The Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, addresses the challenges around the 2017 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and other issues in this interview with OLALEYE ALUKO
The JAMB 2017 registration has been fraught with problems. According to NOI Polls, 60 per cent of the 2017 JAMB registration applicants experienced one form of difficulty or the other during registration. Is that a source of worry to you?
Yes, we do like to have a hitch-free registration. But the registration hitches we had did not give me any concern. Why? It was not a matter of whether I needed to worry over it, because I expected the problems. In fact, I had expected 90 per cent of those problems we encountered during the registration. The problems came particularly because we are in a society where people do not read or act as directed.
So, most of the problems created during the registration were there because of non-compliance with the rules. For instance, we had problems of centres not opening enough points. That was one major problem and we have resolved that by next year, we are going to be more draconian.
Indeed, we are going to be stricter. We are going to tell the Computer-Based Test centres our direction and give them a minimum number of points. These CBT centres must open only the points given to them, and they must be able to convince us that they have complied. We shall inspect the points and after ascertaining the true number, we shall then give the centres the go-ahead to register our candidates. The centres can accredit cyber cafes or individuals who have computers, saying that out of the N700 for registration, you take N200. That is their choice.
You know, another issue with the registration was fraud. We are also going to take some steps that will not be pleasant to some CBT centres by next year. Just on Tuesday morning, the JAMB made a decision that by the next Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination; we are going to place an advertisement in the newspapers telling students that wherever more than N700 is collected for registration, they should report such centre owner (to us).
The students will have dedicated days and places to make the report. We are going to also insist on a refund by such CBT centres. Some of the centres deliberately went to banks and said, “Don’t come to our centres. We will bring the money to you.”
They did this so that they could collect extra money from candidates, say N1,000 and take the balance. Do you know how many N300 balances that they collected from several candidates and they never refunded? That is also part of what we want to do.
Another aspect is that some CBT owners collected what they called gate fee of N1,000 from candidates before they would allow them to write the UTME. This is wrong. So we will also put that in the advert that any CBT centre collecting money from candidates before they allow them to write the exam should also be reported.
Once we have concrete evidence of a CBT centre collecting illegal money from any of the candidates for any purpose, we are going to discredit such centre and take further steps as sanctions against them.
We do not want them to create undue hardship for innocent students. But some of our students also behaved in a way that was unexpected of potential undergraduates. There were situations when candidates gave their emails and passwords to the CBT centre owners, who later on, held candidates to ransom and asked them to pay before they could release the passwords submitted to them. The CBT centres were demanding money since they knew the students’ mails and passwords to deliver information sent by JAMB to them, which the students should have freely accessed. So, these are the issues.
Many of these problems arose from JAMB’s introduction of new measures. Some people say it should have been left the way it was. What do you think?
No, we cannot continue to live in the past. For example, we believe that a potential undergraduate should have an email and be able to operate such in this age. But now that we have released results, we have cases of students coming back to say they cannot access their own emails. This is because the candidates had given their passwords to fraudulent people who then changed them and demanded money to reopen for JAMB information.
Some candidates thus left room for defrauders to swindle them. Some of our candidates behave in a manner that you will think they are not qualified yet for university education. They deliberately played into the hands of people, who are not even as educated as the students. But to save the situation, for students to be able to access results without being defrauded, JAMB provided an option of going to any CBT centre and asking them to print the examination results.
You then find again in that option, that some CBT centres demand N1,000 from candidates before they can print out results, and people say, ‘oh, it is JAMB collecting N1000’. Anytime, the CBT centres are fraudulent, people refer to JAMB. We want to remedy this fraud and we sent results to candidates’ private mails, but some of our students are careless. Even if CBT centres would print results for candidates, we told our candidates not to pay them more than N100 at the centres, if they must pay. So, you discover that people are accusing JAMB of things whereby we only wanted to assist.
For instance, many candidates disturb me to say: sir, we have lost the passwords to our emails, and I feel should that be my worry? Still, we provide other options to access examination results. The advantages of a CBT test that we have adopted are enormous. All the results are out already. In fact, those who took examination on Saturday saw the results on Sunday. Those who took examination on Monday got theirs on Tuesday.
The results are released every 24 hours. So no system is less stressful and safer.
Many candidates had issues accessing JAMB’s website and many described the process as cumbersome with the entire process fraught with difficulties. What makes you still think that JAMB was ready for this?
I do not agree, because most of the things we are talking about are issues of yesterday, rather than today. I have heard people talking about our centres and complaining that there was network failure. What do they mean by network failure? I will explain. You see, the terminology they were using years back is still what they stuck to. Presently, JAMB does not need network to conduct examination. We only need network twice. One, you need the network three minutes before the examinations to download the questions and three minutes after the examination to upload the answers. So, when people say network failure, they only mean the local connection of cables in a particular CBT centre.
When the cables are not properly connected in a centre, there will be problems. But it is not referring to the internet or a network service provider. So when you hear people say network failure, rest assured that they mean the cables connecting computers together within a CBT centre. That is all. And I can tell you that 90 per cent of problems at the CBT centres are caused by faulty cables. It is not the internet at all.
For instance, there was a centre in the Dutse area in Abuja, where throughout the night on Monday, our cable experts had to adjust the wrong cables used by the CBT centre owner. He had used inferior and expired cables and there were hitches during the examination. When we found out how much new cables cost, they were just N8,000. But he did not buy new ones.
So, it is not about the money. It is about doing the right thing. So, I am not surprised. We thereafter gave the man N5,000 and he bought the new cables. They are working perfectly now. Therefore, you only need the internet connection for the download of questions to the CBT centres across the country and we had done that before 5am every day of the UTME at all our 634 centres. And after the examination is concluded, they will upload back to JAMB. That takes just three minutes. But during the examination, they do not need the internet at all. That is why we say it is simple, and the invigilators can work at ease. When people say network, they mean the network in a particular centre.
I give you another example. There is a CBT centre in Mangoro, Lagos State. On Tuesday, there was an upsurge at the centre and all their wires got burnt. That was network failure. That was not the internet service provider. So, in this issue, you find a lot of exaggeration from our people. They use terms that do not apply or represent the situation. And I can say that the network failure being referred to is caused by the CBT centres 95 per cent of the time. So, I have told my officers to stop calling it network failure. I said, people are misunderstanding you; call it wiring failure or computer failure.
What will be the fate of candidates who had issues registering for exam or sitting the exam because of hitches that are not their own fault? Is there going to be a makeup exam for such candidates?
No, JAMB is not considering a makeup. We already deployed candidates who had hitches. We have their telephone numbers and we sent text messages to them. On Tuesday morning, we moved three centres away to new places. On the issue of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, we moved them to Ago Amodu, Saki and some to the University of Ibadan. We contacted them through text messages. We thought we would move them to University of Ilorin. But by virtue of the Virtual Private Network used by JAMB, logistics favoured us leaving them in Oyo State, rather than taking them to Kwara State. We also moved the last batch to the Federal College of Education, Oyo.
There was overcrowding at registration centres as they were inadequate. How will you ensure this never happens again in future?
Yes, we were aware, and again like I said earlier, this was because the CBT centres did not create enough points. We gave every centre 100 points, but some of them were using two or three points. They created bottlenecks in order to extort money from candidates and this made some candidates to jump the queue. So we are going to insist now that every centre has enough hands to handle the registration. We are also going to insist that every point of registration has two screens. One screen faces the student while the other faces the operator. This is so because the candidate will be able to certify that the information entered is correct before submission is made. That is an innovation we have for the next UTME. But presently, the screen faces only the operator and the student is hardly carried along.
Now that results of the 2017 UTME have been released, how has JAMB minimised errors so that candidates do not miss admission because of an error from the board?
There is no error in result. Everything has been automated. Anywhere you talk about a CBT examination; it is basic that the result is even ready as soon as the students submit (their answers). But we do not release the results immediately for some social reasons.
For instance, you will notice that on Saturday, which was the first day of the UTME, a number of students after taking the examination, saw their results immediately on the screen. But it was an error, because they were not supposed to see the results. It happened in that centre where they made the mistake of keeping the results. The candidates at that centre later got the results in their emails, and they were still the same results. But we were lucky that where that mistake happened, the students were not unruly immediately they saw their results.
You know they could damage the equipment at the centre and engage in other violent acts. That is the major reason why we keep the results for 24 hours. The second reason why we don’t release results immediately is because wherever examination malpractices were reported, we wanted to hold on to the results so that we could investigate properly.
If our CCTV engineers inform us about infraction at any centre, we can also withhold the results to find out what happened at that centre. These are some of the reason why we cannot release results immediately to the candidates. Otherwise, we have nothing to do with the results after the submission of answers. The results are ready as soon as the answers are submitted. That is a feature of a CBT.
There were difficulties in generating PIN and many of the candidates made several visits to complete their registration process. Do you agree with those who think JAMB bungled the process and should make the registration process more effective?
On the issue of the PIN, formerly or last year, just four banks sold our PIN. But this year, we increased the number to 10 banks. We even brought in Interswitch, Remitta and NIPOST. So we had more outlets and I do not see that as a problem. But some unscrupulous bank officials again created bottlenecks. What the bank officials did was that instead of creating the profiles of the students, they referred them to a cyber café near their branch and the cyber café operators now extorted money from these candidates before creating the profiles. The bank officials told candidates to go and create their profiles at the cyber cafés and come back.
The candidates were then forced to pay extra to the cafes, out of which the dubious bank officials would take some commission. That was what created the problem. But we are now looking at a situation where we would even give banks some serious conditions. If you don’t want to create profiles for our candidates, you don’t have to. Let us get other people who are looking for jobs to do it. We paid these banks over N560m as their commission. So let us see whether or not we cannot have alternatives to the banks, which will consider N560m as good money and will take our work more seriously than the banks took it.
If you share N560m among 10 banks, they would feel it is no money to them. But if you now spread the N560m among other individuals, you will realise that you will get better results. These are people who are looking for just N2m or N3m; you will see more efficiency when you give them the opportunity. That is what we now plan to do.
Some people say JAMB is performing functions beyond its capacity as it used to process few thousands of candidates, for few universities, when it was established in 1978, but now processes admission for over N1m candidates for all tertiary institutions in the country. Is the challenge too much for you?
I expect that the board will be growing as the number of candidates grows. Frankly speaking, I do not see the number as a problem because technology is also growing at a faster rate than the number. Therefore, I do not see any problem. I think the problem with us is that there are so many fraudsters among us and it also appears that everybody is also looking to be defrauded.
Candidates are looking for shortcuts and therefore make themselves prone to being defrauded. The issue is that if people can play by the rules and be ready to make one little sacrifice or the other, they will block the avenues through which they are being defrauded. Let me give you an example: someone was arrested during the UTME for fraud. What did he do? He went into the JAMB past question archives and the only thing he did was to get 1984 questions and change the heading to 2017.
I repeat, the only thing he did was just to change the year and many people started buying the past questions. Do you get that logic? He sold the questions for as much as N200,000. When we asked him, where did you get the questions you sold? He simply showed us the book and the only thing he did was to change the year.
Now, imagine how much money he had made and how many candidates had fallen victim. This is because students are fraudsters themselves. I mean; why are you looking for the questions of an examination you have not yet taken? You then see that some candidates are also crooks. In fact, I felt like asking the security agencies to let the man go because he was defrauding people who were ready to be defrauded. Do you get the point? The man was just clever. He just took the past questions, changed the year and was selling rapidly. And the candidates had the guts to report it to JAMB.
I told one of the candidates: “You are also a thief. Why did you pay him?” Another candidate said somebody was sending text messages to them to pay N18,000 and get the answers to the UTME questions. We later discovered that the man had no answers with him and he was only deceiving people who were stupid. He promised to send the answers to the candidates and later randomised A, B, C, D and sent to them. He sent 1-40 answers for English Language when the questions for English were 1-60. So you see, someone who was even a bit more careful would immediately detect that the man was a fraudster.
So you see that fraudulent operators and fraudulent candidates caused problems for themselves during the examination. The man collected N2,500 from each candidate and we also paid into his bank account to authenticate the answers he would send. We have now sent his telephone number and his bank account in which we paid to the security agencies because the man had switched off his phone. But certainly, he cannot switch off his account details.
Some people say that many of JAMB’s functions, including issuing letters of admission, is tantamount to trampling on the authority of the institutions to recruit their own students and set their own guidelines for admission. How would you react to that?
I do not see any problem with that. This is because it is the law that says JAMB should place candidates, and it is the law that also says universities should admit. So I do not see any problem or any friction. The universities know that JAMB will be coordinating the admission and JAMB also knows that nobody is given admission unless he or she is recommended by the institution. Many people just believe that JAMB imposes on institutions. No, we can question institutions where candidates are qualified to be recommended for admission but were not. We ask institutions: why did you not recommend this or that candidate?
But we do not initiate admission. The person to be admitted by us must have been recommended by an institution. So we try to ensure equity. We do not recommend candidates. We only approve.
JAMB has had to outsource major duties to technical partners – banks, IT specialists, and others – over which it has little or no control. Some people say this has been a calamity. How would you react to that?
Of course, we know that this is an issue and we are addressing it radically. This year, we have drastically reduced our dependence on outsiders. It is not only because of the exorbitant charges given to us, but also because of some sharp practices by them. We cannot be entrusting our questions to people who may not know the value and implication of keeping such questions.
So we are addressing that. But the same people who want us to limit outsourcing are also complaining of changes. Why are you changing so many things at this time? They ask us. But so many things have to change and we have not even changed much. People are saying your changes are too many and at the same time, they are calling your attention to things that need to be urgently changed.
Without doubt, there is infrastructure problem in the country and the failure of your partners to deliver due to manpower shortage, power failure, and so on, which translates to JAMB’s failure. Do you agree with people who say Nigeria is not ready for some of these changes?
What is Nigeria ripe for? If Nigeria is not ready for CBT, what are we ready for? People are complaining about connectivity, internet, and power failure and so on. They say candidates should use pen and pencil.
They have also forgotten that the roads are bad. They have forgotten that you have to transport these question papers on the roads. They have forgotten the issue of insecurity and that trust is going down. How to even trust the policemen with your hard questions is also among the issues. You must also consider leakages on the way and the possibility of an accident.
Hence, tell me any sector where there is no possibility of hazards. None! So we must choose one. We know there could be network failure in the large sphere and so, we are using a technology that least depend on the network. I have just told you that for our questions now, you need three minutes of internet to upload and three minutes to download. So, who is depending on the network? We at JAMB are the ones taking caution of infrastructural deficiency.
That is why we are not using a technology that will depend on the internet or network throughout the period for the examination. We are now using a technology where our questions are encrypted. So we are taking into consideration the fact that we have infrastructural deficiency and that is why we are using what we are using.
Now for people who say the CBT is wrong for people who are not computer literate, I can buy that idea. I agree with them. This is because even in developed countries, there are people who are not literate with the computer. That is why in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China, they have what you call exam pack.
The exam pack is something that makes the computer easy. You don’t need to understand the use of a computer; once you can identify A, B, C, D, you are fine. The exam pack is like a palm. Just press what you want. You don’t need to know anything else. But since we cannot afford the cost of that, we are handicapped. The cost of an exam pack would come to about N750m. We felt that even if we had the money, it is not wise to expend such a huge amount.
So, we went for an easier method. That is why we got a software that cost us lesser than $10 to put on the computer and anyone not familiar with the mouse can now use just eight keys on the typewriter. We have made computer easy for those who are not literate. Therefore, candidates can use the mouse, fine. And if anyone cannot, simply use these eight keys.
With all the challenges, can’t JAMB make CBT optional? Is the essence not to test the candidates and not necessarily with CBT?
The CBT has come and it is a wise decision. But we are going to make the computer easier to use. And that is why we are introducing how to use the computer without the mouse.
Some people say with the infrastructure problem in Nigeria-poor power supply, internet, mobile networks, and so on, it was wrong for JAMB to have adopted the online platform for the entire registration process, leading to candidates’ frustrations with JAMB, the CBT and the registration. How would you respond to that?
No, we are going to block all avenues where people have made things difficult for our candidates. And we are also going to enlighten the students more, because some of the things we are taking for granted are now staring at us in the face. I would have assumed that a student going for university education will have his or her own email address. But that is not the issue. Fraudsters are now creating email addresses for candidates and later holding them to ransom.
There was a case of a man who insisted on sleeping with a female candidate simply because he had taken possession of her email password and the candidate could not access it. When the girl complained to us, we then advised her to go to any CBT centre to print. And now you find the CBT centre exploiting the candidates, like collecting N1,000 from them, which is also wrong.
Some people believe that overhauling the entire registration procedure after your appointment was too sudden and therefore was not properly planned and thought through. There was no test run of the new system and even the mock CBT had to be cancelled. Do you take responsibility for all the problems being faced by the candidates?
It is not true that there was no test run. If Prof. Dibu Ojerinde had remained as Registrar, he would still have improved on what he did last year.
In those days, we did JAMB in venues close to where we lived but now, some candidates have to travel hours to towns in states they have never been to, why is all that necessary?
No, there is no far away location. Students actually picked the towns but we picked the centre. We do not post any student to any place other than the town he or she had chosen. But in some cases, we have merged towns. Let me give you an example. In Obalende, Epe and Ikoyi areas of Lagos State, we merged the centres. The reasons were because there is only one centre in each of those three places. So we would not allow students to choose or predetermine the centre they want to go.
Hence what we now call a town is Epe, Obalende and Ikoyi areas. Once you pick that line, we can post you to any of those three centres because we do not want students to predetermine the centres they will go. But if you have two or three CBT centres in Epe, we will allow Epe to stand alone. But the ultimate aim is not to allow students to predetermine their centres because of examination malpractices being planned into such predetermination.