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JAMB in a jam

By Dele Sobowale

“If you work with glue, sooner or later you are bound to get stuck.”

Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS). “Just scrap JAMB”, PUNCH editorial, August 5, 2015.

AFTER almost six years of operating the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, without achieving the success promised at the start, President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, asked in exasperation. “Why is it that economic principles and programmes which work elsewhere don’t work in Nigeria?”

Writing at the time on Mondays, the MARKET FACT series, I replied IBB that “neither economic principles and programmes nor any others will work in Nigeria as long as we have the NIGERIAN FACTOR to contend with. At the time the Nigerian factor was defined as adopting successful programmes from other nations and deliberately bastardizing them in Nigeria for political, ethnic, religious and personal reasons.

JAMB, whose framework was borrowed from the United States’ Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT, managed by an outfit in New Jersey, USA, for the admission of intending university/college students into American universities, is a clear example of how the NIGERIAN FACTOR can ruin a programme which had been successful elsewhere in the world. From 1978 till now, we had been playing with glue. Now we are stuck.

However, while Nigeria’s Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, which was established in 1978, under the regime of Obasanjo, has at last demonstrated all the weaknesses involved in getting governments involved in matters, which elsewhere, are largely settled by the private sector.

Nigerian factor

It has become a victim of the NIGERIAN FACTOR since its creation in 1978. Instead of promoting excellence in university education, JAMB had increasingly fostered mediocrity. Along the way, the Federal Governments which imposed JAMB on the nation forgot a lesson which computer education taught the universe at its inception – Garbage In Garbage Out, GIGO. Today, JAMB had become a system for processing mediocrity for admission into Nigerian universities.

Kindly permit me to make a digression to illustrate how GIGO had permeated all of our tertiary institutions – not just universities. Unitary Schools were once centres of excellence in secondary school education. Pupils from those secondary schools, who were mostly admitted on merit, scored 270 or more in the JAMB examinations in the 1970s to 1980s. Any candidate scoring under 200 in JAMB from those schools was considered unfit for university education.

The decline in the quality of education in general, and the Unity Schools in particular, has resulted in a situation in which Unity Schools pupils are among those seeking admission to universities after scoring 180. The current controversy over whether applicants who scored 180 are admissible is nothing more than a dispute over whether dullards are fit for enrollment in universities.

Unfortunately, the inexorable decline in university education in Nigeria started years ago. From the US    we borrowed a largely merit-based system. Bringing it to Nigeria, we bastardized it by imposing on the admission process issues such as ethnicity (Federal Character), states (contiguous states), catchments’ areas, educationally disadvantaged states, State House List, NASS List, faculty List etc.

In short we introduced all sorts of criteria for admission which defeated the goal of excellence in university education. Today, virtually everybody talks about “half-baked” or “unemployable” graduates. It has never occurred to us to conduct a study. That study is crucial at this point in our history. Before proceeding further with the controversy about whether the dullards who scored less than 200 are admissible, we should find out the percentage of those dullards turned out to be university material.

Given those I came across, they were often the same people who could not present five credits, including English and Maths, at one examination. Most need two exams to fulfill the five credit requirement; and some up to three exams. Dullards!! Thousands are admitted while awaiting results which are seldom favourable. Dullards!!!

Yet, absolute know-nothings about university expect Nigerian universities to admit these people with little prospect of finishing their education. It will be interesting if UNILAG and other universities in Nigeria will publish the number of students they admitted with less    than 200 JAMB score who completed their programme or ended Second Class Lower or higher.



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