The Federal Character principle which gave rise to quota system in Nigeria was established to solve the problems of inequality and marginalization as expressed by certain parts of Nigeria. One of the reasons for introducing the quota system was because of differences in the socio-economic development of different parts of Nigeria. Secondly, there were disparities in the levels of educational developments in different parts of the country. Some sections of the country (North) were alleged to be educationally disadvantaged, while some regions (South) of the country were acclaimed to be educationally advantaged. Therefore the past leadership of Nigeria thought it wise to introduce quota system so as to bridge the gap.
The federal character principle was adopted during the 1977 Constitutional Drafting Committee. It became part of 1979 constitution of Nigeria. From this point in our nation’s history, the questions of merit or competitiveness among Nigerians were set aside in place of quota system. This system has hindered development and it defiles all logic. How can a nation make progress when their best cannot occupy their due positions because we are practising quota? We cannot move forward as a nation by putting round pegs in square holes.
From the time of incorporating the quota system into the Nigerian law books till date, the federal government has used it as a policy instrument in recruiting people to all federal government establishments like the armed forces, police, ministries, federal government owned universities etc. Because it’s in our statute book, the various state governments and all local governments’ use the quota system in their various appointments etc. Merit, experience and hard work do not matter if quota system is in use especially when it comes to appointments. Its contrary to what Max Weber (1864-1920) said, that employees should be hired and promoted based on merit and expertise. We choose mediocre in place of merit. The use of quota system has brought about intense lobbying each time there is vacancy to be filled.
Thisday newspapers of 25th April 2009 online version reported that President Yar’Adua has become “sick and tired” of high level lobbying from all corners for the replacement of Inspector General of Police who is due for retirement soon. This is the result of quota system, were merit can be set aside in filling a vacant position.
Quota system means injustice as far as am concerned. Apologies to its beneficiaries. The mere existence of this charter in our law books means that the country has been established on the paths of injustice. This concept of quota system will certainly prevent the best from emerging in all circumstances. America was established on freedom, equality, human rights and democracy. They live by it and they also export it to the whole world. Quoting the former President of United States, late John F. Kennedy, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty”. Because America is a free a society, the emergence of Barack Obama as the United States President became possible.
In the United Kingdom, there is the equal opportunities act. Based on this act, United Kingdom employers makes appointment on merit by a fair and open process. Employers treat applicants equally regardless of your ethnic background, origin, religious belief, gender, sexual orientation, disability etc. Since Nigeria started the federal character/quota system the country has retrogressed.
I want to be proven wrong, but I believe that the spirit of federal character/quota system gave rise to the zoning formula adopted by most political parties, example PDP. This same zoning formula contributed immensely to the emergence of the former president Obasanjo. I will leave Nigerians to make their judgement on the administration of Obasanjo. My own assessment on them is that they performed very poor especially with conducting elections, power supply, road maintenance, health system, fighting corruption etc. The same zoning formula which is a brain child of federal character/quota system gave rise to the emergence of President Musa Yar’Adua.
It will be better for Nigeria to have credible leaders who will discharge their duties effectively from one section of the country, than what we are having today. Nigerians will benefit more if leaders who will deliver on dividends of democracy emerge from a particular state or region. Choosing leadership based on zoning is completely wrong. This concept of quota system has done more harm than good. Therefore this is the time to abolish quota system or quota system will abolish Nigeria.
Quota system laid down the quest for the scramble and looting of our nations resources. People, groups, politicians, contractors etc lobby for positions all because quota system has replaced merit. When people, politicians, regions or states do not get positions they start shouting of marginalization. When they succeed, they loot because they feel it’s their turn. Patriotism and national interest do no longer exits in Nigeria due to this policy. Quota system encourages tribalism and division. This twin evil makes peace and love to be difficult in a country like Nigeria
Just recently, it was on the headlines that Nigerian Senate was boiling over the distribution of 60 billion naira voted for constituency projects. Aggrieved Senators accused the Senate appropriation committee leadership of being discriminatory in the sharing of projects among the senatorial districts. This accusation of being discriminatory in sharing projects can also be attributed to quota system or federal character. This is despite the personal interest of our senators.
Quota system is like an evil which was left unchecked. This evil (quota) was tolerated and encouraged by the Nigerian leadership. Quoting Late Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, “Evil unchecked grows; evil tolerated poisons the whole system”. Quota system has poisoned the entire Nigerian system.
The aim of introducing quota system should have been achieved by now which is well over 30 years. Therefore I strongly advocate for its abolition. I use this medium to call on the President to start the process of abolishing this system. It has done more harm than good. Since we are clamoring for constitutional review, let’s remind ourselves on the need to remove this from the books. Greater part of our problems can be traced to this system. Hoping that the Nigerian authorities have taken note. May God bless Nigeria.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta
Chinedu Vincent Akuta is an activist and leader of "Support Option A4 Group" Leicester-UK