Controversies over placements hit admissions board

Nigeria’s Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, the sole agency mandated to decide placement criteria for tertiary institutions, is enmeshed in controversies over this year’s student admissions policies and practices.

Parents and the Academic Staff Union of Universities have accused JAMB of double standards and lack of transparency, and an influential NGO – the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project – has taken the board to court.

The presidency and the National Assembly are monitoring the unfolding scenario.

Problems with admissions first came to light when placard-waving parents, would-be students and other youths held a peaceful demonstration at the entrance to the University of Lagos, a federal institution.

The protest caused a huge traffic jam and made headlines in the print and electronic media. The demonstrators accused JAMB of double standards and non-transparent criteria policies.

“My daughter applied to read business administration at the University of Lagos. On this university’s website her name disappeared and suddenly surfaced at a private university where she did not apply,” said Joseph Ibrahim, an accountant who took part in the demonstration alongside his daughter.

“She was instructed to go to this private university. This is simply a fraud.”

A university official addressed the protestors, and assured them that their cases would be looked into before the date fixed for the ‘Post-JAMB’ qualifying test for the University of Lagos.

The ‘Post-JAMB’ test was instituted over a decade ago by the Nigerian government to allow each university to hold its own tests – that is, a second round for students who qualify for tertiary education via the initial test organised by JAMB.

Academics join the fray

Despite the official’s soothing assurances, the issue became national and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, waded in.

Dr Adelaja Odukoya, a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Lagos and chair of its ASUU branch, made startling revelations.

In an exclusive interview with University World News he claimed that there had been 32,946 candidates who chose the University of Lagos and scored 200 points in the JAMB qualifying test – the minimum required to sit for the university’s Post-JAMB test.

But suddenly 23,946 names of qualified candidates disappeared from the university website, and JAMB unilaterally sent to the university only 9,000 candidates to sit for the Post-JAMB test because the carrying capacity of the university is 7,000.

“These disappeared names re-surfaced on the websites of some private universities, directing the affected candidates not to report to the University of Lagos anymore,” Odukoya affirmed. “This is the genesis of the protest at the entrance of my university.”

Under the law establishing JAMB, the agency does not have the right to impose candidates on any university, as long as the university adheres to benchmark rules. Odukoya claimed that even some candidates who had scored very high marks were omitted from the 9,000 candidates sent to the University of Lagos. “This is not acceptable to ASUU,” he remarked.

It has been claimed that other universities have had similar experiences.

Professor Segun Ajiboye, chair of the ASUU at the University of Ibadan, insisted that JAMB respect candidates' preferences. “JAMB’s recent policy is insensitive and exploitative of the children of the poor. And it amounts to the abuse of the candidates' fundamental rights to the freedom of choice.”

The SERAP case

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, or SERAP, challenged JAMB in the Lagos High Court.

Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP’s executive director, filed a suit challenging the legality of JAMB’s admission policy on behalf of three candidates who sat for the JAMB test and achieved the marks needed to sit the Post-JAMB test but were prevented from doing so.

Mumuni relied on Section 5(1)(C)(iii) of the JAMB Act, which established the agency and was “clear and unambiguous”. The spirit and letter of the law were to “ensure that the preferences of candidates in terms of the university of their choice are sacrosanct”.

“Even a contrary or adverse decision by an individual university cannot override the fundamental provisions of this section of the JAMB Act,” he argued, adding: “Failure to protect the candidates’ university preferences across the country will be a breach of this section.”

Strange behaviour

JAMB spokesman Dr Fabian Benjamin stated that the policy being practised was aimed at ensuring that “Nigerian universities admit only the best in conformity with global practice and tradition”.

He did not deny or confirm whether candidates were being posted by JAMB to tertiary institutions that they did not choose.

According to reliable sources, the committee of vice-chancellors of private universities reportedly met with top JAMB officials and complained that their institutions were recording dismal numbers of students applying. They allegedly pleaded with JAMB to post candidates to their institutions so as to boost student numbers.

One of the reasons why students shun most private universities is the high fees charged. They are likely to record fewer students during the recession confronting Nigeria.

Worried by the ongoing controversies, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari summoned JAMB officials for an explanation. No decision was taken at the meeting and the president is yet to make a pronouncement on the matter.

Meanwhile, SERAP officials have insisted that the court case will proceed and that the court’s verdict will determine JAMB’s credibility.