I have argued, always argue, and I will continue to argue that nobody, ethnics, or gender has the monopoly of knowledge. Also, no continent, region, or state in the world is specially endowed with knowledge or ability to know what others cannot know. This is a myth. A myth that should not find place among civilized people in a civilized world. But disappointedly, here we are; it is believed (rightly or wrongly) that cut off marks are lowered by JAMB in favor of the North—i.e. northerners. This is premised on the notion that northerners are dull, unintelligent, unwilling to go to school, must be baby-sat, and lazy.
Could this be true? Governor El-Rufai harps on laziness. He alleges that JAMB, through its UTME, is encouraging northerners to be lazy. To be fair to JAMB, it has never been openly discriminatory in its admission process. It only conducts exam and pegs the threshold. It is left to each university to fix the cut off marks but not below JAMB’s threshold.
But it has been argued that JAMB’s cut off marks are becoming ridiculously low in recent time. It was 140 in 2018/2019 admission exercise. This is equivalent to 35%—F9 by any standard. The point, as argued, is that universities in the South will not stoop so low as to admit candidates with 140 or 35% or F9 for any course. Hence, the suspicion that it was to favor the North because many northern universities, then, admitted candidates with 140.
The following year, as if JAMB realized the irrationality of admitting candidates who could not pass its exam into the universities, it upped it to 160 which is 40%. This is relatively sensible. However, the recent announcement by JAMB that it fixes no minimum score threshold and that universities are to fix their cut off marks gives credence to the insinuated preferential treatment of the North. El-Rufai could not hide it; he echoed it very clearly and very loudly. As it is, a university can justifiably admit student who scores 20 or 10!
But why this preferential treatment? Answer to this are notionally given above. El-Rufai singles out laziness. For me, nothing to criticize in El-Rufai’s submission. It is an incontrovertible fact. I will rather add to it: the preferential treatment is as a result of our romance with comfort like a walking ‘baby’—a toddler— who refuses to be weaned. There are exceptions though.
What I will criticize and must be criticized by every person—free from mental disorder—is the notion that northerners are dull and lack intelligence. This is ethnic profiling—we are always in a hurry to tarnish a group of people due to their tribe, region, and at times religion.
If knowledge is light which is it, the light of Allah is a guide which does not discriminate. The Qur’an, in respect to light, says it is “laa sharqiyyah walaa garbiyyah—neither of the East nor of the West” (Q24:35). Or to quote Yusuf Ali, “Allah’s light is not localized or immature: it is perfect and universal”. Since knowledge is light, and light permeates all parts and regions of the world, it is silly to say northerners cannot pass JAMB because of their genetic make up. This notion is both unscientific and unscriptural.
Having established that northerners are not dull or unintelligent, it is wrong therefore to treat them preferentially when it comes to JAMB scores or any other qualifying exams. This is encouraging laziness. Let’s take the memorization of the Qur’an for instance. It is a cherished convention in the North and an old practice to memorize the Qur’an which is only recently being embraced in the South. Will the panel of judges in any Qur’an competition lower the bar for the southerners when competing with the northerners because the former are new comers? This is common sense. Doing so amounts to an abuse of logic. So, why do we think that lowering scores for some people—to an abysmally low level—is a way of encouraging them?
But is it true that there is preferential cut off marks for northerners in JAMB admissible pass marks for admission into higher institutions? This is the position of Governor El-Rufai and this position, as far as I am concerned, is incontrovertible. When JAMB made 140 as pass mark in 2018/2019, I don’t know of any government owned university in the south that admitted students with 140 as official cut off mark. But many universities in the North did.
You need to be a university teacher to understand how difficult it is to teach students who could not pass JAMB but got admission because a certain policy favors them. University education, frankly speaking, is neither for the half baked nor the non-baked. With this ‘minimumless’ score regime, where minimum threshold does not exist, universities are at liberty to go to any low. El-Rufai knows those government owned higher institutions that might nosedive to the lowest of the low; hence, his condemnation.
If you still do not agree that JAMB is being preferential—knowingly or unknowingly—towards the north (though it denies the allegation), Zamfara State—among some other northern states—is a very good example. Female candidates from Zamfara State only need to score 2 points to be admitted into Federal Unity Schools across the Federation in 2018/2019 Academic Session, while the requirement for their counterparts in Anambra is 139. Though JAMB does not conduct exams into unity schools, we can take a hint from that and reason with El-Rufai.
University education is not basic. What is basic, if at all, is the ability to read and write. This probably informed pegging and ceiling basic education at JSS 3 which is the first nine years spent in school (counting from primary one). Why would somebody who could not pass a purported entry exam be admitted into school—especially high institution? Is this how to develop? This is hugging and kissing calamity. It is calamitous to give to people what they do not deserve. These kinds of students corrupt the system and, thereafter, destroy the nation when they are given jobs—entrusted with responsibilities.
May be we agree with El-Rufai OR NOT in respect to the North, an examination with no pass mark encourages laziness. In fact it is a mockery of the exam itself. Prof. Oloyede has been widely applauded for the sanity he brought to JAMB and the conduct of UTME in the last five years. But JAMB’s decision UNDER HIM not to fix minimum threshold is bizarre. I pray his second tenure will not mar those sterling achievements he is applauded for.
Until we condemn laziness to the back seat and put hardworking on the driving seat—the frontline—our explanation for our decades of failure will continue to be used to unreasonably justify our present and future failure. That is living in the past. I am always ashamed of myself when people say we (northerners) are dull—citing instance like this. We are not; we are only vulnerable to laziness because the system encourages it. The system, though apparently seems to favor us, is actually killing us. I hope our eyes are opened to this reality before it is too late.
Have you read this news headline; “Lagos, Osun, Ogun lead as JAMB unveils top 10 UTME candidates”? El-Rufai and I actually want the narration—news headline—to change. So before you nail us, please have a second thought. Lastly, the Prophet (SAW) is of the habit of seeking Allah’s protection from kasal (laziness) for he knew its dangerous implications. O Allah, safe us from laziness. It can make an able man to become a kidnapper.