One interesting thing about history is that it has a way of repeating itself. Many ideas and practices which were popular, at a certain point in history became obsolete due to the dynamism of the human society. But most of those designs and concepts are becoming trendy again; this time with better relish. This is because the society is in a constant search for better ways of doing things. But if what was thought out to be a novelty turns out to be ineffective and unable to work out its expectations, it is not abnormal if we fall back on the old option.
At a point in history, after some years of experimentation, people will prefer to go back “to the root”. Therefore, it is no failing to redirect our search for better ways of doing things when it is obvious that they need to be redirected.
These allusions and analogy go with the current state of things in the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board.
Before 1978, there was no JAMB. Students who wanted to get admission to study in the universities and other higher institutions had to review the schools of their choice and applied directly to the schools for admission. The applicants who met the requirements of each of the available schools were offered admission. That was done without hassles. Students who sought admission did not have to go through serious stress if they were qualified because the schools of their choice sent admission letters to them. They did not have to go coercing or bribing anybody for admission. This practice ingrained competition among higher institutions because students and parents considered higher institutions based on the quality of learning and infrastructure.
But somewhere along the line, that system triggered some problems in the admission process. One of the problems was duplicity of admission for one candidate. One qualified candidate who applied to more than one higher institution could be offered admission by the two or more institutions. Therefore, the candidate would have to choose one among the institutions that offered him admission, thereby distorting the admission process in the other schools.
As a result of this and some other issues, the Federal Government established JAMB to harmonise applications and admissions into Nigeria’s higher institutions. By 1978, the number of higher institutions in Nigeria had increased, the then Federal Military Government, under the leadership of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, set up a national committee on university entrance. That committee was headed by Mr. M. S. Angulu and it considered the possibility of setting up a Joint Matriculation Board. Consideration of the committee’s report led to the establishment of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. The legal instrument establishing the JAMB was however promulgated by the Act (No. 2 of 1978) of the Federal Military Government on 13th February, 1978. Years later, by August 1988, the Federal Executive Council amended decree No. 2 of 1978 to empower the board to conduct matriculation examinations for entry into all polytechnics and colleges of education in the country and to place suitably qualified candidates in the available places in these institutions.
No doubt, JAMB kicked-off with every promise and solutions to the problems that heralded it. Admissions into the universities and other higher institutions became seamless, without hassles. As far as a candidate was able to pass JAMB cut off mark, he or she was sure of getting admission into the preferred institution.
With the establishment of JAMB, schools entrusted their proposals for admissions to the examination body and JAMB lived up to that bidding. JAMB announced through their brochures, the readiness of each higher institution to admit students or the opposite.
But somewhere along the line, corruption crept into the examination body and the high standard set in its system started receding. Analysts pointed accusing finger on some parents who chose careers for their children and insisted that their children must study certain courses in the university. In the pursuit of their selfish interests, such rich parents gave some corruptible suggestions to examiners. Soon, corruption became the order of the day in JAMB and in the admission process.
The system continued degenerating to the point the same parents who were accused to have instigated the “bad process” became worried. Students no longer read their books. Children preferred frivolities to studying their books because they believed that JAMB would not be a problem to getting admission into the higher institutions.
As a result of obvious manipulations in the exams and admissions processes, most of the students who were offered admissions into higher institutions became unable to defend such admissions. That was the crescendo. There are insinuations that the academic decadence we now experience in public and private schools: primary, secondary and higher institutions alike, is as a result of the breach in the fundamental mandate of JAMB.
In 2005, the University of Lagos became the first university in Nigeria to officially question the credibility of JAMB to conduct admissions examinations because students who scored high scores in JAMB were unable to defend their courses after admission. The authorities of the University of Lagos under the Vice-Chancellorship of Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe came out with academic statistics in the university that showed what they called an ugly scenario where students who came through JAMB had spurious scores of 280 and above but could not perform in their chosen courses of study. They all alleged that examination malpractice could have taken place before, during or after the examinations.
Their suspicion was that, even before the examinations were conducted, some candidates had perfected ways of cheating by sitting together, impersonating and bringing in documents. They also alleged that JAMB staff would have done all sorts of manipulations on the scripts of candidates after the examinations.
This position was echoed by the then Pro-Chancellor, University of Lagos, Chief Afe Babalola. Thereafter, a stakeholders meeting was held to study the alarm raised by UNILAG and to come out with a solution. The then Minister of Education, Mrs. Nora Chinwe Obaji, who headed the stakeholders meeting assured that though there was need to screen potential students before admission, such exercise should only be to confirm the originality of the candidates and that it should be at no cost to the candidates. This was the Post-UME test code then.