Our focus is to conduct a fair examination that stakeholders will be proud of next month. The road may be a little tedious but our concern at the moment is our destination and the overall interest of the nation, not that of a cabal of exploiters. We need the support of all right thinking people and we shall not disappoint the Nigerians.

The concerns raised by Nigerians on the procedures adopted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in delivering her services in the 2017 examination calendar are a welcome development to education in Nigeria, as inclusiveness is a major hallmark of the current administration in the Board. We have always solicited the interest, contributions and participation of the general public in the entire gamut of our activities, ranging from registration to the conduct of our examination. This, we believe, will give the public the opportunity of hindsight in their contributions, by way of criticism or support in ensuring that the mandate of the Board in the conduct of examination, selection and unifying the diverse components of the country is achieved.

One of the areas the public has always misinterpreted the Board’s functions is in that of admissions. The general narrative is that the Board admits candidates for the tertiary institutions; this is far from the truth. As a regulatory agency, the Board basically ensures that abuses related to admissions are checkmated. It equally creates the latitude for fairness and equity in the admissions exercise. Our duty, besides the conduct of examination is to maintain the spirit and letter of admissions as defined by individual institutions. We ask for institutions’ admission requirements and insist that they follow what they define as their requirements so that abuses are not manifested in denying qualified candidates the opportunity of being admitted, on the basis of flimsy reasons.

The current registrar of the Board is a thoroughbred product of the University system who strongly believes that the sanctity of admissions, as enshrined in the Act establishing the various tiers of the tertiary institutions, should be strictly adhered to. A one-time vice chancellor of a prominent University, a former Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC), who is at the forefront of the clamour for University autonomy cannot usurp the powers of admission from the institutions.

The Board has had the privilege of having renowned scholars as its registrars, and they all have, at each juncture, worked tirelessly to make timely changes as the prevailing circumstances may present, especially with the recurring cases of examination malpractice. This is the reason behind some of the relatively new processes introduced in this year’s registration exercise. Some of these are the profile creation and biometric capturing of ten fingers, among others.

The challenge of multiple registration and admissions has equally contributed a major encumbrance to the adequate utilisation of available spaces in the tertiary institutions. The Board was established to, among other things, eliminate the incidence of multiple admissions. The call for the Board to allow candidates to choose as many institutions and for the admission of students to as many universities as they desire, is a call to deprive a reasonable number of qualified candidates of opportunities for securing university placement. One of the tasks the Board has had to battle with is to ensure that no candidate takes a space that s/he doesn’t need, which if allowed will deprive others from getting admission. The concern of the Board is to effeciently manage the few spaces available in all the tiers of the tertiary institutions.

On assumption of duty, Prof Is-haq Oloyede insisted on improving on what his predecessors had done. The first assignment he carried out was to look at all that had been in place with the view to improving on them to make them more efficient and effective.

Always reluctant to complain, a most herculean task the incumbent registrar had to confront headlong was the regularisation of admissions for several institutions that chose to ignore basic standards in admission processes, until they would be challenged by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme administrators. To the credit of this new JAMB registrar, tertiary institutions in Nigeria will no longer have cases of “irregular students” whose admission letters will not be available until they get to the final year.

The next task was to fashion out an inclusive approach to the Board’s main responsibilities. Hence, a stakeholders’ meeting was convened, which attracted all the former registrars, directors of the Board, as well as other critical partners, with over 90 professors in attendance. At this inclusive meeting, members commended the efforts of the Board in restoring confidence in its examination. They also called for concerted efforts to make the entire system comply with whatever remained of the world’s best standards. The need for a process that will mitigate the rising incidence of examination malpractice was accorded a special focus and the JAMB management was urged to address it to eliminate challenges of invalid results that may emanate therefrom.

In view of all these observations and concerns by Nigerians, the registrar, Prof. Oloyede put machineries in motion to consolidate on the achievements of his predecessors and not to reverse whatever they had done.

What are the reforms about? First, his predecessor had used the scratch card to deploy most of the Board’s services to the public. Like every other system used over a period, the scratch card later manifested a lot of challenges associated with fraud, leading to the lose of hundreds of millions of naira to the Board. The former registrar was on the verge of jettisoning the card system before he left. Indeed 12 members of staff were dismissed on the recommendation of the Dibu Ojerinde management on scratch card/regularisation racketeering. The current registrar has also handed a number of senior staff members to the law enforcement agencies on scratch card related infractions involving hundreds of millions of naira.

Promptly, Oloyede initiated the process that has ensured transparency and granted quality service. The card system was then replaced with pin vending, thereby saving government billions of naira. The Board, under the registrar, has since developed appropriate internal capacity and is today deploying services without scratch cards. The millions being paid to service providers are now being saved for the nation.

On the registration platform, we have also undergone self-assessment and discovered that the difficulties candidates faced was basically due to insufficient compliance with the published information on how to go about the registration. However, in spite of the hue and cry, the Board has witnessed the unprecedented record of registering close to one million candidates within the first two weeks of registration and has done over 1.5 million registrations by the initial closing date of April 19.

We had carried out a study on registration in the last three years and discovered that the Board had been registering all candidates within a period of one month, even when the grace period varied between five to six months. Yes, registration had always been announced for a six-month period but our data clearly revealed that candidates actually registered within just one month. In last year’s exercise, for instance, we noticed that at the fifth month we had not registered up to 30 percent of the expected candidates for the year’s exercise, and about 70 percent of the expected candidates for the year registered only in the sixth month. Our findings also revealed that the more time you give, the more likelihood of more extension of dates, and the facts are there, as we even had to extend the date last year. The general public may as well be mindful that the more time you give, the more you are likely to have economic, social and mutilated data resulting from candidates who may want to compromise the system having enough time to perpetrate their evil acts. Examination malpractice starts from registration and hence the seriousness with which the Board takes its registration process.

Having resolved to register for a month, we put in place a structure to ensure a seamless registration process. The Board opened over 6000 distribution points of registration across the nation. This was done through over 650 accredited centres in the country. In each of our over 650 centres, we gave 100 registration points to enable the centres register 100 candidates simultaneously. The Board also extended participation to all banks to vend the registration pins, including platforms such as Interswitch, Remita and NIPOST. With Interswitch and Remita, people can buy the pins in the comfort of their homes. At the last count, 10 banks are participating in the process.

This is clearly an improvement on the earlier registration platform in which only three banks were dispensing the pins then, with the attendant challenges in the previous years. Today, three weeks into the initial four weeks period, the Board has registered over 1.3 million candidates out of about the 1.5 million expected. The implication is that but for the extension, the remaining one week would have been sufficient for all to register.

The process of profile creation and capturing of ten fingers is one of the best, which is sure to curb a lot of unwholesome practices, and forestall multiple registrations. We are mindful of the backlash of this but are prepared to do the needful.

There is no policy somersault at JAMB, as all are simply improvements on existing processes.

As for the issue of awaiting result candidates, JAMB never imposed any restriction or ban on them. It was only in the imagination of those who refuse to understand the process and procedure for admissions. The tradition of the Board has always been an all inclusive one. There is virtually no policy or process being carried out in the Board that all the former registrars and directors are ignorant of.

The management of the Board will never take a decision that is intended for self-glorification and will not be intimidated into shying away from taking steps that will bring public examination out of the woods. As a responsive organisation, we will also admit openly if we are wrong and will make quick amendment. And this, we have demonstrated.

Our focus is to conduct a fair examination that stakeholders will be proud of next month. The road may be a little tedious but our concern at the moment is our destination and the overall interest of the nation, not that of a cabal of exploiters. We need the support of all right thinking people and we shall not disappoint the Nigerians.

Today the Board is exporting technology to not only African countries but also European countries as many have come to understudy what we are doing and have invited the Board to benchmark with them. Without mentioning names, I will proudly say that we have conducted examination for multinationals and even some of the most celebrated examination bodies abroad to their satisfaction.

Let us not consistently condemn what we have but support and ensure that it works. It is fast becoming our character to always call for either the head of agencies or abolition of such agencies or policies once certain breaks in services are noted. Yet we are quick to celebrate foreign agencies that even patronise such condemned institutions of government.

The Board has, consistently through all its registrars, mustered substantial efforts to mitigate the growing agitation for irregularities associated with the desperation for tertiary education, given its limited spaces. Public examination in Nigeria is a serious business that needs no distractions. Soon, it will be “HOSANNAH” for JAMB as hues and cries are always the hallmark of the beginning of every good step.

Fabian Benjamin is head of public Relations at the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).