The creeping celebration of vanity: The JAMB Question

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

My experience in highbrow Asokoro on Friday, January 19, 2024 was like a nightmare. I had an important appointment and I felt comfortable I was going to be some forty minutes early. Then it happened; blocked roads in the narrow streets. That was when it dawned on me this was the day the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on gubernatorial elections in some eight states. Now, Asokoro is where the Governors have their lodges in the nation’s capital, and some with their supporters had blocked the roads.

I was, like many motorists, trapped, but just when I thought I had extricated myself, the worse happened; Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi Sule and his supporters were celebrating further down, and the road was completely blocked. There was no escape. While they celebrated in Abuja, there were protests and burn fires in the state. At the end of the wild celebrations, Governor Sule told the press at the Presidential Villa that those protesting in his state were just “1,000 people (who) are protesting somewhere”

He told them “… the Supreme Court is the ultimate and is the final, and those who appreciate or respect democracy should leave it right there because protests or no protest will not change anything; the Supreme Court has already passed its judgement.”

In other climes, a man who is to govern a populace divided by votes, would not attack his perceived opponents, rather, he would sue for peace and seek reconciliation. Yes, there is no appeal after the Supreme Court has spoken, but it is also a court of human beings who can be fallible. That the Supreme Court rules in a governor’s favour does not warrant him telling a section of the populace to go to hell.

Three days before, there was another celebration of vanity. Five volumes of a book: ‘Muhammadu Buhari: The Nigerian Legacy (2015 – 2023), and a sixth book by one of his assistants, were launched with fun fare.

Compared to the pre-Buhari days, Nigeria is like a battle field in ruins with hunger and suffering across the country, factories shut, dreams shattered, kidnapping becoming a booming industry and the local currency , on sale in the streets. Yet, the chief architect and his chorus boys and girls choose this precise moment, and Abuja – where kidnappers are executing children whose parents are unable to pay ransom – to celebrate their inglorious days in office. While Nigerians are in pains and many families are weeping, the Buharists are celebrating their inanity and gross incompetence. To paraphrase Nyesome Wike’s lyrics: ‘As he dey pain us, he dey sweet dem’ Yes, as Nigerians are in pains, the Buhari gang is celebrating. But no matter how many volumes of falsehood they write and publish, it will not change history which has shown that since independence, the Buhari times have been the worst. This celebration of vanity by the most inept and most incompetent, is essentially a distraction. But like the Holy Book says, vanity upon vanity, is vanity.

It is this exploitation of celebrating vanity that led 19-year old Miss Mmesoma Joy Ejikeme to forge her Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) scores in the 2023 examination. She had four times checked her results on the JAMB portal. Each time, she received the same results in her phone showing that she scored an aggregate 249. But she wanted to exploit the euphoria that goes on about the highest scorer in the examinations which usually includes public financial donations and offers of scholarship by state governments and private citizens. So she doctored her result and awarded herself 362 marks; two higher than the actual highest scorer.

When JAMB set the records straight, she challenged the examination body and in the process created a contentious and fractious national debate which dragged in the National Assembly, the Anambra State Government and the general public.

This whole controversy would not have arisen had the country not been enmeshed in unnecessary controversy over who, or what state produces the highest scorer in the examination.

When JAMB and Media Executives held a Stakeholders Meeting in Lagos on January 14, 2024, this issue and what can be done, inevitably cropped up.

JAMB Registrar, Professor Ishaq Olarewaju Oloyede addressed the national malaise of what he called the: “Highest Score Syndrome (and the ) Aberration of premature celebration of UTME Score.”

He said: “JAMB believes it is better to celebrate highest ranked candidates after all other variables are added…Candidates who apply for the UTME do not necessarily possess the required qualifications as a prerequisite for the examination.”

He clarified that the purpose of the UTME examination is not to test the ability of individual candidates in isolation, but to: “rank the available candidates in each batch.”

He explained that there are two types of examinations; the Criterion-Referenced Test, a qualifying examination with a pass mark in which each candidate is assessed against a pre-determined standard. The other on which JAMB is based, is a ranking examination in which there is no fail or pass mark and the availability of space, determines where the line is drawn.

Given this, it is vain glorious to mark success in JAMB examinations as the candidate with the highest score may not be admitted if amongst other things, he has no basic qualification or does not even meet the minimum age requirements.

An editor asked if Mmesoma who having lost at least a session, has not been punished enough which may require JAMB lifting the three-year suspension on her. Professor Oloyede thinks that she is actually lucky not to have been sent to prison.

The Mmesoma case does not mark the introduction of vanity into the university system. In the late 1970s there was a vice Chancellor who ranked his local traditional title as high as his professorship. In public outings, he would announce his name, follow up with his traditional title including the name of his town and end with: “…and by the Grace of God, the Vice Chancellor, University of…”

What JAMB is teaching us, is to lay emphasis on substance, not the vainglorious. It is also demonstrating this and how public institutions can be relevant by ever extending services to the public. This includes making relevant books available free on-line, and supporting people with disabilities by issuing for free, application documents to all categories of people with such challenges. Also, in order to provide a level playing field for all candidates, it is providing all blind candidates audio books.

These may seem like common sense, but it is not common with governance. If it were, those who have brought the country down to its knees would not take centre stage revelling over their tragic rule like a rapist celebrating a conquest.

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