“It is a crime to be intelligent in Nigeria,” Tope, one of my friends posted a few weeks after we wrote our UTME.
We took our exam in the same center. On June 8, 2011, we stood in long lines waiting for the police to check us before we could enter the main lecture building in the Faculty of Technology, University of Ibadan. We had been instructed not to bring any calculators because the examination board would provide them. I brought one just in case we weren’t provided with any. As we entered the hall, the invigilators asked us to turn in our calculators. Later on, the invigilators discovered that the examination officials had not sent calculators in our packet. People who had not brought calculators had to leave the hall to find ones they could use. I quickly grabbed mine from the front of the hall. It took a while before the hall settled again for the commencement of the exam.
Early in the morning a week later, I began to receive phone calls from friends sharing their scores in JAMB with me. When I tried to check my own results with a scratch card, the following message showed up on the website “You cannot view the result as it has been withheld for further screening.” I began to contact other people who had been in my center and they said that they had received the same message when they tried to check their results. A few days later, I finally received very low results. In the other school leaving certificate examinations I took, I had the highest results among my classmates but I ended up receiving one of the lowest JAMB results in my class. The other people who sat the exam in my center began to receive unusually low results compared to other centers or the message, “You cannot see your results because you colluded with other candidates/examiners/external agents.” Tope received the message accusing him of cheating, which is an offence punishable by eighteen years of imprisonment. It was after this that he asked on Facebook whether it is criminal to be intelligent in Nigeria.
We discovered through JAMB officials and other sources that our center had been pegged a “center of excellence.” The examination board felt that the students in our center must have cheated because there were some very high scores. Meanwhile, there were a lot of students from good schools including the Oritamefa Baptist Model School, the International School Ibadan, Oladipo Alayande School of Science who wrote the UTME at this center. JAMB did not bother to carry out any verification tests before coming to the conclusion that we must have cheated while deciding to give us either arbitrarily low marks or withhold our results. My parents sent a letter to JAMB protesting my arbitrary score and got this reply, “The released score is not a raw score but a normalized score because JAMB is not a Certificate Exam, it is a selection exam. Therefore, the raw score has to be normalized based on the exam of the subject population.” What kind of normalization had been carried out that gave everybody in my center either low scores or an accusation of cheating especially when some of these same students did so well in other school leaving certificate examinations?
I was fortunate. JAMB ultimately did not hinder my progress. I enrolled in A’ Levels and wrote the SAT while applying to colleges in America. I ended up at Harvard University on a scholarship. Tope’s parents eventually had to go to Abuja to beg the JAMB officials to release his results to him so that he could apply for admission. Some weeks later, JAMB released very low results to him. Tope managed to register for the second batch of the post-UTME screening at his first-choice university. He obtained the highest mark out of all the candidates who participated in the screening and gained admission to his course of choice. How about the students who could not pursue these options? What became of them? Another student in my center who received the message accusing him of cheating was taking the UTME exam a second time. He threatened to take his life. His mother reported that she had to go and plead with JAMB officials in Abuja to release any results to him so that he could apply for a spot in university.
If it were left to me, I would scrap JAMB. But this seems unlikely to happen, which is why I am against the blanket cancellation of the post-UTME exam that has provided a safety net to students who have been messed up by JAMB. As the communiqué released on June 27, 2016 by the Association of the Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) communicates, my story is not that unique among the experiences of many Nigerian youth who have been victims of the issues that have plagued JAMB for many years such as “arbitrary JAMB scores, special/miracle centers which give undue advantage to some candidates, impersonation, payment for manipulation of JAMB scores by highest bidders.” Furthermore, these problems have been compounded with new issues with computer-based testing such as the malfunctioning of computers and network problems. In fact, the range of JAMB scores this year varied based on the day that one sat the test. The AVCNU communiqué also references empirical studies, which demonstrate that the quality of students admitted to university have improved since the introduction of the post-UTME.
The chief argument of the Minister of Education and other individuals for the annulment of the post-UTME examinations has been the cost of these exercises but this should not be an excuse to surrender the fate of Nigerian students and indeed our nation to an incredibly unreliable exam. Perhaps, some of the money that has been allocated to run the UTME exam can be remitted to universities to subsidize or eliminate the cost of the post-UTME exercises. Or even better, the money that has been stolen from the coffers of this country can cover the costs. If not, history will judge us harshly as we leave the fate of the educational system of our nation to its destruction in the hands of the arbitrary and unkind JAMB machine.
Iyeyinka AnuOluwahan Omigbodun
B.A. (Hons.) Social Anthropology & African Studies, Harvard University