The aspiration of an 18-year-old Ogun State teenager, Esther Abiona, of becoming a medical laboratory scientist in one of the country’s top-tier hospitals may be a pipe dream because she has been unable to successfully register for the United Tertiary Matriculation Examination for having incomplete fingers for biometrics.
The Head of Public Affairs and Protocol, Joint Admission and Matriculations Board, Dr Fabian Benjamin, had stated that registration for the 2023 cycle of the examination would begin on Saturday, January 14, and run till Tuesday, February 14, 2023.
Benjamin also noted that the computer-based UTME test would be conducted between Saturday, April 29, and Monday, May 12, 2023.
A day before the initial deadline, it was extended by one week (February 15 to February 22).
By the extension, the sale of e-PINs ended on Monday, February 20, 2023, while the UTME registration ended two days later.
At the close of the sale of e-PINs on Tuesday, February 14, over N1.5 million candidates had successfully registered for the exercise, inclusive of the 168,748, who indicated to take the mock exam.
Esther registered and sat the 2022 UTME. She applied to study Medical Laboratory Science at the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, but was not offered admission despite hitting the cut-off.
The teenager said the university’s admission officer told her to register for a supplementary admission in another department in the Faculty of Sciences, which she did. However, she was not offered admission.
So, the young admission seeker decided to apply for the 2023 UTME when she learnt that registration had begun so she would not lose on both ends.
The registration was a herculean task owing to some technical difficulties she encountered due to her disability, which robbed her of all the fingers on her right hand.
On February 14, Esther said she left her home in the Magboro area of Ogun State and went to a registration centre at the Redemption Camp, Mowe, where she was told to pay N3,500 to generate a UTME e-pin, N1000 for the compulsory reading texts for the exam, and N700 for the registration of the JAMB CBT centre.
The total payment of N5,200 would be paid electronically to JAMB.
To her surprise, after the generation of the PIN, she was told to do the biometric registration, which required that she used her 10 fingers. That was where the problem began.
“The lady at the camp, who told me her name was Joy, said she would not be able to register me following JAMB’s new directive for persons with disabilities. She stressed that JAMB warned them to refer anyone with such cases to their headquarters in Abeokuta for registration,” she said in a tired tone.
Her tears could not make her grow five fingers on her right hand, which suffered a severe condition that led to her almost losing the arm.
The registration officer had also insisted that she visit the Abeokuta office of the board to get registered.
Esther returned home and told her mother, who armed her with N5,000 the next day to visit Abeokuta to get the registration done.
At the Abeokuta office, the story was the same. Since she had already generated an e-PIN at the Redemption Camp, the officers reportedly tried to register her but insisted that her case was ‘severe’.
She said they urged her to visit the JAMB Headquarters, Abuja, for her registration, as there was nothing they could do.
“They tried to do the biometric, but the system kept rejecting the registration, stressing that I needed to capture my 10 fingers.
“One of the officers even told me that she would advise me not to waste my time to go to Abuja because they may also not be able to do it since the registration would close in a week’s time,” she added.
Disappointed, Esther said she began to cry, begging the JAMB officials to try to do something but they said it was a new policy by JAMB that persons with disabilities would have to go to Abuja to register.
“That is absurd. If they wanted me to go to Abuja, they shouldn’t have taken the N5,700 I paid through their server. They shouldn’t have generated an e-PIN for me. They shouldn’t have captured me. Now, they have dashed my hopes. The registration has closed and I have been denied the opportunity to register for the examination simply because I have five fingers. How fare is that?” she asked, with a tear-laden tone.
Providing evidence, Esther sent her payment receipt showing a text message sent on February 15 — a week before the registration deadline — by JAMB to her, confirming her payment and providing her with e-PIN.
A follow-up text was sent to clarify her registration status at 1.07pm on February 21 – a day before the deadline.
A Mother’s Pain
Esther’s mother, Folashade, begged JAMB to help her sort the issue out as she could not afford to send her daughter to Abuja for her biometric.
My husband was an officer of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency. He is now a farmer. He had nothing. I am a trader. Where am I to get flight ticket and hotel bills to send my daughter to Abuja for the exam?
“All the people I have asked said they have not heard where a person with a disability would be made to travel to the board’s headquarters just to get their biometric done,” she said.
What started as a simple pain in 2016, developed into something the Abionas have not been able to explain to date.
Esther, who was 12 then and lived with her parents in Sango, Ogun State, said she just came back from school and felt a sharp pain in her hand.
I told my mother about it and she said she gave me some painkillers but it was as though the medication multiplied the pain by 300 times.
My mom massaged it with a balm but the pain increased even more. This was the hand I used in writing and I didn’t know what to do,” Esther said.
Narrating the encounter, her mother, Folashade, said on the second day, Esther’s hand had swollen up twice its normal size.
“I thought it was a spiritual problem so I took her to a nearby church and the pastor prayed for us and told us to go to the hospital,” the 58-year-old Ekiti indigene stated, adding that within a week, Esther’s hand had begun to drip puss.
Confused, Folashade said she rushed to a private hospital at Sango but a doctor said Esther could not be admitted for fear of complications.
However, they were referred to a public hospital in Ikeja.
On reaching there, she said the doctors slammed her for not taking urgent action and insisted that the girl’s condition could not have lasted for just two weeks.
“I tried all I could to convince them that the whole episode started just two weeks ago and had swollen beyond recognition. I sensed fear in their eyes and voices and I knew that the condition had indeed surpassed what they may be able to handle. I was also scared. I am a poor woman. Who do I have? How do I pay?” Folashade added.
She said the doctors claimed the problem was caused by an infection.
No bed for Esther
Folashade stated that she was greeted with surprise when one of the doctors who had earlier promised to admit Esther came back to say the hospital had no bed to admit her.
I was shocked. Esther was crying. Her hand was dripping water and puss. It was traumatic for me. I felt like the entire world had abandoned me,” she added.
Not knowing what to do, Folashade said she left the hospital for the Gbagada General Hospital on the advice of a friend, who promised to help her find a space for Esther.
On getting to Gbagada, the woman stated that the receptionist told her the head of the surgery unit was unavailable, urging her to either wait or come back.
I almost lost Esther because she could no longer carry the hand. The pain had become so uncontrollable that she could no longer talk. She just kept crying,” the mother said, letting out a huge sigh.
A ray of hope came when another friend made some contact with a private hospital in the Abule Egba area of Lagos, and it was agreed that the victim be brought since it was an emergency.
Esther and I spent two weeks there. On the second week, a family friend came and on seeing the condition of the hand, said it was not improving. It had begun to rot and the smell was bad. If you were to see Esther then, you would not be able to hold yourself. Even one of the doctors who handled our case couldn’t hold back his tears. The situation was pitiable,” she said.
When she took Esther to another hospital, the doctors said they could not handle the situation and referred her to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Surulere, Lagos.
On Christmas Eve of 2016, Folashade, who said she had begun to cry, decided to call her younger brother, who told her to take a photograph of the hand, which he will, in turn, send to a professor at LUTH for assessment.
On getting the picture, the professor told us to come to LUTH immediately. We spent nine months at LUTH, fighting for my daughter’s life.
“Tests were done and they showed that it was an infection so they needed to do a kind of skin transplant. Esther saw hell,” she said.
Esther, taking over the narration said the pain she felt whenever the wound was being dressed was nothing she had ever felt in her entire life.
It was like my life was leaving my body. The doctors took me to the theatre, scrapped all the tissues up to the arm in the right hand and did what they needed to do. I was sedated but I could still feel the pain. That is to tell you the gravity of the pain I went through.
Everyone even on the fifth floor knew my voice because I would scream atop of my voice because of the pain. I also received a blood transfusion every three days because I didn’t stop bleeding.
The doctors said if I stopped bleeding, it meant the hand was dead and I may need to undergo an amputation. It was the worst time of my life,” she noted.
On the sixth month, Folashade said Esther was taken back to the theatre where skin from her lap was taken to replace the one on the right arm. The entire five fingers were gone.
The doctors said it would take 21 days for the skin to blend only for it to get worse after five months and almost went back to square zero.
A kind young doctor during the healing period, Folashade noted, advised her to teach her daughter to write with her left hand.
Folashade said, “It was difficult for Esther at first. But she started with the letters of the alphabet and got better at it.
She could not go back to school so we brought in a lesson teacher who taught her at home while she prepared for her Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination.”
By August, Esther wrote her JSSCE and left for Magboro, where she did her senior secondary school.
JAMB kicks, says applicant lying
The JAMB spokesperson, Benjamin, said Esther might be lying, adding that she might have registered after the deadline.
When contacted on phone on Thursday for a reaction, he said, “It is not true. Our system caters to all these issues. Where there is a challenge in capturing all 10 fingers, the officers are meant to capture the fingers that are available.
At the registration template, there is provision for you to make a report, noting that there is a challenge capturing the fingers so that JAMB will know.”
He added that the essence of biometric registration was to ensure that no one impersonated another person in the exam hall.
The officers are to capture the fingers available and make the report. The registration will go through. At the point of examination, the report, which is already written against her name, will be used to screen her. I doubt if any registration officer will be ignorant of that fact.
When people have problems like this, instead of them to say the truth, they will be lying. Let her state the challenge. She wants to register and she was late. That is her problem. There is no way she would say she came to Abeokuta. Who attended to her?
This is something that we have trained people for. How can a system that has made provisions for these people now become faulty because of her? Why did she wait for this long before coming to PUNCH to complain? It (what she is saying) is not true,” he stated.
Asked what other option Esther had, Benjamin simply said, “There is no advice I can give again. The registration has closed.”
The Executive Director of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Mr David Anyaele, when contacted by Saturday PUNCH, said the action by the JAMB officers was discriminatory.
He urged the lady to write a petition to JAMB and the CDD and the matter would be taken up.
This is a violation of Section 1 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Act, which provides that no citizen of this country shall be discriminated against on the grounds of disabilities.
The lady needs to write a petition to JAMB, demanding that she is registered with immediate effect. Any system, technology, or procedure that is designed to deliberately discriminate persons with disabilities, consciously or unconsciously is against the law,” he added.