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Benue cracks down on corruption, malpractice in schools, others

Corruption in the educational system in Benue State is no longer business as usual as the government moves to sanitise the sector. Daily Trust reports…

Corruption in the educational system in Benue State is no longer business as usual as the government moves to sanitise the sector.

Daily Trust reports that over the years, the education sector in the state has been plagued by various forms of corruption, malpractice, illegal schools, among others. For instance, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) sanctioned 438 schools in Benue State for malpractice, imposing fines of N500,000 per school following the conclusion of the 2022 Senior School Certificate Examinations (SSCE).

Our correspondent reports that of the 683 schools in the state that registered for the examinations that year, only 245 escaped WAEC’s hammer, having not participated in the various forms of malpractices during the exercise.

The director-general of Benue State Education Quality Assurance Agency (BEQA), Dr Terna Francis, recently said the agency eliminated ‘miracle’ centres from secondary schools across the state.

“Miracle centres” are notorious for facilitating examination malpractices. These centres promise guaranteed high scores in exchange for hefty fees.

He also said other forms of examination malpractices existing in schools, which predated the present administration of Governor Hyacinth Alia, had also been eliminated.

The rot, as Dr Francis described it, ran deep. When he took charge, he encountered an education system rife with illegal practices, from extortion of parents and students to systemic corruption among school management and ministry staff.

“We met an educational system characterised by massive rot, from the primary level to the secondary level, but we are correcting these abnormalities,” he assured.

He added that he personally screened those who supervised the just concluded WAEC and had also visited at least 900 schools across the state since assumption of office about five months ago to ascertain things for himself.

The director-general mentioned the various forms of abnormalities to include illegal money collected from students by school management, extortion of parents/students to allow malpractice (miracle centres) during WAEC, and other anomalies surrounding ministry staff/proprietors during inspections of schools, among others.

Francis explained that the situation, according to records he met on ground, degenerated, to the extent that WAEC in 2022 sanctioned 438 schools for malpractices out of 683 which registered for the examinations that year.

“But we have taken away that rot. Schools collecting money for malpractices, and the existence of miracle centres have been eliminated,” he claimed.

Also, in a bid to clampdown on fraudulent activities, the BEQA had launched an investigation into a reported case of an SS3 candidate’s replacement at Government Model Secondary School in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.

The allegations had involved the removal of a genuine SS3 student and her consequent replacement with an external candidate, who is said to have compromised those concerned in order to benefit from the free WAEC, NECO and NABTEB granted by The Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia-led government.

It was reported that the affected school had invited other candidates who had never been students of the school to benefit from the palliative provided by the state government as long as they were willing to pay an “understanding fee.”

The matter went out of hand when the guardian of one of the victimised candidates threatened to sue the school for denying her ward the right to sit for the external examinations, having enrolled in the school since SS1.

When government’s delegation arrived at the school premises and requested to be furnished with SS3 registers, master result sheet for first term and the list of accredited candidates for this year’s external examinations,  the school could not make them available.

The development raised concerns about the transparency and accountability posture of the school administration, as on a whole, the school management could not provide satisfactory explanations regarding the alleged student replacement.

Instances further abound where principals of mainly private schools were made to refund excess charges of WAEC and NECO to students respectively.

Some of these worrisome issues also include teachers using outdated notes for learners, teachers’ reliance on previous lesson plans for current teaching, lack of proper schemes of work; employment of secondary school leavers as classroom teachers and the absences of staff from school without cogent reasons.

In a more alarming discovery, there are schools lacking basic requirements for operating a learning centre.

One of such is the Benedictine Order of Peace and Unity Academy, Makurdi, which was found to be lacking essential requirements for operating a school, such as provisional approval, comprehensive lesson plans, scheme of work, laboratory facilities and curriculum.

It was gathered that the school has overcrowded classrooms, with over 142 students in a JSS1.

There were also schools in the state, which allegedly used animals/poultry pens as classrooms.

The BEQA boss, in his response to these challenges, expressed strong disapproval of the poor maintenance of academic records and instructed that those absent from school without valid reasons be issued queries for formal responses through his office as truancy will not be tolerated.

Furthermore, Dr Francis, accompanied by Mrs Dorcas Hauwa Igbahenah, Director, Quality Assurance, Fr. Terungwa Tor, Director Private Schools and Special Programmes, as well as Mr Dera Francis, Director Planning, Research and Statistics, all stressed the immediate need for corrective measures by the affected schools management.

The decision was also unanimous that the head of Benedictine Order of Peace and Unity Academy and others found wanting in similar matters must provide the agency with the necessary documents to justify the school’s continued operation or face closure.

Recall that the state government had put in place several measures to revamp the educational sector, which is why BEQA ensures back-to-back monitoring and evaluation of schools in the state.

Governor Alia, in a recent media outing, explained, “We met the Benue system in comatose; that of education was even worse. We are just trying to reinvent our educational system, with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) already geared with programmes to reinvent the educational sector in the state.”

He said his administration created the BEQA under the leadership of Terna Francis, through which many discoveries had been made about public schools in the state, including the discovery of ghost teachers and schools.

“The schools are so saturated with ghost teachers, and the system is saturated with ghost schools. Immediately we came into office, we were able to save N1.2 billion from ghost teachers. We went further and it was discovered that it was not only ghost teachers, but there existed ghost schools as well. And the least we found was that the ghost schools had 95 ghost teachers and the minimum grade level of the teachers in those schools was 10. Just imagine how much they took away.

“And if we unveil to you those who have been involved in this corrupt system, you will be shocked. Yet, this has been going on and for ages,” he revealed.

Alia called for investment in the educational system in the state as he stressed that his administration intended to go back to the basics by granting independence to missionary schools, reintroducing more vocational centres across the state to enable students acquire skills, as well as intensifying training for teachers.

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