By Raphael Jov, Abuja
Going down memory lane, Dr. Saleh Abubakar recently, in a chat with JAMBulletin, took stock of the quantum of developments recorded by Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in the forty-one years of its existence and submitted that the body has done outstandingly well.
The former Acting Registrar equally recalled vividly the chaos that always characterised the annual sale of application documents of the then University Matriculation Examination (UME) and the Monotechnic, Polytechnic and Colleges of Education (MPCE).
During that era, the two-month window for the sale of these application documents was a festival of sorts as unscrupulous sales outlets agents, banks and individuals scrambled to make brisk business by hoarding and creating artificial scarcity with the intent to make outlandish profits at the expense of candidates.
The former Provost of College of Education, Jalingo, Taraba State, stated that as a responsible organisation, the Board could not fold its arms and watch innocent candidates and parents suffer unjustly, thus its decision to tackle the problem headlong.
He said, “In the course of time, it became obvious that banks were pulling a fast one on the Board with respect to the sale of these application documents. This was because they had turned the forms into a commodity whose value was more than its declared price. Therefore, hoarding and diversion of forms became the order of the day as a lot of money accrued to the banks while critical stakeholders such as parents and candidates received the short end of the stick. To put a stop to all that, I insisted that banks must pay upfront for all the forms they needed and that the Board would not accept so-called unsold forms back. That was to ensure that the Board received the revenue due to it while at the same time eliminating hoarding and diversion of forms to other states.”
On the seeming rift between JAMB and the universities over the part that had exclusive right to the placement of suitably-qualified candidates in tertiary institutions as of then, Dr. Abubakar said, “I am of the firm belief that JAMB should only facilitate admissions to tertiary institutions and should allow tertiary institutions to conduct the admissions but subject to the oversight of the Board. This stance is not just for avoiding friction as it is a stance consistent with the laws that set up the Board and define its functions. It is a position that allows the Board to play its role as a regulator, ensures a level playing field for all institutions and allows it to focus on capacity building.”
The former member of the 1994 National Constitution Review Conference shared his experience during his brief stint as Acting Registrar back in 2006. He said, “I consider my stint at JAMB as one of the most momentous times in my career. Before joining JAMB in 1996 as Director of Admissions, I had lectured at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) for 19 years and was the Chief Executive Officer of the College of Preliminary Studies, Yola, and the College of Education, Jalingo, for two and four years respectively. At ABU, I had been the Chairman of the Task Force appointed by the Vice-Chancellor to plan and administer the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) examinations between 1986 and 1989. I can say without any equivocation that the years I spent in JAMB represented the culmination of an active and fulfilling life of service, self-fulfillment and education. This is because I had an opportunity to deploy and enrich what I had learnt along the way, to broaden my horizon as well as well as see and experience the world in a new and exciting light. This journey was stressful at times but psychologically and spiritually enriching on the whole.”
Continuing, he said, “I was Acting Registrar in JAMB for only three or so months. I had to leave owing to the appointment of a substantive Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde. However, it should be noted that though I had headed other institutions before, and had learned a few managerial skills that stood me well in my new task, I was sadly deficient in other skills, not least those needed to keep the bosses happy and that created serious issues for me as Chief Executive.”
“I should also stress that I had learnt earlier in my life not to approach the future weighed down with nostalgia about the past coupled with the fact that I am now older and more experienced than I was thirteen years ago, and certainly would not do many things now exactly the way I did them in 2006. But then, I still remain my humble self and I believe I shall continue to be thus for the remainder of my life.”
The technocrat who had also served as a member of the Conference Committee on Judiciary, also commented on some of the innovations he brought to bear during his brief period as the helmsman in JAMB said, “I simply did the best that I could in discharging my responsibilities to the Board and to the staff under my supervision.”
On the comparison of security of test items during PPT and the current electronic examination regime otherwise called CBT, Dr. Abubakar said, “Test security under PPT, and any examination mode for that matter, presents a different set of challenges. This is owing to the fact that our tests are high-risk tests which are considered as doorways to the future in a highly-competitive context for a whole set of actors each time and with each of these individuals seeking self-fulfilment. However, one can also recognize the fact that the CBT format has eliminated many of the dire threats that have previously bedeviled the testing environment but at the same time had spawned its own set of security challenges.”
The soft-spoken retired Director commended the current Management under Prof. Is-haq Oloyede over the uncommon transformations recorded by the Board in recent times. He said, “Being on the outside enables one to perceive things in a peculiar way. As such, I would say that the current Management of the Board has made tremendous progress in enshrining accountability and efficiency in service delivery. However, I personally think that more need to be done to improve content when it comes to the issue of testing in such critical areas as curriculum development, the quality of items and the manner in which they are generated and validated.”
He said, “It is gratifying to note that JAMB has been a leading light among public examination bodies in Nigeria and Africa in general. I expect the leadership to keep it that way.”
On life after retirement, Dr. Abubakar has this to say: “Life after retirement had been especially fulfilling. I thank the Almighty Allah that I remain mentally and physically sound such that since retiring, I have helped nurture the Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation as well as taught undergraduate and postgraduate students at ABU and KASU. I have also been doing a few other things to keep body and soul together. I am grateful to God for enabling me to enjoy peace in my life, my home and in my relationships. I have contentment and harbour no fears or malice in my heart for anyone. I live in the present and look to the future with hope for the continued mercies of the Almighty Allah. Thank you so much.”