University admissions: Is NECO losing relevance?

At no time in the history of university admissions had parents and students been through the kind of trauma they were subjected to this 2016/2017 session. The confusion began with the new Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, querying the need for the post-UTME reviews that the universities subjected students to. Before you knew it, the mere words of the minister had become law; post-UTME had been outlawed just like that! What would replace it, no one knew – the universities did not know; JAMB had no idea; and the minister himself was incoherent. So began a macabre dance that made matters worse for everyone.

To solve a so-called problem, a legion others had been whimsically created. In most things Nigerian, this was a policy summersault that was not well-thought-out. It was like, let’s first destroy what we did not like and think of what to replace it with afterwards. A fire brigade approach to replace the destroyed system with something, just anything, thus began. This year’s university admission exercise is a “peculiar mess” (aka Penkelemesi). After the ordeal that most students and parents have gone through, a perfect system is still not in place. In fact, a system as manageable as the one destroyed by Adamu is nowhere in sight.

After the initial ding-dong over whether, truly, post-UTME had been overloaded just like that was resolved in favour of its overloading, next began the puzzle of what replaces it? Everyone except, perhaps, Adamu and his co-travellers was agreed that JAMB admission exercise could never be allowed to stand on its own. It was because JAMB had been found ineffective that post-UTME became an addition to the university admission procedure. Ordinarily, once JAMB was found to have become defective, even destructive of its raison-d’être, it should have been scrapped outright. That way, we would have got rid of a bureaucracy that adds no value but overburdens the polity, contributing to the humongous cost of governance that everyone is complaining about.

Before JAMB, the universities had conducted their entrance examinations on their own. Many of those who imposed JAMB on us had been beneficiaries of that system. What they sought to avoid was what they referred to as the multiplicity of admission, in which bright students get admission to more than one university. If it was a problem, what they replaced it with had been far worse. The institutions coped very well with the so-called problem; till date, the same system is followed all over the world by universities to admit their students.

Initially, JAMB appeared to have been up to the task, although right from the outset its creation was another evidence of the over-centralisation of powers in a so-called federal system. The states are made more and more powerless while the centre becomes an octopus. Even state and private universities these days are under the stranglehold of JAMB, which is a federal agency, even though the same Federal Government has refused to extend the federal largesse of grants and subventions to such universities. Our federalism is in words only; we operate a unitary system of government in actuality. As with most things Nigerian, JAMB soon degenerated and became a clog in the wheel of progress. Corruption swept it off its feet. Its examinations could no longer stand the test of integrity. Questions were sold and bought. Marks were sold and bought. Admissions were given to the highest bidders. It took some time before the malfeasance became public knowledge, though; but what started as rumours soon became confirmed gospel truth. JAMB was porous, very porous. JAMB had become useless; thoroughly useless. If this baggage must be carried along, then, something must give. A redeeming feature was needed for JAMB to continue; that was the reason for the invention of the post-UTME exercise.

That, again, is vintage Nigeria. We do not confront our problems head-on; rather, we dodge them. We don’t solve our problems; we sweep them under the carpet instead. JAMB should simply have been axed – period! The universities ought to have been freed to return to assume the responsibility of admitting their students; that is what the law that sets them up says; but here, the big men, especially those in government, do not respect the law. When one government comes, it interprets the law as it deems fit and manipulate processes and procedures to satisfy primordial interests. It does not matter that institutions are ruined in the process.

How was the last – or is it ongoing? – admissions exercise conducted by the universities? Not many can vouch that they know! The universities, JAMB, Adamu, and everyone wallowed in the dark; guidelines were drawn up and torn into shreds again and again as uncertainty ruled the waves. Many universities still wallow in that dark alley as we speak. The harrowing experience is better imagined than felt. In the absence of post-UTME, how were the applicants tested and found suitable for admission? How were the inadequacies of JAMB examination taken care of? Truth be told, it was not taken care of at all; it was simply glossed over! By faith we assumed that the JAMB examinations were now okay for us to rest university admissions upon! the authorities have said so; therefore, it must be so. Whether we believe so or not; that is the official position and there is nothing anyone can do about it – at least for now. For as long as the present leadership is in place, we have to live with this. When it is out of the saddle or its folly had become too embarrassing to be glossed over, then, sanity may return.

One thing is sure, this shenanigan will not last. We are bound to throw it overboard at some point. That is the norm here – one step forward, two steps backward. That is why countries like Malaysia and Taiwan, not to talk of South Korea and Brazil, that were at par with us a decade or so back, or that we even towered head and shoulders above, have caught up with and left us many miles behind.

The last university admissions exercise, after groping in the dark, reportedly resorted to allotting marks to applicants on the basis of their WAEC scores – as if those examinations were in themselves fault proof! It was a desperate, last-grasp effort to run away from post-UTME. We wait to see the outcome of this new admissions system, if we can call it that, since there is nothing systematic about it. To make matters worse, many of the universities, confused and exasperated, possibly, inflicted incalculable damage on students relying on the National Examination Council (NECO) to gain admission in the academic session under review. By so doing, the affected universities further ensnared themselves in needless controversy. They are chargeable and liable on many fronts. One: They told applicants they would be considered for admission with their NECO results and collected application forms from the students. But they reneged and closed down their portal days before the release of NECO results! They lied and are guilty of insincerity.

Like erstwhile military dictator Ibrahim Babangida, they shifted the goal posts after the match had begun. They ambushed unsuspecting students. They disappointed trusting parents. They obtained application money from students/parents under false pretence. The law calls it OBT – obtaining by tricks. Universities are ivory towers and should not have descended this low. They ought to keep their words and honour promises made. Eggheads should not by any means be fraudsters. They ought to open their portals and allow NECO applicants compete. This is the only path of honour.

Mercifully, this impunity is being challenged by a pressure group of concerned citizens – the Association of Tutorial Schools Operators. In a statement, the association accused the affected universities of double-standard by allowing only applicants with WAEC results to access their portals while denying applicants with NECO results the same opportunity. It added that the Federal Ministry of Education must look into the matter or else, NECO may become a worthlessor second-best examination; like the dichotomy between university and polytechnic certificates. Pray, who would go through the pains of preparing for an examination or run costs that would amount to nothing in the end?

“This is callous and they are toying with the lives of thousands of candidates. This is admission racketeering and it is worse than examination malpractice…These institutions (said) candidates awaiting results are eligible to apply. These are probably NECO candidates and they were told that they would be allowed to upload their results whenever it was released. Many candidates bought the screening forms with that assurance. Why are they shifting the goal post in the middle of the game? (JAMB) gave them up to November to conclude the admission process”, said the group protesting this unfair practice by the defaulting universities on behalf of distraught parents and crestfallen students.

There is no denying the fact that the universities concerned are being clever by half. They think they hold both the yam and the knife; therefore, they think they can their cake and have it. That is impunity. They think by disqualifying applicants with NECO results in this ingenious way, they would be reducing their admission headaches which have been monumentally compounded this session by the Adamu summersault. This is crass opportunism. None of these shenanigans should be mentioned even once among our institutions of higher learning; for, if gold rusts, what will iron do?

LAST WORD: The rumbling within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is getting louder and clearer. What many political observers had suspected from the beginning, but which APC leaders had tried to paper over, is becoming too obvious to be glossed over with paints. I’ll rather wait to see for now; for, like grandma taught me, what is rumbling in the bush is definitely making its way to the main road. Rather than go look for it in the bush and run any risk, wait for it to come completely into the open; same goes for the Edo State governorship election, which is befuddled at the moment by claims and counterclaims.