Written by Godfrey AKON

NECO: what Gana met, did and left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over N2 billion was returned to government coffers in 2018 and 2019. Same year, release of SSCE results took place within 40 days, over one hundred staff were indicted of certificate forgery, while registration fees were slashed to 9,500; 20 Hilux vehicles were purchased and 8,000 biometric verification machines procured to fight identity theft. These and many more were the exploits of Abubakar Gana’s two-year reforms as Acting Registrar of NECO. Godfrey AKON reports.

Since its establishment in 1999, the National Examinations Council, NECO, has remained a sprawling agency with proficiency in test administration which has won national acceptability and patronage of both basic and secondary schools.

Apart from beating the competition and asserting its relevance in the conduct of national common entrance examination, basic education certificate examination, BECE, and senior secondary certificate examination, SSCE, NECO boasts of an assemblage of professional examiners with an aptitude for best practices.

One of such accomplished professionals is Mr. Abubakar Gana, Former Acting Registrar of NECO. Before his appointment as acting registrar, Gana had put in over thirty-four years of productive public service as a seasoned civil servant at various levels of government. Through dint of hard work, commitment and good service, he rose to the position of a director.

Based on his track record of excellent service and commitment to duty, President Muhammadu Buhari drafted him on May 10, 2018 to head the council, after the wave of fraud allegations to the tune of N25 billion, which saw the suspension of Prof Charles Uwakwe as Registrar and two deputy directors.

Consequently, Gana’s immediate task was to demonstrate the resolve to reposition the agency and restore its credibility. Given the enormity of problems surrounding the agency, two years are reckoned too short to etch any meaningful achievement. But Gana's sterling record of achievements within the period negates that notion which tends to excuse incompetence.

As NECO’s Chief Executive, he was at the vanguard of major reforms that instilled prudence and financial discipline in the agency. He abolished the use of scratch cards in NECO to ensure that monies generated go directly to the treasury single account and worked hard to ensure reduction of examination registration fee from N11,350 to 9,850.

Between 2009 and 2017, only N900 million was returned to the federal government coffers, but within two years of his administration, he returned over N2 billion generated as proceeds from the conduct of examinations, to the federation account, with an outstanding states indebtedness to the council for 2018 and 2019 towering at N1,045,047,140.00.

His belief in a transparent recruitment process, placement and career progression, spurred his administration to internally audit its staff, leading to the uncovering of over 100 staff with fake certificates, all of whom were dismissed from service via a presidential directive.

For the first time in NECO, his administration generated N600 million per annum from checking of results, from an initial N30 million; and purchased 20 Toyota Hilux vehicles from its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to aid its logistic challenges, and also bought 8000 biometric verification machines to improve the integrity of its examinations.

NECO’s efforts at reasserting its credibility, during his administration, not only demonstrated its resolve at fulfilling its core mandate and values, but also showed signs of the council’s determination to become a reliable examination body.

Established for the purpose of conducting nationally and internationally acceptable examinations, NECO shares the burden of enthroning transparency and accountability to boost the integrity of its exercises.

For an agency whose relevance depends on the tenets of integrity and probity, a change of attitude, towards its processes and mandate was inevitable when the council was cast in bad light before he took over.

As part of his reform agenda, NECO commenced immediate implementation of the manpower development plan recommended by a Ministerial Committee under the Chairmanship of Muhammed Umar, a former Director of Human Resources, Ministry of Education.

According to Gana, the plan, which was implemented through internal postings and transfer of personnel based on their areas of specialisation, was to ensure efficiency in the council’s operations.

“With the reforms being implemented, NECO is fast taking its place as a reliable examination management body,” Gana said.

Meanwhile, to ease off pressure mounted on awaiting-result candidates participating in the Unified Tertiary Matriculations Examination, UTME, conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, the council also realigned its procedures to ensure that results are released early to meet JAMB’s deadlines.

For the first time in the history of the council, its examination was written in a well-coordinated manner in June/July 2018 and results released only forty days later.

A similar schedule had been adopted by the West African Examination Council, WAEC, which released its 2018 results after two months of conducting the West African School Certificate Examination, WASSCE.

NECO has performed averagely in its two decades of operation, but an industrial dispute had repressed its successes in many fronts. For the first time, however, peace has finally returned to the council as the management and union have resolved the issues between them and both are working for the interest of the entire system.

Since 2005, the management and staff of NECO had been at loggerhead over agitations by staff of the council to unionise, a move which was steadfastly opposed to by the management, and created acrimony between the parties.

 

However, all these issues are now resolved as the management and staff of the Council have come to agreement to work together on issues that divided them to attain the main objectives of the council.

Gana had also disclosed that “NECO successfully developed and integrated the 2019 November/December SSCE registration software on its new website. Due to successful blockage of financial leakages and increased prudence in the management of the Council’s resources, the Management successfully implemented 100 per cent duty tour allowance for staff, leading to attainment of unprecedented industrial peace and good working relationship with all trade unions.

“From its IGR, the Council was also able to floor a significant portion of the waterlogged area of its Headquarters premises with interlocking tiles. In order to enhance security measures, the Council was able to provide solar powered security lights within the premises of its Headquarters. The Council was equally able to clear the backlog of unprinted certificates up to 2016. The printed certificates have since been distributed to all the states of the federation and the FCT.

The NECO boss also noted as part of its achievements, the jettisoning of its former insecure website and development of an intractable, robust and secure corporate website www.neco.gov.ng, as well as a successful audit and complete overhaul of its ICT.

“The Council also successfully developed and used on the new website, a new and more user-friendly application used in the registration of 2019 National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE), this made the registration possible even on smart phone, in addition to other devices. The application was also used by candidates and parents to check the results and admission statuses of candidates.

While on an Oversight Visit to NECO during Gana’s administration, the Chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education and Services, Prof Julius Ihovbere, said the committee had a lot of confidence in NECO and those managing the agency.

Ihovbere said from the feedback from his constituency, NECO was doing exceptionally well, adding that "We believe that with the role you have played, the only way to better appreciate it is to imagine a Nigeria without NECO.”

According to him, the limitations faced by NECO were not from the inability of the Council to deliver but because of the challenges confronting the exam body, while pledging that both Senate and the House of Representatives will approve a review of NECO’s budget to enable it execute its mandate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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