There are two well-known local examination bodies in place West Africa. The one is the West African Examinations council, WAEC, which started operations in 1952, and the other is the National Examinations council NECO which started conducting exams in April 1999. While the WAEC oversees the regulation of exams in Anglophone countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gambia, NECO was set up to meet the unique needs of Nigerians (the subject of which is outside the purview of this discussion).
But apart from NECO and WAEC, there are other exams like the IELTS, TOEFL, SAT and the GMAT. These other exams are standardized examinations that seek to further test the capacity of candidates seeking admission to schools or looking to migrate either to the US, UK, Canada and Australia. They are called ‘standardized’ simply because they have the same set of rules for everyone – black, white, blue or yellow person, and they are irrespective of where you are from. These exams mostly test the candidate’s Math, English and psychomotor capacities. This was part of our reference to the WAEC and NECO, as local – local being a synonym for WAEC and NECO as regional exam bodies and a reference to their value or quality – if a candidate passes his or her WAEC exam, that pass becomes an important first step in the journey to professional and academic fulfilment in life. The governors, architects, lawyers, doctors and professors that abound in Nigeria and man strategic positions in life all would have passed their WAEC or NECO exams. In our recent history, our president Muhammad Buhari and many politicians have fought many political battles in law courts over their inability to produce authentic WAEC results. While the WAEC and NECO exams look like tests or exams for the candidates only, they are as a matter of fact an examination of the investments made or policies that have been put in place either by the federal or state government. If students fail woefully in any state, that failure indeed is a reflection of the weaknesses in the educational investments or policies of that state, and vice versa.
As part of their monitoring and evaluation, M&E, programme, WAEC especially usually publishes a chief examiner’s report. That report is an analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of candidates. WAEC uses it to advise the federal and state governments on areas they should focus on so as to make improvements in their educational policies and investments…or ‘reforms’. At the federal and state levels of governance, the WAEC and NECO exams are a litmus test and a reference point to the efficacy of the policies and investments that have been made or not made.
I have seen the chief examiner’s, CE’s report for 2018. It is no different from general poverty and failure in English and Math. In 2018, the CE said that there were rampant ‘errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation also dominated candidates’ essays. Some of the candidates’ expressions were generally gibberish or inappropriate to the context. Sometimes, candidates merely translated their mother tongue into the English Language’. The following year 2019, Registrar of WAEC at that time, Mr Iyi Uwadiae an Edo man, at the formal opening of the 67th Annual Council Meeting in Freetown Sierra Leone said that most candidates often want to cover up their inability and incapacity by engaging in an examination malpractice. ‘The malaise has continued to distract education administrators and examining bodies from their core tasks, as it pervades the school system at all levels posing a challenge to the propensity for academic attainments and a threat to the reliability of assessment processes’, Mr Uwadiae said.
This is true, and many people are very concerned. In Edo state, the governor Mr Godwin Obaseki began a series of ‘reforms’ after he assumed office as governor. Part of what he has done is in the plan to ‘reform’ a system that perennially produces half-baked individuals who eventually are unable to man critical instruments of governance. To carry out those ‘reforms’, Obaseki shut down most of the schools – colleges of Education, schools of nursing and agriculture and the like. I visited about four of those institutions in Benin City – the Institute of Continuing Education, ICE, the Nigerian Observer, the Centre for Community Development behind the vegetable market in Benin City and the College of Education Abudu. Mr. Obaseki demarcated the ICE in two. He developed the other side of the building into promoting his idea of ‘reforms’, and left the other side to just rot. He moved the Centre for Community Development from the City Centre into a bush in Bekuma, Edo North, effectively shutting it down completely. He has also shut down the Nigerian Observer through the back door, preferring to tell everyone a cock and bull story that he is carrying out ‘reforms’ on that great institution. He recently moved against journalists but was forced to back off after the strident resistance he encountered. At the College of Education Abudu, I saw what I assumed was an impressive attempt at revamping infrastructure that had been left to decay over the years, that is, until I interacted with some of the staff on ground – they had not been paid for as long as 18 months. While some died within that period, the rest told me they had completely lost interest in working either as teaching or administrative staff. And you know what, this was the same tactic the federal government of Nigeria adopted in dealing with the ASUU when they went on strike for 1999 days. Many of the lecturers went a borrowing and a begging to live. Jappa – brain drain – became a norm. So if the teachers and educational institutions are handled this way, how on earth will the students be able to write simple and correct sentences, or solve Mathematical equations?
It is against this background that I chanced upon a press release from the Obaseki admin. Titled EdoBest: UNICEF, International Agencies score Edo High on foundational Literary and Numeracy…reforms by Obaseki reaping huge dividends. The message in the press release said that ‘Edo state has been commended for its giant strides in revamping the educational sector from basic to tertiary level through wide reaching reforms instituted by Governor Godwin Obaseki. The statement said that ‘commendation was made when a delegation of international agencies, UNICEF and the World Bank came to Edo State to visit rural schools’.
Whilst it is a proper and a normal thing for Mr Obaseki to try to chronicle his achievements towards the twilight of his tenure as a governor, it does not sound well that he is dropping the names of big organisations like UNICEF and the World Bank as evaluators of the ‘reforms’ he claims he has introduced in the educational sector. First, UNICEF and the World Bank have no hand in making a decision concerning the educational legacy he leaves behind. He should leave that to the proper organisations, WAEC and NECO. It is weakness to try to bring in friends and proxies, put them in nice hotels, chaperon them and eventually put the words in their mouths. Second, posterity has nothing to do with the present. Posterity is the future. It is impartial and fair. Posterity is like WAEC and NECO – after you write the exams, you wait for the results. What Mr Obaseki should do is wait for the results of the ‘reforms’ he has introduced.
Education in Edo is not as remarkable as Mr Obaseki would make UNICEF and World Bank believe. It is just humdrum. A recent online report had indicated that WAEC adjudged Edo as ranking second best state after Enugu in 2022. But WAEC has since come out to debunk that myth. WAEC head of admin Patrick Areghan said the report was fake news. ‘Í want to say here that the ranking is completely false, as it did not emanate from the council because there are many other things to be considered to arrive at such percentage and this is not part of our job. We as WAEC do not state ranking. We only indicate number of credits in subjects and other categories’. Mr Areghan had said.