By Idowu Samuel
After almost two decades of energy sapping combat with corruption, Nigeria, from indications, is still in quandary on how to effectively tame the menace.
Today in Nigeria, corruption stands tall and rotund, gnawing at every effort made to subdue it. Both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the sister Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) seem to have lost the track, leaving corruption to rear more hydra heads.
The two main anti-graft agencies created to fight corruption over the years do not seem to have a co-terminus approach in their wars against the incubus. Sometimes, they work at cross-purposes. The EFCC, for instance, is seen to be impressionistic and egregious in the war, using the media as a tool, all along. On the other hand, the ICPC appears stoic and laid back, convinced that it could advance in the war against corruption by mere system overhaul and prevention.
All the same, little results continue to trail every initiative they had put in place. Before the advent of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, corruption became virulent, holding a promise to make Nigeria history.
Months ago, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammad invented an idea of how Nigeria can dig pitfalls around corruption and make it fall, at least gradually. Nigerians laughed their heads off when he came up with a catch phrase; “Change begins With Me”.
He had little audience since a disproportionate number saw his idea as impracticable having hitherto, been treated to the effusive and gratifying impact of corruption.
But Lai Muhammad was not acting in isolation of the expanded agenda by the government of President Buhari to battle corruption headlong. Now, that effort has started resonating positively in different corridors, and most veritably in agencies like the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
A week ago, JAMB dominated the media space with reports about being parsimonious in handling its finances for the just concluded 2017 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UMTE). JAMB was reported to have remitted the sum of N5 billion into the federation account being the amount it saved from the conduct of the examination.
Nigerians found the feat very incredulous; believing that no agency of government had been that transparent. JAMB is simply demonstrating responsiveness to the anti-corruption posturing of the present government. The idea is that other agencies of government must be on the cue to initiate their ways and means of advancing the war, using different techniques.
If JAMB appears to have woken up suddenly with a foul mind against corruption, the starting point should be traced to the Registrar, Professor Isaq Oloyede. The Registrar once the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin is an instant fighter of corruption. The legacies he left behind at the University of Ilorin speak volumes.
Since he assumed office as Registrar, he has labored to impress it on JAMB stakeholders that a new era where the agency’s funds must be judiciously utilized had just set in. His vows to bring a new order in JAMB ruled by efficiency, financial prudence and transparency were mocked in familiar quarters. But he meant business. At every point, he had dared saboteurs who seemed determined and desperate to subvert his every good steps and efforts. Today, his commitment to “Change” and insistence on leading by example has started paying off.
Before the 2017 UMTE, the Registrar had expressed aversion to the idea of raking in the sum of N7 billion from sales of registration forms and blowing the sum of N6.8 billion in the conduct of examination. He vowed not to spend more than N500 million for the 2017 UMTE and managed to do just that, leaving JAMB with an excess of N5 billion.
The spokesman of JAMB while analysing the cost saving measures by JAMB for the 2017 UMTE said, “Before now, JAMB budgeted for the sum of N7 billion. But this year, we have been able to prune down the cost very drastically, limiting our spending to N500 million. JAMB may not spend up to that in 2018 since it is expected to improve on the template from this year to attain this goal.
In his address to stakeholders of JAMB at a recent meeting for reviewing the conduct of the 2017 UMTE and preparations for the following year’s exam, the Registrar explained the reason he had chosen to lead by example. He alluded to the Change Begins With Me mantra of the Federal Government, stressing, Change Begins With Me campaign is not only a slogan, it is already a way of life which we believe in and which we have adopted as our guiding principle.
JAMB is not only excelling in the area of prudence, accountability and transparency. The Board has started re-inventing the future of Nigeria by curbing corruption maximally at the level of writing of examinations with more of candidates being inculcated with the spirit of hard work, self confidence and adequate preparations before every examination.
Years before now, examinations written in Nigeria at all levels had been characterized by brazen malpractices. Schoolteachers had been in collusion with invigilators and parents to allow impersonators write examinations for academically deficient students.
Female students had severally been caught stuffing exam answers in the innermost part of their bodies, and had recourse to blackmail when exposed. There are reports of magic centers too, which no invigilator or examination official dared to visit during examinations, mostly JAMB, WAEC, NECO and others.
The effects have been disastrous for Nigeria. Those who exploited the weak examination systems had secured employment into sensitive places, using the old power of corruption. Today, the system of Nigeria hardly runs unless oiled with brazen and sickening touch of corruption. JAMB has started changing the narrative, just as the 2017 examination it conducted was reported to be 98 percent free of malpractices.
In the 2017 examination, JAMB simply deployed Information Technology to halt corruption and all forms of malpractices. Its closely knitted synergy with GSM networks providers made this easy. Before the examination, JAMB created 642 Computer Based Test Centers (CBTs) to administer examination for over 1,722,236 candidates, the highest ever in the history of the Board.
Each of the CBT Centers had CCTV cameras to track down registration and examination malpractice within and outside exam halls. In the process, it was easy to weed out Centers that indulged in irregularities and malpractices. Today, all candidates must register under the lenses of the CCTV Camera just as the footage is uploaded to the Board Headquarters for close monitoring and future references. Indeed, there is nothing stopping JAMB from improving on the feat it attained this year.
If other government agencies must learn from JAMB, their focus should be on necessity for immediacy in execution of plans and table-tables. For instance, JAMB has already set machinery in motion for conduct of the 2018 UMTE. In reviewing its omissions and successes during the last examination, the Board is planning to spend far less than N500 million to conduct the next UMTE. By implication, JAMB is expected to remit more than N5 billion into the federation account next year!
In essence, leading by example as demonstrated by an agency like JAMB is an unassailable way of re-inventing Nigeria. Individuals, groups and most especially government agencies should start emulating JAMB to change the narrative about Nigeria being irredeemably corrupt.
Idowu Samuel, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.