Every year, thousands of Nigerian students and applicants seeking opportunities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and other countries around the world are required to take International English Language Testing System, an English Language certification test administered by the British Council to prove their proficiency in the language despite English being the official language of instruction and administration in Nigeria.

The controversial test, which costs between ₦71,318 and ₦84.555 is only valid for two years and can be taken in 11 cities across the country. 

This excludes a fee of N15,000 for re-marking if candidates find their results unsatisfactory and an additional cost for certificate authentication. 

Nigerians pay an estimated N5.51bn yearly to sit for the test.

The British Council’s financial statement from 2017-2018 shows that it grew by nine per cent in total income to £1,172.3m principally due to strong performance from its English teaching and examinations activities together with higher income from contract work. 

Examinations contributed 41 per cent i.e £486.9m or N229bn. 

The next year, exams raked in £727m or N341bn accounting for 58 per cent of its total revenue.

Some Nigerians, who spoke with SaharaReporters on Wednesday, described the exams as an unnecessary, deliberate and fraudulent attempt to rake money from those required to take the exam with no provision for refunds.

Idongesit James, who recently completed his National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and is looking to apply for a scholarship administered by the UK Government, said he has paid N65,000 to a coaching consultancy to prepare him to take the IELTS test, a requirement which will enable him apply for the opportunity.

“Even before the pandemic, I made up my mind that I wanted to school abroad after my service. So as soon as I finished, I paid a company that came and advertised to us in NYSC camp a while ago so that they can tutor me before I write the exams. I had to save dearly for it during my service year so its not as if my parents are well-to-do but I don’t want to fail and have to pay another money. To be honest, I feel it is just discrimination, all my life I have been taught English so why do I have to prove myself when my certificates are in English.

“Many of my friends are also writing, can you imagine how many other Nigerians write this yearly? it is just a money-making scheme maybe our government is even involved, who knows? The amount is too high for an exam we should even not be writing in the first place," he said.

Rose Fidelis Gyang is a graduate of English from the University of Jos. In 2016, she took the examination while applying for a post-graduate opportunity in the United Kingdom but was surprised to find out upon her return to Nigeria three years later that her result was no longer valid for her permanent residency application in Canada.

“The first thing that came to my mind was that do they mean to tell me that English that my forefathers and I acquired due to colonialism, that I speak everyday and even studied at undergraduate level had expired just like that? So by implication, I am no longer fluent in the language — that makes no sense. I needed to leave Nigeria for better job opportunities, so I didn’t mind, I wrote the test again and left but a part of me always wondered why the Ministry of Education or Foreign Affairs have never challenged it, it is fraudulent,” she said.

An education consultant, who prepares people for the test and wanted to be identified simply as Vivian, said the IELTS tests had created an ecosystem where people like herself and others profit off the language test requirement.

“We usually have a lot of people register with us from May to July every year because they are writing exams for opportunities that happen in September. 

"Others who are immigrating to countries like Canada also patronise us a lot. To be sincere, when we teach them, its things they already know, nothing out of the ordinary unless you didn’t have access to formal education which is rare.

“Those who own businesses around the test will tell you its just a way for the British Council to generate revenue, nothing more but I am not complaing. It has enabled me put food on my table and for many others like me, the story is the same. Maybe it should last for five years instead fo two because the country is hard and everybody is just trying to increase their chances of succeeding by leaving the country.”

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