Despite the fact that the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has been around for several years, what appears of recent from the body took the whole nation by surprise. This is because for an organisation established in 1952, eight years before Nigeria’s independence, those who run it should understand the terrains in which they operate and should not in any way promote religious tension in the region.
The point being made is that it is no longer news that WAEC recently released the timetable for its November/ December West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) for private candidates. What is puzzling, however, is that WAEC opted to “heat up the polity” through its irresponsibly insensitive scheduling of some exams for Friday afternoon. This is the period everyone knows Muslims observe their crucial religious obligations.
When the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), in a press release by its Director, Prof. Ishaq Lakin Akintola, took WAEC to task on fixing examination dates between 1p.m. and 3:00p.m. on Friday, the examination body chose to be clever by half in its rejoinder. Instead of saying that Friday afternoon is free, it engaged in circumlocution maintaining that contrary to MURIC’s claim that its exams hold between 1p.m. and 3p.m., it holds between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. What is the significant difference?
In its said release, MURIC described the action of WAEC as “a flagrant breach of Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. It also submitted that the timetable was designed to cause chaos in Nigeria while upbraiding WAEC’s action as being “malicious, baseless, illegal and unconstitutional.”
However, in its rejoinder, “Re: WAEC Timetable is an Invitation to Chaos”, signed by one Y. D. Ari on behalf of the Head of National Office, WAEC tried unsuccessfully to show that nothing is amiss. The body claimed that it has been conducting the examinations for several years now and there has never been a complaint about its timetable.
According to WAEC, “the Government paper scheduled for Friday, 18th September, 2015 is from 2pm to 4pm and not 1pm to 3pm as alleged by MURIC. Furthermore, on Friday, 25th September 2015, there is no examination from 12noon to 3pm contrary to the claims of MURIC that Further Mathematics paper has been scheduled to be taking (sic) from 14hrs to 15:30 hrs. “
The summary of WAEC’s rigmarole is that its exams are holding between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Friday 18h September 2015, 25th September 2015 and 2nd October 2015. But the snag is that such schedules are not convenient for several thousands of Muslim candidates who will be participating in the exams. Whoever gave WAEC the impression that the Jumuah service does not extend beyond 2:00p.m. was wrong.
Based on the foregoing, there are three options available to WAEC in order not to prolong the needless religious controversy it has dragged itself into. There are several challenges facing Nigeria as a microcosm of West Africa and indiscretion in the conduct of public examinations should not be part of them. These options are in Grade A, Grade B and Grace C categories such that a least one of them should be acceptable to the body in the interest of peace.
The first option is for WAEC to free Friday of examinations entirely so that its staff and candidates who wish will be able to observe their constitutionally guaranteed religious rights on Friday. This is the Grade A option.
The second option is for WAEC to conclude all its examinations every Friday that examinations will hold by 12 noon latest. The remaining period will then be meant for the observance of the religious obligations of the Muslim candidates who will be writing the paper. This is Option B.
The least of the options or Grade C is for WAEC to make the 12p.m. to 3p.m. free of examinations on Fridays. There is no way that any examination conducted within that period will not affect the observance of Jumuat prayers. So, let 12:00-3:00 p.m. every Friday be free!
In a multicultural and multi-religious society like ours, the onus of the responsibility lies on the leadership at all levels to promote peace by not appearing to trample on the rights of others. This, unfortunately, is what WAEC appears to have failed to do. A stitch in time saves nine still.