The prevailing scenario today is that candidates seeking admission into Nigerian universities are required to participate in an examination organized by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, an agency established in or around 1978 as part of the errors of military regimes in forcing unitary government on a supposed federation. Since then, it has become compulsory for candidates to participate in the UTME process, for them to gain admission into any university. Many parents have been thrown into perpetual agony every year, due to the inability of their wards to secure admission into any tertiary institution, such that there are youths in Nigeria who have been on the JAMB radar for over five years, waiting for their letters of admission from the ‘almighty JAMB’. It has thus become an annual ritual, for the nation to be regaled with the record of performances of candidates who have been compelled to undertake a national examination in order to qualify to be admitted to study in a university. This anachronistic process threw up Mmesoma Ejikeme, the 19-year old girl who shot herself into global limelight the wrong way. How did this happen?
Mmesoma participated in the UTME computer-based test along with other candidates nationwide. She subsequently requested for her results electronically from JAMB and she was informed that she scored 249. Not satisfied with this result, Mmesoma proceeded in what has now become a well-orchestrated crime, to concoct a different result of 362 for herself and by herself. She instantly became a celebrity, garnering for herself undeserved accolades, awards and several promises for her career. Her claims were refuted and resisted by JAMB, with empirical evidence and data. Mmesoma then deployed social media and made a video of her supposed innocence, trauma and persecution. That act alone almost drove the entire nation into the precipice. Many who believed her story were not willing to give JAMB the benefit of doubt at all, since Mmesoma claimed that she was traumatized by her own fraud. Perhaps realizing the damage that this little girl would do to herself and the educational system, the Anambra State government promptly waded in to set up a committee of eminent persons in order to give her a soft landing. It was only a matter of time for her fable to collapse. Mmesoma has since confessed to the crime and has through her father, apologized to the nation and to JAMB as well. Is Mmesoma not a victim of forced federalism? Was the UTME necessary at all? Should it be the only means of securing admission into the university in a federation?
The JAMB Act was enacted to commence on December 7, 1989, with a mandate for the agency to perform the following functions, under and by virtue of section 5 (1) (a) – (c) and (2) thereof:
- (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other enactment, the Board shall be responsible for –
(a) the general control of the conduct of matriculation examinations for admissions into all Universities, Polytechnics (by whatever name called) and Colleges of Education (by whatever name called) in Nigeria;
© the placement of suitably qualified candidates in collaboration with the tertiary institutions after taking into account –
(i) the vacancies available in each tertiary institution;
(ii) the guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietor or other competent authority;
(iii) the preferences expressed or otherwise indicated by candidates for certain tertiary institutions and course; and
(iv) such other matters as the Board may be directed by the Minister to consider, or the Board itself may consider appropriate in the circumstances.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, the Board shall be responsible for determining matriculation requirements and conducting examinations leading to undergraduate admissions and also for admissions to National Diploma and Nigerian Certificate in Education courses, but shall not be responsible for examinations or any other selective processes for postgraduate courses and any other courses offered by the tertiary institutions.”
What section 5 of the JAMB Act reproduced above has done is to place the destinies of candidates in the hands of a government bureaucracy, which partly accounts for the number of youths trooping out of Nigeria for greener pastures. By including the phrase “by whatever name called” in the reference to tertiary institutions covered by JAMB, it means even universities and polytechnics established and funded by States and private entities have to go through JAMB for admission, through such mysterious criteria like federal character, educationally disadvantaged States, catchment areas, etc. Paragraphs 27-30 of the Part 2 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution place matters of university, technological or professional education on the Concurrent Legislative List, with power granted to the States to legislate thereon. So, the issue is why JAMB has become the only institution regulating admission into tertiary institutions.
I acknowledge and indeed applaud the laudable innovations that Professor Ishaq Oloyede has brought to JAMB, especially in alleviating the pains and sufferings that candidates and their parents go through in the process of seeking admission. The effective deployment of technology by JAMB has in no small way reduced the incidences of fraud and manipulation associated with the UTME process. Eliminating the human factor has also helped to make the process transparent and credible. The need for physical presence in JAMB offices nationwide in order to resolve many issues arising from or associated with the examinations has been addressed successfully. Various centres have been established by JAMB for the resolution of issues relating to the admission process without having to know anyone or visiting JAMB offices physically. The processes are seamless and effective once you follow the online instructions. But this does not in any way take away the anomaly of the existence of JAMB. In the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, it is stated clearly in section 2 (2) that “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory.” In the proper definition of a federation, you have the federating units as the strength and power of the federation, with a center created to manage certain peripheral matters that bind the units together. In a country where private individuals have established their own universities, where religious organisations and corporate entities have their own unique universities, how do you then maintain JAMB as a central agency to determine which candidate these universities will admit based on an examination conducted without the input of the said universities? In very embarrassing situations, some of the universities have developed their own post-UTME examinations, through which successful candidates in UTME failed post-UTME tests woefully and were thus denied admission.
What prompted this monumental fraud of Mmesoma? It is the wrong emphasis placed upon paper qualification by our institutions and indeed society. The issue of examination malpractices is not limited to Mmesoma but is prevalent in virtually all academic institutions where even parents pay to get their wards to excel. For other qualifying examinations such as NECO, WAEC, etc, the story of miracle centres abounds all over the place. In a very bizarre situation recently, a lawyer was caught in the examination hall of the Nigerian Law School helping a student to write the bar examinations. University students are often recruited to be substitutes for candidates in qualifying examinations. In present-day Nigeria, there are many ‘graduates’ who cannot write complete sentences or produce any intelligible essay. At the oral interviews, you get thoroughly embarrassed with the blunders being spewed out by supposed graduates who at times claimed to have master’s degree. There are many people in various government establishments who cannot defend the degrees with which they occupy their exalted offices and positions. We know these things but we turn the blind eye in the name of ethnicity, religion and at times outright corruption. There are several Mmesomas even in the universities, some as teachers and others as administrators.
In reality however, there are a good number of well experienced persons in various establishments who possess the capacity and know-how but are limited by the absence of paper qualifications. They are able to produce wonderful results based on either their experience or training whilst those who have been imposed upon them through fraudulent paper qualifications cannot match their expertise and utility. In a peculiar case that the judiciary would have to resolve one way or the other very soon, it has been alleged that the certificate of the National Youth Service of an important personality was forged. It is often said that in Nigeria, many people parade multiple ages for different purposes, such as the official and unofficial ages, at times to beat the statutory prescription for retirement. The case of Mmesoma then is a testament of the failure of our federation, a demonstration of lack of confidence in our institutions and agencies. JAMB has no relevance in a federation other an avenue to assert control and suffocate the federating units.
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