JAMB: The Prize Of Fighting An Established Cartel, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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[email protected], www.zainabokino.blogspot.com

When a form of internal house cleaning mechanism, took place (and still) going on at the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), there was not much media scrutiny, but hell was let loose when the exercise started yielding results. A swap deal to return embezzled money or go to jail was struck, and under this deal, not just monies but houses worth billions of Naira were retrieved. At one time, 12 senior staff of the board were in police custody for one offense or the other.  JAMB recently secured the conviction of two Nigerians who forged the board’s results.

Examination time was feasting time, when various groups with the active connivance of JAMB’s top notch inadvertently or not, played a role. From these examinations, billions of naira were raked in. Little or nothing was returned to government; everybody was happy. Parents were happier especially since 2013 when the CBT was introduced and candidates could get their results within 24 hours. The board makes almost N8 billion from candidates every year but only about 200 million gets to government coffers; no doubt a lot of pilfering and racketeering was going on. The beneficiaries saw no problem partaking in a shared patrimony. We call it national cake; it never ceases, as it is daily replenished with petro-dollars.

Then came the squeeze; a new government came on board, oil revenues started dwindling and in no time, recession set in. President Buhari was neither ready to waste money nor was there any to spend even legitimately. It was no longer business as usual.  It became obvious that discerning heads of MDAs would have to think out of the box to survive or sink. The new management of JAMB, headed by Prof Is’haq Oloyede had to test some new innovations to cope with the times, and many were inimical to the old system that oiled the wheel of corruption. Although, there were no outcries at the moment, the aggrieved bided their time and struck when it mattered most—examination time when all eyes were on the board. They got their pound of flesh in various ways.

In the build-up to the just concluded Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME), there were reported cases of infractions attributed to the board, in addition to examination malpractices which is a topic for another day. From CBT operators to cyber café operators to parents, some of who were made to pay more by middlemen, potshots were thrown at the JAMB registrar. Not even the mock examination meant as a test-run without financial burden on candidates were spared. Professor Oloyede, former vice chancellor of the University of Ilorin, who revolutionized placement examinations, making UNILORIN the first university to start a CBT suddenly became a victim of a system he thought he knew well and was ready to replicate same at the national exams like JAMB.

The University of Ilorin was said to have provided JAMB with the Marshal Plan for the commencement of CBT in 2013.  However UNILORIN is a small place, and doing same at the national level became herculean.

Those who benefited from the old ways naturally resisted attempts to upgrade and restructure. While the staff took the innovations with a pinch of salt, those outside the system like CBT operators and cyber café owners who were into sharp practices revolted. The number of CBT centres was increased, while the banks’ scope of involvement was also widened.  The old scratch card system was eliminated to save money, and to stop hoarding of same to create artificial scarcity leading to extortion of candidates. This was replaced by use of telecommunication companies which made registration on smart phone a lot easier.

Unlike in the past when only few banks like Zenith, Skye, Heritage, and Unity Bank psrticipated, this time, the process was liberalized to accommodate 21 banks and individuals. It was the responsibility of the banks to create profiles for candidates with PINs, instead of the middlemen who in the past chose their emails and information from JAMB had to pass through their email addresses to the candidates’ through which they blackmailed and extorted money. Again, no going back to cyber cafes, which used to mismatch details of candidates, exploit them and cause irregularities.

In this age of recession, resorting to cheaper and affordable technology was also necessary to minimise exorbitant fees charged by examination related contractors. With this new arrangement, a little above N200m was spent to build an internal system to deliver examinations instead of over a billion. This was said to have helped build the capacity of the board’s ICT staff, avoid exposure of questions, and to make monitoring easy and away from the manipulation of examination contractors.

According to Oloyede, it is important to ask why JAMB generated close to N8 billion but paid N200 at the end of the year. The answer he said is in waste, pilfering, enrichment of a few individuals. Notwithstanding the fact that powerful toes were stepped upon, attempts were made to scuttle the process, outcries instigated, personnel were attacked and offices vandalized, JAMB should be encouraged to continue to use innovative technologies that could reduce the cost of examination, generate money for government and restore integrity and credibility to the examination body.

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