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The Vexed Question of Federal Character – By Dr. Philip A. Ikomi

By Dr. Philip A. Ikomi | NNP | May 14, 2014 – I was one of the first students to attend one of the Federal Government Colleges in the country. In other words, I was a pioneer student in those schools. In fact, I attended two of the schools and then ended up in an older federal government secondary school, making a total of three federal government colleges within the space of two years for my higher school certificate education. Without further ado, let me say I attended Federal Government College, Okposi where I was given admission for my Higher School Certificate course starting in 1966. In fact, the school started as Interregional Secondary School when we took the entrance examination in 1965.
By the time we went to attend the school in 1966, the name had morphed to Federal Government College. I took the entrance examination while I was in my secondary school, Abeokuta Grammar School, in Abeokuta. I did not choose to go to Okposi, but was selected and sent there. The government was embarking on an experiment on national unity by creating those schools and so they decided where to send each student. We were admitted on quota basis. A certain percentage of the total number of students admitted was derived from each of the regions with the home region contributing the majority of the students.
In those days, we did not know if different cut-off marks were used for admitting students from each region. It did not matter to us but I recall that almost all the students in my class, Lower Sixth Science, had passed the West African School Certificate Examination of the previous year, 1965, in the first division. Lower Sixth Arts students were also all in the first division. There was only one student in the entire sixth form, who did not pass in the first division. He actually failed and had to leave the school. He was from the Midwest, not from the North. In fact, in my class, some of the brightest students were from the Northern Region. Scholarship does not know region or state, it exists in every nook and cranny.
I have read articles in which some have said that the federal character that Nigeria practices is retrogressive and is not practiced anywhere in the world. To those people I would say that there is actually a model in the United States although it is not called federal character. It resembles it. It is called Affirmative Action. The chief reason for Affirmative Action is to protect against discrimination in all areas of employment. Affirmative action involves a number of steps that organizations have to take to comply with the idea of getting Blacks, other minorities, women, and the disabled in the community fairly represented in their organizations or businesses.
However, the end result if practiced fairly, is something similar to equal representation in the work force. What Affirmative Action requires is that those covered be hired in proportion to their representation in the local community. For instance, if the percentage of Blacks in the population of a state is twelve percent (12%), then their percentage in the work place in a state or business enterprise that employs more than 15 persons should not be less than twelve percent. Affirmative action does not only apply to Blacks or minorities but it applies to discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, physical handicap, sex, or national origin.
It affects business practices involved in hiring, promotion, compensation, training and firing. To achieve the goals of Affirmative action, an organization can use training, aggressive recruitment, and advertisement. Quotas are frowned at but a court may impose quotas if a firm that receives federal funds is found to have engaged in past discrimination because one of the goals of Affirmative action is to correct past discrimination. Some firms that wish to comply with Affirmative action goals would employ with minimum qualification and thereafter train their employees so as to attain their required standards. Thus there are ways to make everybody feel they belong to a society without causing disaffection among the people.
I sense that some people think that people from a certain part of the country are basically being given very low thresholds to cross in order to get appointments or be admitted into institutions where others from different parts have to cross at higher thresholds. A case in point is the recent bickering in the papers about admission into the Federal Government Colleges or Unity Schools where students from the southern states seem to have to obtain higher marks in the exams to be considered for admission while most of the states from the northern part of the country have been given lower admission marks.
This approach to getting everybody on board our educational ship is not a very good one as it exposes our children to thinking that people from some parts are actually smarter than people from other parts which is actually not true. What should be done instead is have all students aspire to do their best in the examination and after they have done the examination, they can then be selected, based on the performance of each student, not a state cut off mark, for the schools. This selection will take into consideration the student’s state of origin to equitably select students to fill open positions based on quotas from the different states.
This approach where you do not a priori set the marks that have to be attained by students of each state would enable students be admitted based on their performance and the need to select equitably from all states of the federation. What you do is sort the marks in descending order of magnitude and start picking students to fill the schools from the top of the list based on the marks scored and the number needed for each school, from each state. For instance, if you need ten students from each state to fill a school you start taking the best ten students on the list for each state.
You do not need an a priori cut off mark for each state simply because in real life, the best students are not always going to be from one state, but from several states. In variables like intelligence, shoe sizes, and others that are normally distributed, there is always an overlap between the distribution of scores between groups such that individual group members score at, below, or above the mean. One thing you don’t want to do is suggest that one size fits all as is now done by assigning a cut off mark for a whole state.
It is quite frustrating to know that there are qualified people who are not being employed only to employ people without the necessary qualifications. However, it would be catastrophic if we were to even begin to take only people from one part of the country to fill vacancies simply because they are the best based on academic qualifications and nothing else.
If Nigeria has a national vacancy to be filled as for example in ambassadoral positions, could we really just fill those positions using only people from a section of the country because they all have advanced degrees in diplomacy and not consider other qualifications? Would we be inclusive if we did that? Is it not better to err in not putting all our eggs in a basket so we can look at other qualifications that are relevant, for instance, where the ambassadors represent in terms of their background in the country so as to project that part of the country outside the boundaries of our country?
But above all, when talking about Nigeria as a country should we not be more concerned about the unity of our country by being inclusive rather than excluding people? But if we did not use quota, would it be nice for our national representation to be virtually from one or two states rather than from the entire country? But who really wants to be seen as the one taking the place of another from another state because the other state does not have qualified people even though people from that state still want to be included?
We have actually had a coup d’etat in this country because some officers of Eastern Nigerian extraction actually felt that Nigeria was being represented overwhelmingly by people from Northern Nigeria. That was one of the motivations of the first coup spear headed by late Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeagu in January, 15, 1966. In July, 1966 when General Yakubu Gowon took over the reigns of government in a coup he declared in Hausa that the north was back in power. I believe no Nigerian wants us to repeat the same mistakes.

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Posted by on May 14 2014. Filed under Articles, Columnists, NNP Columnists, Philip Ikomi. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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