSC members, who start the screening process all over again.

They were mainly interested in checking glasses to know which is medicated and not. Those who had medicated glasses were allowed to use theirs for the exam while those who came with theirs for fashion, were asked to drop it outside before entering inside the hall.


JAMB candidates outside the exam centre

After all the screenings were done, candidates were finally allowed into the exam hall.

Our operative with seat number 235, was placed in Hall 2.The digital exam Centre, fully air-conditioned had Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras at every end.

If functioning, the CCTV is said to transmit live signals of activities within the exam halls across the country to the JAMB headquarters in Abuja for close monitoring.

After all the delays, an exam that was meant to start by 9am, started by 11:05am.

In attempts to probe the level of corruption or malpractice at the Centre, our operative made attempts to draw the attention of officials in the hall.

Just 20 minutes into the exam, he pretended to be confused, and stood up. One of the JAMB officials who was invigilating the examination process, demanded to know why he was standing.

He approached him and told him that he wanted to use the restroom. The invigilator declined. “Once you enter this hall, you are not going anywhere, even if you are purging. That’s the instruction given to us,” he said.

About 35 minutes after returning to his seat, our operative made another attempt to see if he could get an official to assist him, by discreetly waving at one of the JAMB official to get his attention.

When the young man in his late 30s approached, Ripples Nigeria operative whispered to him that he wasstuck in the exam and didn’t know what to answer or write again, asking him if he could help in any way, with a promise to pay him his price.

He declined, saying, “If it was before, or the former Centre where I invigilated last year, I can do that but here, I can’t. Can’t you see the cameras and others watching?”, he asked and immediately moved away.

There was a mild drama at the end of the exam as candidates were leaving the hall. A candidate in his early 20s who had just finished the exam, was caught with a phone when he brought it out to make a phone call. NSCDC officials and JAMB invigilators who saw him were surprised and wondered how he smuggled the device despite the different rounds of checks that were conducted on candidates before they were allowed to enter the hall.

While interrogating him at the premises, the candidate, begging and almost crying, said he hid the phone in one of his shoes before entering the exam hall as the NSCDC officials did not check the shoes of some candidates as part of the screening process except for those with suspicious shoes.

“Please, I swear I did not use it (the phone) in the hall,” the young man said crying and sweating profusely.

He was immediately whisked away by the NSCDC official and one of the local school security and taken to a detention room within the premises.

As this was happening, another batch of candidates who had their exam by 1pm were being screened and ushered into the hall.

Revelations from ex-officials, candidates, and mercenaries

Ripples Nigeria spoke to some former supervisors at a JAMB-CBT Centre and mercenaries who revealed how corruption in the system and the process of use of mercenaries and swapping of candidates by officials and CBT Centre owners work.

“The whole plan for swapping and malpractice happens during the registration process,” said Chikwado Ani, 28, who had worked as a mercenary and CBT instructor for six years.

“Some collect N20,000, N30,000 – N40,000 depending on the mercenary who will be writing the exams,” he said.

Ani who started in 2008, said he normally collects N20,000 – N30,000 to write exams for candidates depending on the course of choice of the candidate.

“How they do it is that during the registration, they (CBT Centre owners) will call all their students and ask them who needs to be helped during the exam. Those interested will indicate. Therefore, during the registration, instead of the candidate, the mercenary will do the thumb-printing while the candidate will be the one to submit his or her details in the computer like name, address, phone number and other such necessary details needed by JAMB except the thumb-print. Now during the exam, the mercenary will be the one to enter inside the hall and write the exam while the original candidate waits outside because he (mercenary) has his finger prints on the computer and even if they (JAMB officials) check, the mercenary’s information will be the thing that will appear on the computer;” he said.

He continued: “We also have the swapping system because many people don’t have the idea of doing the thumb-printing system. So many Centres do help the mercenaries to swap the candidates inside. The candidate will pay the mercenary and the JAMB official that will help to facilitate this. Even the security personnel called for the invigilation of the exam also help to do the swapping. How it works is that the main candidate who registered for the exam will be inside, after a while – about one hour, the owner of the Centre will now come and negotiate with JAMB officials for the mercenary to be swapped with the candidate.”

When I asked how much they pay the JAMB officials to facilitate the swap deal, he said between N5,000 and N20,000 depending on the official or bargaining power of the person involved.

“It was very easy during the pencil exam unlike now,” another official who begged not to be mentioned said.

“Before it was through SMS to distribute answers to candidates during exams but now it has changed and a little difficult. Though some people still find other ways to do it and succeed. You know evil tactics are not difficult to learn,” he said smiling.

A number of candidates who spoke to our operative outside the exam hall narrated how they hired mercenaries to swap and write the exam in their place, and how officials extorted them in the hall.

“I have written my own yesterday at Uwani,” one of them who simply gave his name as Peter said. When asked how the questions of the exam were, he said he doesn’t know as he was not the one that wrote the exam since he had a mercenary sit for him during the exam at the Centre.

“I paid him N45,000 for the exam and the person who recommended him to me said the guy is good,” he said with a shy smile.

Probed further to know how the mercenary was able to penetrate the system, he said, “No be Naija we dey again? anything is possible,” he said laughing as others standing by joined him in laughing.

“At my Centre, they asked us to pay N2,000 to provide answers to the questions for us and allow us co-operate,” another candidate who had written his exams a day before said.

“Who asked you to pay N2000?” I curiously asked. “JAMB people there of course.”

2018 reported cases

During the 2018 JAMB exams which started March 9, cases of extortion, examination malpractice and cheating were recorded across the country. In Anambra state, parents and candidates who sat for the exams accused officials of extorting money from them. As reported, they were asked to pay N1000 before their children could sit for the exams.

The NSCDC on March 12, arrested the owner of Diamond ICT Centre and a Methodist Reverend, Chuka Egwonwu for allegedly extorting N126,000 from candidates in Abia state to aid them in malpractices during the exams.

The arrest was made possible through a CCTV mounted at the Centre and controlled from the headquarters of JAMB in Abuja.

Two identical twins were also arrested for alleged examination malpractice in Borno state. Hussain Andulhammeed, was captured in the biometric registration for the CBT. His brother Hassan took advantage of their semblance and sat for the examination in place of his brother.

“The system (introduction of CBT) is good but there are still flaws,” Titus Okoye, an education consultant and supervisor said. “The system needs to be strengthened more and culpable officials punished to serve as deterrent,” he said.

“Even with the CCTV camera and other devices, the trend still continues. The process can be better.”

According to decree 20 of 1984, anyone convicted for examination malpractice should serve a 21-year jail term. However, the Examination Malpractice Act 33 of 1999 has replaced the decree with a law which stipulates that any offender is liable to a fine of between N50,000 and N100,000 and a three to four-year jail term with or without option of fine.

On how many people have been prosecuted and convicted through this law? Barr Olu Omotayo, president of Civil Rights Realization and Advancement Network (CRRAN) had this to say, “They used to bring them to court. At least on one or two occasions I have seen them being arraigned in court.

“But they might arraign which was frequent in the past but I don’t know of conviction. I don’t know the outcome of those cases but I know that the court might give them (offenders) probably an option of fine just to give them another chance in life since they are young persons.

“Normally the court always leans towards pardon or option of fine because of the age of those people involved and being first offenders so as to give them another chance in life. Because the purpose of law in any society is not just punishment but reformation.

“When you sentence them and send them to prison it may not achieve the desired effect. You can warn them and give them option of fine in order to give them another opportunity in life because they are mainly young people. So I support the approach of the court in this regard of showing mercy,” he said.

Asked if he doesn’t think that the option of fine or pardon will encourage more malpractices since former culprits were pardoned, he said, “At least the arraignment and option of fine and the rigorous process of coming to court and at the end of the day the court says ‘you are guilty of this offense but we are going to give you an option of fine in order to give you another opportunity in life’ I think it’s fine because most of the people concerned are young people. Also, our society is a developing one. You can’t compare what is happening here with advanced societies.”

Barr Omotayo wondered why anybody should insist or suggest capital punishment for offenders of examination malpractices while political office holders who have embezzled huge sums of money in the country are hardly jailed or maximum punishments imposed on them.

He said in most cases, culprits in examination malpractices are young people and no one should be advocating for maximum punishments.

In 2017, JAMB blacklisted 48 CBT Centres over their involvement in extortion, cheating and organized Centre induced examination malpractice. Another 24 Centres were suspended for failing to live up to expectations. As a result, 1,386 candidates had their results cancelled over examination malpractice; 57,646 results were also affected as a result of Centres-induced malpractices while the results of 666 candidates were cancelled due to multiple examinations.

On March 20, 2018, JAMB announced the release of the second batch of results of the candidates after the first batch was released on March 19. The Board said the 1,502,978 results of the candidates were released after considering reports from its supervisors, monitors and other independent observers who it said took interest in promoting the quality of public examination in Nigeria. Out of that number, 112,331 results were yet to be released and are undergoing further screening for engaging in different examination malpractices according to JAMB.

“Some of the malpractices were Centre-induced,” Mr Fabian Benjamin, JAMB spokesperson said immediately after the 2018 results were released. “So entire Centres were cancelled. Some are individual cases. These are Centres that colluded with candidates. Maybe their owners collected monies from the candidates and were dictating answers. They were caught on camera.

“There were candidates who went into the examination halls with materials that were banned. Telephone handsets and other materials were found on some of them”, he said.

A total of 1,652, 825 candidates registered and sat for the 2018 exam in 602 centres across the country with 350 of them being visually-challenged.

Three days after the announcement of the results, our correspondent logged onto JAMB’s website (www.jamb.org.ng) with his registration number to check the result of the exam he wrote in the course of the investigation. He scored 226 – Use of English (58), Government (66), Literature-in-English (47) and Christian Religious Knowledge (55) – a fair score for the course He registered to study in the university – Law.

 

***This investigative project by Ripples Nigeria was conducted in partnership with the Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.

 

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