By Moses Alao
When last week the news came that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the National Examination Council (NECO), among others, would be scrapped or reviewed, it dawned on many Nigerians that times have not changed much when it comes to issues of policy somersault and inconsistency. The country’s policy inconsistency dates back to a long time but it has consistently had the same effect—taking the country back to Square One.
Whether in the education, agriculture or financial sector, examples abound about how Nigeria’s inability to see policies through to the point of success has cost it millions in wealth and development but rather than learn from the past, successive governments fall into the same error.
As a former Provost of the Federal College of education, Osiele, Abeokuta, Professor Ajayi, cited in Dr Dayo Odukoya’s “Formulation and implementation educational policies in Nigeria” maintains, “with the constant instability in governance, coupled with constant changes in “Ministers of”, “Ministers for” and “Commissioners for”, one should not be surprised at the level of the crises the nation’s educational sector has witnessed over the years and the inconsistency and often contradictory nature of the educational policies and practices. It is one step forward and two steps backward.”
The news of the proposed attempt to scrap NECO and review JAMB’s activities was a practical case of the one step forward, two steps backward painted above.
Established with a mandate to conduct matriculation examination for entry into all universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in the country and place suitably qualified candidates in the tertiary institutions after having taken into account the vacancies available in each tertiary institution and the guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietors or other competent authorities, the preference expressed or otherwise indicated by the candidates for certain tertiary institutions and courses, JAMB has lived up to its billing for more than 30 years. Not only has it outlived its challenges, it has also become a veritable organisation that keeps the country’s federal character in balance.
Many a time when educational inequality would have become magnified and later pose dangers to the unity of the country, JAMB, currently being headed by Professor Dibu Ojerinde (OON), could be said to have remained the only source of equilibrium, with its mandate on students placement well carried out to sustain balance among the educationally-advantaged and the educationally-disadvantaged states of the country. Apart from these, the pervasive corruption in the country which could have affected the destinies of millions of Nigerian youths who surely would not have had the opportunity to gain admission into the tertiary institutions, has been successfully checked because JAMB is in control of admissions.
The examination body also, recently, succeeded in streamlining the entrance examinations into tertiary institutions into one mega examination called Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), thereby saving the country a lot of cost which would have been spent on different examinations.
It is also worthy of note that JAMB has set good examples for other examination bodies in the country, with innovations in the conduct of examinations in the country.
But all these were probably not remembered when the Federal Government came up with the decision to review JAMB’s activities—another policy somersault which effect will make Nigerians rue the government’s latest effort in years to come, because it wants to cut cost and reduce duplications of agencies and boards. I do not have a problem with universities’ clamour to conduct examinations for prospective students, they have succeeded already with the conduct of post-UTME, what I have a problem is the short-sightedness of taking matriculation examinations from JAMB’s purview. When and if it is done, how sure are we that universities will not sacrifice merit for money? What will happen to quota system and federal character? How many other examination bodies do we have that can adequately absorb examiners in the employment of JAMB? And ultimately, what will become of the youth who fail entrance examinations into universities, who are already taken care of with UTME giving them access to other tertiary institutions? The issue is Nigeria rarely think issues through before taking a decision.
NECO is another issue. Established in 1999 with a view to conducting Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, among others, the government has not stated the failures of NECO in doing that but it has surprising slated it for scrapping to “save cost?”. The questions are; what did WAEC do wrong before NECO was founded? What gains have NECO made in 14 years? Have all these been properly looked into before a big stick is wielded against the body? These questions beg for answers and the Federal Government, under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, should weigh its options and save Nigerians the embarrassment of regretting these decisions in not-too-distant-time. It is also a call to the National Assembly to look into these issues.
If we have to reduce the cost of governance, we have to phase out corruption rather than committing another policy faux pas that will haunt the country in years to come.
Alao writes Ibadan.