Oloyede: When I Got to JAMB, I Discovered People Were Admitted into Schools with Zero Mark

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The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board organised some multi-stakeholders’ consultation meetings in Lagos recently. On the sidelines of one of the meetings held at the Yaba College of Technology, the Board’s Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, shared his vision, challenges and successes with Abimbola Akosile. Excerpts:

What brought you to Lagos and specifically to YabaTech, Prof.?
Thank you very much. Yabatech, it is in continuation of the meeting we started three days ago. Day before yesterday, we met with the banks, the representatives of the banks, and after that we met with the groups called the mobile money operators. The intention for that was to sensitise those people that will be working with us on the issue of how to sell our forms and today we met with the CBT Operators, the CBT Centres that we wanted to use for the purpose of registration. We also met with them, the technical advisors. Our intention was to sensitise each of the groups as critical stakeholders on our plan so that we can together critique the process and fine-tune the process so that by the time we are rolling out the plan we would have secured the buy-in of all stakeholders.

Many people are already complaining about the challenges faced at the Computer Based Test (CBT) centres around the country. I am assuming that the meeting you held today is to simplify the process?
Yes, it is expected to be so but I am not that hopeful because the CBT operators they are largely businessmen and I have come to realise that people are doing things for commercial, for profit. They care less, many of them care less about ethics. It was just like sermonising because as I was talking to them, I myself had the impression that I was talking to people that were largely not people that you can count on to do what you have told them. But one thing we have done today was that we have given the CBT Centre operators our red lines and I have told them things we will not accept.

And I believe that we were clear enough about what we have said today that any CBT Centre that violates any of our codes would be de-listed and where they have committed crime we will ensure they are prosecuted. So that was the message to them, to roll out all the new regulations. For example, all anti examination malpractices positions that we are taking, that there should be no wrist-watch in the examination hall, no telephone would be allowed by anybody into the examination hall, and all other devices like pens that some of them are using to transfer data from and to the examination centre, we are giving them notice today that we are not going to allow examination malpractice anymore.

What were some of the problems and challenges that were carried over from the last examination and how are you tackling them?
Yes, I believe the major problem we have is not with the candidates but with their parents. There appears to be a cartel, a cartel of parents and a group of business operators. Their intention was, the cartel, the parents were trying to find undue advantage for their wards and children while the business arm of the cartel was out to ensure that they extort the candidates and they undermine the system with a view to gaining some commercial advantage. All these are issues; I can deal with the candidates because I can be ahead of them. But I find the involvement of parents so shocking and the amount of money they were ready to commit to examination malpractice is unbelievable.

A situation where you find group of parents ready to individually contribute N200,000 not towards a positive thing, but towards damaging the future of their wards and I wonder whether they are sane. Because if you procure an undue advantage to gain entrance for your child, how are you going to sustain the child in the institution. Even after so-called graduation, how are you going to sustain the child in the place of work? And how come…..they are permanently damaging the children and the children will never do anything right because they would have assumed that anyway, what is important is for you to get eventual success, which is a wrong foundation.

Your tenure has witnessed the highest application of technology in the examination process in JAMB, what are the advantages in this application?
I believe that technology is the best way to go, it is the only way to go because there is no way you can conduct an examination without the application of one form of technology or the other. It makes things easy, faster, transparent, cheaper and even more permanent. Because you can track anything that is done unlike the pen and pencil or the non-digital methods that can even destroy the process. For anybody who wants transparent transaction particularly in the registration and conduct of an examination, ICT is indispensable and that is why we have found it…of course since my days at the University of Ilorin, I have been the champion of using CCTV where applicable, using CCTV in the conduct of mass examinations and it has paid off because it is more efficient, it is more just in terms of being fair, equitable, to all concerned and at the end of the day it is even more accurate.

Despite the application of technology, there is an argument that the overall standard of post-secondary education in particular is falling in Nigeria. What is your take on this?
I have heard it so many times but I don’t believe it. But those who are holding that opinion, they have right to their opinion. I do not believe as somebody who has been involved in higher education all over the world. If standard of education is falling, it is falling globally; it is not just in Nigeria. And I have seen people calling my attention to individuals who do not possess the knowledge or the skills expected of them particularly communication skills. I have seen people calling my attention to people who they consider not only unemployed but unemployable. There are cases like that everywhere. But for me, the statistics that I have cannot justify a particular fall in the standard of education in Nigeria. It is not peculiar to Nigeria because products of Nigerian educational system are not found to be inferior to their colleagues from all other educational systems in the world.

I have participated in higher education issues, management of higher education at the regional level, at the continental level, at the Commonwealth level, at the international level. And I am very proud of the products of the Nigerian educational system. All of them, I have not seen one particular case, not one particular case of a class, of postgraduate class anywhere in the world where you find products of Nigerian system and you find them wanting or not being on top in the class. You can go to UK, go to Russia, go to China, everywhere you go, you find out that when it comes to postgraduate education, our candidates and even those who are involved in industries all over the world, they are proving their mettle.

I have not found a particular case where you find Nigerians or a group of Nigerians being regarded as inferior in terms of knowledge and skills required. But one thing that works for this nation, it has always been working for us, that we over-devalue ourselves in terms of making uncomplimentary remarks about what belongs to us. And that has been in my own perception, that has been a source of strength. We undervalue ourselves and when we step out across our border we find out that we are kings. I am not saying that we shouldn’t improve the quality but I do not share the opinion that those who are in our tertiary institutions or products of our tertiary institutions are in any significant manner inferior to the products of other educational systems elsewhere in the world.

It is well-known that revenue generation in JAMB has increased substantially under your tenure. What strategy or model did you adopt to ensure this?
I would like to say that the policy that we adopted was that all revenue should go into the common purse and then all expenditure should also come out from the same source. We do not allow the operation of any transaction outside the official platform. In many of the agencies, I think the problem is that we allow informal transactions, we allow transactions that are not done under the official line and in the process some of these contractors, suppliers, service providers corrupt the system and take undue advantage of the system.

We, for example when I got to JAMB, there were suppliers that were selling directly to our candidates. And when they sell directly to our candidates, you don’t know how many candidates that they are patronising, you do not know how much they have collected from the candidates because some operators inflate what they collect from the candidates. And you do not know what is due to JAMB. It is as decided by the suppliers. So, for us, one of the major decisions we took was that all transactions on behalf of JAMB must be done on the official platform and the gross income must come to JAMB.

It is JAMB that will determine what belongs to other parties and pay them. So the reverse has been the case whereby the vendors, the service providers collect the money and declare what is due to JAMB. That was a major shift in what we did, and to me, I do not know of anybody we owe today because we pay promptly to anybody, everything due to any party is given to them as at when due. But at the end of the day you would find out that some of them who had been taking undue advantage of us, despite the fact that they had their due, they are still not happy because they want to continue to take undue advantage of the Board. This we will not allow.

Unfortunately, they have penetrated the system, many of them brought in those who were recruited, who are representing the interest of the Board. They are staff of the Board, but they represent the interest of those who have put them there, who are traders with the Board. And such people of course would not be happy and would want to subvert the system. That is what informed the number of changes that we are doing in terms of the deployment of staff. We have not and we will not sack anybody, but anybody that we find to have done anything capable of undermining the interest of the Board we will have to post that person outside the zone in which he or she will be a threat to the operations of the Board.

In the admission process, the issue of quota system and catchment area has refused to go away. How do you think this can this be addressed?
Oh, it is not our problem, that is a government policy, and quota system is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is everywhere in the world; it’s just that in other places they use or find better terms like affirmative action, equal opportunities, fairness commission. They are just names for what we call federal character here because without inclusiveness, there is no sustainability. It is not a decision of JAMB and it cannot be a decision of JAMB; it is a decision of government and I share that view very strongly and because it is also one of the best practices in the world that you do not just take the best from anywhere they come from. We also ask each of the communities to provide its best. The abuse we have in Nigeria is that even when we go to the disadvantaged group, we do not want to take the best from the disadvantaged group. We want to choose who to take among the disadvantaged group and I think that is where the abuse comes in. But to give opportunity, to open windows of opportunity for people who are not adequately represented to be represented is a normal practice, it is a global practice and for which nobody should have any apology.

In the course of your administration, what has been the major challenges, apart from the CBT centre issue?
If I can think of any major challenge, I think it is the issue of trust. Many people do not know the value of trust. Many people they make promise that they do not intend to keep. For example, over the years, we have been declaring what we call national cut off, 200, 180 and so on and so forth. But to my chagrin, to my surprise, when I got to JAMB, I realised that it was just a paper tiger. People were being admitted with as low as zero; it depends on who and how. A window of opportunity called regularisation had become a process of anything goes. Candidates who did not take JAMB at all, who did not obtain the form would find themselves in universities and in first class programmes. And all they had to do was to pay N5,000 at the point of graduation, and the abnormality would then be said to have been regularised. That is their level of abuse. But we have said that cannot continue and of course that was why we have asked every institution to declare what the institution intends to accept in terms of minimum score. We are not imposing any score on any institution, but we want the institution to declare on their own what is admissible to them, but we will ensure that none of them, not one single of them will admit below what they themselves have set for themselves. So in reality there is nothing called national cut-off this year, it is the cut-off as determined by each of the institutions.

If an institution says my cut-off is 240 that institution cannot admit 239; if an institution says my cut-off is 120, that institution cannot admit 119. It does not mean that that institution must take anybody with 120, no, the institution is prepared to go down to as low as 120 if there are no other scorers of higher grades. But once you have people with 180, 190, you cannot dump them and go to 120. But if you say your minimum score is 120, you cannot turn round and tell me that, look oh, my minimum score is 180 but I cannot find candidates and that is why I want to admit candidates with 160, no! You cannot do so; you must take the availability of candidates into consideration, your capacity for admission into account before determining your minimum cut-off. But the minimum cut-off this year is not just one per institution, you have institutional cut-off, you also have programme cut-off. That was why University of Ilorin could say, yes, my cut-off is 180 but that 180 is for History, Physics, French and so on. But for Medicine, it is 245, for Engineering it is 220. You have programme-specific cut-offs determined, and again UTME score is not the only parameter for admission this year.

Institutions are free to grade the quality of the O/Level or A/Level and score it. Institutions are free to conduct their own post-UTME screening and grade and no one can discard the UTME score. The UTME score under all circumstances would carry a weight of not less than 50 per cent of the assessment. So that is what is happening; multi-track assessments of candidates to be placed.

How strong is your feedback mechanism process, from the CBT Centres to JAMB, from the candidates, or between JAMB and other stakeholders like the university system?
Very, very strong, particularly now that we are automating. We have moment-by-moment reports from the other stakeholders and for instance with the introduction of CAPS now, we do not wait until the admission officers will come to Abuja, no. Every minute, the desk officers and the situations are interacting and on my laptop as the Registrar, I also monitor what is going on and I intervene when and where necessary.

Even though you mentioned that the standard of education in Nigeria is not inferior to some other countries, many of our students are running away to study in countries like Ghana and Benin Republic. How can we stop this exodus of Nigerian students?
To do what? Why are they going there? Is it because the standard is higher there? If any, it is because the standards are lower; the requirements are lower, that is why they are going there. Parents who have money and their children cannot meet the admission requirements in Nigeria take them to Ghana, take them to UK, take them elsewhere. And those students who are not the best eleven in Nigeria, they come back with Second Class and Third Class Honours. So how can you then say the standard of education is falling in Nigeria? They do not leave the country to go for a more difficult terrain, actually the opposite is the case. Those who cannot secure admission in Nigeria run away to those places and because their parents have money, most of them from dubious sources, they then make the money available for these candidates to have the so-called education that is not in any way superior to the education we offer in this country.

How has it been since you came on board in August 2016, and where do you envisage JAMB to be in the next five years?
I think it will be said of me that I have done my best. That is my vision, that wherever God determines for JAMB to be, JAMB will be there. But wherever JAMB would be I don’t want it to be said of me that it could have been better if not for defects on my own part. I will do the best possible to make sure that the cause of JAMB is advanced to the highest level possible, and wherever JAMB finds itself, is then determined by many other factors. And it would not be said of me that we could have been better placed were it not for my inability to give my best. I would give my best and I believe my best would place JAMB at a level that would be enviable.

Lastly, how do you describe yourself? Who is Prof. Ishaq Oloyede. A don, a technocrat, an education activist or what?
I just see myself as an ordinary Nigerian. I see myself as a fortunate person who rides on the shoulders of people who have been there. I see myself as a person that have the opportunity to succeed greater Nigerians. And I just put my minimal best, and because I have been preceded by great Nigerians, the little I do, people believe they are okay, because I am standing on the shoulders of giants who had preceded me in these offices, who must have done all the rough work and I would just be opportune to come and cross the ‘Ts’ and dot the ‘Is’ and people would think that I have…..I just consider myself a fortunate person and I pray that the fortune would continue.