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Nasir el-Rufai’s cry from the Wilderness

Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai’s recent condemnation of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)’s preferential treatment to students of northern Nigeria origin seeking admission into universities is a welcome development as it touches on one of the root causes of poor quality of education in Nigeria. It takes a man of strong character to speak out the way he did.

From all indications, El-rufai is not alone in this crusade. Unfortunately, previous efforts made to change the system met brick wall because many of the policy makers are beneficiaries of the flawed admission process in Nigeria.

For a long time, the transparency of admission process as well as the quality and employability of graduates from our tertiary institutions have become worrisome. Many of the graduates find it hard to speak good English talk less of defending their certificates.

According to the governor, for students in the Northern region to be competitive nationally and internationally, they should be given same cut-off marks as their counterparts from other parts of the country.

Read Also: Nasir El Rufai’s candid advice to northern leaders and elites

“The north has always been behind in education, we’ve continuously been the disadvantaged region right from independence even though we’re given preferences, JAMB scores and all that. That has not helped, in fact, it has made our people lazy.

“Against this differential JAMB and FG (Federal Government) scores, I think people should be encouraged to work hard and compete and we are prepared to make our children in Kaduna State to be competitive, not only in the state but globally”, he said.

As expected, JAMB has refuted the governor’s allegation. The board said it does not give preferential or differential cut-off marks to candidates stressing that candidates sit for UTME and whatever they score in the exam forms the basis for their selection after the education policy meeting had authorized the commencement of admission.

Preferential treatment in admissions policy in Nigeria has encouraged social discrimination of one section of the country against the other. It is a practice of favoring some candidates at the expense of others on the basis of state of origin, local government area, tribe, nepotism, or choice of course of study. It also bastardizes admissions processes, breeds nepotism and contributes to the production of low-quality graduates.

Preferential treatment in admissions policy in Nigeria has encouraged social discrimination of one section of the country against the other. It is a practice of favoring some candidates at the expense of others

Aside preferential treatment, students’ admissions are also influenced by other policies including, quota system, state of origin, catchment area, Vice-Chancellor/Minister’s list and other unorthodox methods all of which deny meritorious candidates admission into tertiary institutions.

Weak educational foundation is a major cause of poor performance in public examinations by northern students. Or how would you justify a situation where some pupils from the north are admitted into federal government colleges ( otherwise called Unity schools) with as low as two marks in the common entrance examination while others from the south can only get into the same schools with minimum of 130 marks?.

Slowly but steadily, mediocrity has crept in. Agreed, quota system is meant to give educationally disadvantaged regions of the country an opportunity to access quality education, but that gap is ridiculous. Merit should be a strong consideration.

For instance, in the 2020/21 Unity School admission list released by the Federal Ministry of Education, whereas a candidate from Anambra State has to struggle for 139 out of a total score of 300 marks obtainable, a candidate from Zamfara state needed only 4 marks to get admission in the same schools.

In the breakdown, Anambra had the highest cut-off of 139 marks for both males and females; Imo 138; Enugu 134, Lagos 133; Delta 131, Ogun 131, Abia and Edo 130, Osun and Oyo 127 marks respectively.

However, the least 10 cut-off marks for Unity Schools are all northern states; Gombe 58; Nasarawa 58; Borno 45; Jigawa 44, Bauchi 35; Kebbi has 9 for males and 20 for females. Sokoto has 9 for males and 13 for females; Zamfara has 4 marks for males and 2 for females. Taraba and Yobe are the least states with Taraba having 3 for males and 11 for females while Yobe has 2 for males and 27 for females.

Established in 1978, JAMB is the government agency saddled with the responsibility “to conduct matriculation examinations for entry into all universities polytechnics and colleges of education in the country and to place suitably qualified candidates in the available places in these institutions”.

Before now, JAMB set cut-off marks across the country but the Board recently cancelled general cut-off marks for admission into tertiary institutions for the 2021/2022 academic session and gave institutions the freedom to set their individual minimum benchmark for admission.

Indeed, El-Rufai’s outcry could be likened to that of the biblical John the Baptist -the locusts and wild honey eating prophet, who foresaw the calamity ahead of his country Israel and warned them to desist from doing evil. Rather than adhere to his calls for equity, justice and fair play, the people of Israel did as if nothing was wrong. They thereafter paid for dearly for it.

Like John the Baptist, El-Rufai has cried out against the injustice in the nation’s universities admission process. It remains to be seen if the authorities would listen to his wise counsel by changing to a merit-based admission process. The current system has done Nigeria more harm than good.

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