Elder statesman and lawyer, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), has described the scrapping of the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (post-UTME, otherwise called post-JAMB) by the Federal Government as a “calamitous mistake.”
The founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), said he was “more than shocked by the announcement” from the Minster of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, that post-UTME as part of the qualifying procedure for admission into Nigerian universities, has now been cancelled.
On governance, he called for a return to regionalism and parliamentary system of government, saying for Nigeria to come out of its myriads of socio-political and economic problems, it needs a restructuring that would make the regions stronger and control their resources.
Babalola, who was in the vanguard of those who canvassed for the qualifying examinations as the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, said: “This, to me, is nothing but a most calamitous mistake, which poses danger and an irreversible adverse effect on the quality of education in this country.”
He said he was particularly surprised and worried that such a far-reaching decision could be taken without due and adequate consideration for how the concept of the post- UTME came into being.
“It is rather unfortunate that human memory is very short. In 2003, it was discovered by university administrators in this country that many of the students admitted into Nigerian universities through JAMB were not only academically deficient, they could also not justify the high marks scored in JAMB examinations.
“Cases abound whereby JAMB examination papers were being openly compromised and sold to students at examination centers, while some examination centers, mischievously dubbed miracle centres, were openly, but unofficially designed to guarantee high marks for some candidates.
“The most pathetic aspect of this perfidy is that we later found out that most of these students with such high marks were unable to cope academically upon their being admitted to the universities.”
He added: “It was at this point of this national embarrassment that the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, under my chairmanship, met in Abuja, x-rayed the cankerworm and recommended to former President Olusegun Obasanjo that JAMB should be scrapped, because the integrity of its examinations has been called to question.
“I must stress at this point that the introduction of post-UTME was not decided by the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities alone; the matter was thrown open, with contributions from stakeholders and interested and concerned members of the different strata of society.
“However, government in its wisdom, decided to adopt a middle-way approach to the matter by saying that JAMB should continue to be and conduct its business of qualifying examinations to tertiary institutions in Nigeria, while post-UTME should be introduced.
“This translates to the fact that JAMB will be used as the basis for admission into Nigerian universities, but the universities are free to conduct screening exercises, which include administering questions in relevant courses, for their would-be students.”
According to him: “The post-UTME had proved to be a veritable quality control measure, which I believed had been working and working well.
“For example, the first post-UTME we conducted at the University of Lagos, where I was then the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, yielded positive dividends.
“There was this student with a very impressive result, who applied to study Law. Since English Literature was and still central to the admission of students to study Law, he was asked if he knew a novel called Things Fall Apart and he answered in the affirmative. We then asked him if he knew the author.
“The hall was filled with consternation when the young man named the late Gen. Sanni Abacha as the author of Things Fall Apart.
“With the above scenario, it became crystal clear that Nigerian universities were no places candidates should come to with compromised and procured results.
“This singular example underscores the place and import of the post-UTME, which is being touted as having been cancelled. As a result of the introduction of the post-UTME, the quantum of students who were asked to withdraw, because they could neither defend the high marks they were parading nor cope academically upon admission, dropped considerably.
“Besides and in any event, those who were using JAMB to get jumbo marks also reduced, while JAMB and its results became more credible.”
Babalola said with the innovative measures introduced by JAMB’s Registrar, Prof Dibu Ojerinde, to re-invent the examination body, its results have become a lot more credible.
“It must be emphasised that every university has the right to screen the candidates it wants to admit.
“It also has the right to embark on other exercises, whether written or unwritten, to make it and its products stand out.
“For example, in the University of Oxford, any student applying to study Law is mandatorily required to take the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT). Any student applying for Biomedical Sciences must take Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Any student applying for Chemistry must take Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), while any one applying for Classics must take Classics Admission Test (CAT).
“However, such universities should not set out to profit from such exercises, as they are not money-making ventures. Students should only be made to pay minimal fees to cover the cost of papers and other logistics, like we do in our university, where each student pays only N10, 000 for the post-UTME.”
He also called for the convocation of a sovereign national conference, where the “the fundamental flaws of the 1999 constitutions will be corrected.”
The legal luminary, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, noted that so far as the country continues to run a powerful central government, the constituent units would continue to be weaker and unproductive.
He specifically called for a conference with the mandate to discuss how the regions would be the centre of administration.
Babalola, who disclosed that he had attended three constitutional conferences in Nigeria, regretted that reports of those conferences were never implemented.
“We have to revisit and revise our constitution, which to me, gives us what can be described as semi-unitary government.
“We should go back to what it was in the post-independence era, where we had strong regions and a weak centre, a development which allowed each region to develop at its own pace and the attendant healthy competition and rivalry.
“This time around, the six geo-political zones in the country should be allowed to develop the resources in their respective domains and used the proceeds to enhance the development and welfare of their people, like it was immediately after independence,” adding that the current presidential system is too expensive and allows for corruption.
He noted: “I still stand by my earlier position that we should run a parliamentary system of government, as we did immediately after independence in 1960.
“For obvious reasons, the parliamentary system is cheaper to run. It will checkmate the scandalously and damnably high cost of governance for which Nigeria has earned the notorious and unenviable accolade of being the most expensive democracy in the world.
“During Nigeria’s first republic, legislation was part-time and cost of governance was minimal as legislators only went to the centre for meetings when the need arose.
“The same could be tried again with the cost of the princely accommodation, exotic automobiles and frivolous allowances freed for use for some otherwise worthwhile and beneficial programmes to the people.