A Federal High Court in Abuja last Friday, 2nd March, declared the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post- UTME) conducted by universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in Nigeria as illegal. According to it, there was no extant law authorising the exercise.
The court also ruled that only the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) could conduct matriculation examinations and give admissions into tertiary institutions by virtue of section 5 (1 ) (2 ) of the JAMB Act.
It was a law suit filed by the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP ) against JAMB, the Minister of Education and the National Universities Commission (NUC) that led to the judgment.
This post chronicles why the ban on Post-UTME, otherwise called Post-JAMB was bound to happen.
Various tertiary institutions have, over the years been conducting the Post-UTME. They usually adduce that to the lack of confidence in the UTME conducted by JAMB. This reason cannot be wished away.
JAMB was created in 1978 by existing universities at the time in a bid to ensure a uniform standard for the conduct of matriculation examination and placement of suitable candidates into Nigerian universities. The law establishing JAMB was later amended to cater for the conduct of monotechnics, polytechnic and colleges of education matriculation examination.
The UTME is therefore a centralised examination towards tackling issues of the lack of standards and uniformity in admission processes, multiple application by students which led to multiple admissions for some candidates and deprived others of the opportunity to gain admission into tertiary institutions.
Until 2009, JAMB would conduct two exams every year separately for universities and other tertiary education admission. That for universities was called the Universities Matriculations Examination (UME). The other exam catered for monotechnics, polytechnic and colleges of education. That was called Polytechnics and Colleges of Examination (PCE). In 2009, the two were merged into one exam called the UTME.
Under the UTME, candidates could choose three (later four) institutions comprising the combination of tertiary institutions. A cutoff mark would determine whether a student may like gain admission or not. Those aboveground would proceed for the Post-UTME.
Five years before UTME came into place, the Post-UME had materialised in selected universities. It started out as a screening after the UME but soon metamorphosed into an exam.
A former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Peter Okebukola revealed in an interview that the existence of Post-UME could be attributed to noticeable evidence of widespread examination malpractices in some schools where UME held.
In his words, “During my tenure as Executive Secretary, it started in the form of screening.
“It was aimed at getting quality candidates into our tertiary institutions, especially the universities.
“It all happened that (in 2005), some of the Vice Chancellors after the UME came to me on a Sunday after the examination the previous day.
“They reported that there was a big issue in a particular university which I will not like to mention but they complained that almost half of the students of the university sat for the UME.
“And when I asked why, they said some persons who are candidates of UME used these students to write the examination for them as mercenaries.
“It then dawned on us that some of these people that normally brandish high scores are not really the true owners of such scores.”
This discovery led Professor Okebukola to hold a meeting with the then JAMB Registrar, Professor Bello Salim towards ensuring that standards are upheld in tertiary institution admission.
The duo worked together with then Minister of Education, Chinwe Obaji by instituting what was to be called the Post-UME Screening.
In her defence, she argued that “the screening exercise will take care of all kinds of ills in the universities as it will make sure that it is only those students who are ready to learn that are given admission.”
On a personal note, Professor Obaji’s son almost lost admission into the university around the time owing to his low score compared to other UME candidates. He later came off with flying colours better than the higher scoring UME students in the school.
Obaji saw stopping the suspected high score fraud as a duty following her appointment as minister in June 2005. She and her successors only fell short of legalising the Post-UME cum Post-UTME.
But Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo objected to the idea of a Post-UME Screening citing its nonexistence under the law establishing JAMB.
The fifth National Assembly (2003-2007) even summoned the concerned parties before it to clarify why they had to allow a Post-UME Screening.
They clarified before the parliament that it wouldn’t be another multiple choice paper like the UME. Rather, it would be oral questions and some essay writing in order to assess the candidates’ writing skills and check both poor written and oral English on the part of candidates.
A few universities reneged on that and started conducting multiple choice exams like the UME. They noted that the best was not being seen in products of the UME and Post UME screenings. There was also the factor of imbuing computer literacy in the prospective students based on the 21st Century trend.
An example is the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), which in 2007 conducted the first Computer-Based Test (CBT) for Post-UME candidates in Nigeria for those who sought admission into the school. We would come back to this later.
Then, the UTME had evolved over the years from an exam candidates don’t see results until after months to one in which results are available on the same day; from pen to Computer-Based, from examination malpractices ridden to a digitally monitored system.
The level of continuity in reforms by successive leaderships of JAMB is not unnoticed. Notable in this context are the tenures of Professors Bello Salim, Dibu Ojerinde and Ishaq Oloyede as registrars.
Meanwhile, evidences of malpractices hitherto believed to be perculiar to JAMB are now more abound in schools conducting the Post-UTME. Issues of extortionist tendencies in the conduct of the Post-UTME are lingering on.
Pundits raised concerns that the existence of the other exam after the UTME meant it was time JAMB was scrapped. They believe JAMB had outlived is usefulness if another exam could be conducted in its stead. Others saw an improvement in the conduct of UTME as the way out. The legality of the Post-UTME was all that was needed by the litigants to put the arguments to rest.