JAMB and task of cleaning the Augean stable
As the list of missing millions of naira continues to grow at various offices of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Head Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL examines how corruption in the federal agency has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous and the determination of the examination body to tackle the menace that has become a national pastime
Dateline was May 2016, the Buckingham Palace. Guests had gathered to mark the 90th birthday of the Queen of England.In the merriment and sophistication of the moment, the crude level of corruption in Nigeria was inextricably thrown up.“We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain…Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world,” a former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, told his listener.
“But this particular President (Muhammadu Buhari) is not corrupt…He’s trying very hard,” the listener, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said. Later, President Buhari owned up on behalf of Nigerians that corruption was at a crude level in the world’s most populous black nation.But what Cameron, Welby, and Buhari (until now) did not know is that corruption is not linked to humans alone in Nigeria; animals – at least, one – have been fingered in the despicable act of corruption.
Many would admit, especially theologians that as fantastically corrupt Nigeria is, corruption did not start in the country. It started in Eden – God’s own incorruptible Garden of Eden – when the Snake deceived Mrs. Eve Adam, wife of the first man ever to walk the earth, to carry out a corrupt act.During her trial, Mrs. Adam had blamed the Snake; well, that did not stop her and Adam from being punished by God.Transported to Nigeria in time and space, the snake was again fingered in another act of corruption.
It all began when a team of auditors working with the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board arrived in Makurdi, Benue State to take inventory of sold and unsold scratch cards and to audit the finances of JAMB office in the state, something phenomenal surfaced.A sales clerk, Philomena Chieshe, had told the team, “I was one of the four sales clerks attached to JAMB office in Makurdi. My responsibility was to sell scratch cards to candidates. I’m not involved in handling the money. It was the responsibility of Joan Asen and other senior colleagues. I only remit money of sold scratch cards. (But) Few months ago, there was an issue of fraud in the office. Auditors were sent from Abuja. The state coordinator, Obilo, was not around when the audit team came. But in the course of the audit, N36m was discovered to be missing from the account. An investigation was launched.
“I have been saving the money in the bank but I found it difficult to account for it. So, I started saving it in a vault in the office. But each time I open the vault, I will find nothing. I became worried and surprised how millions of naira could be disappearing from the vault. I began to interrogate everybody in the house and office, and no one could agree on what might have happened to the money. I continued to press until my maid confessed. She said that the money disappeared ‘spiritually’. She said that a mysterious snake sneaked into the house and swallowed the money in the vault.”
Chieshe is just one of the many accused thieving canaries now singing in JAMB’s onslaught on corruption.Last September, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a probe of ex-heads of JAMB over poor remittances.At that time, JAMB had for the first time remitted N5bn to the coffers of the federal government with a balance of N3bn yet to be remitted compared to the annual N3m emitted in the past.
Speaking with journalists last year, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, had disclosed that the disparity in the remittances of JAMB necessitated the decision to probe all previous heads of the agency.However, if Chieshe’s story is bizarre, that of Labaran Tanko, a JAMB official in Nasarawa State, is brazen. He has been fingered in a N26m-fraud.
Tanko’s story is simple: “I thank God that I am alive today,” he had told a panel of investigation probing the loss of N26m. “I had an accident on July 3, 2016. I was not the one that packed the cards because I was rushed to the hospital. They came (back) to pack the burnt scratch cards to (keep as exhibit in) the office but the cards could not be counted. I have the serial numbers of the cards,” he had said like one giving a testimony in a church.
While investigations are ongoing, the panel, headed by the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, felt Tanko had only succeeded in telling a cock and bull story.“Every (member of) staff that has scratch cards in their possession must have the serial numbers. We found out that the cards you claimed got burnt were used despite the police report you presented to us and for JAMB, that is N23m of government money,” Oloyede had said after listening to the accused.
The JAMB’s boss, however, has more cases of corruption to worry about; all happening under scandalous circumstances.Currently, the agency is said to be investigating cases in its offices across Kano, Edo, Kogi, Gombe and Plateau states.N31m is said to be misappropriated in Edo; N20m in Kano; N15m in Plateau; and in Gombe, N10m. In Kogi State, the agency is searching for a missing N7m
JAMB’s spokesman, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, vowed that the board would do everything it can not to tolerate corrupt practices from any of its officials.“We will monitor with scrutiny how workers handled public funds. We are trying to block all leakages and loopholes,” Fabian had said a couple of days ago, JAMB’s Yobe State Coordinator, Sanusi Atose, had blamed Boko Haram for the missing sum of N613,000.
Summoned to the Abuja head office of JAMB to explain what Boko Haram has got to do with the missing money, Atose, according to an online medium, Premium Times, had said tellers, receipts and invoices were destroyed during one of Boko Haram’s attacks in the state.
Also appearing before the Oloyede-led panel, Daniel Agbor, the Kogi State coordinator of JAMB, said he spent the missing N7m on assisting his colleagues who were battling with abject poverty.
“The state of the state offices is such that we are in poverty and money is there with us. You need the grace of God in the state offices not to steal money because money is tempting. We borrowed the money and I am not the only one. I will provide the list of everyone involved in the fraud. To err is human; to forgive is divine. Please, don’t take me to the police. Please, be lenient with me, sir.“If you heard that I have given up in the police cell, would you say I am sorry? I just gave birth to my first issue. Most of us have taken loans. My salary is N175, 000. But when they deduct my loans, what is left is N90, 000 which is not enough for me. So, I borrowed from the government’s purse,” Agbor had confessed to the panel.Showing him mercy he begged for, Oloyede responded, “I will give you one week from today as we speak. I want to see you pay everything in your custody or else I will hand you over to the police.”
In Gombe, JAMB asked one of its workers Murtala Abdul, how more than N10m is missing.“We discovered a shortfall of over N600, 000 after reconciliation of accounts. But we later discovered we overpaid on the change of institution scratch cards. In the course of reconciliation, the marketing team came up with another invoice, which I was told I collected in 2015. Someone copied my signature that I signed to collect the scratch cards,” Abdul had said.
The panel concluded that Abdul’s response is another cock and bull story in a corruption scandal rocking the agency. “We have uncovered what had not been discovered before. The investigation carried out in your state indicates that the sum of N10, 283,000 is missing from your end. Are you saying the official that gave you the scratch cards did not know you and you said someone forged your signature?” Oloyede had asked the accused.He added, “The teams in charge of giving scratch cards to states have two documents that must be signed before a state coordinator can collect the scratch cards; which you collected, signed and you just confirmed it that you signed for the cards.”
Not to be left out is Ondo State where the state coordinator, Olaolu Adeniyi, spun a yarn of how N1.34m disappeared as his accountant hung to life undergoing dialysis.“My accountant told me that he handed all the money to his deputy and the deputy confirmed that he had spent the money,” Adeniyi told the panel.All this scandal makes Oloyede feel distraught. But he is determined to fight to the finish.
“When I hear the amount of money that is missing, I get scared. This is government’s money. I gave all state coordinators notice that I was going to stop the sale of scratch cards. But they thought it was not possible because they thought they could stall the process internally. The state coordinators thought I was going to use internal mechanism to stop the sale of scratch cards. But I must sincerely commend the effort of the external consultants that I brought in,” Oloyede had stated during the probe.
While many have applauded JAMB’s probe as the right step in the right direction, stakeholders and anti-corruption advocates have said it would be preferable that the officials found culpable in mismanaging public funds should be handed over to the appropriate security agencies for prosecution to serve as a deterrent to others.
They argued that paying restitutions does not deter fraudulent public servants from committing other acts of corruption.It is imperative, therefore, for JAMB’s head honcho, Oloyede, to go the whole hog in prosecuting public officials involved in corruption at the agency – not just sending them back home to pay back what they might have stolen.