Reason prevailed in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s decision to suspend the use of the National Identification Number as a requirement for candidates to apply for the 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and Direct Entry. It was an action based on technical issues and deep concerns of various stakeholders. The NIN precondition should not only be suspended, but enough time should be given to allow the culture to take root.
The organisation had since October last year intimated prospective candidates of the mandatory usage of the card. JAMB spokesman, Fabian Benjamin, in September, said registration by the National Identity Management Commission would capture the biometrics of candidates and other necessary details for the registration of its exams. He said, “Candidates are enjoined to register as the board will no longer be responsible for the capturing of candidates biometrics ahead of examination, as all information required will be uploaded from the data captured by the NIMC.”
According to JAMB, the new policy was to be used as an arsenal against cheating in its examinations. The resolve to bar those without the card from the exams, therefore, compelled hundreds of thousands of candidates to troop to NIMC registration centres across the 36 states of the federation. But much to their chagrin and anguish, they discovered that the commission was ill-prepared to handle the deluge of applications.
Each of the about 1,000 centres of the commission became a scene of bedlam. Some of the applicants were extorted between N500 and N2,000 before they could obtain the card, going by widespread media reports. But those who could not afford the bribery stayed at the centres from morning to the close of work for weeks, dejected, fatigued and abandoned. As of October last year, only 19 per cent of Nigerians had been enrolled by the NIMC since its operations started in 2012.
The so-called “technical issue” JAMB predicated its retreat on was nothing other than the realisation that the registration centres were grossly insufficient. The NIMC General Manager, Legal Services, Hadiza Dagabana, inadvertently admitted this when she said international best practices required that at least 4,000 centres be available to contain the challenge it faced. She added that 10,000 centres would be established in the second quarter of this year. If it took the commission eight years to have its present number of centres, it is illogical to claim or assure Nigerians of a geometric increase in the number, to the proportion Dagabana has promised.
Consequently, the Registrar of JAMB, Ishaq Oloyede, should discard the idea of UTME candidates using NIN to register for the examination indefinitely. The NIMC is simply not ready yet. At present, the Commission is grossly inefficient and many of its workers strikingly corrupt. The adoption of technology to address social challenges is meant to alleviate pain, not to aggravate it. The young Nigerians, who went through unnecessary stress in the recent botched NIN procurement process, should not experience it again. These were pupils preparing for this year’s May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination, who abandoned classes for months to face the stampede at the centres in an endeavour that was a nullity. About 1.5 million pupils sit UTME annually.
Instructively, every national identity registration project in the country subjects citizens to the most harrowing experience: bribery, lack of seamless procurement system, which leads to weeks of people queuing, fainting; and insufficiency of materials. For instance, many Nigerians that registered for NIN three years ago, have yet to collect their permanent cards, evidence of NIMC’s ill-preparedness.
However, dealing with the scourge of cheating in public examinations is a serious national undertaking that JAMB under Oloyede’s leadership has rightly embraced. With the board’s deployment of Closed Circuit Television cameras in examination centres and outside, it was able to nab 123 cheats in the April 2019 UTME, who were summarily prosecuted. Besides, it delisted 76 Computer-Based Test Centres. Bauchi State had recorded the highest number of 48 cheats. Lagos and Sokoto had five each. In all, 23 states were caught in this web of infamy and it included Abia, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Ekiti, Delta, Gombe, Borno, Oyo, Rivers, Plateau, Enugu, Edo, Ebonyi and Adamawa, as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
The board should not relent. In fact, its action is giving effect to the seemingly ineffective Examination Malpractices Act of 1999, which clearly spells out cheating in an exam as a criminal offence. This sword of Damocles is not just on pupils alone, but on their collaborators such as invigilators, schools, principals and employees of examination bodies, who, on conviction, are liable to four years in prison.
Cheating in UTME is a carryover from decades of misconduct in WASSCE and the National Examination Council exams. The 2018 WASSCE experienced one of its worst forms when questions were sent to websites via WhatsAPP, SMS and other social media platforms. Answers were then returned to the subscribers in the exam hall. It was a moral decadence that previously attracted a slap on the wrist from the relevant authorities who used to shut down affected schools for two years. This is not enough.
Examination malpractice has damaged the reputation of the Nigeria’s qualifications system and, with the advance in technology, the challenge has become more daunting. Publication of sanctions applied to malpractice cases could help to deter students and staff from committing malpractices. JAMB should consider ways in which technology can be used to prevent and investigate malpractice, such as improving the security of packets of examination papers. With the quest of Oloyede-led JAMB to sanitise UTME, it should push for a review of the exam malpractices law to provide for stiffer sanctions for culprits.