Still On JAMB's Aborted Insensitive Admission Policy

For want of appropriate semantics, the above caption best describes the latest but reversed admission policy dished out by the Joint Admission and Maticulation Board (JAMB). Without mincing words, this was nothing but an attempt to conspire with tertiary institutions in the country to further compound the plights and educational woes of hapless and frustrated Nigerian youths who have over the years become objects of exploitation by the powers that be. But thankfully, same has boomoranged on the Board and the Universities.

This thoughless policy was brought to the fore two weeks ago when candidates seeking admission into the University of Lagos arrived that very morning only to discover that the goal post had been shifted in the middle of the game, as it were. The spontaneous protests that followed were just natural as both the enraged parents and the irked prospective students shut down the campus, demanding the reversal of the policy as well as a level playing ground for their wards. It is important to state that the University had earlier sold out admission forms to the prospective students for the exercise without informing them of this sudden change.

This conspiracy theory became further exposed by the lame argument of the Board spokesman, Fabian Benjamin, that the University was right to have jacked up the minimum admission cut-off mark from the widely acceptable and recognised 180 to 250. The reasons offered by the spokesman to justify the controversial change were as lame as the inefficience and incompetence of the Board that gave rise to the exercise in the first place.

The Board, in yet in another breath, overreached itself when it unilaterally redistributed and/or reassigned candidates to the so-called "starved" institutions without the candidates consent or input. This action is not only oppressive and reprehensible, it is also a flagrant violation of the law establishing the Board. Beyond the conduct of entrance examinations into higher institutions in Nigeria, JAMB has no power whatsoever to determine the choice of the institutions a candidate makes. This can be explicitly explained under Section 5 (1) (c) (iii) of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act, Chapter 193, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which states that in placing candidates into tertiary institutions, the Board shall take into account "the preferences expressed or otherwise indicated by candidates for certain tertiary institutions and courses". The whole policy appeared tailored towards financial enrichment of these institutions at the peril of the candidates.

Assuming, but not conceding, that the Board had the mandate to so act, one expects that it should have factored so many things into perspective before doing that, including but not limited to the financial capacities of these candidates and the high tuition fees often charged by these receiving institutions, especially the private ones. The policy is also not in tandem with the inalienable rights to freedom of association and choice as guaranteed under our extant law, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

It is instructive that the Federal Government has overruled the

oppressive policy, however, the lessons arising from the controversy should not be lost on us or wished away like that. For the fact that the Board could contemplate such a sensitive policy with little or no input from critical stakeholders and also attempted to force same down the throats of the candidates clearly showed the level at which impunity lack of transparency have taken over our public sphere. Perhaps, if the public outcries hadn't been this tense, the Board and its university allies would have implemented the new exploitative guideline without regard to its overbearing impact on the candidates and their helpless parents. This is never done in modern societies, and Nigeria cannot be an exception.

It is obvious that JAMB is battling to reclaim its relevance after years of oblivion and battered public image. But the more it continues to fight for relevance the more its rejection becomes louder. The Board's defence for the breach of its own guidelines by some tertiary institutions is a clear indication that it has lost its bearing and focus. The 150, 180 Cut-off mark for admission into Universities, Polytechnic and Colleges of Education, respectively, should be sacrosanct.

The argument by the Board that the tertiary institutions should on their own accord determine the benchmark for the Post UTME screening is, in every wise, ineffable, illogical and shallow. Such practice, if allowed, will amount to double jeopardy for the candidates who are also compelled to go through the rigours of the so-called UTME screening in addition to the pains of scaling the hurdles of the Board's own examinations.

President Mohammadu Buhari must ensure that no Nigerian youth is reduced to an object of exploitation by public or private bodies under his government. That era of impunity should be over by now. The media and civil groups should equally play a role in ensuring that the excesses of some these overzealous public institutions and government parastatals are constantly put under check. To this, the legal action instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) along with other nine affected candidates to challenge the Board's action before the reversal is quite salutary.

But the group and the candidates should be encouraged to maintain the action, regardless of the latest development, as this will go a long way in allowing the court to put a paid to this illegality while future occurrences of same are prevented

Okoro Gabriel, Esq. (Lagos)

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Articles by Okoro Gabriel Bryne