From Abdullahi Hassan, Zaria
Prof. Muhammad Abdullahi is the acting Registrar of the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies. He is the founder and Proprietor of Ameer Shehu Idris College of Advanced Studies, Zaria. In this interview he spoke on wide range of issues about the Board’s development and the challenges facing it. He also dwelled on other matters of national importance.
Sir, not long ago, the federal government granted the board autonomy as an examination body. How did it come about?
The National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies is a Board initially established under the defunct Northern Nigerian Ministry of Education with its headquarters at Kaduna in 1960.
The Premier set up a very strong and powerful committee composed of some ministers under the chairmanship of the then Minister of Education, Alhaji Isa Kaita. The committee recommended for the establishment of a unit under the inspectorate division of the then ministry of education of Northern Nigeria under the leadership of late Professor Haliru Binji to look after the affairs of Arabic and Islamic studies in Northern Nigeria including Quranic and Islamic schools.
In 1962, late Emir of Kazaure, Alhaji Hussaini Adamu succeeded Professor Binji. However, the activities of the unit were transferred to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria after the coup in 1966. The Institute of Education, Ahmadu Bello University continued with activities of the Board.
For the purpose of clarity, let me state that under Northern Nigerian Ministry of Education it was a unit but when it moved to ABU it became a Board with late Alhaji Mukhtar Abdulrahman as its first coordinator. He was succeeded by Malam Faruk Imam, before I took over in 1988 to date.
With the change in the national policy of education in 1980s and 1990s where GCE and Grade 11 examination were phased out, we switched from teacher education to secondary school training and of course, we had no option than to follow the new policy of education of 6-3-3-4 system, which transformed our role and status to fully National Board, which incorporated not only the entire North but also other parts of the country.
In 2011, a memo was presented to the Joint Consultative Committee on Education requesting for national recognition of the Board which was accepted after long deliberations and we commenced the conduct of examination at the national level like WAEC and NECO with a mandate to go on advocacy to other states and also to review our curriculum to include science subjects and arts.
The Board is a national regulatory and examination body in charge of Arabic and Islamic institutions especially at the secondary level. Initially, it had only three Arabic and Islamic secondary schools in the North, two in Kano and one in Sokoto. After the creation of states we embarked on the policy of expansion to other states that have established their arabic schools though not as many as Northern Nigeria. Edo, Osun and Oyo states were among the states that registered with the Board.
The first school recognized by this Board at that time was in Edo State followed by another one in Osun State. A memo was subsequently presented to the federal government requesting for approval to grant the Board a national status, which we later succeeded and became a national examination body.
With this expansion viz- a- viz your new mandate as national examination body, what is the level of your reach out?
Part of our mandate is to go on advocacy. We went round the country, we visited many states in South- West and East and South South to inform them about our activities. I am glad to state that following our tour, many schools have been established. Presently we have a zonal office at Enugu for South East, with a desk officer whose responsibility is to go round and look after schools that registered with the board. We have now not less than 23 states including Abuja participating in our examinations.
We have not less than 1, 200 Arabic Schools participating across the country with a strong workforce of Muslims and Christians because the board is an examination body not a mere religious organization. It is important to note that the board does not only conduct examinations in Arabic or Islamic Studies, we also by our mandate, conduct examinations in arts and science subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, Agric, Geography, languages, religious studies, history and vocational subjects some of which are taught in Arabic. That is why we employ Muslims and Christians in our Board. So don’t be surprised to see many Christians working in the Board across the country. It is a government establishment like any public organization based on civil service rules.
In most examination bodies in the country, the greatest challenge is persistent cases of examination malpractice. How are you dealing with this problem?
Examination malpractice is an issue of great concern which is commonly found with schools or candidates. The Board has taken this issue with seriousness. In fact not long time ago, we introduced very strict measures to prevent malpractice apart from the ones we have been operating. Though, it is difficult to stop malpractice completely, but it can be reduced to the minimum level. It is in our records that we have never recorded any serious examination malpractice from either candidates or schools. Every year we asses and review our examination mechanism to check-out anomalies including this ugly practice.
Rejection of result is a common practice by most institutions of higher learning. As a new body with new mandate, what are you doing to get your result recognized and accepted by institutions in the country?
It’s true that some institutions often reject results or certificates of some examination bodies like our new Board. NECO and NABTEB had faced similar problem when they started. NBAIS is new, people are not familiar with us, but with time every Nigerian will get to know more about our results and certificates because of our newness. You see when you talk of Arabic in Nigeria today, some people will think you are talking about religion or the first thing that will come to their mind is you are only examining religious papers. But as I have said earlier the Board was initially established to boost the position of education in Northern Nigeria with particular reference to informal education; Arabic and Qur’anic schools which the North was known to have for a long time as well as having special education in schools. But now the aim is to provide our higher institutions of learning with qualified candidates who can compete at different levels. This is the main reason for establishing the present NBAIS. So we examine other subjects in sciences and arts. In a nutshell this is an examination body not restricted to Arabic and Islamic subjects. We are on advocacy and we shall continue to enlighten our people.
This year’s JAMB results indicate that less than 40% of the candidates scored up to cut-off points. In other words, very few are qualified to gain admission into our universities. How do you see this negative development?
We thank God, most of our candidates, I mean those who passed through this Board scored high marks in this year’s JAMB results. But the mass failure indicates that something is wrong somewhere and must be checked by the National Universities Commission to address it. Less than 40% is monumental.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the autonomous status of the Board while the law establishing the Board is still pending with the National Assembly. How far on the issue.
Yes, the National Assembly is presently working on the bill. The federal government through the ministry of education has forwarded the bill and the committee on education is working to ensure that the bill is passed. So anytime we shall have the bill ready. You know the legal aspect of any issue requires careful handling. We are not in a haste, we have been established and captured in this year’s budget.
How soon will you move to your permanent site?
Very soon, we shall commence the gradual movement and somewhere around the end of the year we should have relocated to the permanent site.