Sunday, 4th June 2023

Ishaq Oloyede: Snake charmer

By Ray Ekpu
14 September 2021   |   4:28 am
There are two tough positions in Nigeria’s public service whose incumbents deserve tons of public sympathy. The chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission...

Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB Registrar

There are two tough positions in Nigeria’s public service whose incumbents deserve tons of public sympathy. The chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is one of them. The other is the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Politicians want to “win” elections at all costs so they use money and violence to get things to go their own way. Some parents want their children to get into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions by hook or crook so they and their children do anything fair and foul to secure admission.

So the JAMB office is a yearly theatre of battle and whoever is the Registrar bears the brunt of that battle. Since JAMB was set up in 1978 as the sole examination board for tertiary level institutions, there has been plenty wahala principally for three reasons. One, there are more children eager to go into tertiary institutions than there are vacancies for them. Two, many of the students eager to get in do not qualify by JAMB’s examination standard to have a place. Three, as there are no facilities provided for remedial programmes for these under-achievers, the pressure on JAMB becomes almost unbearable.

So why can’t the country provide a one year remedial programme for those who cannot get into tertiary institutions through JAMB? After one successful year they can get into the first year programme of the universities or polytechnics or colleges of education. I am not unaware of the fact that some universities offer one-year diploma programmes in some courses. Those who do well are promoted into the second year of that course. But you first have to be able to sell your mother into slavery to be able to pay the fees for such programmes. If you don’t have a mother or you have one that you do not want to sell into slavery or she is too old to be purchased as a slave, then I say to you “tough luck.” That is not the kind of programme I am referring to. I am talking of a year’s remedial programme that equips the student to be admitted into the first year programme of any of the universities. This means that the student who is unable to get into the university through JAMB can still get in through the remedial route. The only difference is that he has to put in one extra year to get there.

Why is that not possible today? We used to have this programmes years ago. The answer is that in Nigeria we do things differently. That is why people get into the universities on ridiculously low cut off points. The good thing is that it is the universities that now have to decide on their cut-off points. The dregs will go into universities that do not have high standards while the brilliant ones will aim at the high-flying institutions. These are some of the complicated decisions that JAMB has had to contend with since its inception.

One man who has faced these intractable problems with a great deal of courage, integrity and transparency is the current Registrar of JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede. Oloyede, 66, is a thorough bred student of Arabic and Islamic Studies, having been trained in Islamic Studies in Agege, Lagos State, Offa, Kwara State and the University of Ibadan before he enrolled for a degree course at the University of Ilorin. In 1981 he was awarded a first class honours Bachelors degree in Arabic Studies. In July 1982, he was appointed an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Religions of the university. He went on to nick a Ph.D in Islamic Studies from his alma mater, University of Ilorin. During his student days he got several scholarships, prizes and awards as an attestation of his exceptional brilliance. Of course, his brilliance cannot be in doubt because Arabic, just as Mandarin or Russian uses its own peculiar alphabets, which are different from the regular alphabets that are used in the English-speaking world. Those hen-scrawls in Mandarin, Russian and Arabic look to me utterly undecipherable. How anyone could decipher them and still got a first class in it is a minor miracle. Arabic lacks the pin-point exactitude of mathematics or engineering so anyone who acquired a first class in it must have the attributes of a genius.

It was no surprise that Oloyede rose like a meteor through the Unilorin university system to become a professor at 41 and the Vice Chancellor of that university at 52 years. He had also been chairman of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. In 2015, he was appointed Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Fountain University. He is also Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. His tour of duty in various positions in the university system (he was also Deputy Vice Chancellor Administration as well as Academics) had amply equipped him for the JAMB job. And when it came he was ready for it.

JAMB is a place where there is always a lot of bustle and brouhaha. There are crooks within the system, who want to corrupt and damage the system for their own selfish ends. There are also crooks outside the system who want to reap unmerited dividends from a corrupted and damaged system. They both work hand in gloves to bring JAMB to a place it does not deserve to be. That was the situation before Oloyede was appointed. Oloyede’s entry brought an electric spark to the place because he put smiles on the faces of the workers whose welfare he took care of. When he started remitting huge funds into the coffers of the Federal Government a blush of pleasure must have risen to President Muhammadu Buhari’s cheeks.

Here are the figures: Between 2010 and 2016, JAMB remitted about N50.7 million to the Federal Government but in 2017 alone Oloyede remitted N5 billion, yes N5 billion, that is 10 times what was remitted by the preceding administration in six years. Let us look at more figures of remittances. In 2011, it was N11.5 million, in 2013 it was N25.3 million. According to the Accountant General’s office there were no remittances at all in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016. But under Oloyede JAMB was turned into a cash cow. Between 2016 and 2020 Oloyede remitted a staggering N28 billion to the government eventhough during this period he had actually reduced the fee for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) from N5, 000 to N3, 500 in 2017.

The impression that Nigerians got of JAMB before Oloyede’s arrival was not that of a possible moneyspinner. It was that of an organisation that needed to be pampered and bottle-fed by the government to do a difficult job that the nation wanted done for the good of all. However, when a former Registrar of JAMB, Professor Adedibu Ojerinde was arraigned on an 18-count charge of alleged fraud and alleged diversion of public funds to the tune of N5.2 billion the scales fell from our eyes. Even though the man is innocent and will remain innocent until convicted, most people never thought that there could be billions in JAMB that could be stolen without the place crashing like a pack of cards. Oloyede has proved that our public institutions can work if people of unimpeachable integrity manage them.

JAMB was not set up as a money-making institution but Oloyede has brought top drawer quality to the management of its affairs and turned a near moribund institution into a thriving money-spinning enterprise. Other government organisations that were specifically set up as money-making enterprises but are gulping money certainly have questions to answer for their incompetence. Oloyede is said to have instituted about 80 innovations which have had the overall impact of blocking leakages, improving the central admissions processing system, curbing illegal admission by streamlining and standardising admission data and generally making JAMB more efficient than hitherto. This is not to say that JAMB is perfect. It is not. Many complaints still exist because JAMB is a human institution and it remains a work in progress.

However, Professor Oloyede has brought unparalleled integrity, transparency and accountability to the management of the institution. He invites stakeholders in education and better society activists to JAMB’s meetings so that they can see, at close range, the range of problems he is dealing with, the methods of complaints resolution and he is willing to accept suggestions for the improvement of the institution. In the management of affairs in Nigeria’s public offices that is rare. That approach helps in fine-tuning ideas through interaction and it gives an inspirational impact to the organisation. It also puts the organisation at the cutting edge of educational admissions administration and makes it able to absorb new ideas and feedback from the viewing, critical public. Oloyede, a man of great courage did not allow himself to be encumbered by what has come to be known derisively as the “Nigerian factor,” the mean and obscene resort to unfair and unwholesome tactics in achieving results. That would have been the quest for worst practices. Instead he looked for innovations outside the system for examples of best practices. That is why JAMB seems to work.

There are two things to remark about Oloyede. He is a muslim. He is a professor. Some Muslims in public office have failed Nigeria by stealing our money and mismanaging our diversity. Some professors have failed Nigeria by rigging elections or harassing female students for sex or male students for money. So Oloyede’s success has nothing to do with his religion or his professorial standing. He is just a good man because it is not the hood that makes the monk or the cassock that makes the priest or the turtleneck that makes the reverend. It is the integrity in him, that rare quality that made him to charm the snakes that were swallowing JAMB’s money before he took office. The snakes vomited the money and where they could not they were put in zoos where they cannot escape. That way he made JAMB’s money inaccessible to greedy snakes.

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