Two years ago, following the convocation ceremony of a private university where 188 students graduated with first class degrees, there was an online discussion on the lack of quality control in our educational sector. According to the report that generated the conversation, 568 other students obtained second class upper degrees while 322 graduated with second class lower and 47 with third class. With 17 percent of the graduating students coming out with first class and another 50 percent with second class upper, the two alone accounted for 67 percent of the entire graduating class! This same issue is now the focus of attention in the United Kingdom where, as we all know, the quality of education is of the highest standard.
Last week, the UK Education Secretary, Mr Damian Hinds warned that British universities must slash the number of first class and second class upper degrees they award or risk undermining their reputation. “Our universities are world-class and world-leading, with four ranked among the top 10 in the world, and attracting thousands of international students. At the heart of that global reputation is a trust in the quality and high standards of the education provided. It cannot be right that students in one year are awarded higher grades for the same level of achievement than those in previous years. We owe it to the hardworking students who have earned those top grades to stamp out this unfair practice.”
In defence, president of Universities UK, Professor Dame Janet Beer admitted there are issues but nonetheless said that grade inflation should not be confused with teaching improvement. “The sector’s collective will to take ownership of this challenge is strong, as we recognise it is crucial that we keep the confidence of students, employers and the public in the value of a university qualification,” before she added: “It is important to draw a distinction between grade inflation and grade improvement, where increased investment in teaching and facilities, as well as students working harder than ever, are leading to legitimate increases in grades.”
Authorities in the UK know the value of education and that is the essence of the debate regarding standards that should not be compromised. Sadly, even with our educational sector in total shambles, nobody seems to care about quality control or how to address challenges in a country where the integrity of examination is extremely low. At least so I thought until I encountered the Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede about three weeks ago. Since most of the news about Oloyode had been that he was remitting billions of Naira to the federation account as opposed to what obtained under his predecessors, my attitude was that a JAMB registrar should be more interested in the quality of candidates selected to enter our tertiary institutions than in book keeping. As it turned out, Oloyede has done far more at JAMB than he is being credited for. This I only came to know only by chance.
A female member of my church who works in JAMB was transferred from Abuja to her state of origin. The implication of being separated from her family became a serious challenge and my intervention was sought. That was what took me to JAMB but the moment I explained my mission, Oloyede sent for his senior staff and the file of the woman. In their presence, he explained the reason for the transfer which, as it turned out, affected several of the staff in a particular department.
Because this department is critical to the work of JAMB, Oloyode, on assumption of duty, decided to examine the qualifications of those working there—only to discover many of them had no background in education. To put that right, he provided incentives for those who would take the offer to go to school with all their entitlements paid. He also told them that his reform of the department would necessitate that each of them would take a day out every week to teach. With that, JAMB adopted three schools within Bwari Area Council, provided N60 million to upgrade their facilities and deployed qualified staff to teach in these schools: Nomadic Primary School, Tudun Fulani; Government Secondary School, Bwari and Government Secondary School, Guto.
As Oloyede explained to me, in addition to being a corporate social responsibility initiative, he wanted the staff of this specialized department to be exposed to the standards of education in the country, the challenges and what could be done by way of recommendation to help. But by adding a reward bonus for those who teach once they acquired the requisite qualifications, other staff started to fight back. Oloyede responded by asking that they be transferred from the department. While I felt satisfied with his explanation, he also seized the opportunity to explain what he has been doing at JAMB.
In the course of our discussion, I learnt about several innovations that Oloyede has brought to restore the integrity of the JAMB examination which, as he said, is his number one priority. First, no candidate learns the location of the centre where he or she will write the examination at the point of registration. Second, a candidate can pick an examination town but not the centre. For instance, you can choose Garki as an examination town but the Board is authorized to put you in any of the ten centres within Garki. Third, under the current dispensation, once registration is closed no extension is entertained. This leaves no room for connivance or any special arrangement. In the past the Board was registering candidates for upwards of three months. It was discovered that the longer the period of registration, the more time the syndicate that specialised in examination malpractices had to invest in their nefarious business.
Perhaps Oloyode’s greatest achievement is the introduction of real time monitoring of each of the JAMB centres before, during and after the examination. This he has been able to achieve by investing heavily in IT infrastructure. With CCTV cameras in the examination centres linked to the headquarters, some of the ‘miracle centres’ are now finding it difficult to game the exams because JAMB is one step ahead. Oloyede shared with me interesting insights. A man who brought in experts to connect computers where he had placed mercenaries writing JAMB for his candidates was being watched in real time from the headquarters and was apprehended in the process by security men. In addition to security gadgets, Oloyede personally debriefed a number of those who had been caught in malpractices to enable him to learn their tricks. In this way, he is turning the table against cheats.
As the JAMB Head of Media, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, would later explain to me, even though more than 80 percent of the examination centres are owned by private individuals, they now know that there are consequences for bad behavior: “It is not enough to tell us that you have a certain number of computers, we will send our staff to check their suitability and we will do a link test. On that date we must see all your active computers which would be given codes and they cannot be substituted. During the examination, we see all the computers being used in all the over 700 centres across the country from our monitor room in Abuja. That way, we can easily detect malpractices.”
Beyond measures to restore sanity to the examination process, Oloyede took me through the admission process. His computer is linked with that of admission officers in most tertiary institutions. In the charts he showed me, Nigeria has 846 tertiary institutions offering Degrees, Diplomas and Certificates in education. This year, a total of 1,793,018 candidates applied for admission to these institutions through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and Direct Entry (D/E). He can monitor every single admission from the computer on his desk.
What I found particularly interesting was that throughout the period I spent with Oloyede and his senior staff, there was not a single mention of how he has brought transparency and accountability to financial dealings at JAMB. The implication is that he considers what seems to endear him to many Nigerians a routine matter. That says a lot about his character. Before I left, Oloyede came back to the matter that brought me to JAMB. He told his senior staff: “I take no delight in separating a woman from her husband and children. But how do we handle this situation without compromising discipline?”
One of his staff said it was not a problem to reverse the transfer out of Abuja, but what they would not do is bring the lady back to the same department. He suggested that she be posted to another JAMB office in town, away from headquarters. At that point Oloyede picked up her file. In my presence, he reversed the transfer with a proviso: There should be no financial cost to JAMB. He then explained. Although the lady had relocated, she would forfeit the N300,000 allowance because the transfer had been reversed. It was after I agreed to this term that he appended his signature to the instruction. Exactly three days later, I received a long thank-you message from the woman. She had just received a memo from headquarters transferring her back to Abuja.
There are several lessons I learnt from my encounter with Oloyede. One, the idea of JAMB staff serving as teachers can only be enriching for their examination process. Two, the efforts to restore integrity to their examinations are in the right direction. Three, the manner he carried his management staff along in dealing with my request demonstrated leadership. Four, in acceding to the request, he still followed due process. Five, the speed with which his directive was promptly carried out showed the respect his staff has for him and the efficiency at JAMB.
Meanwhile, following my column last week, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2019/03/21/the-exodus-of-nigerian-doctors/?amp, I got several responses and I am still processing them to know the format the debate should take. Interestingly, one doctor yesterday forwarded to me a letter sent to the Nigerian Healthcare Professionals UK ‘NHS 70 Award Night 2019’ by the British Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May. In the message to the ceremony held last Saturday night in London, May wrote: “As we celebrate the many achievements of the NHS over the last 70 years, these awards are an excellent opportunity to recognise the dedication of outstanding healthcare professionals of Nigeria origin. Your contribution has had an important influence in our vital healthcare system, helping to shape the NHS and the delivery of its workforce.”
While we will come back to this conversation, May’s letter is a recognition of the importance of social sectors like health and education to the development of any nation. That is why we must celebrate change agents like Oloyede who inspire others by setting the right example.
2019 General Election and the Day After
In October 2015, the Nigerian Army set up a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to investigate the alleged involvement of its personnel in the malpractices that characterised the 2014 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states. “The essence of the investigation is to prevent future unprofessional conduct by officers and men in the performance of constitutional roles. It is also to strengthen Nigerian Army’s support to democratic values and structures in Nigeria”, the statement read. Given what has transpired in the course of the 2019 general election, it is obvious no lessons were learnt. The military, the police and other security agencies that were ordinarily meant to help the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free and fair elections became, in most instances, the problem.
While I am already compiling notes on the sundry acts of misdeeds that we have witnessed in the past one month, the 2019 general election is also unique in certain respects. Three things stand out. One, for the first time in the political history of Nigeria, there was no ‘bandwagon effect’ to render the gubernatorial election ineffectual. Two, when all the emotions are spent and the results are analysed more dispassionately, it will be easy to see how a strong two-party system has evolved in Nigeria. Three, Nigerian voters are becoming very sophisticated. For instance, while President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won his polling unit in Daura, Katsina State with 523 votes to beat former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got three votes, the APC candidate for Katsina North senatorial district, incumbent Kaita Baba-Ahmad secured 248 votes to lose the unit to the Accord party candidate, Lawal Nalado who polled 263 votes.
In my coming book, I will examine some of these issues while looking at the violence, vote-repression, ballot-snatching and other forms of electoral manipulation as well as the safeguards that we need to enthrone for our democracy to survive and thrive. However, regardless of how we may feel about the outcomes of some of the contests, there are significant positives. For instance, by the time the presidential and national assembly elections were concluded in Bauchi State on 23rd February, Buhari polled 798,428 votes to beat Atiku who scored 209,313 votes. In that same election, of the 12 federal constituencies contested, the House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara, was the only PDP candidate who won. The APC cleared nine seats while the remaining two were won by APC members who contested on the platform of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) after they were denied party tickets by the governor.
With victory in 22 of the 31 state constituencies, Bauchi could be described as an APC state. But the tide turned two weeks later on 9th March during the gubernatorial election which was rendered inconclusive through what I now understand to be a contrived violence. At the end, the APC governor lost. Today, in Adamawa state, no miracle can save the sitting APC governor from a sure defeat by his PDP challenger. In Imo State, the PDP is taking over from an APC governor. Sokoto was APC until Governor Aminu Tambuwal defected late last year yet, he still won his re-election. The same with Benue state where Governor Samuel Ortom won re-election.
The foregoing is important against the background of what transpired in the past. In 2011, Buhari as candidate of the opposition Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) defeated then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 11 of the 13 states that make up the north-east and north-west. He also won in Niger state. But because Jonathan won the presidential election, in the gubernatorial election that followed two weeks later, PDP won all the 12 states, including Katsina. In 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was seeking re-election, five of the six Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors in the South-west who were naïve enough to do a ‘Parapo’ deal with him lost re-election due to this same factor of ‘bandwagon effect’ after the presidential polls.
Therefore, President Buhari deserves commendation for the manner in which he comported himself in the course of the 2019 general election. Only few leaders would accept what INEC did to APC in both Rivers and Zamfara states without finding a way to either circumvent the law or arm-twist the commission to backpedal. It is becoming increasingly clear now that the PDP may benefit from the fiasco Governor Abdulazees Yari created with the black market court order he procured to put APC on the ballot in his state. Yet, if INEC decision had been against the PDP, the general conclusion would have been that it was contrived by the presidency.
While, as I said, I am interrogating the elections and all the associated issues for my coming book, it is important that commentators rely on facts rather than emotions, especially regarding inconclusive and supplementary elections which entered our lexicon in 2011 as a result of two provisions in the Electoral Act, 2010: Section 53 which deals with over-voting and section 26 on violence.
As a result of these provisions, two governorship elections were inconclusive in 2011: Imo and Bauchi states. In 2013, Anambra gubernatorial election was also inconclusive for the same reasons. In 2015, the provisions rendered the gubernatorial elections inconclusive in five states: Imo, Kogi, Taraba, Abia and Bayelsa. In 2018, Osun states was inconclusive and this year, we had six states (Sokoto, Adamawa, Plateau, Kano, Bauchi and Benue). While I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it is now evident that politicians are devising brazen acts of brinksmanship to game elections by either instigating violence or muddling the process to ensure over-voting, all in the bid to force cancelation in certain areas.
Section 53 subsection 1 and 2 says, “No voter shall vote for more than one candidate or record more than one vote in favour of any candidate at any one election. Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall result in the Constituency” while subsection 3 adds, “Where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected area.”
Given recent experiences, it is clear that in close races, supplementary elections can undermine the integrity of the democratic process by allowing the incumbent to introduce vote-buying, intimidation and all forms of inducement. In the process, the initial verdict of the electorate could easily be thwarted with an unpopular outcome rigged into place as we have seen in some recent cases. But in a situation where INEC is empowered by the National Assembly to postpone election on grounds of a “reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date” as spelt out in section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010, how can the commission proceed with elections when there is outright violence as was witnessed in some theatres across the country?
Now that the supplementary election that our lawmakers helped to institute has turned out to be a tool for manipulation, there is need to sit down with other stakeholders to find a solution in the interest of our democracy. But if there is any take-away from the 2019 general election, it is the increasing desperation for power not necessarily to advance public good but rather because of the enormous spoils of office that are attached to political positions at all levels of governance in Nigeria.
Therefore, until there is a review of these disclosed and undisclosed remunerations and we are able to instil accountability in the system, there will be no end to this mercantile approach to politics and our elections will continue to be a matter of life and death!