Student protests after flawed university entrance exams
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board or JAMB has been accused of being incapable of handling the electronic entrance exam. Parliament and civil society groups have called on the government to initiate reforms to rescue the board from alleged lethargy and inefficiency.
This is the first time since its creation in 1978 that JAMB has faced protests by students, parents and civil society organisations.
The spontaneous demonstrations in Lagos, the capital Abuja and Ilorin last month were sparked by numerous problems encountered by large numbers of the 1.5 million candidates from across the Nigerian federation and some other countries in Africa and the Middle East.
The build-up to the protests began at the registration stage of this year’s exams. A few days before the registration portal was closed in February, many candidates used social media to appeal to the registrar of JAMB, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, to extend the closing date.
The candidates calling for an extension did not put forward convincing reasons. But the noise they made was so loud that the board bowed to pressure.
It has become a weakness in Nigeria for citizens not to undertake their civic responsibilities on time. To name a few instances, the closing dates for registration for the last general election and for a Bank Verification Number for each Nigerian, were postponed several times.
Dr Fabian Benjamin, JAMB’s head of media, wondered why candidates had waited so long to complete registration, which had started in August 2015.
He reminded the public that the portal, which had been billed to close in January, had been left open into February due to public appeals – until just a few weeks before the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination or UTME commenced.
“Why this sudden press campaign against JAMB over this issue?” he asked.
Benjamin went on to volunteer a possible explanation. “The protests are antics of some pressure groups to force JAMB into establishing special centres where late candidates may perpetrate examination malpractices. The board had given candidates ample time to register.”
The portal had to close in February to allow the board time to prepare for the exam. “It cannot allow candidates to register perpetually, because there is a timetable and JAMB adheres strictly to it to allow tertiary institutions to begin the process of early admission.
“We all must work to enshrine a culture of discipline in the system and ensure that tertiary institutions’ calendars are regular.”
Many exam problems
A few days after the entrance exam took place in mid-March, aggrieved candidates took to the streets. A spectacular attempt to ‘occupy’ the Lagos State House of Assembly was thwarted. Similar protests took place in Abuja and Ilorin.
Protesters presented a catalogue of problems experienced at exam venues and the untidy manner in which results were handled. The complaints ranged from non-provision of calculators and irregular shutting down of computers to the non-release of results.
One of the fundamental problems students faced was lack of internet on their computers. Since the exam was time bound, many could not answer all the questions displayed on the screen.
“My computer locked itself up suddenly and informed me that I had exhausted my time. I complained to the exam supervisor, and while he sympathised with me because my complaints were genuine, he simply informed me that there was nothing he could do,” declared Regina Okon.
Some candidates could not find their names at their chosen exam centres. When the master list was checked, these candidates found their names in centres located in other towns. JAMB changed exam venues without proper notification and more than 10,000 missed the exam.
Among the most traumatising problems was conflicting results sent to some candidates. A few hours after the end of the exam, candidates received results alerts on their phones. “When the result arrived on my cell phone I had a total score of 220 marks out of a total of 400 marks. However when I printed out my results I saw 164,” wailed Bosede Aina.
According to reliable sources, JAMB does not have enough staff who are sufficiently trained in computer techniques to handle 1.5 million candidates.
In its reaction, the National Assembly suggested that the board should have a transition period during which it could organise both paper-based and electronically-based examinations.
Responding to the barrage of criticism, JAMB's Dibu Ojerinde admitted that around 59,000 candidates in 15 states had been relocated because of problems in some exam centres. It appears that many were not properly informed.
He promised to organise fresh entrance exams for the affected candidates. The board said that candidates who had computer system failures during the exam could also retake it if their complaint was found to be genuine.
Ojerinde said that among the 1,546,633 candidates that sat the 2016 UTME, 145,704 had issues of multiple results – but these had been resolved.
A university registrar who did not want to be named said that running new exams might cause problems because the laws establishing JAMB made no provision for such a measure. Also, more people who failed could claim it was because of irregularity or inefficiency.
“If, on the other hand, he does not address these complex problems, he may soon be confronted with a series of court cases. Either way, Ojerinde has found himself in a very complicated situation,” the registrar said. “I don’t envy him at all.”