By Mahfouz A. Adedimeji, PhD
On October 8, 2018, a vibrant Nigerian academic and versatile columnist, Dr Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB), published an article, “Illiteracy, e-literacy, ill-literacy: The Nigerian continuum”, in The Guardian newspaper. There, he noted that though literacy or ability to read and write has been boosted in Nigeria by technology and social media or e-literacy, unfortunately, “the more we read, the less intelligent we have become.” He therefore conceived ill-literacy, which is weaponised by e-literacy, as “literacy that does not lead to personal, collective and national development.”
The profundity of Dr GAB’s thesis hit our national psyche like a scud missile with the story of Miss Mmesoma Joy Ejimeke, the 19-year old student of Anglican Girls Secondary School, Uruagu Nnewi, Anambra state, which has dominated the news for the past one or two weeks. A candidate of the 2023 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), Mmesoma received her result of 249 and altered it to read 362.
By that action, Miss Ejimeke scammed the nation and won the scholarship award of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company. She then approached the Anambra State Government to seek recognition and the quest for confirmation and the revelation of her true score led to the manifestation of ill-literacy. After the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) declared her true score, Mmesoma went on live video to display her fake result, insisting that she scored 362 and stoking the embers of unnecessary national hysteria.
In other words, as a result of the scam, the internet went alight, with clubs and cudgels of the ill-literate horde, hitting hard on JAMB and its remarkably hardworking and efficient Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede. The more they were called to compare the fake result displayed, which strikingly differs from the template of the 2023 results, with the genuine ones, the more they persisted in their fallacy of appeal to emotion as they took recourse to blowing hot air.
A specious argument was made for an independent investigation to unravel the assertions of JAMB about its own result. It is conventional that when people doubt the result or certificate of any institution, the institution has the last say as witnessed in issues concerning the University of Toronto, Ahmadu Bello University and Chicago State University in our recent political history. But in this case, due to ill-literacy, JAMB’s staunch defence of its actual score and the explanations of the tracked activities of the candidate were not sufficient.
The issue is not even a matter of fair hearing as advanced in some quarters because the evidence is glaring to the literate. The candidate gleefully displayed an outdated notification of result slip with a different date of birth from her own. It is a moment of reflection that the monster of ill-literacy can be more destructive than illiteracy.
In all this saga, the true highest scorer, the 16-year old Kamsiyochukwu Chinyere Umeh. who incidentally is also from Anambra state though based in Lagos/Ogun, is also made a victim because she is not the one trending. The brilliance that should be celebrated and the feat that should be honoured are lost in the sea of the storm raised by the defenders of the indefensible.
Even after the investigations of the Foundation for Investigation Journalism and the Anambra State Government, a few nay-sayers would still be unrelenting due to the high level of our national ill-literacy. Little credit is also being given to the Anambra State Commissioner of Education, Prof. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, whose academic mind told to crosscheck the result that was presented to curry underserved recognition from the state government by Mmesona after the initial success with the scholarship awarded by Innoson Vehicles.
There are at least five take-aways from the whole scenario. The first is that not all public institutions are inefficient and they should not be disparaged without clear proofs. JAMB has demonstrated that a new Nigeria is possible if all our institutions clear their corners. The second is that as William Shakespeare wrote centuries ago, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” Appearance is deceptive and saying someone is innocent because someone looks so in the face of glaring evidence is ill-literate.
The third is that before jumping at conclusions, people should take the time to investigate as JAMB did. Most of those who felt embarrassed by the eventual confessions were quick to throw pestles and mortals at others because they believed in the innocence of Mmesona. There would be no material benefit for an institution like JAMB to witch-hunt just one of the 1,635,673 candidates that registered for its examination.
While the fourth take-away is the need for emotional intelligence among Nigerians both online and offline, the fifth is the need for institutions to invest in relevant technologies that would support their operations. Had JAMB not gone far ahead of the candidates in upgrading its processes, forgery would have been more rampant than it is.