By ORI MARTINS, GABRIEL DIKE, SAM OTTI, BOLA AKINTUNDE, MADUKA NWEKE, BISI OLALEYE, CHIMA TITUS NWOKOJI and AKIN ALOFETEKUN, Minna
Mixed reactions yesterday trailed the Federal Government’s scrapping of the National Examinations Council (NECO) and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) on Wednesday.
The government said it was implementing the Steve Oronsaye committee report which recommended the scrapping of government agencies that are complementing their operations.
Former Education Minister, Mrs. Chinwe Obaji described the decision as an invitation to chaos in the education sector. She argued that if anything, the timing was pretty wrong and that it would have adverse effect on the education of the pupils who are already preparing for the NECO examinations.
Commenting, a former Dean, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof Ademola Onifade, supported the government‘s decision. He stressed that students are writing too many examinations, noting that even in JAMB, there are large-scale malpractices because many of the high scorers cannot defend their results.
The stakeholders made up of union leaders in the universities and polytechnics, Vice Chancellors, activists, parents, and students faulted the move.
The Federal Government according to report on Wednesday resolved to scrap some of its agencies in line with the recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye-led Presidential Committee on the rationalization and restructuring government parastatals and agencies after the conclusion of the white paper report.
In condemning the scrapping, Mrs Obaji said the decision was not well thought out and explained that apart from the attendant confusion, the two exams could not just be phased by fiat because they were introduced into the educational system by acts of parliament and only a repeal of the acts could pave the way for the new arrangement.
Obaji pointed out that a country as big as Nigeria could not do without examinations like NECO and UTME adding that the government should realize that West African Examinations Council (WAEC) is not owned by Nigeria only but by countries in West Africa and therefore could not be serving Nigeria’s individual purpose.
Speaking to Daily Sun in Abuja, the former education minister noted that Nigeria was too large to be restricted to WAEC exams only and that the decision to phase out UTME and allow individual university to conduct own entrance examination would spell doom
“In Nigeria, we have federal universities, state universities and private universities, these institutions don’t have capacities to successfully engage in pre exams activities, conduct exams and carry out post exam activities as done by UTME and NECO. Asking these universities to take over the task are an invitation to confusion, they will mess the whole thing up. Examination is not just the writing of exams only so many things go into it.
“Australia has examination bodies, even in the United States that we copy all the time, each state has its own examination body, how can Nigeria as big as it is and the large population of admission seeking pupils, cope with the backlash of the scraps.
“I don’t buy this idea, the timing is wrong, the decision is absolutely wrong. And I don’t see any reason that can justify the government position in this circumstance. What if something happens tomorrow and WAEC couldn’t deliver, what becomes the fate of our pupils especially with our own education system of 6334.
“If students are failing NECO exams, it is not a justification to scrap it, we only need to look at the system that gets pupils promoted to final class whether they pass or not only to confront NECO and fail. We have to reconsider this”, she stated.
Obaji advised the authorities to look at what necessitated the establishment of these exams and their bodies and see whether or not retaining them would not be a better option than doing away with them.
The Vice Chancellor Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), Prof Oye Ibidapo-Obe, in his reaction said “I am indifferent to the decision to stop UTME and scrapping of NECO because I cannot easily verify if indeed the UTME programme or the institution of NECO has outlived their usefulness”.
Ibidapo Obe, who is the former VC of UNILAG, recalled that one of the primary rationale for the establishment of JAMB was to save candidates from the risks and trauma of travelling to multiple universities for the entrance examinations, noting “I do hope that the decision is based on some clear cost-benefit analysis. I do not for see any direct negative effect on the sector at present as there are much bigger challenges of infrastructure and quality assurance but I know that for some of our children NECO was a welcome relief from the dreaded WAEC”.
The Vice Chancellor of Gregory University Uturu (GUU), Prof Juliet Elu described the move as one that could produce both positive and negative effects, depending on how it was eventually implemented as she maintained that the idea was still in the pipeline.
According to her: “I do not think that the Federal Government of Nigeria has really arrived at any formal conclusion on scrapping UTME, NECO, NAPEP or even other parastatals that were recommended to either to be done away with or merged with other ministries where they were carved out from. The government is still holding discussion on it.
However, I think that if UTME is eventually scrapped and individual universities are allowed to now admit students based on their capacities and as they deem fit, it will go a long way towards giving the universities a well-tailored autonomy which is a vital ingredient for survival and growth.’
She added, ‘One point that must be made here is that people normally choose the federal universities because they are cheaper than the private ones. Let me add that no matter how it goes, the idea can produce either a good or bad effect depending how it is implemented, else, it is a good idea’.
Also speaking, an aggrieved parent, Pastor Tobi Okonkwo, told our reporters that the decision would plunge lots of students into academic crisis. According to him, many students that had secured admissions with NECO results could face discrimination on the validity of their credentials.
He argued that allowing WAEC the monopoly to conduct the senior school certificate examination would deprive students alternative platform to achieve their academic desires.
Jonathan is disappointing me. Nigerians want him to face critical areas like the power sector, security and corruption. The President has a good mind, but he is surrounded by bad advisers,” he said.
A similar reaction came from the immediate past coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). Zone D, Eniola Opeyemi, who expressed shock with the scrapping of the examination bodies. He said the government has continued to initiate acts capable of “destroying our education system in the name of scoring cheap political point.
“This can happen because they never dreamt or aspire to see their children pass through the same education system they are politicizing. The real default of a typical Nigerian education can be evaluated from the grammatical blunders of the Oga at the top, not even able to control his fluency? What a shame to the coming generations and the country at large,” he said.
Also, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof Chidiebere Onyia, said the scrapping of the two assessment processes depicted the mindset of Nigeria’s policy-makers to the nation’s strained education system.
“Take UTME for instance, universities have presented a compelling reason for a second assessment because of the gap between the students perceived cognitive abilities as presented in the JAMB results and their ability to perform in the university system. They should focus on the curriculum that led to the gaps rather than as usual, focusing on superficiality that satisfies the desires of those that have political connections,” he said.
Onyia, who is the Managing Partner, Centre for Education Reform and Sustainability Initiative, said that visionless policies by those in power would never revamp the declining fortunes of the education sector.
Two questions I would pose to these policy makers are: Where are the students in all these? How can this short-sighted policy thrust impact student achievements and overall quality in our struggling education system? Once, we think through the root cause of the education achievement, we will proffer solutions innovative and learned centred,” he said.
The National Treasurer of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Aremu Ademola, faulted the move to scrap NECO, stressing like other countries, Nigeria is big enough to have many examination bodies even as he described the action as another policy summersault by our political leaders and insisted that government has not given any reason, but stated it is politically motivated. Ademola, who is the former University of ºIbadan ASUU chairman, recalled the reasons stakeholders demanded for another examination body, said WAEC has weakness and cannot handle the numerous candidates that apply to write the examination every year.
On UTME, Dr. Ademola said the action of the government revealed that “we are moving forward and backward because each university has been conducting its own screening before candidates are admitted. There is the need for stakeholders to sit down and discuss the scrapping of UTME.”
The National President of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Mr. Asomugha Chibuzor, rather commented on the general report of the Steve Oronsaye’s committee because he said it has far reaching implications and would want government to invite stakeholders to deliberate on the recommendations before implementation.
He asked what informed the establishment of NECO and introduction of UTME. If government scraps UTME, the implications are that students will apply to many universities and polytechnics. If government goes ahead to scrap NECO, there will be mass casualty in terms of some staff losing their jobs.”
Prof Onifade noted that NECO tests have been bastardized as results are awarded to candidates who did not sit for a paper and that the results cannot be tendered abroad, adding “let us consolidate WAEC and improve on its service delivery. NECO has not been well organized.”
Also commenting, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) ASUU Chairman, Dr, Karo Ogbinaka, urged the Federal Government to carry along the stakeholders in implementing the recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye’s committee report, noting that the universities have long been conducting screening test before admitting students.
Ogbinaka acknowledged the need to standardize examinations in the country because when Nigerian students go abroad, they are asked questions regarding the two exam bodies, noting that government is gambling with the issue.
Former commissioner for Education, Edo State, Prof Ngozi Osarenren, said that she does not see the relevance of NECO and asked what is wrong with WAEC.
The Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Taiwo, expressed concern that the government has adopted the recommendation of the Oronsaye-led committee, noting, “the aim according to the committee, is to prune down the overbloated government bureaucracy and over N280 billion will be saved between 2012 and 2015 if this is done. This is a welcome development. We agree government bureaucracy is overbloated and needs pruning to save the nation funds needed to fund vital social services.”
He said ERC is concerned about the implication of the scrapping of JAMB on the admission process and the uniformity of admission standards and requirements, stressing “already, we are faced with a terrible situation where hundreds of thousands of applicants can’t gain admissions not because they do not have the required credits, but because of limited spaces in universities. How will scrapping JAMB reduce or completely ameliorate this state of affairs in the education sector?
“What will be the status of Post-UTME which has become a means of exploitation by several universities across the country? While pruning the monstrously overbloated government bureaucracy is welcomed, there is the need for the government to clearly demonstrate how this new decision will not worsen the already terrible admission process”.
According to him, the ERC believes that together with pruning government bureaucracy, there must also be a public-funded crash program to fund education adequately and to improve the infrastructure in tertiary institutions, secondary and primary schools to ensure expansion of access to education.
It demanded that the over N280 billion saved from the restructuring, merger and scrapping exercise of government agencies and parastatals should be ploughed back into the education sector to fund and upgrade facilities and establish new schools.
In his reaction, Dr. Uwaoma Uche, the Head Of Department (HOD), Mass Communication, Abia State University (ABSU), stated that government took the right step in the right direction. He said: “I am sure it is a right step in the right direction. I am saying so because the new idea will certainly guarantee quality assurance. Imagine a situation where a student gets 280 in JAMB and he cannot even scale through the postJAMB test. It is really embarrassing. What it now means is that individual universities will now have a way of conducting exams on how they will admit students and not putting their fate into the hands of JAMB and I do not think that any university can allow nonentities to get admission into their well-cherished institutions. I am in total support of it.”
Another don, Dr. Goddy Uloneme, also said that what the Federal Government has done would eventually serve as a catalyst that could save the country’s education from decay. “Looking at the decision of the Federal Government to do away with the UTME, I think the move will surely encourage perfection, promote discipline and at the same time eradicate corruption and examination malpractice. I learnt that JAMB will now be playing an oversight function as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) does over the other banks. We must recall that JAMB is a big organization and that made it a bit difficult for people to appropriately lay their complaints when they were aggrieved, but now, any person can go to the university he applied and ask questions if things go wrong along the line,” he enthused.
A lawyer, Tony Obi of Theo and Tony Associates, Olowu, Ikeja, Lagos asked some vital questions concerning the decision. According to him, ‘the idea can be good and it can also be bad. All depends on how it is executed. But let me ask: What now happens to students who have NECO and NABTEB certificates? Are we not subjugating them to psychological dehumanization, indirectly telling them that their certificates are worthless or that they are acquired wrongly? Again, I learnt that there ought to have been a NECO exam this month and students have applied, will their money be refunded?
Meanwhile, JAMB on Wednesday restated its commitment to conduct a hitch-free 2013 Unified tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) on April 27, despite the cancellation of the examination by the Federal Government.
The Public Relations Officer, Fabian Benjamin, in a statement, said all necessary logistics and materials have been deployed in all designated centres nationwide.
Part of the statement reads; “The board wishes to state that as a responsible and responsive organization, it is not averred to innovation, changes and government policies skewed to improve the lot of the sector but reiterates that it has not changed the date of 2013 UTME.
Consequently, candidates are informed that the board’s 2013 UTME slated for April 27 will take place as scheduled. And the dates for the Computer Based Test (CBT) will also be communicated to candidates soon.”
However, normal official activities went on smoothly at the headquarters of NECO in Minna, Niger State yesterday even as the staff gathered in groups to discuss the media reports indicating the government’s decision to scrap the council, among others.
Officials in the information unit of the council in Minna declined comments directing Daily Sun correspondent to the registrar’s office.
A senior official who doesnot want to be named, said there was no rationality behind the move to scrap NECO, noting “Let’s look at it this way, Britain is not up to half the size of Nigeria and it has about eight examination bodies. How then can Nigeria scrap its only examination body?
“Secondly, why WAEC?. WAEC does not belong to Nigeria, so what does the country stand to gain by handing over structures of NECO to WAEC? “Thirdly, how possible is it for WAEC or any examination body for that matter to organize one SSCE in November and another two months later in January when they have not released the result of the one conducted in November.
Again, have we forgotten so soon when Nigerian candidates suffer untold hardship in the hands of WAEC.
“During that time, open any newspaper what you see are pleas by candidates asking WAEC to release their results. The coming of NECO actually stopped all that. Now we are taking ourselves back to the era of colonialism. May be we should hand over the Presidency of this country back to Britain.
Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar ,a school principal in Minna, in an interview, simply described the government’s move as laughable. “Honestly, I am not going to say more than that. It is quite ridiculous.”
Niger State Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Abdulhameed Danladi told our correspondents in Minna that he believes government’s policies are dynamic and can be changed at any time.
“However, what I don’t think is right is for government in an attempt to solve one problem, start to create another. Examination is the only way to evaluate the performance of students and if you now scrap NECO, how do you evaluate candidates. If it is NECO that the government does not want, let them set up another one, but there must be an examination body that is wholly Nigerian.”
Minna-based rights activist, Evangelist Udoh, called on the government to scrutinize the Oransanye report and be sure that those that fell under the panel’s sledge hammer are not only those that refused to play ball while the panel was undertaking its assignment, “otherwise, why would any sensible person recommend that NECO be scrapped and its structures and statutory responsibility be taken over by WAEC, a regional body?”
The Executive Director of Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Stella Ozojiofor, has dismissed the story, saying that the government has not scrapped the Ombudsman. According to her, there are lots of committees set up by the Federal Government in the past and many of them have turned in their reports while some are still on their way. She noted that not all the recommendations are taken hook, line and sinker.
“The report you are talking about is mere recommendation of the Orosanye Committee set up by the Federal Government to look into some of government agencies to see if those complementing each other’s function could be collapsed into one.
“It is not yet a government policy, and for your information, PCC has an Act that established it. The recommendation from the committee is open to government for consideration. It is after considering the pros and cons of each of the agencies or government parastatals that decisions on which to scrap and the ones to merge will be taken. There is no gainsaying the fact that PCC will not be among the ones to be scrapped. However, even if it will be , let us wait until then,” she explained.
Mrs. Adunni Kuforiji, the Director of Studies, Toamy Hills School, Lagos, said the scrapping of NECO, UTME would create mass unemployment because many of their staff would have to join the unemployment market. I don’t think that JAMB should be scrapped. What we need are more universities. If not, the staff of these government-owned universities may start engaging in sharp practices because of too many students seeking admission.
An educationist, Mr. Olorunbe Moses, viewed it from a different angle. He believed that it is better to scrap NECO and UTME stressing “most universities outside the country give admission on qualification. But in Nigeria, examination malpractices have not stopped, some students score higher marks without even knowing how to write their names. Post UTME has done nothing except to add to the woes of students, while resources are being wasted on a yearly basis. Left for me, entry to tertiary institutions should be based on WAEC.
The Principal of Brainstar Group of Schools, Okota , Lagos, Mr. Tunde Olaleye, said it is just a recommendations, adding “the federal government is yet to approve the scrapping of these entities. It will affect the economy because many people will become unemployed and crisis may loom in the country. Government revenue from tax will also reduce .In fact, all the system will be greatly affected.”
The Director, Capacity Building of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), Mr. Sola Obadimu, said the move is a right step in the right direction but should be extended to the political class.