Similar to every new invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, when candidates preparing for the University of Lagos Post UTME, got the news about the University’s Management decision to allow candidates write the test from any location of their choice, it elicited two sets of reactions. For a better understanding of the piece, UTME stands for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), a computer-based standardized examination for prospective undergraduates in Nigeria, designed to assess problem solving, critical thinking knowledge of each of students. For some, joy flashed on their faces. They and their parents were particularly happy because such a development will assist in saving both time and resources for student that resides outside Lagos state. Chiefly, It will save parents from inherent discomforts and risks associated with travelling on Nigerian roads which includes but not limited to; road mishaps, armed robbery attacks and kidnapping. To the rest, the development was viewed with skepticism and fears.
The crux of their fears is that the well thought out programme and intention will be destroyed by what they called ‘the Nigerian factor’. These worries were given a boost, and further fed by arguments which bothered on lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude to work by an average Nigerian civil servant-and inability of regulators to go extra miles to ensure that the given assignments are perfectly executed. But, looking at the gamut of complaints within few days into the exercise, of how unreliable, inefficient/ effective the UNILAG online portal has become as it randomly shut out students without prompting or recourse to stipulated time, coupled with highhandedness, lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude of the staff, and other instincts coming from the candidates, the fears raised earlier by some can no longer be described as unfounded but a word made flesh and now dwells among us.
For those that hitherto praised the initiative, such eulogy has like light faded, and jeer has since overtaken the cheers while hatred for the initiative, and fears about what becomes the admission fate of their children looms. They have come to the conclusion that as an unchained and uncontrolled torrent of water submerges whole country sides and devastates crops, even so, has the UNILAG online post UTME serves but to destroy student’s ambition, serve them with bleak admission opportunity and cause drooping spirits among parents.
As a matter of fact, each passing day at the University brings more evidence that the school is facing serious administrative emergencies-that demand immediate actions .Out of many, this piece will accommodate ‘testimonies’ from three affected candidates to assist the University management look inward, reflect critically on their own role, and identify the ways they often advertently or inadvertently contribute to the problems and then change how they act by addressing the present debacle. Going by their accounts, at about 11.a.m on Tuesday 15th February, 2021, one of the candidates, a male, (name withheld) arrived at a business centre located somewhere around Ketu part of Lagos.
He got connected via the system to the UNILAG portal as signal was established. After the preliminary protocols, the system electronically generated the first subject. And he gladly and promptly attempted questions one and two. As he was expecting the number three question, what he got to his greatest surprise was a message from the portal signaling that he exited the examination page/sheet. The experience of the second candidate was not quite different from the first. Everything started very fine but at about the 7th minute into the journey, the portal for inexplicable reason got him disconnected. But if these accounts are considered a challenge, the experience of the third candidate is a crisis.
First, he successfully logged in to the school portal and just immediately, he got a message ordering him to remove his ear piece which he promptly complied with. And in a matter of seconds, another instruction popped at the portal directing him to remove his face cap. As he raised his right hand to comply with this second directive, the next message that followed to his greatest dismay was that he has exited the examination port. These are verifiable facts. This discomforting accounts aside being a reality Nigeria and Nigerians must worry about, it will necessitate the posers as to; how many of the youths in Nigeria would be affected? Who will stop UNILAG from this disappointing arrangement? And who will be the judge? Or must we allow this injustice like good and evil go on together allowing our nation to reap whatever fruit that comes in the nearest future? Certainly, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that our schools work and our children properly educated at the right time.
But in this particular case, if the University of Lagos Management and other concerned arms of government fail to do the needful, it will again dispatch another sign of a nation unmindful of the fact that our children enjoy the right to education as recognized by a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which recognizes a compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, as well as progressive introduction of free higher education/obligation to develop equitable access to higher education. We must not also fail to remember that very recently, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in line with its mandate to promote and protect human rights has established Right to Education as a thematic area of focus to drive its vision of having all children enrolled in school as well as to ensure that the culture of human rights is promoted and maintained in schools.
Certainly, this piece holds the opinion that they (candidates) reserve the right to hold the nation and leaders alike accountable if they (government) fail to provide this traditional but universal responsibility to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confer on them particularly now that their future/ civilization is hanging in the balance as a result of such failures. Another urgent reason why the school authority and of course the Federal Ministry of Education must reassess this process and address the present injustice are the threat that keeping brilliant children on the waiting list for university admission for too long could pose to the nation. As idleness could make them take to the street. As we know, the streets are known for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat such as armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society.
Ideally, this is not the best time to glut over the cost implication of organizing fresh examination for these candidates as no amount of investment in the education sector that will be considered too much. We also need to face the fact that the traditional progressive solution to societal problems is to redouble emphasis on education. This fact has made education an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it is obvious that education should have a higher national priority. As Nigerians and the watching world await UNILAG’s decision, if we do nothing about this, it simply means our youths/nation by extension are faced with bleak future. But then, one point to remember is that, bringing a radical improvement or achieving sustainable development in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations is overwhelmingly urgent, These teaming students are knowledge-hungry. What they innocently ask for is another opportunity for examination delivered in an environment that works.
• Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. jeromeutomi@yahoo. com/08032725374