JAMB And The Battles Against Education


By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Last week, the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, revealed the success and failure rates from the recently concluded UTME, which is the only means of securing admission into higher institutions in Nigeria. For the year 2021, over 1.3 million candidates registered for the examination which began on June 19 and ended on July 3 in over 700 accredited Computer Based Test (CTB) centres nationwide. According to Prof Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB Registrar, only 0.06 per cent representing about 803 of this number scored above 300 marks. Reproduced below are the scary statistics from the recent examination, from the Registrar, through news coverage monitored on the National Television Authority.

“He noted that statistics of the results in the last four years, 2018 for example, showed that those who scored 120 and below were about 99.9 per cent of the candidates, 99.65 in 2019, 99.80 in 2020 and this year, 99.65, a drop of .25 per cent from that of last year. He added that those who scored 160 and above, last were 69.89 per cent, while this year is 45.62 per cent, disclosing further that those who scored more than 300 over 400 last year were .26 per cent of the candidates, this year .06 per cent, and in 2019, .16 per cent of the candidates scored above 300.”

Many parents have been thrown into perpetual agony every year, due to the inability of their wards to secure admission into any tertiary institution, such that there are youths in Nigeria who have been on the JAMB radar for over five years, waiting for their letters of admission from the ‘almighty JAMB’, as it is now known. The JAMB Act was enacted to commence on December 7, 1989, with a mandate for the agency to perform the following functions, under and by virtue of section 5 (1) (a) – (c) and (2) thereof:

5. (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other enactment, the Board shall be responsible for –
(a) 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;
© the placement of suitably qualified candidates in collaboration with the tertiary institutions after taking into account –
(i) the vacancies available in each tertiary institution;
(ii) the guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietor or other competent authority;
(iii) the preferences expressed or otherwise indicated by candidates for certain tertiary institutions and course; and
(iv) such other matters as the Board may be directed by the Minister to consider, or the Board itself may consider appropriate in the circumstances.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, the Board shall be responsible for determining matriculation requirements and conducting examinations leading to undergraduate admissions and also for admissions to National Diploma and Nigerian Certificate in Education courses, but shall not be responsible for examinations or any other selective processes for postgraduate courses and any other courses offered by the tertiary institutions.”

What section 5 of the JAMB Act reproduced above has done is to place the destinies of candidates in the hands of a government bureaucracy, which partly accounts for the number of youths trooping out of Nigeria for greener pastures. By including the phrase “by whatever name called” in the reference to tertiary institutions covered by JAMB, it means even universities and polytechnics established and funded by States and private entities have to go through JAMB for admission, through such mysterious cateria like federal character, educationally disadvantaged States, catchment areas, etc. Paragraphs 27-30 of the Part 2 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution place matters of university, technological or professional education on the Concurrent Legislative List, with power granted to the States to legislate thereon. So, the issue is why JAMB has become the only institution regulating admission into tertiary institutions.

Section 10 of the Act deals with the fund of the Board of JAMB as follows:

“16. The Board shall establish and maintain a fund which shall consist of –
(a) such sums as may be provided by the Federal Government for the running expenses of the Board; and
(b) such other sums as may be collected or received by the Board from other sources either in the execution of its functions or in respect of any property vested in the Board or otherwise howsoever.”

From the above, it is clear that the primary source of funding for JAMB activities and the discharge of its functions is through government subvention and not to milk hapless candidates and their distressed parents. In reports monitored in the media, JAMB has however turned the establishment Act on its head and transmitted itself into a cash cow for the government.

“The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) says it has made an interim remittance of N3.5 billion to the federal government’s purse after the conduct of its 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) … In 2017, the agency said it remitted more than N5 billion to the government. In 2018, the Board remitted N7.8 billion to the federal government. In 2019, JAMB remitted N5 billion to the federal government.”

For clarity, the Act setting up JAMB does not confer on it the power to raise funds for the government, as it is not an agency of government set up to generate revenue but rather to co-ordinate admissions into tertiary institutions. If this can be done free of charge to the candidates who are mostly teenagers, the better for us all, rather than focusing on how much is to be declared in financial terms every year. Section 10 (a) of the JAMB Act states clearly that the Board is to “establish and MAINTAIN a fund”, which connotes a permanent and operational fund, not to be transferred or remitted. According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to maintain is “to keep in an existing state, preserve from decline”, such that if JAMB has reached a stage that it has funds in excess after the discharge of its functions, then it should declare its examinations free for a particular period of time until the fund is exhausted to entitle it to charge fresh fees. We cannot have an institution set up mainly to assist young people to activate their careers and turn itself into a money spinning entity such that it has become one of the main sources of income for profligate politicians who in turn convert these funds to sponsor their own children in highbrow institutions abroad. It is totally unfair.

Nigeria is a member of the United Nations, which has established the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), primarily to promote education for all, with a mandate to lead the Global Education 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal 4. It is prescribed by the UN that all member States shall make reasonable efforts to allocate not less than 26% of their annual budget to education. This is so because the UN and indeed all of humanity now consider education as a human right. This stems from several declarations and conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible for all and an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, by the progressive introduction of free higher education, as encapsulated in Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and replicated in Articles 13 and 14 of International Covenant on Social and Cultural Rights.

It is in the light of all the above that Nigeria declared its educational objectives in section 18 of the 1999 Constitution as follows:

“18. Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
Government shall promote science and technology.
Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end, Government shall as and when practicable provide:
(a) free, compulsory and universal primary education;
(b) free secondary education;
(c) free university education; and
(d) free adult literacy programme.”

Nigeria has always made feeble attempts to implement the UN charter on education. Indeed, in the early 1970s, we had the Universal Primary Education (UPE), through which most governments in the regions adopted free education. In the South West in particular, Chief Obafemi Awolowo made free education his priority programme, with tremendous results in human capital development. Till date, most States in the South West of Nigeria have compulsory free education at the elementary stages. In Lagos State for instance, section 9 of the Education Law of Lagos State provides that “tuition in either a primary or a secondary school shall be free of charge”, and it imposes a jail term of eighteen months upon anyone who receives or obtains any fee or levy as tuition. In 2004, the Federal Government of Nigeria enacted the Universal Basic Education Act, which makes provision for basic education. The Act also provides for the establishment of the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, to coordinate the implementation of the programme, at state and local government levels, through the State Basic Education Board, SUBEB and the Local Government Education Authority, LGEA. The Education Tax Fund was also established.

In spite of all the above, we now have a government institution (JAMB) that prides itself in taxing the poor in the guise of offering their wards admission, when in fact, it has become a money gobbling agency of the government. The worrisome part of this is the failure rate of candidates who partake in these compulsory examinations, going by the figures released for year 2021. While commending the lofty reforms being introduced by the Registrar since he came on board, there are many areas that deserve primary focus, in the overall interest of the candidates. For instance, constant orientation programmes should be organized for potential candidates online, which should be directed towards making them become familiar with the procedure of the conduct of the examinations, counselling lessons on choice of courses and guidance on career opportunities, especially in courses that most of them are not familiar with, in order to reduce the pressure on the major courses. There should also be constant interactions between the tertiary institutions and JAMB, for the purpose of eliminating the usual hiccups associated with admissions.

In a nation where educational institutions have become endangered by bandits, terrorists, kidnappers and rapists, there is a need to fashion out deliberate policies that will reduce the battles that Nigerians face just to acquire meaningful education. If this had been the attitude of governments in times past, certainly many of us would not have dreamed of ever going through any tertiary institution in Nigeria. Funding of education should be a deliberate policy of the government, which should not be abandoned to greedy institutions and agencies that seem to have misplaced their original priorities for placement to be ranked among revenue making agencies of government.
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