By Binzak Azeez
Prior to 1978, the Nigerian tertiary institutions were solely responsible for conducting entrance examinations for their aspirants, and each of these institutions had the full capacity to admit its students with its own dictate. Osakuade Joseph (2011) stated that numerous complaints marred this individual admission process among which were “multiple applications and admissions of students and the pattern of enrolment in the universities which clearly showed that majority of the universities drew the bulk of their students from their immediate geographical neighborhood(catchment areas).” In 1974, the committee of Vice-Chancellors initiated the idea of a unified modus operandi for admission process as a response to these challenges. Subsequently, the Nigerian government constituted a National Committee on University Entrance Examination headed by Mr. MS. Angulu. This committee recommended setting up of JAMB as a centralized examination body for prospective aspirants of tertiary institutions. In 1978, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was established under Decree No. 2 of 1978, subsequently amended in 1989. By the virtue of this Act, the Board is empowered to conduct matriculation examinations in all Universities, Monotechnics, polytechnics and colleges of Education. In 1979, Jamb conducted the first matriculation examination for entry into all degree-awarding institutions in Nigeria, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in 1991 and Monotechnics in 1998.
The credibility and competence of JAMB as a sole statutory body assigned to conduct admission examinations into tertiary institutions became a national discourse in the early 2000s. Most tertiary institutions and academic scholars claimed that the board has deteriorated both in standard and integrity while some defended JAMB academic potency. Due to the stern criticism levied against this body, the Federal Government of Nigeria through Mrs. Chinwe Obaji, the Minister of Education empowered and mandated all tertiary institutions to conduct internal screening for their aspirants in 2005. This decision was justified by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president in one of his lectures titled “University is not for all” in 2006.
The internal screening which is also known as Post UTME began to receive public condemnation due to highly exhobitant fee that trailed the collection of the form. Most tertiary institutions turned the screening forms to gold mine as they imposed huge financial burden on admission seekers. On June 2, 2016, the Ministry of Education proscribed the Post-Utme exercise, alleging the exercise as an avenue to wring money from admission seekers. Subsequently, the Minister of Education, Prof. Adamu Adamu refuted the proscription claim. He posited that the only amendment on the admission process was the stipulation of #2000 for Post-UTME fee in all Nigerian tertiary institutions. It was not quite long that a fresh controversy erupted. The Legal Defence And Assistance Project (LEDAP) had filed a suit against JAMB, the Minister of Education and the National Universities Commission (NUC) praying for proscription of Post-UTME. In the judgement delivered by a Federal High Court, Abuja, the test was declared illegal and unlawful on constitutional grounds and it was banned. It was alleged that the defendants (JAMB and NUC) who were dissatisfied with this injunction have filed a suit at the Court of Appeal.
The discourse on the constitutional ground of Post-UTME is open-ended. Sec 5(a) of JAMB ACT 1989 (amended) expressly stated that “the general control of the conduct of matriculation examinations for admissions into all Universities, Polytechnics (by whatever name called) and Colleges of Education (by whatever name called) in Nigeria.” This section unilaterally empowered JAMB to determine the modus operandi for admission into tertiary institutions. It is Sec C(ii) of this Act that conferred ambiguity. The section stated that “guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietor or other competent authority the preferences expressed or otherwise indicated by candidates for certain tertiary institutions and courses.” Succinctly, it means that each tertiary institution is constitutionally expected and empowered to have guidelines for admission process. The interpretation of these guidelines is relative in nature.
In a bid to resolve the present and future crisis in education sector, the sector must be free from technicality. It must be able to embark on research, safeguard education curriculum and enhance its standard at ease. Education is not static likewise its challenges. Bureaucracy is capable of causing retrogression than development in a delicate sector like Education. Introduction of new policies or mechanisms should be in tandem with circumstances. For instance, the argument for or against Post UTME ought to be centred on its reliability and credibility in purifying the admission process into tertiary institutions.
Meritocracy must be employed in appointing the Minister of Education. A Minister of Education is expected to be vast in academic field and should understand how the system operates. This would promote mutual understanding and curtail unnecessary controversy which would eventually promote the sector to a greater height.
The rule of law is sacrosanct and every individual or sector must conform with it. In a situation which urgency and circumstance require for the application of a new policy or mechanism, legal backing should be sought thereafter. In one of the lectures delivered by Chief Olesegun Obasanjo in 2006, he explained that the “Post UTME test was introduced in 2005 in a bid to reposition the education sector so as to meet the modern challenges.” The task would have been well accomplished if a bill had been sponsored to make the test an extant law.
In conclusion, the Nigerian legislative body must pay critical attention to education sector. Education determines the present and future of every nation. It is a national shame that while other nations are debating on the modalities to develop humanity, science and technology, Nigeria is battling with admission process formality. It is pertinent that the Nigerian legistive body proffers a lasting-remedy to all constitutional crisis bedevilling the education sector. Likewise, the legislation that would promote humanity, science and technology must be facilitated.
Binzak Azeez writes from the faculty of Law O.A.U