By Hassan Olalekan Sherif
The recent back and forth between the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and its Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, candidate, Mmesoma Ejikeme, has for me shown how deeply divided and polarized, our dear country, Nigeria presently is, especially coming off the heels of a general election that has, again to me, only succeeded in proving how deep-seated our respective biases along religious and ethnic lines are. I have taken a conscious effort to note that who is right and what is wrong, now seems to be a factor dependent on who was making the assessment and against whom the assessment was directed. Such a slippery slope!
Some have even gone to the length of simply arguing that going by the demeanor of the young Mmesoma in a viral video, she could not have and must not have done as alleged by the JAMB. Others have, in their wisdom, confirmed JAMB’s position to be a further attack on the tribe of the young Mmesoma. Some screamed and called, quite loudly too, that young Mmesoma be allowed the benefit of writing the exams again. Some even called for JAMB to be scrapped, suddenly and solely, on the basis that it had outlived its usefulness. Of course, there are those who have looked at the merits of the allegations and simply counseled that haste be not made, and that investigation be concluded before conclusions are drawn.
In this haze and maze of what should be, or not be done, and solely for this piece, I will highlight the many lessons JAMB should and must learn, and how it could have better handled the whole experience.
First and foremost, JAMB must recognize and embrace the significant responsibility it holds as an institution that determines the future of our nation’s young population by facilitating their entry into higher education institutions. This responsibility should not be taken lightly. JAMB must prioritize the duty of care it owes to the general public and ensure that any mechanizations, documents, or other means purporting to be from them are promptly and adequately disclaimed if they have the potential to mislead the public. It is crucial to swiftly address any instances where the public may be led to believe that something originates from JAMB when it does not. In particular, JAMB needs to take action against individuals or entities responsible for creating and distributing applications like the “JAMB-Funfake” app, which was a key factor in the controversies surrounding Mmesoma’s alleged fake UTME result. These perpetrators must be identified and held accountable for their actions.
JAMB must refute false claims, timely and professionally. Indeed, when news circulated and even trended that a certain young Mmesoma had the best JAMB result for the year 2023, this claim was undoubtedly within JAMB’s knowledge. It was therefore naturally the responsibility of JAMB to disclaim or refute such claims, especially since they are the authority responsible for conducting the UTME and announcing the best-performing candidate. They should have taken prompt action to address alleged false claims. We cannot reasonably argue otherwise that, for all intents and purposes, it is crucial for JAMB to protect its reputation and ensure the accuracy of information reaching the public announcing its UTME best-performing candidate.
JAMB’s delay in addressing the issue until after well-meaning Nigerians had already acknowledged and financially celebrated the supposed best-performing candidate was a significant oversight. The resulting damage has been very extensive and far-reaching, impacting multiple aspects of the situation. For one, this unfortunate turn of events has created an impression that such an illegitimate claim could persist without any risk of being promptly refuted or prevented, thereby undermining the recognition and appreciation rightfully owed to deserving candidates who have performed exceptionally, in this case, the true best performing UTME candidate for 2023, Miss Umeh, Kamsiyochukwu Nkechinyere.
JAMB must now recognize, if it has not, that is, the need for a strong social media presence and giving out information in real-time. The world is a global village, and information, especially false ones, moves with the speed of light. JAMB must keep up with the times and be responsive in real-time. Most of the students sitting for the UTME examinations fall within the age bracket of the population that is social media-inclined and tech-savvy. This emphasizes why the response must be timely, accurate, and visible in real-time.
Some individuals have also made allegations that JAMB’s systems may have been compromised, suggesting that a glitch could have led to Mmesoma obtaining a different result. However, these claims have become even more unlikely, especially considering that Mmesoma herself has admitted to her actual score being 249, in contrast to her earlier claims of 362. This situation serves as an indication that JAMB must reinforce its technological infrastructure to safeguard against potential attacks and hacking. It also highlights the need for internal vigilance to ensure transparency and enhance public trust, which, in my opinion, appears to be declining.
JAMB must also set examples to aid in deterrence. Merely stating, as they have done, that there have been previous instances of individuals making false claims and even suing the institution is not sufficient. Further actions should be taken to demonstrate the consequences faced by those who have engaged in such misconduct in the past. By doing so, it will serve as a strong deterrent and discourage any potential recurrence of this national embarrassment. JAMB should actively pursue legal action against individuals who have made false claims or engaged in fraudulent activities related to their examinations. By taking these cases to court and ensuring that those responsible face appropriate consequences, JAMB would have sent a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated. This will serve as a reminder to others that their actions can have severe repercussions, both legally and in terms of their reputation. Additionally, JAMB should collaborate with relevant law enforcement agencies, such as the police, and even the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Nigerian Law Society (NLS), to investigate and aid to prosecute any instances of fraud, passing-off or misconduct that come to light. By working together, JAMB and these authorities/Associations would establish a strong framework for tackling such offenses and holding individuals accountable.
JAMB must very importantly ensure that investigations are concluded before implementing any punitive measures. Although at the time Dr. Fabian Benjamin, the JAMB spokesperson, stated that the matter was still under investigation, he also declared that Mmesoma had been banned from taking exams for a period of 3 years. This inconsistency raises concerns about the transparency and fairness of the process.
JAMB must prioritize maintaining data privacy at all times. There are reports suggesting that JAMB released the result of young Mmesoma, which contains her personal information such as her date of birth and address. The release of such sensitive details to the public domain raises concerns, particularly considering the security challenges currently faced by the country and the need to improve JAMB’s image. It is crucial for JAMB to carefully consider the necessity and implications of releasing such sensitive information. While transparency in announcing examination results is important, it is equally important to protect the privacy and security of the individuals involved. A more balanced approach could have been taken by redacting or withholding certain sensitive information before releasing the result to the public. This would help strike a middle ground between the desire for transparency and the need to protect personal information.
JAMB should consider maintaining a “Black Book” that will feature the names of candidates who have been lawfully found to have misrepresented their JAMB scores. Such a measure can serve as a deterrent and discourage mischievous students from making false claims. Additionally, there should be increased sensitization and awareness campaigns regarding the implications of fraudulent claims. Students need to understand the legal consequences and the punitive measures associated with making false claims about their JAMB scores. This includes educating students about the potential legal repercussions, such as facing legal action or being banned from future exams. Moreover, it is important to clarify the responsibility for verifying the accuracy of a result. Students should be aware that the burden of ensuring the veracity of their JAMB result lies with them. JAMB can emphasize this through its communications and educational initiatives, making it clear that individuals are accountable for their own actions and the information they provide.
There are claims that the involvement of young Mmesoma in this situation may be the result of manipulation by unscrupulous individuals, possibly without her knowledge. If this is proven to be the case, it is important for JAMB to report the matter to the relevant authorities, including the police. It is crucial to thoroughly investigate and identify any individuals or forces behind this incident. Bringing those responsible to justice is essential for upholding the integrity of the examination process and ensuring that such manipulative acts do not go unpunished.
In all these, JAMB must reinforce its processes. That is the price for external and internal vigilance and the way to go. We must also, as a country reinforce our moral values. Institutions must function, and optimally at that. Our school system and parents, too, must see the need to teach the virtue of taking responsibility for one’s actions. We must pay these prices!
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