CHEATING: let him who is without sin cast the first stone

September 23, 2019

By Sulaiman Momodu


Crucify! Crucify! Crucify! Crucify them! Over the past days and weeks, there has been outrage in Sierra Leone over cheating teachers and students in the ongoing private West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).

As a journalist and currently getting deeper understanding and insights into the Word of God by privately reading Theology, the action of the teachers and the palpable anger by the public easily brings to mind John 8 in Scripture, which tells us that at dawn, when Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

The Scripture tells us that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Basically, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were the spiritual leaders in the Holy Land. But why were they asking Jesus? Let me explain. They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

The Scripture tells us that Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Please note what Jesus said to the woman – go now and leave your life of sin.

I would like to point out at this stage that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees cared nothing about this woman; they were using her to trap Jesus. In their minds, if Jesus told them to set the woman free, they could claim He did not hold to the Law of Moses. If He told them to stone her, they could claim He was not the Savior; and, if He said nothing, they could claim He lacked wisdom.

Honestly, I do not envy President Julius Maada Bio and his government in bringing about change. In particular, I do not envy the Anti-Corruption Commission boss, Ben Keifala. Like the woman caught in adultery, how do we really deal with the issue of cheating and by extension, the systemic corruption in our country?

On the issue of teachers and students caught in exams malpractice in September, the ACC press release stated: “…the Principal of the School (Fatibu Technical Secondary School at Peacock Farm, Wellington) and teachers were collecting Le1,000,000.00 (One Million Leones) from willing pupils to facilitate them to be spoonfed answers while exam was ongoing. Those who complied and paid were taken to the staff room where they would then have answers replicated by teachers and transcribed. Those scripts would be collected and compiled with those of the other students in the normal exam room. The Principal coordinated and kept men at strategic locations to avoid anyone approaching to thwart their cheating scheme which apparently has been going on for years.” The ACC press release went on, “It could be recalled that similar raid was carried out at a private residence in Aberdeen in December 2018 by the ACC arresting 71 persons.”

One thing I noted from the ACC press release is that the cheating scheme has been apparently going on for years. Everybody knows exam malpractice is not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone.

Ben Keifala is a lawyer. Though legally minded, Keifala is clearly wrestling with a corruption monster that he clearly felt bizarre situations should be dealt with by unconventional methods. The action of the ACC to recently parade the WASSCE cheats with labels was, however, roundly condemned.

On a personal note, and I say this with all humility, I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, I am happily married so I obviously have no time for concubines even in my dream. But does it mean that I do not contend with issues? Of course I do and big time. I grew up and live in a very toxic and immoral environment where doing what is right is seen as wrong and where things that are absolutely abnormal are seen as normal. Making a conscious decision not to follow the crowd has been a life-changing experience. My views on issues, not surprisingly, often clash with many people’s perceptions.

Growing up in Sierra Leone, I am very familiar with the sad fact that cheating is just part of our system.  It starts from the home where wives and husbands engaged in unfaithfulness or cheating is seen as “normal”; sexual violence, including raping babies, is now a national emergency; children start cheating right from nursery, primary, secondary school to university and then to public offices. With cheating or corruption now our “culture”, what type of services should we expect? It is, for instance, no news that sometimes people collect money from the government for projects that they never even begin. Most politicians cheat by robbing the people they are supposed to serve; most medics steal medications; justice is scarce in our courts; traders cheat consumers and the list is endless. The truth? Most people are not interested in values and principles anymore.

Trust me, whether the Scorpion Squad of the ACC supported by Sierra Leone Police discover more cheating hideouts, it will be naïve to think that it will stop cheating, which is now part of most people’s DNA, if the suspects would have to end up in very corrupt courtrooms.

When the All People’s Congress Party was in power, a bogus Attitudinal and Behavioural Change Secretariat was established. The issue with that sham institution was that those who were serving in the secretariat were the first who needed to change their attitudes and behaviours.

As a husband and father, I really think our value system has shamefully eroded and that is what we need to restore if we are to rebuild a new nation where honesty, integrity and other virtues rule and not criminality.

Like the woman accused of adultery, what did Jesus say? “Go now and leave your life of sin”. The Scripture says, “Doing what is right lifts people up. But sin brings shame to any nation.” If you are in school, study hard and say NO to cheating. If you are a teacher, parent or guardian, make every effort to become a role model to your children and those around you. You think about this and make a commitment to become a better person today. Best wishes!

About the author: Sulaiman Momodu is a former editor of Concord Times newspaper. He has also worked for United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. He is currently reading Theology.