By Owei Lakemfa
I AM used to observing and monitoring elections both in the country and Africa. However, being invited to monitor the 2018 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, in which 1,451,691 young Nigerians participated for places in the country’s tertiary institutions, was a completely different experience.
In this case, there were no contentious issues, divisive politics or misinformation. It was infectious seeing faces of young Nigerians freshly out of high school or about leaving school, sitting before desktops to determine their fate in the examinations. They were young, innocent and seemingly submissive, yet I knew they carried on their young shoulders the future of our country. In a sense, this was our elite group on whose educated shoulders, the burden of rebuilding a Nigeria, destroyed over the decades by generations including mine. Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, now 83, declared his generation as the “Wasted Generation.” I don’t know how to characterise mine except to describe it as the prodigal generation that frittered away the little gains by the Soyinka generation. If Nigeria is to have a fighting chance in the next generation, those I witnessed taking the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, examinations, are our best fighters.
In one centre, the candidate looked like a boy sent to buy sweets from a corner shop. It turned out that he was 15. In another instance, two teenagers could not write the examinations as their fingerprints did not match what was captured in the system. One could only give them some counsel.
I found myself moving through examination centres in Abuja having accepted the invitation of the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede to “Monitor the Monitors” and “spot-check on any centre(s)” the candidates wrote the examinations which ran for one week in batches of three daily. I was one of those JAMB designated “High Power Opinion Leaders.” JAMB wanted independent and credible Nigerians to monitor the examinations so they can vouch for its integrity. It also wanted people who are not encumbered by bureaucracy or career considerations to do on-the-spot assessment and tell it what should be done in the overall interest of the country. I got to a centre in Kubwa, having observed it, I simply sent a message to the organisation to please cancel the centre and relocate the estimated 1,000 candidates scheduled to write the examinations there.
As I reflected on this experience, I felt a tinge of sadness; no matter the candidates’ brilliance, only 30 per cent of them will be admitted due to the limited space in the schools.
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed said during the examination week that of the 7.8 million university admission seekers from 2013 to 2017, only 1.9 million gained admission into the existing 161 universities. That means, 5.9 million admission seekers, in a country where a citizen’s future is largely shaped by the certificate, could not gain admission.
Whether they gain admission or not, the fact is that the future of the country is going to rest on their shoulders; a future already so badly damaged that like brain injury; repair will be quite difficult.
While the examinations were going on, leaders of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, were celebrating one of their own, the charismatic Chief James Ibori for his safe return from British prison. He had agreed to be deported having spent half of his 13-year sentence for the alleged theft of $250 million from the coffers of Delta State when he was its governor. Ibori had been jailed on April 12, 2012 and deported last December. Having been punished with imprisonment, he deserves rehabilitation and reintegration into society, and of course a second chance, but not to be celebrated. Even as someone who does not have a high opinion of our political class, I was shocked by the revelations at the social gathering made by the National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus. Hear him: “Before the 2015 elections, I received a call from our leader (Ibori), and I asked him the direction. He (Ibori) told me Okowa (current governor of Delta State) should be supported. I was then the Deputy National Chairman. I gathered all my people; I said I have received an order from our leader. Your Excellency, I am grateful that your decision was right. That was how we supported Dr. Okowa because the leader spoke to us.”
Perhaps, only in Nigeria, will a man serving time for stealing the funds of a state, determine the next governor of that same state. That this is being publicly celebrated two years later by the leader of the opposition makes it the more tragic. So what lessons are we to draw from the Secondus story narrated with so much relish? That crime pays and that the governor of the state I call home was imposed by a man serving time having been found guilty of looting the state’s funds. What morals was Secondus teaching the young ones as they sat down to take the JAMB examinations? That they do not need to worry themselves going to school or undergoing tertiary education; that all they need is get into power by any means and continue the rot. The PDP has been accused over the years of looting the country, I had not bogged myself down with this because its main accusers are like the pot calling the kettle black. But Secondus as its leader, shot the party in the foot. The PDP is like a person accused of being a thief, found cuddling another man’s calf in her bosom; in a decent society, or in a decent organisation, Secondus would have resigned or be forced to quit. But I do not think such a demand would come from the party or its members.
I have hope in the younger generation provided they are guarded by a patriotic ideology, an abiding faith in the sovereignty of the people with an agenda to chart a different course from the one the country has been subjected to since independence. But to merely think things will be different just because a person is young, is to be unwise. This is why I do not think the “Not too young to run” campaign makes much sense.
I recall that a similar campaign was launched about 2000 by those that styled themselves the “Under 50” politicians and another group, the “Under 40s.” What has happened is that the former are now in their mid and late 60s and the latter in their mid-50s and nothing changed because they simply worked to take over the mantle of ineptitude and parochialism, and have since disappeared into the recycling bins of the PDP and All Progressives Congress, APC.