FEATURE ARTICLE

Atyi-Babs Ezekiel OpaluwahFriday, February 3, 2006
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atayibabs@yahoo.com
Abuja, Nigeria

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CHINWE OBAJI'S LEGACY


t was Confucius who once said "the man who does not take far views, will have near troubles". This became a verified truism in the circumstances in which Nigeria's Education Minister found herself enmeshed in following the approval given by her to Universities to conduct Post - UME tests. Given the unprecedented gamut of general discontent, uncouth distortions of facts, conspiratorial silence from even those who ordinarily shouldn't have feigned ignorance of what the issues are and the current demand for Post - PCE test by Rectors; it would be apposite to once again enrich the avalanche of literary exercise and opinions that already abound.


Chinwe Obaji (Mrs), Nigeria's first female substantive Minister of Education since 1958, decided in her own wisdom and with Presidential approval, to curb the problem of the absence of correlation between JAMB scores and the actual performance of candidates by directing individual Universities to further screen candidates seeking admission after obtaining their JAMB results. She went further to add in a recent publication that "the screening exercise will take care of all kinds of ills in the Universities as it will make sure that it is only those Students who are ready to learn that are given admission." Upon implementation of the directive by the nation's Universities, widespread condemnation and discontentment reverberated far across the land, thus leading to a nullification of the directive and an order to return to the status quo ante coming from the Federal House of Representatives.

The above scenario is a symptomatic revelation of the diseased state of education in the country which has continued to elicit ceaseless genuine and most times, spurious and obtuse solutions from persons whose mental capacity are way below the average demands of the sector but are being chaotically foisted on the beleaguered sector as Heads and Stakeholders. Year after year, the education sector continues to wobble and fumble, held hostage by intellectual Lilliputians whose legacy lies in the phenomenal rise in brain drain and the pride of place occupied by the country in the list of countries with high illiteracy rate. Their impact exist comfortably in their anti - intellectual pontifications and predictably antagonistic disposition to the acquisition of true liberal education, the type that enables us to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse, one that refines our taste, enlighten our judgement, and sharpens our vision.

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The aforesaid Ministerial line of thought that the "the Post - UME tests will eliminate all forms of ills in the Universities as it will make sure that it is only those Students who are ready to learn that are given admission" is one of such disgracefully adrift pontifications that unearths a colossal absence of a clear atmosphere of thought and recourse to pedestrianism on the part of our leadership. The school of thought that postulates Post - UME tests as an elixir of sorts, to the problems confronting tertiary education in Nigeria smacks of an anaemic intellectual culture which according to John Henry Cardinal Newmann, is the Achilles heels of intellectualism. A true intellect, according to the renown proponent and staunch defender of the University as a place for the teaching of universal knowledge, is "one which takes a connected view of old and new, past and present, far and near, and which has an insight into the influence of all these on one another, without which there is no whole, and no centre. It possess the knowledge, not only of things, but also of their mutual true relations, knowledge not merely considered as an acquirement, but as philosophy."

The obvious fact still remains that education in Nigeria, has become an expensive charade, an empty stultifying ritual for raw or half - baked graduates inflicted on Nigerian society for the dissemination of crass ignorance and the perpetuation of gloom. "The finished products" of our educational system cannot serve themselves well, needless to mention the country, they cannot justify the country's investment in their education. Their teachers, who are mandated to make bricks without straw, are compelled to watch helplessly as cherished academic standards run utterly to seed, and the country takes its "quantum leap" into illiteracy and darkness. They are disabled by poverty, low morale, inadequate teaching tools, and they find no joy and satisfaction in the job they do. Regrettably, the Government on whose fat shoulders, lie the onerous responsibility of yanking off Nigeria's name from the burgeoning list of nations with low literacy level by putting education in the front burner of budgetary relevance, keeping faith with the spirit and letter of UNESCO benchmark, Dakar Framework for Action on Education (EFA Goals), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and matching words with action on agreements signed with major stakeholders in the educational sector like ASUU, ASUP, SSANU, NASU and NUT, has rather, elected to promote illiteracy and ignorance through less than 7% budgetary allocation to education, choice of misfits as leaders in the sector, engaging in battles of wits with Lecturers, and employment of crude and myopic tactics, strategies and policies in the running of the sector.

It must be unequivocally stated at this point that the Post - UME test policy is not only one of such myopic and crude policies foisted on Nigeria's educational sector but also one that is totally otiose and practically nugatory. An incisive peep into the directive brings to the fore, its high level of meretriciousness and supine illogicality. To think that a Post - UME test will ensure good and qualitative intakes for our Universities is to say the least, a bad argument bordering on mental aridity and crass ignorance of the true position of things in our tertiary education system. It is an established fact that our Universities are overflowing with a large number of people who for all intents and purposes, are not University materials but are masquerading themselves as Students and are being indiscriminately enrolled at the direction of those with either political or economic power who see Universities as another patronage disbursing machine. The admission of these unmeritorious candidates, which is always not hinged on their JAMB scores, is facilitated through the instrumentality of phoney mechanisms and pseudonym like Vice Chancellor's list, Addendum to VC list, Addendum to Supplementary admission list, e.t.c.

Those who cannot penetrate through the above find their way in through ethnic considerations and connections, quota and catchment area basis. Expectedly, such unmeritorious intakes will not keep to the demanding tradition of learning, character moulding and ethics. They would rather be Cult members than join intellectually based societies and bodies, they would rather be thieves or armed robbers or sex hawkers than engage in worthy ventures that will take care of their needs while schooling, they would rather attend parties, picnics and bonfires than attend departmental seminars, presentations and symposia designed to deepen their intellectual capacity, they would rather organise mindless 'Alutas' than resort to dialogue based on logic, common sense and rational reasoning, or they would rather be exam cheats than do well in their studies and emerge as individuals refined both in character and learning.

The issue of ethnic consideration is so pervasive in our University system that nearly all our federal Universities are manned by indigenes of the host communities who are brought into the office of the Vice Chancellor to enhance and protect the interests of their ethnic group as well as that of the state they represents. The indigenisation policy that is in force in all the nation's universities is such that both Lecturers and workers are recruited to fill dubious ethnic quotas and are given fraudulent promotions to positions within the academic community that are way beyond their capacity. This set of ethnic 'foot soldiers' in academia are responsible for the admission of unmeritorious intakes on the ersatz basis of educationally less disadvantaged areas!

With this ruinously comatose situation, many with real good grades without the appropriate 'connections' cannot but be denied admission while only a few get admitted on the basis of merit. The admission of a few on the basis of merit is even made possible by the existence of an independent body called JAMB and I make bold to state that the introduction of another screening examination to be conducted by the same Universities that are increasingly finding it difficult to curtail mercenary writers and malpractices in their semester examinations, will further give the Universities, the much sought-after omnibus excuse to deal with meritorious candidates as well as the leeway to perpetrate and elevate admission racketeering to the next level, seeing that a merit in JAMB will not manifestly translate into admission except with another merit in the Post - UME test. This is not to say that JAMB is not fraught with irregularities but to surmise that a well-funded JAMB with reinforced security from the nation's security and anti - corruption agencies will constitute a strong bulwark against the problem of poor quality of intakes. JAMB, as a key player in the nation's educational sector, is not insulated from all the ills bedevilling the sector but there is no disputing the fact that an overhauled and properly positioned JAMB will halt the seemingly unstoppable degeneracy of our Universities into ethnic institutions. Furthermore, the idea of the Post - UME test seems to be part of Government's determined efforts to up the stakes in tertiary education acquisition in the country following the predictable bastardisation of the policy by 'University Dons' who openly demanded and traded marks in the Post - UME test for various sums of money ranging from N70, 000 and above, and depending on the candidates' choice of course. A perfect representation of fork and knife by the Government to pathetic jobbers and entrepreneurial sellers of conscience in academic gowns to fleece Nigerian Parents/Guardians of their hard earned money. In addition to promoting avenues for graft, is the psychological trauma and sometimes, physical pain being inflicted on hapless candidates who have to traverse the length and breadth of the country, plying the death-hole-filled roads or in the case of the privileged few, the flying coffins we boast of in our aviation industry, all in the name of going to write a Post - UME test whose results in the long run, will be subject to willy-nilly manipulation in the hands of the University Senate, VC, HOD or even the supervising Lecturer. The fate that befell over 50 Students of Loyola Jesuit College in the Sosoliso crash is a pointer to the many more disasters that the Post - UME test will engender.

One amazing discovery about the gibberish talk of Post - UME test is Government's uncanny ability and propensity to concoct, facilitate and disseminate ignorance to its citizenry. Many were rushed to believe that JAMB should be held responsible for the poor quality of undergraduates in the country while in actual fact, JAMB is only responsible for less than 50% of undergraduate admissions in the country! More than 50% of undergraduate admissions in the nation's Universities today are gotten through the ubiquitous and less - scholastic pre - degree programmes being run with rapacious impunity by Universities without proper accountability and transparency. The proliferation of these programmes (Remedial and Diploma) which are regarded as money-spinning in nearly all the nation's Universities makes it imperative on the Universities to offer unmerited undergraduate admissions to these Students who are largely unacademic in all standards. The worthy ideals of University autonomy shouldn't be sacrificed on the altar of poisonous internally generated drive whose income is not reflective on structures and programmes in the University community.

Another amazing thing about the Post - UME test is the ostensible castigation of our Universities' ability to rid itself of misfits. A University is endowed legally, with the exclusive powers to deal with academic misfits and poor performance through internal mechanisms such as inter or intra - departmental/faculty transfer, involuntary withdrawal of admission, and outright expulsion. These mechanisms can be strengthened by the Universities if their scathing criticism of JAMB is not to be seen as a smokescreen for their tacit approval of academic immorality.

To further expose Government's insincerity and ignorance is the inescapable fact that these so - called unmeritorious intakes are products of the nation's primary and post - primary educational systems which the Government has continued to pay lip service to its total overhaul and repositioning for efficiency. A University is basically a Receiving - Finishing institution with a greater objective of raising the intellectual tone of the society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspirations, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. The dictate of common sense in the above assertion is that our Universities receive what our primary and post - primary educational systems produce. Thus for an effort to be considered genuine and far-reaching, such an effort must have as its fulcrum, the total reformation of the primary and post - primary sub - sectors and not the reckless disbursement of party patronage and executive pilfering that have become totemic icons of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) today. This is very instructive as no "academic building" can stand the test of time with a poor foundation just as it is impossible and would be akin to courting an architectural fiasco for one to attempt building a house from the top!

Adding to the aforementioned, is the question of legality or otherwise of the Post - UME directive given by the Minister. The law establishing JAMB states expressly that "for the avoidance of doubt, the board shall be responsible for determining matriculation requirements and conducting examinations leading to undergraduate admissions and also for National Diploma and the Nigeria Certificate in Education course, but shall not be responsible for examinations or any other selective process for postgraduate courses and any other course offered by tertiary institutions." For emphasis sake, this law confers on JAMB the sole power to consider, determine and conduct examinations that will ultimately lead to undergraduate admission and matriculation. Therefore, any directive that is beside, behind or after this law and does not accentuate the key provisions is not only ultra vires but an abhorrent display of disregard for the civil society as well as a daring assault on the collective integrity of Nigerians. In other saner climes, this assault will not go unpunished as a retraction, public apology and subsequent resignation will only help in dousing the angst of a people so assaulted by a public officer.

By this, one is not referring to the lame duck reaction of the Federal House of Representatives, which summoned the Minister and later nullified the Post - UME test directive. Their action, which seemed laudatory and a clear departure from the past years o legislative docility and disfunctionality, was dismissed with a wave of hand. It was accorded a high degree of flippancy by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which justified the Minister's illegal directive as part of the "ongoing reforms in all sectors of our national life" (the latest esoteric swansong for failure, witch-hunting and systematic destruction of national ethos). The Universities carried on with a brazen display of business as usual posturing as the Federal University of Technology Yola (FUTY) went a step further by going on air (network time) to announce its own date and requirements for the Post - UME test which included two (2) passports, writing materials and the non - refundable sum of N1, 000 for security and logistic reasons! In all these, the House of Representatives, not the Senate, must be commended for taking sides with the people at least for once, even though their well - intentioned intervention which smacked of a loathsome legislative virility was later squandered on the alter of credibility flaw flowing from the bribe-for-budget scandal between the House Committee on Education and the immediate past Minister of Education.

One salient thing that calls to circumspect, the Minister's role in the illegal business of Post - UME test is her barefaced denial of the directive at the hearing organised by the Federal House of Representatives. She stated that what she did was merely to "convey approval for individual Universities to further screen candidates recommended to them by JAMB based on the agreed cut - off marks." The Minister tried to convince the Honourable Members that the decision to carry out Post - UME test wasn't in conformity with her directive to "further screen" candidates recommended by JAMB". What then is the difference between test and screening? How else can a candidate be screened in a University without being examined or tested academically? The Minister's volte-face, which is an astonishing act of unwisdom and sheer cowardice, subsisted until the Federal Executive Council rose to justify and defend the directive.

In the final analysis, the ultimate question is that which borders on the type of legacy, which our first female substantive Minister of Education will want to leave. As an Animal Scientist, it is believed that she is not unaware of the inexorability of time and power as they are both classified in humanistic and animalistic realms as inexorable and ephemeral phenomena. Would she want to be remembered as one the several Ministers of Education who came, saw the plight of education in Nigeria and decidedly toed the line of her predecessors who refused to hold aloft the illuminating banner of good and qualitative education, or as an Education Minister whose legacy will remain confined in the Post - UME (and probably PCE) test conundrum. The choice is obviously hers.

Atyi-Babs Ezekiel Opaluwah is a Principal Language Consultant at Maxtel Communications Ltd