Over the years, there has been a consistent increase in the number of students seeking tertiary education in Nigeria. Over 1.5 million young people in Nigeria sit for the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and slightly above the number sit for the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board Examination (JAMB).
In 2019, the year of this investigation, exactly 1,590,173 students registered for the West African examination and 1.8 million sat for the JAMB. Out this number, just a little over 100, 000 got admission into the different tertiary institutions available in the country.
The number of admission seekers far outnumber the available slots in the tertiary institutions. This has created a huge competition for limited spaces hence the desperate moves by students, parents and teachers, who have resorted to sharp practices at every level to beat the system, thereby edging out honest students with their fraudulently acquired superlative results.
Examination malpractice has flourished in Nigeria for a long time and many people have created an illegal business around their ability to outsmart the system, as revealed in this investigation.
After documenting stories on how results are easily bought at Bachel Academy, Banjo Damilola and Habib Oladapo decided to investigate some of the claims. In this investigation, Banjo, under the pseudonym of Grace Adebiga, enrolled at Bachel Academy in Egbeda area of Lagos State, for both WASSCE and JAMB examination.
Grace Adebiga, is a 25-year-old rice seller, who wanted to get tertiary education. She would need to write WASSCE and JAMB in order to achieve her goal of gaining a tertiary education. For six months, Grace went through the Bachel Academy as an admission seeker who was too busy to study but willing to pay for the needed grades. She registered for the 2019 WASSCE and JAMB in the school where she documented evidence of extortion, bribery and examination fraud.
Not all that glitters is genuine
Bachel College and its other affiliates like the Bachel Academy are popular for churning out good WASSCE results and well above 200 JAMB scores. On the school’s Facebook page, a former student shared how she made her O’level result at Bacheal Academy after five failed attempts elsewhere.
“Mr Bachel is the only solution for all the people in the nation that see education as the problem of our nation. Like me now, I have lost hope about all this education stuff have been doing WEAC, GCE, NECO for almost five years but I thank God today because I have made my result. Bachel is too much and one thing is that some people didn't know that we used our money to buy our self good things,” the student, Humble Sinner, said while praising the school.
This would have been commendable if the results were achieved through hard work but the cue to how students of Bachel make outstanding grades is obvious in the disjointed and grammatically sick testimonial of Humble Sinner. The lack of punctuation and capitalisation would have earned Sinner a grade way below C6 but at Bachel even a ‘sinner’ can be made a saint.
Bachel is one of the notable private schools in Lagos by all standards. It has state-of-the art secondary schools in Ayobo, Ogba and Egbeda areas of Lagos State. The school at Ayobo is built on a large expanse of land with a lush green field for recreation. The level of examination fraud perpetrated in all the branches of Bachel schools is inimical to the quiet exterior at the Ayobo branch.
With well over 2,000 students in its three branches, including the tutorial centre, Bachel has the capacity and infrastructure to be in the business of education. However, the moral piety of running an honest learning institution is lacking.
Founded on September 15, 2006, Bachel positioned itself as the epitome of quality education in Nigeria, providing “unique, outstanding and remarkable academic service to Nigerians and foreigners of different social-status in its four standard schools at Ogba, Ayobo and Ikotun, with several academy centers in Lagos and Ogun metropolis,”
“We simply provide technical and professional standards required to bring out the best, useful and hidden potentials in students through a team of dynamic management and passionate professionals who frown at failure,” it claimed on its official website.
However, behind the walls, there is an organised system of examination fraud. The sterling grades being flaunted by Sinner, and many of its students, are the result of synchronised fraud. Everyone in the school, including WAEC officials, play a part in this malpractice. The students, and the gatemen, are not left out; they are all beneficiaries and are fully involved.
The ‘criminal’ masterminds
The examination fraud during the 2019 WASSCE was supervised by three staffers of the school alongside officials of the examination council. Aunty Funmi, as the slim, fair lady is often called, is one of the non-academic staff in the school. Aunty Funmi is devoid of any morality, particularly when money is involved. She is dramatic, ready to dish out slaps to students who fail to fall in line or threaten the smooth run of the illegality she supervised. She led the racket during the 2019 examination.
Grace had met aunty Funmi while trying to register, she explained the process to her and was always on hand to answer requests, resolve complaints and respond to enquiries. Everything was possible as long as the price was good.
Like aunty Funmi, Mr. Adewunmi organises the bribes for the WAEC officials. He is what is regarded in colloquial language as 'the money bag’. He organised food and the wads of cash that kept the officials looking on the other side while the examination fraud went on.
On the day the Biology practical examination was written, Mr Adewunmi asked the students to contribute more money to bribe the officials ahead of the next examination -- Mathematics. He had anticipated, from experience, that supervisors during mathematics are always extra tough and it would require thicker envelopes to soften them. Mathematics and English Language are compulsory for every student, and passing them is very important.
Mr Adeniran is the youngest and the field man. He supplied the photocopied answer leaflets to the students. It was his job to ensure that all the leaflets are collected after use and safely disposed of. He was good at what he did. Adeniran had been a beneficiary of examination fraud in Bachel. He was heard bragging about how the fraud helped him score over 200 in JAMB. He wrote the examination in Bachel before the matriculation examination was computerised in 2013.
“When I wrote JAMB here, there was no CBT or computer anything. It was easier,” Mr. Adeniran said while explaining why malpractice has now become difficult during the JAMB examination.
Systemic and synchronized fraud
On each day of the examination, everyone knew their job and carried it out dutifully. They made sure the system was fluid. Mr Adeniran, sometimes assisted by aunty Funmi, would share solved answers to each student. He made sure no seatmate answered exactly the same set of questions. If candidate on seat 101 answered question 1,2,3; the candidate on seat 102 could answer 2,4,5. He was systemic in sharing the answers.
For every day Grace was at the centre, the WAEC officials kept their end of the bargain, from English, Literature-in-English, Government, Economics and Biology. They all looked away.
However, on the day of the Mathematics examination, the bubble almost burst. As anticipated, WAEC had sent other supervisors apart from the regular invigilators, who brought in the question papers everyday, to monitor the examinations.
The crime almost got uncovered but the gateman, a man of average height, saved the day.
“When they came, I locked the door and lied that I wanted to go and get the key, meanwhile the key was in my pocket”, he bragged to students after the examination had been completed unhindered.
He had alerted the school authorities about the presence of the officials and they, on their part, cleaned up before the officials were allowed in.
“This is the tenth year I have been part of the WAEC exam here and there has never been any incident,” the gateman said.
“It is God that helps me do it,” he added in Yoruba language.
The man does not see anything wrong in what he did. To him, his job was to secure the gate and make sure no ‘antagonist’ of the illicit practice gained entrance. That was his job, and exactly what he did, religiously.
Unknowing to the gateman, by obstructing WAEC supervisors, he commits an offense under the 1999 examination malpractice act. Section (7) (c) of the act recommends four years in jail without an option of fine.
The supervisor during mathematics examination was no different from those of previous subjects. He had allowed the mass cheating to go on without any hitch. However, when the other supervisors came in, he pleaded with the students to feign seriousness.
“Don’t shade everything at once. They will know you’ve been thought,” he warned while the gateman bought them enough time for the hall to clean up all trails of irregularity.
How Aunty Funmi ‘saved’ the day
Despite the warning by the corrupt WAEC supervisor, some students were still lax, unable to act up the decorum expected of any examination. One of the students had forgotten to return her answer leaflet to Mr. Adeniran. She was busy copying away while the supervisors -- two elderly women -- walked in. Catching a glance of the unsuspecting student, Aunty Funmi snatched away the paper, tucked it under her pairs of jeans and quickly went out to bin it.
If the supervisor had seen the paper, it could blow off the whole malpractice. Aunty Funmi regarded her maneuver as a gallant act. She was quite livid with the girl, threatening to beat her to a pulp.
“If I catch that girl, I am going to beat the hell out of her,” she said while narrating how she outsmarted the supervisors.
“She almost gave us away to the external invigilator, I had to snatch the sheet from her and stuff them in my pants,” she said triumphantly in Yoruba with the look of a hero who had just saved the day.
Under the malpractice act, Aunty Funmi and anyone complicit in this fraud could get up to three years in jail if prosecuted.
Section (7) of the act says “a person who wilfully obstructs a supervisor, an invigilator or agent of the examination body concerned with the conduct of the examination or any other person in the performance of his duty at the examination, commits an offence and is liable on conviction-
(b) “in the case of a principal, teacher, an invigilator, a supervisor, an examiner, or an agent or employee of the examination body concerned with the conduct of an examination, to imprisonment for a term of five years without the option of a fine.”
N3,000 for non-appearance
The students in Bachel are also involved in the racket. Grace had missed one of the Literature exams because of a mix up in the timetable, while this might seem a costly mistake; it opened up another opportunity to see the extent of the malfeasance in the school. Aunty Funmi had been calling her repeatedly but she ignored the call. When she would not stop calling, she picked and was informed she had a Literature examination to write. It would have been impossible to get to Egbeda, where her centre was, and make it in time for the exams. But Aunty Funmi assured her it was not a problem, only that it would cost some money.
She promised to organise a student to sit in for Grace.
The next day, after the Biology examination, she informed Grace that it cost N3,000 to get a person to write the examination for her.
Impersonation is a criminal offence liable to at least 7 years in prison. The Examination Malpractice Act recommends four years jail term for anyone found guilty of impersonation during examination.
Aunty Funmi had got some students in the school to sit in for Grace. This would have been done with the consent of the external officials invigilating the exam.
The examination council had put in different mechanisms to check impersonation. There is an attendant photobook that the invigilator must cross check with the candidates’ WAEC-issued identity card. However, officials sent in by WAEC usually pretend not to notice. Sometimes, they throw tantrums but none of them took any action. They simply allow mercenaries in the examination hall at will.
The person who sat for Grace during the Literature examination was a student in SS2 at Bachel College. As Grace was leaving the school, the student in the company of another friend, walked up to her to claim the credit for the examination she had written.
“Aunty, I helped you write your exam yesterday,” one of the girls told Grace. The girl was contracted by Aunty Funmi to sit in for Grace. She was given the name to write on the answer booklet and simply copy out the answers on the solved answer leaflet into the official answer booklet.
The girls did not just inform Grace out of goodwill, they demanded to be rewarded for their effort.
Dr Lateefat Dairo, a retired school principal and WAEC external supervisor, decried the rate of malpractice going on in both private and public schools.
“The malpractice comes in different forms and levels and you will be surprised that even school officials are involved.” Indeed, as this investigation has shown, everyone in Bachel including WAEC officials are involved.
WAEC integrity for a plate of Amala
The seamless operation of these people would not have been possible without the contribution of external invigilators and WAEC officials that were sent on supervisory missions to the schools.
As seen on the day of Mathematics, the external supervisors were not going to tolerate any nonsense, that was why the examination hall had to be tidied before they came in. However, on some other days, the supervisors looked the other way, for a price of course.
Grace observed that the same supervisor came on the day for Civic education and Government and on both days, she observed the man collected a fat envelope after the day’s business. Interestingly, money is not the only thing the officials’ integrity is worth. On the day of CRS, the female official also requested a plate of Amala, which she downed with utmost relish at the end of the examination.
The reporters were unable to get the names of the invigilating WAEC officials. They never introduced themselves at any point.
“In some of the private schools, you find out that some of the school officials already have connections with some of the WAEC officials,” Dr Dairo disclosed.
“What normally operates is that when the supervisors do not cooperate, even if you write your report, it won’t go far, that is when you will know there is pollution inside WAEC too. You sign your report but by the time you submit, nothing gets done at the end of the day,” she added.
After this investigation, we sent an FOI request through the Civic Media Lab to WAEC to get the names of external invigilators sent out in Lagos state and to which schools but the request was declined.
“Yes!” Damieanus Ojijiego, the spokesperson for WAEC admitted that some of its officials are complicit. “Supervisors have been compromised by school proprietors, principals and teachers as well as candidates and their parents in the discharge of their duties but the Council has descended heavily on them. Last year, some of them caught aiding and abetting examination malpractice were arrested and paraded at the Force Headquarters, Abuja.
“We have blacklisted a lot of them meaning they can’t supervise the Council’s examinations anymore. We have also reported the erring ones to the Ministry of Education for necessary disciplinary actions,” he added.
A very expensive corruption
The official fee for WASSCE registration is N13,950 but at Bachel College, it costs N49,000. Apart from this payment, students are forced to pay a compulsory ‘career lecture’ fee of N3,000 and another N15,000 as lesson fees. It does not matter if the student did not attend the tutorial, the N15,000 was standard. In total, N63,000 was charged to write the WAEC at Bachel college. This practice is against the policy of the examination body.
“We agree there will be some administrative charges but coercing candidates to pay N49,000 for an examination with N13,950 as registration fee is a criminality of the highest order and should not be condoned,” Ojijiego decried this outrageous payment.
However, the students, particularly the external students, quietly pay the huge sum without protest. They understand that the fee, in actual fact, is for the ‘assistance’ they would get during the examination.
The school also broke WAEC regulation by enrolling external students for the school-based WASSCE.
In 2017, the examination body announced a separate WASSCE for private candidates, which took off in 2018.
In a statement by the Head of WAEC’s National Office, Olu Adenipekun said, “With growing concern among Stakeholders over what they perceive as discrimination or denial of equal opportunity against private candidates, there has been a deluge of agitation, criticism and appeal across the West African Sub-Region for Council to find a way of reducing the agony of long waiting experienced by the Private Candidates who desire another shot at WASSCE.”
“The conduct of an additional diet of the WASSCE for School Candidates is written first every year and the results are released before the conduct of the WASSCE for Private Candidates. Therefore, School Candidates who wish to retake the examination usually have the opportunity of doing so with the Private Candidates examination. Council, which is the Governing Board of WAEC, after thorough deliberations on the issue, approved that National Offices should begin the conduct of one additional diet every year for private candidates.”
Despite this provision, Bachel registered private candidates for the school-based WASSCE. This, it did, by forging past results and manipulating the attendance register of the school. Forgery under the examination malpractice law is an offence punishable by up to four years in jail.
“This practice is against the policy of the examination body. It is against the rules and regulations guiding the conduct of the Council’s examination. It’s a misnomer for a private candidate to be allowed by a school to register for a school candidates’ examination,” WAEC disclosed.
Generic answers, outstanding grades
When the WAEC result of Grace Adebiga was released, she had what would be regarded as an outstanding result. A distinction in Government and upper credits in all others except Literature-in-English where she had a pass.
In a thorough examination, A D7 grade should not feature on Grace’s result sheet, that is if the result was not withheld altogether. However, all the results from Bachel college were outstanding. Candidates, who would not have made an E legitimately, passed with distinction.
Ojijiego, however, states that WAEC has its way of scrutinising examination for malpractice even at marking stage. According to him, “it will be abnormal for 80% of candidates in an examination hall to fail the same set of questions in a given subject or paper. The answers flagged are usually subjected to further scrutiny to ascertain if examination malpractice had taken place”.
A WAEC examiner who does not want to be named because he still marks for the council disclosed how schools like Bachel get away with massive cheating. During the examinations, the candidates replicated the same answers in their booklets. They shuffle the numbers but essentially, the answers are the same. For example, every candidate who defined ‘division of labour’, question 4b in Economics, wrote the same definition that was photocopied for everyone.
“An examiner should not have missed that,” the WAEC examiner explained. “If students are asked to define, there will be some differences in what they wrote, 100 students can never write the same definition word-for-word without a single difference. This is how examiners are supposed to detect massive cheating.”
How then does generic answers earn Bachel’s candidates outstanding grades? He disclosed that schools like Bachel have a way of outsmarting the system.
“Their papers would always find their ways to an examiner that would do their biddings. In some cases, the examiners reach out to these schools themselves.”
Ojijiego stated that the commission will come down hard on culpable schools like Bachel.
He said, “Such culpable examination centres, their officials and candidates are made to face the full weight of the law guiding the conduct of the examination. Schools found wanting are de-recognized; supervisors are blacklisted; invigilators are reported to the Ministry of Education in that State while candidates’ results are cancelled and in some cases the candidates are barred from writing examinations conducted by WAEC for a period of at least two years.”
How Bachel keeps its ‘reputation’
Bachel is famous, particularly among students of the University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology. During preliminary research on the school, at least ten students from UNILAG said they have friends who passed through Bachel tutorial centres and made good grades in WASSCE.
During the 2019 examination, the school’s principal, Mr. Adekunle and Mr. Adewunmi repeatedly warned students not to tell anyone about the open cheating in the examination hall.
“If anyone asks you how your exam is, tell them, it is fine. Never mention to anyone that we are helping you,” Mr Adewunmi warned everyone. But, he was quick to add that the students should give a referral only after they have made their papers.
“After you’ve seen your result, let that be the good message. You don’t have to tell them how, just show them your results and refer them to us. As much as we are trying to help you, we must also protect the school,” he added.
Of course, he said this in the presence of a WAEC supervisor.
We will deal with indicted schools --Lagos Ministry of Education
WAEC spokesperson, Ojijiego, had advised that all complaints about examination malpractice be directed to the state Ministry of Education.
“The Council would want the schools to be reported to the Ministry of Education in that State and copied,” he reiterated.
Reacting to the investigations, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education in Lagos State, Mrs Abosede Adelaja, gave a strong statement that schools in the state caught in the practice will be seriously dealt with.
“Lagos state is meeting with the association to emphasise again and again that examination malpractices will not be tolerated in Lagos state and to warn all the school owners to desist from it and that any school that is caught, sanctions will be meted out on such schools,” she said in an interview with these reporter during an event in Abuja.
“Usually, we have quality assurance people monitor these schools, but you know these perpetrators, they know how they do their thing. The people monitoring cannot be in the school 24/7.
“The organisations have done a lot in form of radio jingles and training programmes that they put in place before the exams, everybody knows what is bad is bad but as you all but I want to assure you that as much that have been discovered, will be sanctioned.”
This report was funded by Tiger Eye Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).