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Education Must Survive

By Odeyemi Afis Olawale
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The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB); may have retreated it earlier position in its recently introduced policy on admission which resulted in demonstrations from various quarter of the nation’s higher institutions. The policy generated immense outcry among stakeholders, prospective undergraduates and their parents, leading to several unpleasant reactions including protest and legal actions. Odeyemi Afis Olawale examined the outcome of the event.

All roads led to the University of Lagos (UNILAG), penultimate week as aggrieved parents and their children/wards seeking admission into the institution stormed the campus. The protesting parents accompanied by the prospective undergraduates lay siege at the UNILAG campus in disapproval of the school decision to bar the students from taking the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), slated for 12 and 13th of August. The demonstration earmarked the parent’s dissatisfaction over the new JAMB policy which was bent on redirecting applicants from their school of most preferred choice.

In what had started as mere speculation making rounds in the early parts of Tuesday, spread swiftly like wild fire to other institutions in the country, as social media platforms were awash with various unverified stories which emanated from the exercise. At the UNILAG campus, the purported rumor turned true to the obvious eyes of applicants who having visited the school website to complete the screening test registration, were bolted from the blue. The anxious applicants met a bigger shock at the school website as they were promptly redirected to verify their good standings by providing their individual JAMB application details for verification before proceeding with the final registration. Reports however revealed that most of the candidates were not shortlisted by jamb. The unusual development infuriated the helpless students and their aggrieved parents which subsequently led to the protest the day after.

Parents bemoaned such policy lacked fair judgment and infringes on their right to life, freedom of choice and individualism. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and a total breach of trust of individual rights. It is offensive to our sensibility and insensitive to the plight of our innocent children whose right to formal education is being denied and their hope and aspirations dashed away”, insisted, one of the parents.

The first sign that there was trouble in the air showed up in the early hours of Wednesday as protesters staged a large mass demonstration at the university, wielding placards together to vent their spleen on the institution. They blocked and barricaded the university gate and other adjoining roads leading to the campus, which brought academic activities to standstill. They chanted solidarity songs, and thereafter demanded the removal of Jamb Chief Registrar, Prof. Jibu Ojerinde, as they accused him of working hand-in-glove with private institutions to launch what they termed ‘unfair policy’.

UNILAG was the front burner of the protest among the list of 5 affected Nigeria institutions with highest number of applications. You will recall, Unilag recorded 62,125 applications as compared to University of Nigeria, Nsukka which attracted 66,788 applicants. Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka had 70,609 applications, leaving University of Benin, with 71,496 applications. It will key to note that the University of Ilorin had once again topped in the list of most preferred Nigeria universities with highest number of seekers with 107,488 applications.

When CAMPUSLIFE visited the institution, reports garnered shows that the sudden outburst at the UNILAG campus although peaceful, was partly because it coincided with the institution’s call for application in the 2015/2016 academic session post-UTME test.

Statistics revealed that out of the 32,000 candidates qualified for the screening test based on the 200 cut-off score adopted by the University of Lagos for all post-jamb applicants, only 9,000 candidates were short-listed and therefore eligible to participate in the test. Others were then asked to await jamb directives for transfer to other institutions. In reaction parents who had accompanied their children to the campus for the exercise expressed disappointment, they berated JAMB over their children’s exclusion from the list of shortlisted candidates.

Mosses Okafor, an engineer and parent, in a chat with campus correspondent, has said his brother who made UNILAG his first choice scored 255 in the JAMB-UTME examination but was met by shock and dissatisfaction at the reason both JAMB and the institution gave for the sudden change in the usual procedure. He said the policy is unpopular to the general public and lacked fairness to the plight of the masses. “At least we should have been notified well ahead of time instead of this sudden imposition,” he insisted.

Reports has it that JAMB during its 6th combined policy meeting of stakeholders of institutions which was attended by vice chancellors of universities, rectors of polytechnics and provosts of colleges of education had adopted 180 and 150 as the national benchmark for admission into universities, polytechnics and other non degree awarding institutions. JAMB thereby cautioned all tertiary institutions against flouting such decision, saying with effect from the current academic session, the board would sanction defaulters who defy the regulation.

Meanwhile, schools like UNILAG and four other universities had other ideas, they had refused to stick to the agreed upon benchmark and went ahead to impose their own cut-off marks. In addition, candidates who had scored below their own benchmark were barred from registering for the post-UTME test.

John Kikelomo another candidate who applied to UNILAG shared her opinion to CAMPUSLIFE, she was of the opinion that, JAMB should have sensitized the general public on its decision early enough instead of introducing a last minute policy even after it had earlier announced to the public that the cut-off mark for admissions into universities is 180 and 150 to non-degree awarding institutions. Other agitating parents saw a different ball to the game. They saw the whole exercise from a far broader perspective; and a new form of political strategy heading towards personal gain.

A trader at the university who claimed to have two of her daughters applying to the institution believes JAMB registrar and his associates arrived at the decision without clear thoughts and consideration for public interest. She noted that: “It is only in Nigeria decisions paramount to general public interest is taking with impunity, with no due consultation to the people but with less concern to the plight of the masses. But on this one, we shall not agree until our interest is met”, she added.

CAMPUSLIFE can authoritatively reveal that stakeholders, including academics in the nation’s education sector sulk at the policy. Some nevertheless, believed the new policy has its positive and negative sides.

Also granted interview to CAMPUSLIFE correspondent, a source at the university, a senior lecturer of the department of International Law and Jurisprudence, UNILAG disclosed such policy on the part of JAMB could have been replaced with a more ideal policy. The source revealed that JAMB also compounded issues by advising that candidates with lower cut-off marks apply for the placement in universities with insufficient applicants. “It is a shame that education standards are now so low as to compel JAMB to contemplate this unprecedented scheme. It is much more disgraceful that Nigerians are even debating this low standardization. I believe that if the national benchmark of 180 as claimed by JAMB was with the intention to create admission opportunities for candidates that are educationally disadvantaged or fill slots in less preferred universities, then it is high time it changed tack, enthrone meritocracy and ensured only the best students enters the nation’s universities.” This, he said should be the best approach at a time the rest of the world attaches much importance to quality education. The source added that: “The best response to such development is not to allow the system to be marooned in mediocrity but that a higher standard for Nigerians to strive to attain is, what is required.”

Speaking on the benefit of such policy, JAMB Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, had insisted the policy portends two benefits. First, It will be beneficial to “needy Universities” that is, universities with lower number of candidates than their capacities, as it will ensure more candidates to be admitted. On the other hand, candidates will have better chances for admission in the universities they are re-assigned to, contrary to the usual situation whereby candidates would await admission in the universities of their first choices until the admission exercise closes and they forfeit admission in that session.

Also resulting from the imbroglio, some affected candidates had dragged JAMB and UNILAG to the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos over the new policy. The court, same day granted the application for judicial review of the decision to bar them from taking the UNILAG entrance examination. The applicants alleged that Ojerinde issued a directive stopping them from participating in the forthcoming post-UTME examinations, while also accusing Ojerinde of sending their names to other institutions they did not choose.

However, relief finally came the way of the students, resulting from many reactions and agitations from stakeholders which culminated into resting and outlawing the policy. The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU), University of Ibadan chapter, Prof. Segun Ajiola alleged that investors in private universities were using JAMB to lure students to, and promote their schools. He claimed JAMB lost completely it relevance the moment universities began to decide the students they could admit through the pos-UTME tests. Ajibola Insisted JAMB lacked the constitutional authority to decide which school a candidate would go, he maintained that it was sad that JAMB has suddenly become promoter of private universities by imposing unpopular policy on the preferences and choice of Nigerian youths. “JAMB lacks the power to change the rules of admission in the middle of the process after deceiving candidates to pick universities, polytechnics and colleges of education as options when it sold out forms to them. JAMB’s concept of ‘needy’ institutions needs deconstruction here. Needy universities are basically private universities in Nigeria that charge exorbitant fees with less than required manpower.”

What turned an abrupt and complete reversal of position, JAMB spokesperson Dr. Benjamin announced its decision to allow the candidates to take the post-UTME test in their first choice institutions. In addition, he disclosed candidates can also do the post-UTME exercise in the institutions, particularly, universities which they have been posted to by JAMB. We hope this will help the candidates in their endeavor. Insisting that, the board by its decision was showing that it has the interest of Nigerians at heart.

Although, the JAMB policy may have been faced out, it will suffice to say that the uproar generated by the now outlawed policy shows that if the Nigeria education system must attain world standard, there must be a clear-cut and uniform standard adopted for the whole nation. Generally, educational standards are universal. Hence, if the Nigerian education sector must follow in the part of other developed nations of the world, then she must adhere strictly to these universal standards of schooling instead of standards being bent to suit students who are not eligible for university education. Such students should be encouraged to opt for polytechnics or colleges of education. The implication is that, if candidates who cannot score above 180 got into the universities, these tertiary institutions would also lower their standards for them to cope with, thereby making the journey to the republic of mediocrity permanent. It is therefore pertinent if each state of the federation will invest massively in education, get qualified teachers to prepare their indigenes for national examinations like that of JAMB and pay for it citizens development. Therefore, it is incumbent on government and it agencies at all levels to ensure that the level of education in the country is improved. Since future development of every nation is tied to its youths, government at all spheres must adopt the right investment strategy in education.

Odeyemi Afis Olawale, Report from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria.