The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s 2017 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination could pass for the best ever. But, like anything done by imperfect humans, there still appears to be a lot of rooms for improvement. This year’s exercise, the first under the watchful eyes of JAMB’s new Registrar, Professor Is-haq Olanrewaju Oloyede, took off like something destined to flop but coasted home powerfully like a seasoned sprinter, who would flutter, steadied himself and get underway to finish the 100-metre dash in a matter of seconds. In all, 1.8 million candidates participated in this year’s quest for places in the three-tier tertiary institutions in the country.
A mock test, designed to streamline newcomers and the Computer Based Test proper, came off in two straights. Its resounding success was however blistered by the shady deals of spoilers who infiltrated the scheme and perpetrated frauds in 72 CBT centres across the country. But those miscreants could not circumvent the ingenuity of Oloyede’s team which deployed close circuit television gadgets in all the centres to clinically monitor the nationwide exercise.
Prof. Oloyede was already abreast of the demands of his new office on assumption as the Registrar and Chief Executive of JAMB on August 1, last year. He had come from a background that initiated and perfected CBT at the University of Ilorin where he held court for five years as vice-chancellor. JAMB had descended to the lowest level of trust which prompted individual tertiary institutions to design further tests for candidates that had scaled the matriculation examinations. It was a thumb down for the national matriculation Board which was installed in 1978 to be the sole national agency for the conduct of matriculation examination and admission into tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Unilorin then pioneered the CBT and this put Oloyede in a good position for the JAMB’s headship, making him a worthy successor to the former Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde.
Oloyede moved swiftly to upgrade UTME to international standard practice. He reasoned that the global timeline for matriculation examination was and therefore should be two hours as against three been expended. He accordingly lowered the time by one hour. Oloyede also brought the number of questions down from 250 to 180, thus reducing candidates’ rigours.
The new JAMB Registrar also worked assiduously to ease the hassles of admission seekers in the area of assigning examination centres. Hitherto, candidates were subjected to long journeys to examination centres. Stories of candidates traversing two or more states to write UTME were rampant. Oyetola Adegunwa, a resident of Ota, Ogun State, had to travel to Ile-Ife, Osun State to write the 2014 UTME. His father, Daramola, accompanied his inexperienced son to the centre in view the young man’s poor travel experience. Oyetola’s saga typified several others who in recent past had to embark on harrowing long journeys in their quest for tertiary education. But that appears to have been consigned to the refuse heap of history.
Another unique characteristic of this year’s matriculation examination is the involvement of credible individuals from the civil society who were assigned to monitor the exercise with a view to giving credence to the fairness of the nationwide CBTs. Such individuals were drawn from the media and the civil rights movements. These had to work alongside core educationists who served in various capacities at state and zonal levels to midwife a CBT of global acceptance. The enlargement of the monitoring group was designed, according to Oloyede, to assist JAMB in carrying out world-class tests that would be the pride of every Nigerian.
The most fundamental of all is the efforts done by the present leadership through which over N5 billion was returned to the coffers of government. This is the first time funds are being returned to government. Previously, the Board would have gone even aborrowing from commercial banks to complete the examination and admission cycle.
Oloyede’s penchant for equity and fairness necessitated the July 1, 2017 mop-up examination for 85,000 candidates in 170 centres across the country. The candidates had either registered late for the main examination or encountered difficulties during the examination proper. Rigid helmsman could have asked the candidates to wait till the following year.
All said, this year’s UTME was not without blights. Seventy-two CBT centres across the country were caught in the web of sharp practices and have been blacklisted. Yes, the prying lenses of CCTVs made it possible for the Oloyede-led crack team to detect such discrepancies even from the comfort of its office.
As JAMB looks forward to the next UTME., and Oloyede already strategising to consolidate on the use of eight-keys without a mouse in favour of the phobic candidates in the 2017 exercise, there still remains the incubus of dishonest invigilators. One of the candidates who wrote the test at Agbara, Ogun State, narrated how an invigilator barefacedly assisted a candidate next to him to the point of even punching the keyboard for the dishonest candidate. No wonder, JAMB had to cancel over 57000 results and suspended the release of their scores.
The views across the country indicated that the new JAMB Registrar has started well. But that is not saying that the system is perfect yet. It should catch the attention of JAMB to reduce the distance between candidates and their centres. Starting examination at 7 am may be too early for candidates who had to cover several kilometres to the centres. Oloyede may have to consider these and other obstacles as he plods on as the JAMB’s Chief Executive.
By Akin Owolabi is a veteran journalist based in Lagos