Following a week of contentious dialogue surrounding Mmesoma Ejikeme, a 19-year-old student from Anglican Girls Secondary School in Uruagu Nnewi, who was accused of falsifying her Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) results, an independent report by the Anambra State government has found the teenager guilty. The report revealed a significant discrepancy between the results she submitted and the standard JAMB format, confirming her actual score as 249.
The panel recommended that Mmesoma Ejikeme issues a formal, unreserved apology to JAMB, her school, and the Anambra State Government. However, the panel’s report has done little to quell the public debate surrounding this issue, which was first brought to light by Deborah Tolu of The PUNCH newspaper.
Interestingly, since the story gained national attention, many have questioned why intellectuals and influencers from Mmesoma’s ethnic group have chosen to defend her or justify her actions. Some have even accused the group of playing the victim. However, it is important to note that these influencers and intellectuals were not necessarily endorsing the act of falsifying examination results. Instead, they were attempting to shield their group’s identity from public lynching.
The widespread coverage of the incident, which portrayed a 19-year-old student from Anambra as a fraudster, turned an otherwise isolated incident into an ethnic dispute. For many, the issue became less about a student trying to manipulate the system and more about the perceived criminalisation of an entire ethnic group. This led to a defensive stance, creating a ‘us versus them’ scenario where logic and common sense were often overlooked. It is unlikely that this group viewed themselves as victims – they more than likely thought of themselves as constabularies.
A similar group response can be seen in the case of a gang rape that occurred in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1983. Four male Portuguese immigrants’ gang-raped a twenty-one-year-old Portuguese American woman at Big Dan’s tavern. After their sentencing, New York Times reported that “some in a largely Portuguese-American crowd of more than 300 people cursed the prosecutor, who is also of Portuguese descent, and cheered the defendants as they were led down the steps.”
Why did a group of Portuguese immigrants, many of whom were highly religious, choose to protect four rapists, inspite of the gravity of their crimes? As if that wasn’t enough, two orderly protest marches, with 10,000 people participating combined, were organised by the Portuguese American community to demonstrate solidarity with the rapists. Even worse was that the trial was so polarising that in handing down the sentencing for the convicted rapists, the judge stated that “these sentences are not imposed on these individuals because of who they are, but because of what crimes they are convicted of.”
Although the circumstances are different, the group responses are similar, if not identical. The Portuguese community, as aptly captured by the city’s Mayor, Brian J. Lawler, emphasised the fact that “our Portuguese people feel like they have been singled out from all the rapes that have occurred in North America.” It is the exact feeling that many influencers from the South-East of Nigeria had when it was made to appear that the crime of an individual was projected as a representation of the character of the whole.
And as Mayor Lawler further stated, “the Portuguese never thought that the four men were right to rape a woman. What they didn’t agree with was that they were judged in the public square and that the media insisted on their nationality, as if being Portuguese was the justification for what they did.”
Hence, to protect their group from discriminatory practices, the Portuguese community made a cold calculation of throwing the victim under the bus in exchange for preserving their group’s identity and integrity. It is the same pattern with Mmesoma’s result forgery. It was an act many would have easily condemned without blinking an eye lid – and, indeed, several persons from her ethnic group did. In fact, the same writer, Deborah Tolu, had published a similar story three years ago, of another teenager from the same ethnic group falsifying his JAMB result. Not one influencer made an excuse for the teenager. There was no whataboutism or a brigade of moral police.
So why was Mmesoma’s case different? Because this time, Mmesoma was portrayed as the poster girl for an ethnic group and her misdemeanour was subtly explained as the reason why many of them excelled in their academics.
Think about it, if you are from a particular ethnic group and the story about a teenager from your clan falsifying her result popped on your social media feed, what will your first reaction be? But hold on. What if the first responses you stumble on read like this “we have said it before that the reason they seem to do well in JAMB and WAEC is because of their miracle centres.” Will your response change?
The reality is that people, regardless of their levels of education or achievements, will often rally around their group when they feel it is under threat, even if it means defending those who have committed reprehensible acts. This is not a justification of the crimes, but rather a reflection of the complex dynamics of group identity and the desire to protect it from perceived external threats.
Ayodele Adio, a political and communications strategist, is national publicity secretary of Youth Party.