By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
The spate of exams malpractice has taken a more sinister turn at the ongoing school-leaving West Africa Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Such is how brazen the exams cheats have become that they are prepared to be violent and even confrontational with the security forces.
The head of the West African Exams Council (WAEC) in Sierra Leone, Arnold B. Kamara told Politico that unknown persons, suspected to be candidates writing the WASSCE exams, yesterday broke into the Strong Room in Jaiama Sewafe in Kono district. The Strong Room is usually where question papers are kept ahead of the exam.
He said they left a note threatening to attack the WAEC official in the area.
“Thankfully,” he went on, “there were no question papers in the room because we have changed our tactic and now dispatch them at dawn to centres across the country”.
Kamara said that three weeks ago a similar attack happened in Bumbuna in Tonkolili District, calling this year’s incidents unprecedented. He said several of his invigilators had been injured at the hands of candidates and their collaborators.
All of this comes as students went on violent protests in Freetown and Waterloo.
In the capital the students of the Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood (SLMB) ran amok with the security forces. It followed the arrest by police of people alleged to have been writing the exam somewhere not designated as a centre.
There were even more violent confrontations at the Kowama Secondary School in Waterloo and the Tomlinson Secondary School at Songo where 42 students were arrested for riotous conduct and disorderly behaviour after they pelted missiles at the police.
Vehicles were damaged and many people injured.
The Secretary to the exams supervisors deployed at Kowama, Mohamed Dixon Kamara told Politico that the candidates of the two schools manhandled WAEC officials occasioning multiple injuries. The situation spiralled out of control until the police guards deployed at the WASSCE Centre contacted the Waterloo Police Divisional headquarters for reinforcement.
There are conflicting accounts as to what led to the riots. While one account says the candidates were arguing among themselves after writing the paper, the head of WAEC said they busted a “Special Room” where some candidates were allowed to write the paper secretly.
Whatever the truth, the marauding candidates and the Kowama community, Dixon alleged, resisted the police who tried to put the situation under control.
As the waves of resistance continued and became violent, police fired teargas.
“When the conflict subsided, WAEC officials and materials were conveyed to the Waterloo police station for safety,” Dixon said.
He said that following the violent confrontation more than 40% of the 1,400 candidates did not show up for the WASSCE exams yesterday with the apparent fear that if they did they would be arrested by the police.
When Politico visited the WASSCE Centre on Monday at the Kowama secondary school, candidates of both schools were seen in private attire hanging around the school premises at risk of losing out on a whole academic year.
Police and civil authorities including teachers and WAEC officials are persuading the candidates to continue the exams so long they were not involved in the violent incidents.
“Nobody will be arrested again,” assured a senior police officer.
Although the situation seems under control, many of the 40 invigilators including the injured WAEC officials were absent at the WASSCE Centre.
One of the candidates, Mohamed Kamara of the Tomlinson Secondary School who appears in his private attire, told Politico that he was afraid to go into the exams hall as a result of alleged police brutality. They say they don’t have confidence in the police even if they are keen to write their exams.
Another candidate, Kadiatu Alie Bangura said that she would continue to take the exams as the situation was now under control. She said she was less jittery of the police presence at the school premises because she had no hands in the violent events of Friday.
“I continue taking the exams because I was not at the scene when the violence broke out,” Kadiatu narrated.
A total of 74 people are in custody at the CID headquarters in Freetown. 44 of them were arrested following the Freetown incident, among them 28 students: 13 boys and 15 girls.
© 2019 Politico Online