Thursday, 01 April 2021 05:26

Many are the challenges of JAMB but... - Bola Bolawole

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Last Saturday, March 27, 2021 the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) held its stakeholders’ meeting with media executives in Lagos. It has become characteristic of JAMB to hold such meetings since Is-haq Oloyede became its Registrar on August 1, 2016. Last year (2020), however, Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown truncated the meeting.

Usually, JAMB at this meeting with media executives expresses its gratitude “for the various supports, criticism, cautions and suggestions" on all its processes as well as "partnering with us in sanitizing the system”. One good thing about JAMB under the leadership of Oloyede is its openness, transparency, and accountability. We have seen how this has translated into a more robust, efficient, effective, and productive JAMB, not only in the respectable amount it generates year-in, year-out into the Federation account but also in the financial relief it extends to parents and their wards.

Oloyede’s JAMB is not averse to criticism; instead, it asks for one. I should think that is one reason invitees always feel at home attending JAMB’s media executives’ meeting. We would savour a good meal and, thereafter, feel free to ask questions without fearing that one could draw anyone’s ire. I once attended a media lunch where, after feasting like kings and queens, one of us asked a question that got the host yelling: “How dare you eat my food and drink my wine and still have the temerity to embarrass me with your question?” Oloyede’s JAMB is not like that!

JAMB’s commendable understanding of the media may have to do with Oloyede's personality as well as with the solid media professionals around him, like my own editor, the man whose name must be etched in gold anytime I write my journalism odyssey. Amiable Fabian Benjamin, who heads JAMB’s media, is a professional par excellence. Three other “foot soldiers” that I can identify as part of the JAMB “media team” are gurus in their own right. Little, wonder, then, that JAMB under Oloyede has had an excellent relationship with the media.

JAMB is preparing for its 2021 admissions exercise. It needs to continue to count on the support of the media and carry it along as part of its success story; and to solicit for its continued support as it prepares for another hitch-free examination devoid of election malpractice. Usually, the media is treated as the whipping boy by many in public office and only a few, like JAMB, recognise and admit openly its contributions to their success story.

Last Saturday, JAMB pronounced it openly that the media has “helped us by telling our true story in your various platforms”. Maybe JAMB hadn’t known that it made this possible by yielding itself to media scrutiny; by opening its books; and by demonstrating a willingness to consider suggestions that would better improve its performance. Much of the success story of Oloyede and JAMB that we see today is a product of this mindset.

And the media is not the only stakeholder that JAMB carries along in this way. For instance, on Thursday, March 25th, JAMB met with banks and other financial institutions partnering with it in the sale of its application forms. On Monday, March 29th, it also met with the 36 States’ Commissioner of Education and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Before then, it had met with officials of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), proprietors of computer-based centres, service providers, technical advisors, Telcos, etc. The meeting with the NIMC is of utmost significance because of the Federal Government’s directive of “No NIN, no JAMB registration”.

JAMB had also been helped by its realisation that it had a bad public image (before the coming of Oloyede) and needed to seriously do something about it. Many public institutions in similar circumstances would have preferred to live in self denial. The willingness to admit as well as discuss its problems and challenges stand JAMB tall. That way, solutions are proffered from diverse quarters and solutions are found.

The best efforts and intentions of JAMB notwithstanding, Covid-19 has disrupted the academic calendar in ways beyond anyone's imagination. For universities that were struggling to bridge the gap created by incessant lecturers’ strike actions, a bad situation was made even worse. Thus, some universities have cancelled a whole academic session while others are still struggling to cover lost ground. Over-stretched university administrators have snarled at JAMB for continuing to conduct examinations and admit fresh students while those on ground have nowhere to go.

Mindful of such concerns, JAMB said it “convened a meeting with all heads of tertiary institutions in the country” to discuss how normalcy would return to the nation’s academic calendar. One decision already taken is that all admissions for 2020 should end on or before June 15, 2021.

Other decisions that would reinforce the integrity of JAMB examinations and the admission process include: That candidates should accept offer of admission made through CAPS (that is, on JAMB’s candidate’s profile) only; that there shall be no regularization of any irregular admission; and JAMB has banned all third-party interactions on its portal for any of its services.

Despite Oloyede and JAMB’s zero-level tolerance for election malpractice and corruption, unscrupulous persons and desperate candidates and their parents still continue to explore ways and means to compromise and take advantage of the system. As they say, crime and criminals are always one or two steps ahead of law enforcement.

The ban on all third-party interactions on JAMB portals is meant to address the danger of “fraudsters taking advantage of the naivety of some candidates to collect their vital access codes to effect unauthorised changes on their profiles”. Even parents are not exempted, such that none can now force courses on wards.

One of the advantages of technology, when properly applied, is to simplify processes and make life easier for people. Taking advantage of technology, JAMB has decided that “candidates no longer need to travel to JAMB offices to access certain services” Merciful Father, we thank thee! In these days when travelling is no longer safe and kidnapping has become commonplace, this must be welcome relief for parents and candidates alike.

According to JAMB, it has developed what it calls a “ticketing system” where complaints can be sent to the JAMB office and those requiring one service or the other can avail themselves of the opportunity offered by the new system. JAMB promises that responses would be given “within 24 hours”. How does the system work? “It has a tracking number that is issued once a ticket is raised. If not attended to, the number can be used as evidence to track the officer scheduled, who would be sanctioned. The system is designed to eliminate any stress associated with the Board’s services”

Thank God, the last of my children already scaled JAMB; the system gets more complicated and computerised by the day! When I sat for the first-ever JAMB in 1978, who could have imagined today’s level of sophistication? One reason for the computerisation is to ease operations for JAMB as well as for the candidates. Another is to maintain the sanctity of the examinations and keep malpractices at bay.

But try as JAMB may, it continues to face challenges from desperate candidates bent on beating the system; from dubious CBT-operators and other “examination contractors” after  “blood” money; and unconscionable parents and guardians who will go any length to help their wards cheat in examinations.

Another challenge faced by JAMB – and, perhaps, the most dangerous – is from the “enemies” within. These are JAMB’s staff members who see nothing wrong in compromising the integrity of JAMB processes for pecuniary considerations. At the JAMB meeting with media executives, the faces of some of such Judases were shown as they faced interrogation.

And according to the March 29, 2021 edition of “JAMB Bulletin”, five JAMB members of staff “against whom serious allegations of admission infractions have been levelled are currently being investigated by the Board to ascertain their level of culpability. To ensure that the investigations are concluded speedily, both the internal and external security agencies have been drafted to get to the root of the matter.”

JAMB said it took that line of action so that other members of staff could learn “a lesson as they strive to contribute their quota towards ensuring that the Board delivers on its mandate”. For us to know how deep the malaise is, eight other members of staff are said to be on interdiction.

There is no denying the fact that corruption, impunity, wilful violation of due process, etc. are cankerworms that have eaten deep into every facet of our national life. Because sanctions are seldom applied and vile criminals are often left to roam free, the rot festers and criminality becomes not just a way of life to many but the societal norms. It is heart-warming to note that at JAMB, the errant are still being called to account.

  • Bola Bolawole

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