- The UTME obstacle is a story of Nigerian education and society
Not many Nigerians were disappointed by the inability of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to rise to the challenge of providing National Identification Number (NIN) to Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) candidates.
The Federal Government had directed that NIN should be a precondition for registering for the examination. However, many prospective who besieged the registration centres on Wednesday and Thursday last week became dejected when they could not get the elusive NIN, hours after staying on queues, four days to commencement of registration for the UTME.
The candidates have tales of woes, with allegations that only those who were ready to bribe officials and touts were attended to. Those that were not ready to play ball could stay on the queues forever.
Of course, NIMC officials rationalised the chaos that characterised the process variously: it was either the handiwork of some examination malpractice syndicates or touts who were extorting money from the candidates; or the last minute rush by the candidates.
Indeed, a state coordinator of the NIMC, Tayo Olatunde, blamed the extortion on touts. He denied that NIMC officials were involved.
A Senior Secondary School 3 pupil, Abdullahi Sanni, in Gombe State captured the scenario: “Since 6am we have been here; unfortunately I’m number 18 on the queue but they didn’t start work upon resumption at 8am.
When they finally started, once you gave them money, you would be registered.” Some of the candidates claimed they arrived the centre as early as 6.00 a.m. yet were not attended to as at 3.00 p.m.
The good news however is that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which conducts the UTME had reverted to its extant processes when it saw that getting NIN was becoming problematic for the candidates.
This was in spite of the earlier insistence by the board’s spokesman, Dr Benjamin Fabian, that there was no going back on the board’s policy on the NIN. This was the most pragmatic thing to do and it was quite thoughtful of JAMB to have moved swiftly to avert the looming disaster.
To have done otherwise would have put the future of many candidates in jeopardy. Unfortunately for JAMB, it would be at the receiving end of the scathing criticisms that would have followed.
Very few Nigerians know NIMC; and the few that know it would have sworn with their lives that the commission would bungle the exercise. JAMB would have succeeded in rubbishing its image which the current leadership has worked assiduously to build in just over three years.
And this would have been uncalled-for, given that the various measures put in place by the board since the assumption of office of its present registrar/chief executive, Prof Ishaq Oloyede, have somewhat stemmed the wave of examination malpractice.
Ideally, NIN would have been more like it due to its multi-purpose benefits because it would have taken care of all the other biometrics that Nigerians are made to do in the course of obtaining driver’s license, opening or operating bank accounts and so on.
But then, the process of getting the national identity card has been dogged with corruption since the idea was mooted in the 1980s. About 40 years down the line, it is regrettable that substantial progress has not been made on the issuance of the (now) e-identity card. It was projected that by the end of 2019, NIMC should have over 100 million unique records at its central database.
Unfortunately, only about 38million were registered as at October of that year. If successive governments understood the importance of the identity card and the NIN, they would not have been treating the matter with levity.
In spite of the fact that corruption has always been an issue in connection with the cards ab initio, we have not done enough to check it. Otherwise, those fleecing UTME candidates in the course of giving them NIN would not have done so brazenly.