The News Agency of Nigeria yesterday reported the Registrar of JAMB, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, saying that it will cancel the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) in volatile states of Northern Nigeria if the Boko Haram attack on primary and secondary schools in Borno State continues.
“The Board will be left with no option”, he said, “than to tell candidates to go elsewhere to write the exams if schools which serve as centres will be attacked.” The report appears contradictory, making me believe that NAN did not get its facts right. Consider another statement it reported from the Registrar: “When we reviewed the situation in volatile states, for instance Borno, we realized that some of the schools are being bombed but our investigations showed that only primary schools are affected and not secondary schools.” By this statement, to my understanding, the Registrar did not rule out JAMB holding examinations in those states. After all, UTME examinations are held in secondary schools. Primary schools hardly have the large space facilities that JAMB needs. I am not accusing NAN of crying wolf where there is none; after all, it is a reputable news agency on which our media houses depend as a veritable source of news on a wide range of domestic affairs. I only think the Registrar should be clearly understood on this important subject matter that will affect the future of hundreds of thousands of our children. Despite the contradiction in the report, I still felt it is worth making a short comment on the matter. I understand the concern of JAMB. As any prudent agency would aver, it does not want its indiscretion to result in the death of Nigerian children and staff of the Board. The Registrar deserves our commendation for this foresight. In the event that the unexpected happens and attacks secondary schools in the next two weeks before the exams, I still feel that JAMB should not contemplate canceling the examination but go ahead to plan its execution and taking the necessary precautions. The UTME examination is too important to be brushed aside for the scare of an anticipated attack by Boko Haram. Canceling the examination will cause so much pain and complications in the learning career of the candidates and compound the admission exercise of higher institutions to which the affected states are catchment areas. JAMB should go ahead with its plan due to two reasons. One, I am inclined to believe that Boko Haram will not attack these centres when the examinations are holding. To be fair to Boko Haram, the sect has always maintained that it does not target civilians but security and law enforcement personnel. It has repeated this time without number. And if we can remember, its leader announced in his second video broadcast on Youtube that the group will start attacking ‘boko’ schools after an alleged attack by JTF of a Qur’anic school in Maiduguri, an allegation that JTF quick to refute. So far, Boko Haram has attacked four primary schools. But in all the attacks, no life was lost because the group refrained from carrying out the attacks during schools hours when it will lead to deaths and casualties to the civilian pupils and staff. With this record, it is clear that Boko Haram is targeting infrastructure, not the pupils, of the primary schools. Doing otherwise will contradict its claim that it is “working for the interest of the ummah”, as its leader Shekau would put it. JAMB examinations, therefore, are very unlikely targets of Boko Haram. Relax your mind, my Professor Ojerinde! Two, if I am proved wrong and Boko Haram attacks secondary schools during schools hours – something I still believe is not in tandem with its modus operandi – JAMB should still go ahead with the examinations but make adequate security arrangements for their safe conduct. A number of measures would be necessary. First and foremost, JAMB should liaise with the JTF and the state government to study the situation and look into the necessary measures for safe conduct of the examinations. Fortunately, the examination, unlike NYSC, is not protracted; it takes only few hours. The military and other agencies can mobilize a substantial number of personnel to each centre. To ensure that the centres are not blown off a night or so before the examinations, law enforcement personnel need to be posted there early enough. Then on the day of the examination, the schools or the neighbourhoods where the centres are located should be adequately manned. In fact, the entire state could be placed under curfew that Saturday for the period the examinations are conducted. These measures are necessary especially for town like Biu, Bama, Uba, Gwoza, etc. If it proves to be too difficult or risky to hold the examination at the various centres in Maiduguri town, there is still a better option than to “tell candidates to go elsewhere to write the exams.” The authorities should think of pooling the centres into one for candidates within Maiduguri town. The University of Maiduguri would be a suitable site. It has many theatres and lecture halls that can accommodate the candidates. The university community should make do with the inconvenience of few hours to enable its prospective candidates sit for the matriculation examination. I think a combination of statewide curfew and shifting the examination to the university for candidates in the capital, which is the epricentre of Boko Haram attacks, will be the best. If all the above fails and JAMB insists that the fear of Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom, and only after having obtained a red card from JTF, then I would suggest that candidates from Borno State should be given a waiver by JAMB such that they can be admitted on the basis of post-UME tests in the institutions they applied for in addition to their fulfillment of WAEC/NECO requirements. Skipping JAMB itself would not matter much since in most universities passing the post-UME test is as important, if not more important, than passing JAMB. Finally, I call on Borno State government to take this issue seriously. Its candidates and indeed the state cannot afford to miss UTME examinations. Boko Haram may be here next year also. Does that mean that my Kanuri brothers will continue to miss UTME and universty admissions indefinitely? So instead of running away from the problem, it must be handled now. The government must do whatever it takes to ensure that JAMB is convinced on the security of its centres in the state. It must not sit back and see the twelve years it invested in its candidates washed away by the fear of a Boko Haram attack.