The need to have an examination body in Nigeria saddled with the responsibility of conducting the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination and the General Certificate in Education in June/July and November/December respectively, comparable to those of the West African Examination Council, WAEC, saw the establishment of the National Examination Council, NECO, by General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led military regime in April 1999.
The mandate of the council was later extended to conducting examinations for pupils seeking admission into the 104 unity schools in the country. And since inception, NECO has been carrying out all these assignments. But Nigeria’s only indigenous public examination body is being confronted with several challenges that tend to undermine its smooth operations.
Some of these challenges include lack of reading and adherence to guidelines, deliberate failure of school administrators to comply with laid down rules and regulations, dishonesty among some principals and proprietors of schools by providing falsified documents of their schools to secure accreditation and increasing the cost of logistics in the conduct of examinations due to inflation.
Activities of fraudsters
Others are activities of fraudsters during the sale of its examination forms, examination malpractices by candidates in collaboration with some of its examiners, perpetration of fraud by its agents and staff in the sale of examination forms, fake presentation of certificates and faulty recruitment of staff, faking of its certificates by fraudsters to desperate admission seekers, trade union disputes, among many others.
There is no denying the fact that these problems gravely affected the smooth and efficient running of the examination body before 2018 when a change in administration was effected by President Muhammad Buhari leading to the emergence of Abubakar Gana as the Acting Registrar and Chief Executive Officer/CEO of NECO. He assumed office at a time the council was in the global news over alleged high-level financial irregularity, allegedly involving some top officials. But the disturbing trend did not unsettle him as he immediately undertook a critical review and assessment of the activities of NECO and thereafter initiated policies and programmes that have brought about real change and positive turn around in the Council.
Before 2018, when the Gana-led administration undertook some critical reform measures leading to the successful development and integration of the Senior Secondary School Examination, SSCE registration software on its new websites, NECO had lived at the mercy of fraudsters. They had taken advantage of the initial porous windows in its registration process not only to dupe thousands of unsuspecting candidates of their money but also to deny the Council of its expected revenue generation.
Gana came to NECO at a time the council was making use of scratch cards to register candidates. Many Nigerians argued that the use of scratch cards was the reason for high malpractice in the conduct of the examination. Although the board generated about N2 billion through the sale of scratch cards to candidates and returned the same to the Treasury Single Account, TSA of the federal government in 2018, the demerit of scratch cards was said to have far outweighed the merit.
The examination body, having lost several millions of naira to the fraudsters over the years coupled with the negative image the development was giving it, successfully developed and integrated the registration software, the offline and online registration software on its new website and regular registration for examinations in 2019. Besides, it deployed full-scale biometric data capture during the registration process, leading to a successful blockage of financial leakages and increased prudence in the management of the Council’s resources. More in Home
Prior to the innovation, the Council 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 Treasury Single Account, TSA.
“We abolished the use of scratch cards following the scam that surrounded it, which led to the loss of hundreds of millions to fraudsters,” NECO’s acting Registrar and Chief Executive Officer, Abubakar Gana, told a standing committee of the House of Representatives upon appearance following summons to that effect by the latter to give insights into some issues in NECO.
This was not all. To reposition the entire system in the nation’s examination body, the management of the council had to tackle identified problems in all directions. These problems included examination malpractice; staff certificate irregularity; industrial disharmony, registration fraud, and certificate forgery by students among others.
The menace of examination malpractice had continued to hunt public examinations across the country, with NECO recording over 40,000 cases in its June/July 2019 Senior Secondary Certificate. The incessant cases of examination malpractice especially impersonation and particularly collusion by supervisors, teachers, and school administrators, who ought to be part of the army in fighting the scourge, has been a major challenge in the conduct of the examinations.
One major decision taken by the council after it found out in 2018 that a total of 40,630 (3.53%) candidates were involved in the various forms of malpractice that year was that 18 supervisors were blacklisted for poor supervision; aiding, abetting and connivance with candidates to perpetrate examination malpractice. Also three schools, one each in Katsina, Kebbi, and Oyo states were de-recognized for two years for their involvement in collusion and mass cheating.
To end malpractices associated with its examinations, NECO acquired 8,000 biometric verification machines before its conduct of the 2019 SSCE. The ultimate goal in this was to curb the menace of impersonation initially experienced in the conduct of its examinations. The acquisition of the biometric verification devices even though far less than the number needed to serve in its over 16,000 centres across the country, enabled it to strengthen its efforts towards eliminating identity theft, which no doubt, remains the severest form of examination malpractice.
The equipment procured to enhance operations in the areas of logistics and overall security of its examinations made it the first time NECO was deploying biometrics for the conduct of its Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, SSCE.
Also, to curb the menace of impersonation experienced in the conduct of its examinations, NECO besides the 8,000 biometric machines, procured 20 Toyota Hilux Vans to resolve some of its challenges. The equipment was procured to enhance operations in the areas of logistics and overall security of its examination.
The procurement of the biometrics machines cost the council N500 million while the 20 Toyota Hilux cost N327.8 million. Each of the vehicles cost N16.3 million while a unit of the biometric machine costs N62,500. Before then, NECO was running to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, to seek assistance for the release of vehicles to transport examination materials whenever any of its examinations came up across the country as it had no needed number of vehicles to do its own jobs.
“The last time the council bought vehicles was in 2013,” Gana had admitted while speaking on the purchase of the 8,000 units of biometric capture machines. He explained that this “can verify the identity of candidates, as well as record attendance,” adding, “in the last year, we were able to save money and seek approval from the board and the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP. The essence of the biometric is to deal with impersonation to help sanitize the system thereby having quality standards.”
The initiative, which began in 2018 has no doubt, led to the successful conduct of the June/July SSCE under compelling circumstances and prompt release of the results of the examination within forty days of completion. To bring the menace of examination malpractices to its knees, NECO under the Abubakar Gana-led leadership has been collaborating with security agencies and anti-graft agencies to fight the malpractices.
In its bid to purge itself of recruitment irregularity associated with the presentation of questionable credentials by some staff, NECO management had set up a committee to authenticate the veracity of certificates of staff. This has so far led to the dismissal of 89 staff in both junior and senior cadres.
The officials were said to have forged credentials and were mandated to appear before the management committee during which some of the staff allegedly confessed to the criminal act. This prompted the Governing Board of NECO to review the report and approved the dismissal of the affected staff. Apart from dismissal, the affected staff are now facing prosecution by the police and other anti-graft agencies. The council’s ICT unit was improved and made more effective for the conduct of any examination with the equipment.
Reacting recently to the public outcry that some schools were defrauding candidates seeking to write NECO’s SSCE for the ongoing year, through arbitrary charges, the Acting Registrar vowed to sanction schools charging above the government-approved fee of N9,850 as registration fee.
The threat did not end there as Gana followed it up by writing to commissioners of education of the 36 states and the FCT, notifying them of the extortion going on in their schools against the directive of the Federal Government. The candidates who had fallen victims to this fraud have since collected their money back.
The council, in its resolve to ensure an end to this, will engage members of the House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education to monitor its examination and report any infraction to guide it on appropriate actions to be taken against recalcitrant schools. “Not quite a month, we wrote to all the commissioners of education, highlighting that some schools, both public and private, are overcharging candidates. While the NECO fee itself is N9, 850, some are even charging N20, 000 in the name of administrative charges. Most of these schools are miracle centres, and what they do there is that they perpetrate malpractice. Candidates who are lazy and do not have confidence can go to the extent of paying N50, 000 to register so they can have their way,” Gana explained.
The Council also successfully implemented the Federal Government’s downward review of the NECO Examination Fees regime as follows: NCEE (N2,500), BECE (N4,000), and SSCE (N9,850). The implementation was carried out in the registration of all NECO examinations.
Staff welfare has been a major concern of the Registrar since assumption of office. Besides introducing equity and fairness in the posting of staff to out of station assignments, Gana has also ensured that all staff entitlements are regularly and timely paid. On assumption of office, Gana promised that the only way to maintain staff integrity and that of the Council when they are out on official assignment was to ensure that all entitlement were promptly computed and paid. This promise has been kept in full.
Prompt payment of allowances to Examiners and other ad-hoc staff engaged by the Council has also witnessed a boost. This has largely invigorated staff motivation and dedication to assignments.