Academics call for reform of scandal-hit exam agency

Nigerian academics argue that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the sole agency permitted by law to conduct entrance examinations for all tertiary institutions in the country, needs to be decentralised and modernised if it is to stand any hope of dealing with the rampant corruption being uncovered within the body.

Professor Jihmn Dagash of the department of educational foundation at the University of Jos said JAMB can no longer, in its present form, oversee the approximately two million candidates who sit for the annual entry examinations.

“JAMB, as presently constituted, is not meant to cater for such increasing numbers of candidates. Corruption and malpractices can only thrive in an organisation whose capacity, including its lean manpower, is meant for far fewer candidates than it is presently coping with,” he said.

JAMB has attracted a great deal of media attention over the past few weeks as a result of public hearings held on 14 and 15 February into several cases of corruption. JAMB registrar Oloyede has vowed to root out the corruption while Dr Fabian Benjamin, JAMB spokesman, said: “We shall monitor and scrutinise how public funds are handle in this agency. We are trying to block all leakages and loopholes.”

The testimony delivered at the hearings by those accused of corruption have attracted a frenzy of interest in the press and social media, particularly relating to the sale of official scratch cards, the biometric cards issued and used by JAMB for on-line registration of all examinations candidates. As many as 20 testimonies involving theft of the proceeds from the sale of the cards were heard.

The strangest of these cases is that of Philomena Chiese, a sales clerk in the JAMB office in Makurdi, the capital of Benue state, Central Region, who claimed that monies she received from the sale of JAMB scratch cards – and which belonged to JAMB – had “spiritually disappeared” from a “vault” in her home as a result of it being swallowed by a mysterious snake. In the absence of any credible evidence, the case has been handed over to the police for further investigation.

Another case of alleged corruption involved Labaran Tanko, a JAMB official in Nassarawa state near Abuja who also could not account for the proceeds from the sales of scratch cards. In his opening testimony at the hearings, he said: “Thank God that I am alive today!”

Tanko claimed he was involved in a motor accident on 3 July 2016 when the vehicle he was travelling in caught alight. The scratch cards he carried with him were “burnt beyond recognition”.

However, IT records of the serial numbers of each card showed that the scratch cards had been used by candidates in order to sit their examinations. Tanko’s case has also been handed over to the police for further investigation.

Also appearing before the panel was Daniel Agbor, Kogi state coordinator. He is alleged to have told the panel the following:

“There was prevailing poverty in my station. And money was with us there. You need the grace of God in the state offices not to steal because money is tempting. We all took loans from the sales of the scratch cards. I will provide the list of those involved. To err is human. To forgive is divine. Please don’t take me to the police. Please be lenient with me sir,” he reportedly said.

Another clerk in Yobe, Atose Sanusi, reportedly claimed he could not account for the money from the sale of the scratch cards because Boko Haram, a terrorist group, raided his office and destroyed all the invoices and carted away the money.

The corruption scandals have prompted academics to suggest remedies to improve the functioning of JAMB, many of which call for the modernisation of the organisational structure.

Dr Richard Kunlekun from the political science department at Ekiti State University said: “We may ask why there is a single examination body for the whole country to oversee examinations into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education? Is the body having all it takes to shoulder this responsibility? Why should Nigeria refuse to do it the way it is done in other countries where there is efficiency? The answer is clear: wrong policy and outdated institutions give rise inevitably to corruption and its attendant consequences."

Professor Issac Ayinla of the sociology department at Obafemi Awolowo University, said he was not surprised that corruption had pervaded JAMB.

“We may focus on what I call the sociology of corruption using JAMB, its operations and vision as an index. No doubt we are dealing here with an outdated institution with its outdated process. JAMB has taken over the duties and responsibilities of the university senates to conduct entrance examinations and select qualified candidates. We must all demand the reform of this outdated examination body to prevent further corrupt practices that may ruin the integrity of our tertiary institutions,” he said.