By Dr UGOJI EGBUJO
Nigeria: Imagine two students in the same secondary school in Kaduna. They are 18. They are filled with youthful patriotism. They sit for admission exams into the NDA. They both want to read Mechanical Engineering. Efosa scores 280. Musa scores 180. Efosa’s celebrations are cut short. He is not invited for an interview. Musa who scored 180 is hopping around. He has been invited for an interview. Musa is admitted. Efosa and Musa are Nigerians but from different states. Efosa with his 280 repeats the NDA exams the following year. He takes another 2 years to achieve a score of 300 and is finally admitted. Musa and Efosa become military officers. Musa who scored 180 when Efosa scored 280 is Efosa’s boss. Musa remains Efosa’s boss for the entire military career.
Musa would be happy. Efosa would carry a grudge against the country in his heart. Musa would be celebrated someday. He would be called Nigeria’s finest. Efosa might get his chance. But with the grudge in his heart, he might not reach the top. Someday it would seep out and it could be Musa that would retire him.
Emir Sanusi is right, quota system should have an expiry date. But I think our quota system has already expired.
The North is full of smart people. It only needs to treat education with the same seriousness with which it attends to elections. If the north had come to education with the same keenness with which it approached population and census over the years, it would have been more educationally advanced than the south.
Quota system doesn’t do the image of the north any good. Quota system creates the impression that the north is mentally handicapped. The north must understand that quota system ridicules it. The sort of mockery fit for a young adult who has refused to let go of feeding bottles.
Quota system distorts the system. It confers on its beneficiaries advantages meant for the handicapped. When persons who have two legs take advantages meant for wheelchair users they ought to feel some shame. 60 years after independence, the quota system we practice today is disgraceful. The sections that benefit from it must feel the weight of its shame. It’s possible they have never really addressed their minds to its ugly implications. The quota is simply an admission of inferiority. It simply says some groups lack the capacity to compete with others. That should be a humiliating position to adopt. So why are the beneficiaries marching around oblivious of its shame?
Quota system like other affirmative actions is righteous if they serve moral purposes. Whites in the United States denied blacks education and denied them participation in society. When slavery and racism were abolished, those chronic injustices meant blacks had been left far behind others. Since blacks couldn’t compete but had to be included, blacks were allowed to get into Ivy League universities with lower scores. That was an adjustment made to accommodate their handicap. It was done to correct a gap created by injustice.
Quota system in Nigeria of today would be pardonable if it served to uplift women. Women and girls have been subjugated for ages. Girls in the far north have been excluded from education by retrogressive cultures. Quota system for northern girls only could be excusable to some extent. But a quota system used to service the ambitions of able-bodied but indolent men must be properly characterized as corruption—a reward for laziness.
Our statesmen who instituted the quota system must have intended a short-term measure to improve the participation of certain groups in national education and perhaps policymaking. They couldn’t have anticipated a situation where political leaders in the north would abandon education and not be confronted with the consequences of their waywardness. Laziness should not be rewarded. The abysmal school enrollment figures in the north must reflect on the bigger stage.
Imagine a situation where admissions into the Nigerian Defense Academy were carried out only by merit. No one would be expected to disclose his state of origin. The best students would be chosen the way we choose players for the Super Eagles. We would have an officer corps chosen solely on merit. It could become lopsided. There could be grumblings about its lopsidedness. But no one would complain he had been cheated. States who abandon education would face the consequences of allowing rent-seeking manipulative politicians lead them.
When the nation was at infancy, sections like children had to be appeased with candies. Those who showed retardation had to be propped. But 60 years after independence, 60 years after all sections have had a chance to improve their educational system, 60 years after those who were thought weak have held the steering wheel, no section deserves this national babysitting.
When a system is used to improve political inclusion, it is good. When a system is used to perpetuate mediocrity and reward indolence it is evil. The quota system cannot continue to be used to help the very group that has dominated political leadership in the country.
Katsina has had two presidents. Katsina had a deputy military head of state. Niger state has had two heads of state. Katsina and Niger have been in the thick of things of national politics for ages. Yet, Katsina and Niger, are still deemed so educationally backwards that their indigenes cannot be allowed to compete with indigenes of Edo state.
It is now ridiculous.
Take a state like Borno. The National Security Adviser, the Chief of Army Staff, the president’s Chief of Staff, the EFCC chairman are all from Borno. Borno occupies more positions than any other state in the security architecture of this third world country. Why should Borno state indigenes be allowed to get into the military and security services with lower scores than people from Delta state?
I looked at the list of students for the 2018 National Common Entrance Examinations. Zamfara literally didn’t participate. If that list is reliable then almost everyone who applied from Zamfara would gain admission because the number that applied from Zamfara is less than the number that applied from every small school in Lagos.
Yet, tomorrow, from amongst that small number of largely unqualified Zamfara students that would be admitted, the federal character would step in and catapult them to the highest positions in the land. If we practised such a decadent system in our football or athletics we would be about the worst sporting nation in the world. So why do we practice it in politics, 60 years after trying to weave a nation?
The quota system that has no expiry date is immoral.
I have read the arguments that say politics is not football. They mean exclusion would cause discontent and instability. But nothing causes discontent and instability more than injustice. When we shout ‘One Nigeria,’ we must mean it. True ‘One Nigeria” is a Nigeria where all citizens are equal; where neither state of origin, religion nor ethnicity confers any advantages or disadvantages.
The north is full of smart people. Polices that cast it in negative light must stop. The abolition of the quota system is long overdue.