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•Babalola & •Prof. Dibu Ojerinde
On October 14, 2011 both the electronic and print media in Nigeria widely reported the motion passed by the country's highest law making body, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. According to the media the motion brought by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Water Resources, Senator Heineken Lokpobiori, Bayelsa West and co-sponsored by 35 Senators including Smart Adeyemi, Ayogu Eze, Zainab Kure, Chris Anyawu and Dahiru Kuta was passed by the Senate declaring illegal what he described a post-UTME examination conducted by Nigerian Universities for the purpose of admitting fresh students to the institution.

According to the Senator, only the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has the legal power to conduct entrance examinations for candidates seeking to gain admission into Nigerian Universities. He therefore declared as illegal, unconstitutional and wicked the current practice whereby universities conduct screening exercises for candidates submitted to them by JAMB before admitting them into their universities.

In furtherance to this proposition taken by the senate, it mandated its education committee to investigate the actions of the Universities which the sponsors of the motion condemn in strong terms as 'a rip-off of our people and a rape of our laws.'However, some senators opposed the motion. For example Senator Aisha Hassan was reported to have 'slammed her colleagues who opposed the post-UTME exercise. She argued that quality education which the exercise seeks to entrench should not be sacrificed because it does not favour some.

According to her, 'we should be saying thank you to the universities for the post-UTME.' They are to give qualitative education to our children. People condemn when it suits them and tend to condone when it suits them. It is common knowledge that JAMB has failed, I therefore oppose in total the scrapping of post-UTME.'

Considering the pre-eminent position which the law-makers occupy, as the highest representative law-making body of the people in Nigeria, and in view of the decay in the nations educational system, it has become virtually necessary to address the following issues which emanate from the Senate proceedings:

The purport, scope and powers of JAMB under Section 5(a), (c)(ii) of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act, CAP J1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; The Statutory Powers of Universities to make guidelines for admission of students to universities and the 2002-2007 deafening protests of Concerned Parents coupled with Committee of Pro-Chancellors, Council of Vice Chancellors on the compromised results paraded by JAMB and the call to scrap JAMB; the final decision of the Federal Government to continue to use JAMB as benchmark while the universities were to commence post-UTME screening exercise; the salutary effect of the screening exercise carried out by universities on students armed with JAMB results; cost of Screening exercise and conclusion.

The purport, scope and powers of JAMB
UNDER SECTION 5(A), (C)(II) OF THE JOINT ADMISSIONS AND MATRICULATION BOARD ACT, CAP J1, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004, Section 5(1)(a) of JAMB Act, provides for the functions of the Board as follows: 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. Section 5(1)(b) provides as follows:

The appointment of examiners, moderators, invigilators, members of subject panels and committees and other persons with respect to matriculation examinations and any other matter incidental thereto or connected therewith.

The combined effect of Section 5(1), (a) and 5(1)(c)(ii) is that the JAMB is statutorily empowered to set and conduct examinations, appoint examiners and other invigilators for the purpose of the examination set by the board.

There is nothing strange in this practice. The world all-over, each country usually sets up joint admission board for their universities. What is in issue is whether the JAMB board is the all in all or one stop shop with regard to university's admission process OR do the universities have no role to play in admission process?

Put in another way is it the position that anybody who passes JAMB examination must be admitted willy-nilly to university of his choice? The answer is emphatic NO.

The admission of everybody that parades JAMB results would certainly further damage the quality of tertiary institutions in the country.

Austria, Switzerland and Belgium which used to allow unrestricted admission into the university for anyone who passed the qualifying examination soon found to their dismay overcrowding and high dropout rates as well as high failure rates.

Consequently, a law was passed allowing universities to impose measures to select students starting from 2006. Medical schools in Vienna, Innsbruck and Graz were allowed to introduce entrance examination.

The JAMB Act is very clear on the role of JAMB in admission process. To gain admission into any university, there is more than mere passing of the JAMB examination. This is clear from the provisions of Section 5(1)(c)(ii) of JAMB Act which provides that: The placement of suitably qualified candidates shall be in collaboration with the tertiary institutions after taking into account-the guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietor or other competent authority;

It is clear from the JAMB Act that the guidelines approved by each university by its proprietors are essential factors in the placement of students. The universities are not meant to be arm-chair participants in the admission process.

The statutory powers of Universities to make guidelines for admission of students to Universities

All Nigerian Universities hold their existence to law. The various universities' statutes contain the objects of each university and the composition and powers of universities organs and officers. A careful examination of these statutes reveal that they share common provisions in relation to the power to determine the suitability of candidates who can be admitted to the university out of those who passed JAMB examination.

There is therefore nothing illegal in universities setting up guidelines and giving effect to such guidelines.

The giving effect to the guidelines of each university is only possible through screening by each university. This is a task that is beyond the JAMB and cannot in any case be undertaken by it.

If university certificates are awarded based on character and learning, the quality assurance for these must be instituted right from the beginning. Universities like ABUAD (Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti) make guidelines to test the good character of their candidates, preparedness of candidates to abide by the rules and regulations of the university, their readiness to uphold the ideal of the institution, comportment, ability to communicate, physical fitness, the genuineness of certificate the candidate parades, failing health etc. All these are matters outside the admission competence of JAMB Board. The foregoing is underscored by Section 5(1)(c)(ii) of the JAMB Act which recognizes the collaboration of JAMB with the university.

Screening and evaluation in other countries
As advance as England is, whether to admit a student to a course is entirely the decision of each university. Students are expected to provide personal statement on why they want to study the particular subject and evidence that they would be committed students. Academic reference must also be attached from their former school. Universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Kings College London, University College London, require students to attend interview and or complete special admission test before the university makes an offer.

In America, each college evaluates the candidates using its own criteria and each college has its own criteria even when using a common application form. In Portugal, there is final evaluation by each university. In India, interviews are organized following the national test. In Germany additional entrance examination has recently been introduced for those who passed the entrance examination.

The2002-2007 protests of concerned parents and the call to scrap JAMB

For a long time after its inception, the Board conducted on a yearly basis, separate matriculation examinations into Nigerian Universities on the one hand and Polytechnics and Colleges of education on the other hand. In recent years the Board conducted a Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).

For a long time the Board was able to discharge its functions with some level of credibility. To a large extent, the students who were admitted to the Universities through the Board seemed to justify the creation of the Board in the first place. However with the passage of time and the advent of other factors such as National population increase, things took a turn for the worse. Factors such as corruption began to have an effect on the quality of students admitted to the Universities through JAMB. No longer could the Universities be assured of the fact that they were admitting the best qualified students. In many instances examinations papers were openly compromised and sold to students even within the premises of the examination venue. Students who had scored very high marks in the examination conducted by the Board were in most cases unable to cope academically after admission by Universities of their choices.

Effect of drop in standards
The above stated scenario was bound to have and indeed had an effect on the educational fortunes of the country. Graduates of Nigerian Universities who hitherto were able to compete with their counterparts from other parts of the world for placement in Post Graduate Programs of some notable foreign Universities became totally disadvantaged for no other reason but the fact that they possessed degrees of Nigerian Universities.

The same thing applied to graduates who suddenly discovered that possession of a Nigerian awarded degree was an immediate factor for disqualification for not only foreign job openings but also some local but highly competitive positions. To make matters worse Nigerian Universities lost their appeal so much so that no Nigerian University was ranked amongst the first 1000 in Africa. Whilst this poor ranking is often attributable to the poor funding by Government of the Universities, the role played by the poor state of the graduates of the Universities cannot be downplayed. A University, much like a commercial company is after all only as good as its product or services.

It was with this state of affairs in mind as the Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos and the Chairman of Committee of Pro-Chancellor that I began the advocacy for the introduction of some form of further screening, after the conduct of the UTME examination for applicants into the Nation's tertiary institutions. I gave the first public hint of the introduction of such a system during the 2002 Convocation of the University of Lagos of which I was at the time, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council. My remarks regarding the planned introduction of the Post-JAMB screening received wide applause from all present.

On the 15th of December 2003 I renewed my call for the introduction of the said test. This was on the occasion of the presentation of an award by the National Universities Commission to the Governing Council of the University of Lagos as the best in the Country. At the said occasion I stated as follows: 'The situation is now such that unscrupulous parents and guardians of candidates and even candidates themselves act in collusion with elements in JAMB to forge and falsify results of JAMB examinations. The good candidates who score averagely and who would have been able to sustain any rigorous academic activity are thus edged out by this evil contrivance.

As a matter of fact , the integrity of JAMB is so much in question now in addition to the integrity of its published results such that in my speech at the 2002 convocation ceremony of the University of Lagos there was noticeable spontaneous applause from all sections of the congregated audience, including His Excellency the President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR when I stated our intention in the University of Lagos to introduce 'weeding' tests for those students admitted into our university from this year.

What JAMB does not appreciate is that JAMB's statutory powers is subject to the powers conferred by the Universities Act on the University authorities which were in existence before JAMB came into existence. Whilst JAMB has the power to conduct admissions and matriculation examinations for admission into universities, there is no obligation after admission for UNILAG to keep students of sub standard intellectual ability on the basis of a flawed process whose very integrity suffers monumental questions of credibility.

In the days before JAMB was established when each university was in control of its own admission and matriculation process, our degrees, diplomas, certificates and qualifications suffered no credibility locally and abroad. Nobody questioned our degrees outside the borders of Nigeria. Regrettably, the flaws in JAMB process which was not in existence in its early years of existence is now a big factor to this inimical and sorry state of our degrees in Nigeria which each University must reverse and halt. The university authority in Unilag is bent on improving the quality of admission and afortiori the quality of its degrees. The holders of Unilag degrees shall not be subject to qualifying tests overseas which their own graduates will not be subject to.

In pursuance of our goal of restoring the old glory of our qualifications, diplomas and certificates the University of Lagos will guard jealously and ensure that those fraudulent students who are admitted through false JAMB results and whose intellect are not reasonably justifiable or sustainable in any credible academic environment will be 'weeded'.

The final decision of the federal government to continue to use jamb as benchmark while the universities were to commence post-utme screening exercise.

Consequent upon this address, the body of Vice-Chancellors and Committee of Pro-Chancellor of Nigerian Universities met several times on the matter.

After careful examination of the issues involved, the Federal Government resolved that there was no need to scrap JAMB. It stated however that JAMB should continue to conduct its matriculation examinations to provide minimum benchmark for suitability for university education the universities should intensify their own statutory roles by conducting elaborate screening of the successful JAMB candidates to determine among them those who are prepared for effective and quality university education.

The salutary effect of the screening exercise carried out by universities on the students turned over by jamb to the universities

The Post-UTME screenings have had a profound effect. It has greatly increased the quality of students admitted in the Universities. At the inception some students who scored very high marks in the examination conducted by the Board failed to justify such high ratings in the Post-UTME screening. The screening has afforded the universities the opportunity to identify the following:

Students who have been rusticated from other universities, Those who forged their entrance results, Those who have been involved in criminal activities such as cultism, rape, stealing, armed robbery, ritual killings, drug and alcohol addictions, kidnapping and other illegal activities.

Those who do not have the requisite competence to study the courses they applied for.

Those who are not interested in their courses but are pushed by their parents. These are not matters which JAMB can identify.

There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of students who are often asked to withdraw after the first academic session for reason of poor performance. This in turn has increased the quality of scholarship in the Universities as Lecturers now have students who are truly interested in academic pursuits and are thus more easily engaged in class.

Cost of screening exercise
Another issue emphasized by the members of the Senate in their motion is that of charging of fees by the universities for the exercise, which they described as a rip-off. Since the starting of the post-UTME exercise, the issue of fees charged by the universities for the exercise have always been in the front burner. It is wrong for any university to adopt an extortionist approach to this. However, there is no gainsaying the fact that an elaborate screening exercise will involve some administrative cost. Minimal fees need to be charged by the universities to cover for the cost. An alternative way to this is for the government to mandate JAMB to remit to the universities some of the fees it collects from candidates during the application process. This will help cover the costs the universities incur.

But for the flawed JAMB process, there would probably be no need for intensive screening. Initially some universities charged as much as N20,000 for post-UTME screening exercise. There were protests, we met and agreed that public universities should charged N2,000 while private universities should charge N5,000.

In ABUAD which is reputed for strict compliance with law, we charge the agreed fees of N5,000 which hardly covers the expenses incurred by the university. As a new university there is the need to conduct screening in different centres in many states of the country.

Finally, it must always be borne in mind that the post-UTME exercise was conceived as a rescue mechanism in response to the falling standard of education in Nigeria. Notwithstanding whatever shortcomings that may have been noticed in its execution a proper approach to it is not to declare it illegal. It is already serving its purpose and will continue to serve as part of a bouquet of policy measure to restore the lost glory in our educational sector. There are already noticeable and encouraging results coming from the exercise.

Before now, it had been the case that many students who entered the university with high marks in their UME results ended up average or even at the bottom of the class. The experience we had at the University of Lagos immediately after the introduction of the exercise encouraged us to continue in it. For example, there was a case of a candidate who applied for law in the university. His UME result was so impressive that we could easily have passed him as a first class candidate. During the post-UME exercise, he was asked whether, as a literature student, he knew a novel called 'Things Fall Apart'. He quickly responded yes.

We asked him who the author is and he responded ABACHA! That was an example of many other heart-rending experiences we had on that day. This has been the case in almost all the universities in Nigeria. The screening exercise is however helping the universities to reverse this trend. The introduction of screening exercise saw instant reduction in the large number of candidates parading high JAMB scores.

Bearing this in mind, it therefore serves the interest of the nation for the Senate to support the exercise rather than condemn it. While it is a worthy course for the activities of the universities on this exercise to be investigated to ensure compliance with best practices, it is wrong to declare it illegal as reported by the media even before mandating its committee on education to investigate it.

'It is clear from the JAMB Act that the guidelines approved by each university by its proprietors are essential factors in the placement of students, the universities are not meant to be arm-chair participants in the admission process'