JAMB as a wicked policy

Mr Ike Onyechere

Mr Ike Onyechere

By Ike Onyechere

President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 28, 2010 at the Centre for Women Development and as Presidential candidate under the platform of Congress for Progressive Change, presented his blueprint for the transformation of education sector to Joint Education Stakeholders Action Coalition (JESAC), a voluntary association of 19 critical education unions and associations in Nigeria. The continued relevance of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was raised and vigorously debated. I presented my ideas in a paper titled “33 reasons Why JAMB Should Be Scrapped: The case for granting full authority to tertiary institutions in Nigeria to conduct their own admission examinations in line with global best practices.” The paper was widely reported in the media.

The recent admission policy somersault of JAMB which have generated protests, court cases and public outcry make it necessary for Mr. President and all critical education stakeholders to again reflect deeply about JAMB. I still maintain that JAMB is a wicked policy. It should be scrapped, dissolved or merged with another more relevant agency. This is not a case of joining in the excitement, euphoria and frenzy of the moment. It is an opinion I have always held based on calm, selfless, objective and patriotic analysis of facts gathered over a period of 20 years as CEO of Exam Ethics Marshals Movement.
JAMB was established in 1978 by military decree by the then Federal Military Government under the leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The decree was amended in 1989 and again in 1993. JAMB is therefore the product of an era when the military wanted full control of every sector and everything. The 1993 JAMB decree provides in Section 5 (1) that “…the Board shall be responsible for 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… and for the placement of suitable candidates in tertiary institutions”

The era of central military control of everything is now over. The business of banking, telephony, aviation, power, etc have since been deregulated and Nigeria is better for it. But there is a curious ambivalence in the education sector with the wicked policy of JAMB still being retained.
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes continued existence of JAMB anachronistic. Education is under concurrent legislative list in the constitution. Section 29 and 30 of part II of second schedule of concurrent legislative list states that “a house of Assembly shall have power to make laws for the State with respect to the establishment of an institution for purposes of university, technology or professional education” The laws establishing federal Universities state clearly that “the selection of persons for admission as students at the university is the function of the University Senate” (see section 6f of University of Ibadan act, 1962 as example).

The Federal Universities of Technology Act 1986, Federal Colleges of Education Act 1986 and Federal Polytechnics Act 1979 all vest the function of admission of students on the institutions. I am still in search of legal answers as to why the power of JAMB supersedes constitutional provisions, the power of State Houses of Assembly with regard to State Tertiary Institutions and the powers of various institutions as enshrined in their enabling laws.

The baffle of continued existence of JAMB is compounded by the fact that the JAMB experiment is an unmitigated failure. The story of JAMB is the story of running crises, re-enacted year after year. It is a classical case study of what psychologists refer to as mad people doing the same thing consistently and expecting different results. This is why the media has been persistent in their call for scrapping of JAMB. In addition to recent editorials, please see editorials of Guardian Newspaper (January 6, 2004), Nation Newspaper (April 7, 2010), Punch Newspaper (June 18, 2010) among others. Critical education stakeholders including Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Committee of vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities have called for the scrapping of JAMB (Punch, May 24, 2005).
So the question is: why, despite its serial failure and public outcries, has JAMB not been scrapped? Before I answer this question, let us first look at why JAMB is wicked policy in terms of its impact on students, parents, institutions and the entire country at large.

JAMB has used Nigerian students as guinea pigs to test all sorts of weird educational assessment and evaluation schemes: UME; MPCEME; UTME; POST-UTME; PPT; DBT; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th preferred choices; ELDS; etc. Please don’t ask me the meaning of these acronyms. Ask JAMB.
The cost of seeking admissions into tertiary institutions in Nigeria is 2000% higher than that of other African countries including Ghana. Students must spend money on JAMB forms, standard scratch cards, universal scratch cards, etc. They must spend money on transport and accommodation to sit for UTME. Then there is Post-UTME form and another round of expenditure on scratch cards and another around of travelling. At least 200 youths die each year in the course of travelling for UTME and post-UTME. Despite the high cost, admission is not guaranteed for at least 70% of candidates.
This situation is no longer funny to parents, most of whow are forced to spend in excess of N100,000 in search of admissions for their wards. This is why some aggrieved parents and students took to the streets on July 22, 2015 while others headed for the law court.

JAMB is a wicked policy for institutions because it deprives institutions of an important source of IGR. Institutions successfully resisted this by introducing Post-UTME at the expense of parents and students. The introduction of Post-UTME effectively rendered JAMB redundant. The board should have been disbanded at this point.

The greatest harm done to the Nigerian tertiary education system is the absence of foreign students. It is unrealistic to expect foreign students to subject themselves to the madness of the convoluted JAMB admission processes when universities in other countries are offering open, transparent and easy admission processes. I once recommended to a Ph.D student to do his research the topic: “Spatial analysis of foreign students population trend in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions before and after JAMB and its impact on country’s education sector. I am convinced that the study will confirm the damage done by JAMB in terms of absence of foreign students in Nigeria.

JAMB is also a wicked policy for Nigeria because it promotes capital flight and negative balance of trade in international education market with other countries. Universities from USA, Canada, UK, China, South Africa, Ghana, Ukraine, etc with the support of their embassies regularly stage recruitment drives for Nigerian students with advertisements, education fairs, promotional seminars and other specialized events. I am not aware that any Nigerian university has gone outside the country on similar drive for the simple reason of the JAMB decree prohibits them from doing so. The result is that Nigerian parents spend at least N500 billion each year on payment of school fees to foreign universities. A minimum of N10 billion goes to Ghana alone each year. Nothing comes back to Nigeria. The National Bureau of Statistics and the Central Bank can confirm this.

So why has JAMB persisted? The answer lies in three words: Power; money; corruption. The policy initiative to scrap JAMB should ordinary be championed by a patriotic Education Minister given all the facts outlined above. But the powers enjoyed by Education Ministers under the JAMB prove too enticing. Section 6 of the decree states “the minister may give the Board directives of a general character or relating generally to particular matters with regard to the exercise by the Board of its actions under this Act and it shall be the duty of the board to comply with such directives”. The result is policy flip-flips and inconsistencies as each new Minister issues his or her own directives, sometimes selfish ones, to which JAMB must comply: yes to UME; replace UME with UTME; yes to post-UTME; no to post-UME; yes to PPT; no to PBT; charge N1000 only for post-UTME; increase it to N2000; sell standards scratch card ; sell universal scratch card; etc.
Critical stakeholders who ordinarily should champion the scraping of JAMB refuse to do so because of benefits inherent in the power of demarcating the country into Educational Less Developed States (ELDS) and Educational More Developed States (EMDS). JAMB admissions are allocated based 45% merit, 35% catchment area/locality and 20% ELDS. In other words, candidates from ELDS states have a 20% better chance (they get a bonus mark of 20 points for being disadvantaged!) of getting admitted than candidates from EMDS even when they live in the same state and take the exam at the same centre.

The power of JAMB to draw and re-draw education boundaries is pre-eminent and fundamental. I doubt that Mr. President or even the National Assembly can easily draw such inherently discriminating and unconstitutional boundaries without opposition. JAMB currently indentifies 23 states as educationally less developed and 13 states and FCT as educationally more developed with attendant implications for cut off marks of candidates. The educationally less developed states include: Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara. States categorized as educationally more developed by JAMB include: Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and FCT. Note the curious anomalies carefully. Some pointers: Akwa Ibom State is regarded as educationally more developed than Cross River state from which it is carved out in 1987; Delta state with only four federal educational institutions is regarded as educational more developed than Kaduna State with at least 13federal institutions. One of the puzzles I have not been able to resolve on the JAMB chess board is why legislators from states categorized as EMDS by JAMB have not seriously challenged the concept.

Many of the powerful people in society who ought to champion the push for resolution of the JAMB anomaly are beneficiaries of the system. They relish the preferential treatment accorded to their wards who make special lists circulated to Vice chancellors, Provosts, Rectors on special letter heads: President’s list, Vice President’s list, Governor’s list, Deputy Governor’s list, Senate President’s list, Speaker’s list, Minister’s list, Commissioner’s list, Senators list, Special Advisers list, etc. A telephone call from the Education Minister to any stubborn VC, Rector or Provost will settle matters.

JAMB is also sustained by the power of money. JAMB is a monopolistic business conglomerate for whom the entire business of admissions into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions was cornered with a decree. What many people may know is that JAMB rakes in N15 billion each year through the sale of admission forms to all and sundry, including market women. But what many not be obvious is the huge amount the board also earns through sale of scratch cards, fees for citing results, fees for change of admission letters, fees for change of course letters, fees for late admission letters, etc. All these in addition to funds appropriated in the budget. When you observe the annual ritual of top government officials, legislators, security operatives etc monitoring and endorsing “the smooth conduct of this year’s JAMB exams”, you are witnessing the power of money. For such leaders, they see nothing wrong with JAMB.
There is no way the process of admission will not suffer from corrupt processes under the UTME, post-UTME framework. When forms are sold to 1.5 million qualified and unqualified candidates with space for less than 30%, the competition under the JAMB funnel contraption is bound to unleash serial extortions, scams, fraud, dishonesty and malpractices.

The only sustainable solution is to grant tertiary institutions in Nigeria full autonomy to conduct their own admission examinations in line with global best practices. 2000 jobs may be lost at JAMB. But 50,000 new jobs will be created in almost 500 tertiary institutions as they beef up their admissions staff. The institutions will also be liberated to fan out across the world in search of students. Standards will improve as they strive to create and sustain institutional brand names. By scraping JAMB, Mr. President would have removed a major cause of corruption in Nigeria’s education sector and the country will be better for it.

Onyechere (MFR) is the founding Chairman, Exam Ethics Marshals

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