22 January 2018

Nigeria: Forty Years of Flowing With University Admission

A controversy raged in 1978 over admission process into the universities. Traditionally, each of the then thirteen universities conducted its entrance examination, but a unified admission process called the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB was introduced. I joined some of my classmates in secondary school to take the maiden examination. For us who were yet to take the School Certificate Examinations, it was a 'Mock' examination to prepare us for the following year when we would be prepared to take it having had the basic entrance qualifications.

The JAMB examination held during the students' uprising called "Ali-Mon-Go" when youths protested against attempts by the military junta to turn tertiary education into an elite commodity. On examination day, we waded through the streets which were garrisoned by armed, battle-weary policemen who had for days fought demonstrators. Burnt cars at the Ojuelegba Roundabout told the ferocity of the street battles led by the National Union of Nigerian Students.

When the JAMB results were released, I was not successful or so the JAMB officials who went through the result sheets informed me. I was not perturbed, after all, this was to actually prepare me for the next examinations. Some days later, I was at Yaba Bus Stop, Lagos on my way to seek admission into the Higher School and bought a newspaper. It was serialising the admission list into universities. I read the newspaper but ignored the list. But stuck in the infamous Lagos traffic jam, I decided to while away the time by going through the list. There, was my name, in the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU list!

I was confused; the JAMB officials claimed I failed, but what was my name doing on the advertised list of successful applicants? The only way to confirm if the officials who checked my result were right or wrong, was to travel to Ife. The Admission Officer checked, confirmed I was one of the successful candidates and asked for my School Certificate results which had just been released. That was how I became one of the pioneer undergraduates admitted through JAMB. The old students mocked us that we were inferior as we were admitted by an untested institution with no pedigree. So they called us JAMBITES.

Now forty years later, JAMB is fully matured and not many challenge its authenticity and relevance. It was a simple examination in which what was essential was a pencil and eraser. That is now gone as it is now a computerised examination. In those days, you were admitted based on the marks scored, but at a point, things degenerated to the point where if you had the required cash, you could be awarded marks and get admitted. So you could have a person admitted based on very high marks allegedly scored in the JAMB entrance examinations but who was totally unfit and incapable of undergoing an undergraduate course. There were 'geniuses' who scored very high marks in JAMB examinations, but failed throughout their university years. With such rot, it was clear that unless something drastic was done, it would be 'garbage in, garbage out' of the university system.

In June 2005, Professor Chinwe Onyema Obaji was appointed Minister of Education. Unknown to many, she is the mother of a youth who almost missed being admitted into the university because there were many with far higher scores. Yet in the university, he dazzled like a star while those with very high admission scores, could not cope. She arrived the Ministry with a determination to stop the admission charade. One of her first acts was to introduce a post- JAMB (Post-UME) admission examination by individual universities. She was to argue: "the screening exercise will take care of all kinds of ills in the universities as it will make sure that it is only those students who are ready to learn that are given admission." She might have overestimated the effect of her decision on the university system, but its implementation caused an uproar as many who scored high marks in JAMB crumbled at the internal examinations organised by the universities themselves. Those opposed, argued that it amounted to double jeopardy, as applicants are forced to pay and sit for two examinations for the same purpose. Others said the new policy questioned the very existence of JAMB and might be a way of abolishing it. The forces were so strong that the directive was later reversed but it brought some sanity into the admission system before JAMB self-corrected. Perhaps in this era of complete computerisation of the examinations, the body might have eliminated criminals awarding marks to applicants as the marks are computer-based. Also, technology has made it easy for JAMB to use multiple or different questions at various stages of the examination.

At the January 9, 2017 JAMB Stakeholders' Meeting in Abuja, the Registrar, Professor Is-Haq Olarenwaju Oloyede who is credited with the complete computerisation of the examination, singled out Obaji for her courage. She in turn acknowledged the advancement JAMB has made from the period it took months to release the examination results, to this day when it takes just a day.

Oloyede who is credited with saving and remitting about N8 billion to government coffers out of JAMB's N12 billion revenue, is leading the organisation in a serious fight against examination malpractice in a digital age. This includes how to eliminate the extension of examination to 'VIP Rooms' for examination malpractice and "the deliberate disruption of examination, usually through power outage, to extend examination time till night to pave way for malpractice."

Although he said JAMB has introduced anti-examination malpractice gadgets such as "CCTV camera in the Examination Server Room at the CBT Centre" but the cheats continue to fight back. Such was the case of an official who used a piece of cloth to cover one of such cameras.

In order to curb these and further engage the public in monitoring the process to further give it credibility, Oloyede established some committees including one for the "High Powered Opinion Leader.' Into this body, people like Professor Obaji and I have been appointed to amongst other duties, "Monitor the Monitors." JAMB needs our support to build the tertiary education system.

Forty years of flowing with university admission

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