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Quota system and the Menace of Mediocrity

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By Ugoji Egbujo

Quota system is a blight. When it sits besides apostles of change and receives no contempt , no scorn, it undermines the authenticity of their message. It may have been necessary to glue a loose aggregation after independence. Since at that infancy, peace and all inclusive participation were so indispensable justice could be kept in abeyance. There was no nation then. 56 years after independence, justice and fair play cannot remain onlookers.


56 years is enough time for political toilet training and teething. We haven’t fallen apart though we have sometimes bitten more than what Rwanda couldn’t chew . We will fall apart if we stagnate. The balm of prosperity has kept blisters soothed. But after the demise of oil, we will have to earn it. The cronyism that our quota system promotes fuels theft in public service. Easy prosperity induces prodigality and becomes a curse. Exclusionary politics did Rwanda in. But that isn’t really our malady despite echoes of Biafra. When hunger seizes the land, the convulsions will be catastrophic. We should be a nation now. Federal character is indeed divisiveness. And if we are intent on change, then it has to be more than nail polish.

Corruption is endemic because the moral foundation is soggy. Our political culture breeds and rewards indolence. The legitimation of arbitrariness and sectionalism is located in the adoption of quota system and federal character principle. If the National Defence Academy takes comparatively inferior candidates because some kind of balance must exist in the officers cadre in our military then we are never at our best. We can no longer justify the trade offs. We can’t continue to pretend to unity. Quota system has outlived all usefulness.

We can’t imagine a national football team so constituted. Politics is not football. But isn’t it outrageous that Army generals are promoted on states’ quota basis? It’s more than just injustice, it’s deliberate inefficiency. It’s enough that federating units are self governing and contributing representatives to the national assembly equitably. That ensures full democratic representation. That forecloses the political exclusion of any state. The machinery of federal government cannot be held captive by parochial considerations forever. In the face of fierce global competition, we are on a self-destruct mode. When the public service is top heavy with mediocrity, mediocrity gangs up and banishes excellence. Examinations may not be ideal but they are not stupid.

Justifications for affirmative programs lie in the argument that because of poor social conditions and lack of opportunity, the scores of the candidates from a certain afflicted group may not be a true reflection of their mental abilities. True for blacks in America, false for any state in Nigeria. Different cut off marks for different states for admissions into national institutions in this country is grave injustice. Promotions and career progressions tied to states’ quotas are ludicrous.

No state in Nigeria has suffered any chronic bondage or structural disadvantages. The degree of permeation of western education in the north is poor but it’s largely self -inflicted. 50 years is enough time to dismantle the socio cultural impediments to access to qualitative education. The brand of political elitism in northern Nigeria is a scourge. The ruled are blindfolded. It is truly unfortunate but we cannot incentivize malicious opportunistic politics.

The other plausible justificatory argument is that the society is better if all groups are allowed participation in important sectors of the society. This argument is perhaps relevant where some groups have found themselves excluded from full political participation. Women and disabled persons should therefore be the only beneficiaries of quota system in Nigeria. The irony in Nigeria is that sections of the country that have benefited from quota system are same sections that have dominated control of important levers of government.

The Nigerian military is a case study. Or you may take the federal judiciary. Take the Police if you like. Quota system and its sister, federal character, carry the perfidy from the lowest rungs to the zenith of all federal careers. It’s bad that people get in with inferior scores, it’s an abomination that they are promoted on state basis! In many places entry thresholds are deliberately made so watery. Inclusiveness is good but these arbitrary privileges breed tension, cynicism and inefficiency. And they reinforce negative stereotypes about mental handicap.

Since ethnic rivalry is high, a culture of intense and healthy competition could have been entrenched. Excellence is mocked when it doesn’t confer priority. And to imagine that those who for instance dominate the law school exams do not dominate headship of the supreme court is absurd. It’s a travesty. Once lowered, the bars remain lowered everywhere. The polity aspires to nothing, mundanity rules. In politics as in civil service. In style as in substance. It’s mediocrity every where you go.

Even political speech-writing is not spared. When nothing is original you would expect a bit of poetry or ornamental prose. Parliaments were known for verbal flamboyance and political insights. Our legislative houses are peopled with those whose craftsmanship is unscrupulousness. They are too preoccupied with skullduggery to be insightful, too hardened by crude brinksmanship for style or distinction. Government houses in states drip with insipidity . The quality of decisions in our courts speak of our tragedy and perhaps hopelessness.

The central bank recently decided to take nepotism to new levels. Quota system opened the window, standards have been thrown out. The police have a chance at reformation with proposed recruitment of 10,000. We have more than 10,000 young smart unemployed and poorly employed graduates. But quota system won’t allow the bar to be set high. Illiterate tipper drivers will jump in with forged school certificate results and be recruited.

Change that tolerates quota system based on state of origin is flimsy and perhaps hypocritical. The poorest of the poor need efficiency in public service. Quota system and federal character are not in their overall interest. This change doesn’t need a leap of faith.

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