The Sun News

Of money-eating snake and other tales

The Saturday Sun literally set the Internet on fire last weekend with its story on the mysterious snake that swallowed N36 million cash in the Benue State office of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). The story has been trending nonstop ever since.

Funnily enough, the talebearer, a JAMB staff in Makurdi, actually claimed that, but for the grace of God and the intervention of her pastor, this same insatiable snake would have swallowed her as well. Yes! The same snake that was supposed to be her transmogrified house-girl!

Laughable as it might sound, the snake story is not the only strange tale Prof. Ishaq Oloyede has been regaled with, in his bid to clean the rot he met at JAMB since his assumption of office as registrar about two years ago.

There is a retinue of brainless tales, told by men and women who are supposed to have brains. A long list of stupid things done by greedy men and desperate women. And weird ‘inventions’ by dubiously ‘innovative’ children, seeking to score from offside positions. In fact, until Oloyede happened on the scene, JAMB (and its exams) had degenerated into some sort of a pawnbroker’s shop: it had just about everything.

And the tales? There are several other equally ‘exciting’ tales – ranging from the incredible to the incredulous. Prof sure has his ears full.

Apart from the story of the money-swallowing snake, there is also the story of missing scratch cards. Server-room shenanigans (where CCTV cameras are deliberately hooded, to enable female candidates have a quickie with the operator, so he can allow them cheat), of hi-tech cheating devices, 8×2 fingers registrations, miracle centres and desperate mothers. Mothers who beg to sleep with examiners, just to add an extra 30 or 50 marks to their children’s final scores. And then there were the ultimate server-room whiz kids, who hacked into the JAMB system and altered the scores – charging as much as N1,000 for every mark. In other words, if you wanted to score 250, you paid N250,000, if you wanted to score 310, you paid N310,000, etc.

The story has it that just before the Oloyede administration decided to phase out the use of scratch cards, he ordered a minor audit of the sale of scratch cards. It was soon discovered that much of the money realised from the sale of scratch cards was never remitted to the board’s account.

Curiously, soon after the audit began, the car of a JAMB officer who was being audited (either by accident or design), suddenly went up in flames. 

It seemed the perfect excuse, for as soon as the next query arrived for the officer, he had a ready reply: all the cards were bunt inside the vehicle.

It did not matter that this said vehicle was neither the place designated for storing unsold cards nor that there was no urgent need to relocate the cards, to warrant their being loaded into the vehicle. Hmmm.

Well, a little probing of serial numbers later, it was, however, discovered that the same cards, which were supposed to have been consumed in the inferno, were actually sold and used in a different town altogether. Summary: no scratch card probably got burnt in the infamous inferno! What was actually missing was the money realised from their sale.

And there are more tales: Three staff who committed, in writing, to help a candidate inflate his final score were apprehended after they failed to deliver, and the bribe-paying parent of the candidate squealed. One of them pleaded guilty and was quietly dismissed, without prosecution. The other two decided to try their luck with the law court. They pleaded not guilty to the same offence, which their statements allegedly indicated they committed. Using all manner of legalese, they got discharged and acquitted, and JAMB was ordered to recall them. Now, the board is in a dilemma: if it recalls these two, what would then happen to the third staff who was honest, pleaded guilty and was sacked? Shouldn’t he also be recalled? The law, indeed, is an ass!

But the cleansing at JAMB continues. That is why I’m always at a loss every time officials of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration struggle to convince the rest of us that the government has delivered on its campaign promises. In fact, I usually feel sorry for them and their principal, PMB. Why? Because they always choose to showcase their failures rather than their successes. It’s just like the proverbial cursed warrior that insists on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But, as critical as I am of this government, I know it has recorded some modest successes. However, just as it told former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in its commendable response to that infamous letter, even the PMB government is too busy (I don’t want to say ‘blind’) to see its own successes.

How? Buhari’s supporters always prefer to tell us how PMB has addressed insecurity (which, if truth must be told, everyone knows he has yet to address). And it does not matter that the President’s idea of security and insecurity seems to begin and end with Boko Haram. Every other thing is “communal clash.”

PMB’s men also weary our ears with tales of how he has pulled the economy out of recession (which we know he has not, and that the positive balance in our foreign reserves today has more to do with improving international crude oil prices than any bright idea Kemi Adeosun and Co. have come up with). They also talk about fighting corruption, but we all know that we’re still waiting for that fight to honestly start – that is, after the current, ongoing politicking around corruption.

My problem with the government is that, rather than going into specifics, and projecting those few areas/sectors where the administration has scored very high, the government insists on taking the broad picture, and in the process ends up struggling to defend the indefensible.

But if they pick on agriculture (and Anchor Borrowers and massive increase in local production of rice), they’d probably be making more sense – even if we know killer herdsmen are making it almost impossible for farmers to go to their farms.

If they showcase solid minerals and the new-found sense of direction in that sub-sector, we’d sync with that – even though we know the results might not manifest in the lifetime of this administration.

If they blow their trumpet about TSA and the FIRS, we can readily identify with that – even if we know the revolution began with the last two administrations.

If they boast about education (with specific emphasis on the positive revolution going on at JAMB) we wouldn’t be able to fault them.

In fact, the story of JAMB should be the centerpiece of Buhari’s anti-graft war narrative. It mirrors everything that is wrong with our country, and how it is possible to fix them, given the right leadership and a sincerity of purpose.

…For Seriake Dickson, Kayode Fayemi and Niyi Akintola

And here is a belated birthday shout-out to three people whom I can confidently call my big brothers.

Countryman Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, is not only celebrating his birthday, but the man some of us call the Valentine Governor is also marking his sixth anniversary as governor of the state that prides itself as the Glory of All Lands. That is Bayelsa.

Like Dickson, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Solid Minerals and former governor of Ekiti State, and Chief Niyi Akintola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and, by the grace of God, the next governor of Oyo State, do not also believe in loud celebrations. So their birthdays came and went without much fanfare.

Here’s wishing the trio the best of everything.

*Follow me on twitter @steve_nwosu

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