By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Shortly after the 2023 Policy Meeting on Admissions into Tertiary Institutions of JAMB, (Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board) held on June 24, 2023, the board ran into troubled waters when Ejikeme Mmesoma, a candidate in this year’s JAMB exams dragged it to the court of public opinion.
Instead of interrogating the annual policy meeting of “the Nigerian intelligentsia and critical stakeholders in our tertiary education sub-sector,” public discourse focused substantially on JAMB’s integrity, transparency and Mmesoma’s claim of being shortchanged in the last exams.
After dissipating so much time and energy on Mmesoma, by all—the “accused JAMB,” DSS and Anambra State Government, all of which investigated her claims, the case crashed like pack of cards as Mmesoma herself admitted manipulating 362 marks for herself as against the 249 marks that she earned legitimately.
However, beyond the Mmesoma digression is the propriety of institutionalising some of the reforms in JAMB, and other national institutions against the backdrop of lack of continuum in government policies. Two, while JAMB was able to creditably discharge its duties against any form of compromise leveled against it by Mmesoma and her co-travellers, how many MDAs can boast of the high moral standards that stand out JAMB and stood for it during the Mmesoma trial?
One reason why pot-shots, accusations and counter-accusations were thrown at JAMB initially in the young lady’s case is because there is no love lost between the citizens and the government. So, the first casualty of the whole saga is truth, being an issue because people don’t trust government and their representatives. And you can’t blame us. Nigerians have been so traumatised over government’s lack of sincerity over the years. Standards have been downplayed and institutions of government compromised that it will take major reforms in MDAs to reverse this trust deficit.
JAMB was castigated, “tried” publicly, came out unscathed and triumphant because of the transparent processes it has put in place especially since 2016 when Professor Is’haq Oloyede came on board. Consequently, JAMB under Professor Oloyede has come out of this public scrutiny stronger and more believable than ever. While we hope other heads of national institutions will from time to time validate themselves like Professor Oloyede/JAMB did recently, it is important to institutionalise the reforms that have given JAMB an edge over and above others, such that subsequent heads could at best build on what has been accomplished.
This was the position of many of the partner-agencies that attended the June 24 policy meeting to lend their support to JAMB in their quest to strengthen transparent admission processes and guarantee the future of tertiary education. Goodwill messages came from ES-NUC, ES-NBTE, ES-NCCE, DG-NYSC and EVC-FCCPC. They commended JAMB for their sincerity of purpose as practicalised openly in the cases that came up. Top shots of universities, colleges of education and polytechnics, deliberated and resolved the “cut off marks” and other substantive issues.
Then came the admonition from the EVC-FCCPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera who spoke on Professor Oloyede’s transformation of JAMB and how these can be sustained, because as he said “time and tenure will end but the work (reforms) executed will remain for the benefit of the country.” These developments at JAMB, he affirmed would enhance the quality of graduates defining the workplace, peer to peer review, accountability as against protection of one’s turfs, even as JAMB often invites other agencies to check and critique its models.
Indeed, reversing negative trends in MDAs has been Oloyede’s struggles at JAMB in the last six years as alluded to by the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, Andrew David Adejo. He said the “annual assembly accords us the opportunity of appraising and fine-tuning the process of admission to tertiary institutions. It is also an avenue for determining the fate of millions of candidates and future leaders who seek tertiary education.”
He said the fundamental principle in the admission process is openness. This is in tandem with the legal maxim that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. It is therefore apposite that while JAMB must ensure the sanctity and integrity of its examination at all times, the higher educational institutions must also be bastions of excellence, where admission decisions are based strictly on the agreed guidelines without compromise.” Unknown to the Permanent Secretary, his admonition was not just to institutions that were sometimes defiant, but also to Mmesoma (and would be forgers) whose claims and allegations tested the integrity of JAMB.
Among the reforms that made it possible for JAMB to overcome frauds, mischiefs, cheating and fakery include, but not limited to eradication of illegal admission through the introduction of CAPS and IBASS, use of NIN for JAMB registration among others. “It would be recalled that in 2018, JAMB unveiled its innovative technology code-named CAPS (Central Admissions and Processing System) at a meeting like this (the policy meeting). Five years after, that impressive innovation has revolutionised the admission process, eliminated administrative bottlenecks and ensured seamless interface for both applicants and institutions…it is interesting to note that between last year and now, CAPS has been widened to become a secure communication platform between JAMB and each of the Vice Chancellors, Registrars, Admission Officers and Directors of Academic Planning of tertiary institutions. Besides, the Integrated Brochure and Syllabus System (IBASS) has been widened to accommodate safe and personalised communication among regulatory agencies, JAMB and the institutions(in charge of tertiary education),” the PS said.
This platform is used “to link up with the Ministry of Education to rescue returning students from Ukraine, Sudan, Turkey and Russia, noting that the “use of the mandatory National Identification Number (NIN) for JAMB registration over the last three registration exercises has yielded the expected result of weeding out professional examination takers and others who engage in examination malpractices,” as well as the “introduction of cashless registration regime…(which) has been protecting innocent candidates from being extorted by fraudulent operators.”
These creative innovations as well as the application of state-of-the-art technology are some of the safeguards that prevented “smart” applicants like Mmesoma Ejikeme from hoodwinking JAMB and cheating her way to the top undeservedly.
How many other institutions of government can boast of this feat? How do we maintain the momentum at JAMB to immune it from political interference and excessive manipulations after Oloyede’s tenure? And how do we get other MDAs to emulate JAMB and uphold the integrity of national institutions such that citizens will have faith in government at national and sub-national levels?
Zainab Suleiman Okino is the chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board. She is a fellow of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (FNGE). She can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org