Recently, it was in the news that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board generated N5bn in one year, which was described as unprecedented. How did you do it?
We were able to generate that because we were properly briefed by the Minister of Education (Mallam Adamu Adamu). When I was appointed, he told me clearly that he believed that JAMB should generate resources and that we should cut cost. So, right from the outset, I knew where we were going. When we resumed, what JAMB owed at the time was almost equal to the money it had, but we cut down cost. That is one. Two, we ensured the use of Information Communication Technology and this is one of the reasons why I should thank both our consultant and the National Information Technology Development Agency. We relied on NITDA to save money and we said money must come in before we talk of spending. Also, we renegotiated the terms of agreement with so many of our service providers and we told them we could not continue the way we were going. All these assisted us. But there is a campaign of falsehood in the press that my predecessor left N6.3bn in the coffers. I think those who are saying that do not know the facts. I want to believe that he himself could not have said that. He knows that not even 10 per cent of what was mentioned was in the purse of JAMB when I took over and by God’s grace, we were able to cut cost and ensure that we are transparent in everything we are doing.
What about the decision to probe your predecessor?
Government didn’t consult me before taking that decision (to probe my predecessors). If I had been consulted and if I were in a position to advice, it would have been different. I believe the period of the computer-based testing is different from when we were using paper and pencil. People have used the Federal Executive Council resolution to create panic. Everybody is afraid, including those doing business with us. But I have told them I was not interested in what they were doing before but what they did henceforth. If you have done what is right, then you have no reason to be afraid. I also believe that many people are not conscious of the fact that I started mass utilisation of CBT for examination in Nigeria as a vice-chancellor and the technology they were using was the technology I introduced. But technology has moved beyond 2007 when I introduced it. So, what we deployed also really assisted us in reducing cost and ensuring effective coordination of what we are doing. But I am not denying the fact that there was excessive leakage of funds, because many things were not done through official platforms. I think that aggravated the situation. Contrary to the propaganda that some people are using, we have not increased any of the charges that we met on ground. I think those carrying out the propaganda are the enemies of my immediate predecessor who wanted to provoke me to talk, but I will not talk.
But is JAMB supposed to be a moneymaking agency or one whose primary aim is to offer an essential service to the public?
JAMB is not supposed to be a revenue generating agency and JAMB is also not supposed to be a wasteful agency. Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the UK is like JAMB here. UCAS does not take one pound from the government. Our colleagues in the US do not take any money from their government either. But UCAS generates 20 times of what JAMB is generating and it plows it back into the development of education. So, if we say we are not a revenue generating body, does that mean that we should waste whatever we have? We are not a revenue generating body but government pays the salaries of the staff. It should be able to pay salaries and still assist the development of the education sector and that is what we have set out to do, God willing. Some people want to distract us from our goals, by trying to instigate our staff and our suppliers, but we won’t allow that. Anything based on falsehood will crash. Some even said that there was N6bn in the account when we came in, forgetting that the Treasury Single Account is a government platform and government is aware of what was there. So why use propaganda as regards something that can be easily confirmed to be true or false? I think those people could have looked for a more intelligent thing to use for propaganda. We will continue to do what is right and I believe that is what we owe this nation.
It was recently reported that Delta State University has been charging N6,000 and its VC did not deny it, what are you doing about schools that have been charging more than the N2,000 agreed as peg for post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination?
All the ones I know about, I cautioned the VCs of the schools and they refunded the money immediately. I’m just hearing about DELSU’s case. Once there are regulations, you don’t go outside them. I have started approving candidates for DELSU and I would have to investigate that information. If the information is correct, then we cannot continue with the admission. We have approved some candidates for DELSU but I wasn’t aware of that extortion. And I want to appeal to people who have information to make the information available to us. I am going to send a query to our officer in Delta State for not informing me about this.
What are the challenges that schools have been facing with Central Admissions Processing System recently introduced by JAMB to automate schools’ admission process?
All the institutions are using it once they have their passwords. The VC of DELSU called me recently to say he was so excited when he saw the way it was working. I believe people are excited about it but they have some teething problems. Some of the institutions do not know the implication of what we are doing. For example, if the University of Ibadan says its cut-off mark is 200. It cannot come back and say it wants to admit people that scored 180. But some are now coming back to say they have what they call affiliates and that those affiliates can take less than 200. I said ‘no’ because the certificate you are going to issue to students from those affiliates will be your school’s certificate, you are not going to write College of Education, Osiele campus, for instance, on the certificates. So your standard must be your standard. While they declared openly a particular cut-off mark, they are now putting pressure on JAMB to allow their affiliates, to which the certificates of their institution will be issued, to admit below that cut-off mark. That is the problem we have now. Some want to use a cut-off mark that is less than what was declared and I said no, they have to wait till next year before they declare something else. This year, what you have declared is your cut-off mark and it applies not only to the main campus but all your affiliates and campuses that will be issued the certificate of that institution. I’m having that problem presently with the University of Ibadan. You have said your cut-off mark is 200, anybody that is taking the certificate of the school for degree must be admitted based on that cut-off mark. Some schools are even saying, they want to reduce cut-off marks for their remedial courses, diploma students, but I said ‘no’. If you knew you were going to use 160, you should have said your cut-off was 160. You cannot say your cut-off mark is 200 and then start writing to JAMB that for those who did your diploma, you want to use something else. Those who did your diploma are supposed to perform better in the examination. They are not supposed to perform badly. Even for educationally disadvantaged areas, you cannot use below what you have declared. Many of them are calling me to say that CAPS is rejecting some candidates. Of course, once it is less than your declared cut off mark, it will reject it. The advantages of CAPS are that it is more transparent, cost effective, saves time and makes the candidate a strong factor. Now, you don’t impose courses on the candidates because they have a say in the admission process. In the past, schools would just recommend people on the basis of their UTME scores, but now, no more. You must first of all ascertain that they have O-level results. That is a major policy shift.
If schools admit candidates based on wrong information that is put in CAPS and come to JAMB for regularisation later, what will happen?
You will see what will happen. There will be outcry because the students cannot go for the National Youth Service Corps programme and cannot secure employment with the certificates. We’re linking up with so many things. The students will have to shout at the appropriate time because they will be totally disadvantaged as their certificates will be useless to them. We are taking steps to make sure that once you are a product of a tertiary education system in Nigeria, there will be so many checks and that is why we asked them to declare what their senates or academic boards want. The days of doing anything under the table are over.
Some Nigerians are still enraged by the reduction of cut-off marks for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, supposedly bringing down the standard of education in the country.
It is either those who are saying that we are lowering standards do not understand the issues or what we are doing. They have forgotten that some candidates do not take UTME at all and we admit them through Direct Entry. These people get to the universities legitimately but have zero in UTME. So, my point is that JAMB’s UTME is a ranking examination and not a qualifying examination. The qualifying examinations are the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and the National Examination Council’s senior school certificate examination. To show you that WASSCE and NECO exams are the qualifying examinations, if a candidate scores 10 in UTME but passed WASSCE, he can go to Ghana and get admission into a university. But if he doesn’t pass O-level, he cannot go anywhere. We conduct what they call ‘one chance examination’. This means that it is done just once. If you had a fight with your wife on the day of the exam or you were late to the hall, it could affect your performance. That is unlike WASSCE and NECO exams which are taken over a period of time and would have Part 1, Part 2 and so on. You can see that is achievement examination because they are evaluating the capacity of the student. But when you have fewer vacancies than applicants, we conduct what is called ranking examination. The UTME is just to rank them so everyone will know that there was fairness in giving them the positions. So UTME is not a qualifying examination but over the years in Nigeria, like so many things we have got wrong, people have forgotten that it is a ranking examination. Hence, there is no pass or failure in a ranking examination because the purpose is to rank them to know how many will fill the spaces available. But if you have spaces for all of them, then there is no need for UTME. The essence of conducting the exam is not to determine whether they are qualified or not. That has been done by NECO and WAEC. And that is why we exclude some, like those who have diploma. We grade them based on their diploma results. So, it is because people have not done deep reflection on the issue. Most of these children that we are closing the gate against, it is not that they are not qualified but because there is no enough space and because their parents are poor. If they were not poor, nowhere outside this country will ask you for UTME result. But even in the last 10 years in Nigeria, we have not filled 70 per cent of our quota. I have the data.
Why then do we hear that universities, for instance, have no more capacity for admission?
It is not true. I have the statistics and I am telling you that at no time in the last 10 years have we filled 70 per cent of the available quota. When I say available quota, I mean as fixed by the National Universities Commission, National Board for Technical Education and National Commission for Colleges of Education. They are the ones that determine the capacity of each institution. What I am saying is that when you look at the average, you will find out that all the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education have never taken more than 70 per cent of their quota. Some institutions even admit just 20 per cent of their quota.
Why is that?
It is simple. There is a mismatch. The policies recommend that 60 per cent (admission) generally, and in some cases, 70 per cent must be sciences in conventional universities and 30 per cent humanities, but the school system produces the reverse – 70 per cent humanities and 30 per cent sciences. Two, you’re talking about 1.7 million candidates who sat for UTME, but they are not 1.7 million qualified candidates. Many of them are awaiting their O-level results. So, when you choose a cut-off mark, those who scored high in UTME, 30 per cent of them will not have O-level results and therefore cannot be admitted. Some of them will have high scores in UTME and O-level but can still not be admitted due to problems of subject combination in their UTME. For example, if you want to study computer science in UNILAG, you must take the subjects required by the school in UTME.
Based on allegations, was the policy borne out of an agenda to favour the North and bring education standard down to the level of the region?
This is absolutely not true. Nobody asked the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos or Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto to lower their cut-off points. Indeed, Bayero University, Kano raised its cut-off mark this year. People are calling for restructuring, but they are now running away from it. UNILAG will tell you it doesn’t take below 200 and UNILORIN will not take 179, it is no problem.
Founder of Afe Babalola University, Chief Afe Babalola, described the lowering of cut-off scores as a major setback for quality education in Nigeria.
Yes, I also read it in the newspaper that he said he would not take it. But nobody offered ABUAD 120 as cut-off score. So you cannot reject what you were not offered. With due respect to him, it is like me discussing common law with him. So, he cannot contest this issue with me because he is a casual commentator on the matter. I pay 100 per cent attention to this just as he pays attention to law. If today, ABUAD wants to admit anybody that scored 140, it can’t because we have collected their cut-off scores from all of them. UNILAG cannot admit someone that scored 190 today because it has given us its cut-off scores below which it cannot go. But you cannot now say that because ABUAD in Ado-Ekiti cannot take 120, a candidate that wants to study NCE Hausa Education or NCE Yoruba Education at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Gusau or another school, must score 180 or 160. If only four candidates applied and the four of them scored about 140, are you saying we should leave the classroom vacant? How many people can afford to pay the money being charged by private universities? There are people who are telling us to put a peg on the amount private universities can charge, that they should not be allowed to charge more than N1m. But if we make that kind of autocratic pronouncement, will Chief Afe Babalola not shout? He wants me to impose high marks on people but if we regulate fees, will he not shout? Where he has an advantage, it is good. How can somebody accuse me of lowering standard? It is not possible. I am not a shoddy person; I am for equity and fairness. I am for autonomy of universities and other institutions. Their right to determine the students they will admit rests in senate and the academic boards and the existence of JAMB cannot rob them of that right.
What is it about restructuring that you mentioned?
We are democratising the process by returning the right to admit to the senate of the various universities. The laws establishing these universities stipulate that their senate will determine their admission criteria, JAMB is not to withdraw that from them. JAMB is to rank for them. JAMB provides opportunities in Nigeria and as I have shown you in the UK Sunday Times, this matter is also being discussed in the UK and in Australia. We can see from the newspaper comments that what our colleagues elsewhere are doing is what we are doing here. But many people do not even know what is going on. I am not a substandard person by any standard and I cannot champion the lowering of standards.
Chief Babalola called for an education summit, is JAMB going to champion that?
The first summit we are going to call will be to regulate the fees charged by private universities. I know Chief Babalola will be opposed to that.
But will the new cut-off mark not encourage candidates to be lazy once they know that all they need is 120 in UTME to get admission into some schools?
If someone scores 120, it does not guarantee that he will get an admission. It is when there are no persons that scored higher than him that he will be considered. If you want to go to FCET, Gusau, for example, the school cannot take somebody who scored 120 if it has somebody that scored 240. We are saying where somebody has the required qualification, which is the O-level, don’t stop him from proceeding because his score is low in the ranking table.
One would wonder if there is fairness if a state university refuses a candidate from another state with a higher score to admit a candidate with a lower score from the state.
They would take the person who scored 300; they cannot drop the person. They must take such a person on merit. You have forgotten that the first 40 per cent (admitted) is (based) on merit, and it has no federal character. The 40 per cent or so may come from just one state, because it is based on merit. On your list, you must first of all take on merit, then you would take 35 per cent from your catchment area. We do not discountenance the criteria; merit is there, catchment is there and educationally disadvantaged is there. It’s a national policy but people have not studied the new policy. In addition to that, we have provided opportunity through Central Admissions Processing System for students. At the end of the first exercise, we are going to challenge any student that if you score 200 and above, you have five O-level and have not been admitted, submit your name. You would see what the outcome would be, because the parents are not even aware of what is going on.
Some people have been asking if the policy was introduced because you think Nigerians are now dumber.
Candidates performed better than they did last year, but we want to expand access without compromising quality.
How low are we going to get, since you say it’s about expanding the access. Are we eventually going to 10?
I have explained to you earlier that UTME is a ranking examination. From the paper that I gave you, you can see that in London, they rank according to students’ performance, and because they have more spaces this year, they decided to go low, and somebody says they are lowering the standard and they say shut up. This is because they meet the minimum standard. The minimum standard for our own admission are WASSCE and NECO results.
People have also questioned why Nigeria still conducts UTME, as against what is obtainable in most other countries, including neighbouring African countries?
If we have spaces for all our children who are qualified, there would no need for UTME. For Direct Entry, we are not conducting UTME, because they are not many; say about 100,000 to 200,000. But for UTME candidates, we are talking about 1.7 million candidates, and the spaces are not enough, so there is a mismatch. We have information now that of the 500,000 who scored more than 200 in UTME, about 40 per cent of them have not met the O-level requirement, including Maths and English, by the result that was released. So, about half of them are already out. You would now have somebody who scored 160 and had seven A’s and you would now say don’t get admission, yet, the class would remain vacant. Look, we have been entrusted with the work, we are committed to it with passion, we are going to be fair to everybody and we will be loyal to this country. People have nothing to fear about us and I will not play to the gallery because it is not a popularity contest.
There are reports of imbalance in the cut-off marks for schools in the North and South…
(Cuts in…) Is it true? Let the person bring the fact to say the North has lower mark. The lowest score came from the South. There was a letter from a university in the South, protesting that it had stated in its letter that it wanted 110 as cut-off score and not 120. Unfortunately, the letter did not get to me at the time we were taking the decision. If it had got to us, it wouldn’t be 120, it would be 110. We considered all the inputs from everybody, and so the schools’ Senate bodies can decide on what they want. If ABUAD says 300, so be it, but you can’t stop somebody who says he wants 120, because it’s a ranking examination. We are just saying, let us have trust in those people we entrust with managing our affairs, because we are not ignorant persons. Some people are even saying I studied Arabic, yes, is it a crime? I attended College of Education, I have postgraduate diploma in Education, with credit. I have been privileged to be the Chairman, Directors of Academic Planning throughout this country. I have had the privilege of being the Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors. I have had the privilege of coordinating Association of West African Universities. I have had the opportunity of being the President of Association of African Universities. I have had the privilege of sitting on the 14-man Board of International Association of Universities, then somebody who has never gone beyond Maroko is now pontificating and telling me about what goes on elsewhere. Nigeria is not an island. That is why I have shown you the newspapers from United Kingdom for that same week; not last year, stating that a similar thing was being done in the UK. It is also being done in Australia.
A former Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG, Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, in an interview, described the quota system and the federal character as bad for the country. What is your view about it?
I believe that he is absolutely wrong. He is wrong because there is nowhere in the world where they do not have affirmative action for the underprivileged. So, because you have the opportunity of being an urban dweller and you scored high in an exam, but students in rural areas, who do not have access to such facilities struggle to meet the minimum and you want to shut them out? The country will be on fire. There is nowhere it is not done; it is to provide equal opportunities. They do not call it federal character in other places; they call it equal opportunity board or commission. In the US, it is called affirmative action. It is unfortunate that the argument is sentimental. On the one hand, you are talking about restructuring, that Nigeria should not run a unitary system. And on the other hand, you are saying I should impose one national cut-off mark on people and I am saying that even where you think you have such, people are admitting candidates that scored lower than that. I can give you the statistics of all the southern universities who have in the last 10 years admitted people with 120, 130, 140 scores. They have come to JAMB to regularise. If they want to challenge me, by the time we bring out evidence, some of them will be ashamed. A VC at the meeting told me that its cut-off mark was 180, but later, the VC said the school would like to use 160 as cut-off mark for its remedial candidates and I said no. And this is what has been going on. People should use what they find convenient rather than making pronouncements and doing something else. That is why I said we are being hypocritical. But I can tell you that there are universities that never admitted candidates that scored below cut-off marks. I can tell you that as VC of University of Ilorin, I never admitted any candidate that scored anything lower than the cut-off mark, but when I got to JAMB, I hated myself. I felt that I had been unfair when I saw what people had been doing. Then, whenever we went to Abuja and agreed on cut off mark, I took it as sacrosanct. But I discovered that over the years, people would admit candidates that scored lower and go back to do regularisation. So I was just closing the door against many people because we never did so at UNILORIN. I regret it now. I told the current VC that I need to seek forgiveness from God because I didn’t know that people were doing that.