We should congratulate the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board for proving the integrity of its result release process this week. In a country where the non-performance and self-sabotage of national institutions are an ever-present embarrassment, demonstrating the forgery of the result presented by a candidate in its last United Tertiary Matriculation Examination is a feat!
I say that because many Nigerians, including yours truly, did not see it coming. Years of abuse of the people’s trust have turned us into sceptics who only expect the worst from our government and its agencies.
There are countless reasons to justify our cynicism. As recently as the 2023 general elections, scandalous images were sighted on the Independent Electoral Commission’s portal. That is not to speak of non-existent names on the voter list or thousands of voter cards discovered in the forests by hunters in Anambra State.
Nigeria cannot conduct a credible census amidst so many other scandalous incapacities. I laughed when the JAMB spokesperson, Dr Fabian Benjamin, painted the quick response (QR) code as the magic bullet to unravelling the truth in the Miss Mmesoma Ejikeme result controversy.
I recalled the experience of many Nigerians with the QR code on the COVID-19 vaccination card between 2020 and 2021.Many people got to the places where they needed to use these cards to discover that their names, dates of birth, and other vital statistics had been muddled up. Some Nigerians still have sour stories to tell about their national identification numbers. We are a country that makes a mess of producing travel documents for its people, guarding its people properly, securing the borders effectively and even correctly educating its children. It has been a lifetime of sub-optimal service delivery for a significant number of our population, they are used to it, and it is the only way they know!
JAMB is not exempt from the logistical disorder that has become our albatross. It is doubtful that any Nigerian family exists without some story about JAMB’s tackiness. For instance, the board has, for some years, insisted that candidates take exclusive computer-based tests.
But even as recent as its last examination, there were complaints of logistics issues where candidates to far-flung centres other than their choice, even though they were meant to start examinations as early as 6:30am. There are also problems about students at public schools who do not have access to computers before the exams. We heard stories about the failure of biometrics, log in details and outright postponement of examinations. In some cases, the facilities did not even have the capacity to take the number of candidates they had. That is not to speak about the exploitative levels of expenditure to which parents are exposed.
So, if you wondered where the attack poured out against JAMB this week came from, it is from the groundswell of disappointment that Nigerians have endured from national institutions over the years. Stemming from these inefficiencies, when a Nigerian conflicts with an institution of the state, the tendency is for many people to take sides with the citizen without even thinking about it!
Why is this so?
The country and its institutions work for only a few people who have captured the state. We have a criminally run society where the commonwealth is in the custody of a few, such that every other person is left in a rat race to survive. It is a country where almost nothing works, everyone is on his own, and only God is for us all. This is why JAMB’s success in justifying its position on the Mmesoma case warms the heart.
Yet the entire event raises a few questions about the operations of JAMB. One wonders why the board has yet to find a permanent solution to the unceasing attempts to manipulate its process over the years. This failure is one of the reasons stakeholders, including higher institutions of learning, don’t trust JAMB. Otherwise, why do the institutions organise post-UTME examinations? Shouldn’t the UMTE just be enough?
There are also speculations about collusion with JAMB officials on the one hand, and candidates and their parents on the other, to compromise processes. These opportunities were usually for the highest bidders and out of the reach of many poor people who desired higher education for their children.
Not to be left out, many parents have also learnt to do whatever they can for their children to pass examinations and gain admission. So, we have heard of special centres where invigilators and schoolteachers are paid to “assist” candidates during examinations. Apparently, the fake app revealed a few days ago is another attempt on how to beat the system and cheat other Nigerians. It is a country where the end justifies the means, where success by any means possible is the deal.
And while it is convenient to blame candidates and their parents for the desperation that precipitates these compromises, we must consider society’s role in the frustration of families.
First off, Nigeria suggests to its people that life can only be meaningful with formal education leading to a degree. Even though most progressive societies show that this is a fallacy. People only need a measure of basic education, after which society should avail them of options which fit their natural endowments. But Nigeria has turned its people to believe that educational certificates are their only tickets to livelihood. Now, that probably wouldn’t be such a terrible proposition, except that the country cannot even live up to the idea.
This is so because the country only has placements for some of those who sit for the UTME examination annually. For instance, JAMB says that 1.6 million candidates took the examination this year; but there is space for less than 50 per cent of these numbers. So, you make everyone in your country aspire for higher education but do not provide enough opportunities.
To make things worse, merit and hard work count for little or nothing here. The result is that citizens throw their best effort into surviving since the country cares for no one. It is like a jungle where only the fittest survive. Unwitting you bring your children up in this environment, making them believe it is the right way to do things.
This is why it is a shame that people reduce these incidents to ethnic or religious levels. The country has been grossly unfair to the majority of citizens and in essence, it has lost the loyalty of the average man and woman. The reality is that we all find ways to get the better of Nigeria. Regardless of tribe and tongue, we position ourselves and our families to exploit the country and other citizens. The average Nigerian only cares about himself and his family.
We do this in many ways that we may not take cognisance of. The civil servants who will not move files without a greased palm; the director who would not approve payment for a contract unless 10 per cent is added; the company director who marks up a project budget by 30 per cent; the cleric whose God is money; the doctor in a public facility who demands money for appointments and diverts resources to his private clinic; the immigration officer who manipulates procedures for procurement of passports; the customs officer who allows contrabands into the country; the teacher who awards marks after “obtaining” the student; the parent who purchases questions for his child; the student who cheats in examinations; the reporter who pushes his conscience out of the way and sells his newspaper space to the highest bidder in betrayal of public trust; the traditional ruler who sacrifices the interest of his people for a bowl of pottage and so on. They all contribute to the sorry state of our country. It is sheer hypocrisy for anyone to suggest that only a group of people are the trouble with the country. And we should stop such parochialism in the interest of our children.
The JAMB/Ejikeme debacle tells us that we are building a country without values. Rather than tear us apart and cause us to take sides one way or the other, citizens should demand leadership that works for and restores the people’s confidence in their country. Government, parents, schools, and religious establishments should be concerned about the values we instil in our children. It is the only way this country will not crash on us all, as it surely will, if we go on this way.