Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Quota System in Education Placement and Employment:
Is this still relevant in a Capitalist and Democratic Society like Nigeria?
DR. S. O. OGBEMUDIA CON.
Full text of paper delivered at the 2nd Annual Unity Conference of Edo global organization, Verona, Italy, on the 12-14th November, 2004.
*Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, CON, Retired Brig. Gen. Of the Nigerian Army, was Military (and later elected civilian) Governor of defunct Midwest/Bendel State. He later became a Federal Minister, Sport Administrator, Sole Administrator of Railways, etc. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ruling Peoples Democratic Party and a National Leader in Edo State.
I want to first acknowledge with gratitude, your letter dated 10th September 2004, inviting me to this conference. I appreciate the opportunity and honour. I have thus been given to interact and chat with a galaxy of Edo sons and daughters, at this august conference holding here in Verona, Italy.
That you have thought it wise to assemble yourselves to discuss your homestead is, on its own, sufficiently praise-worthy. But you went a step further to invite some of us from home; obviously to avail you the opportunity of first hand information of what is happening in our dear state and country. This is a sign of maturity; an indication that our children who travelled out to acquire the proverbial Golden Fleece have accomplished that objective. It is also a strong beacon that you are ready to return home to pick up the gauntlet of nation building, from those of us in the older and out-going generation.
I congratulate you for these accomplishments. I equally congratulate you in advance considering the worthy destination you are headed. I warmly congratulate you, Mr. President and Executives of Edo National Association Italy, and indeed each and every one of you. I bring you all the fraternal and filial greetings from your families at home.
This is your 2nd Unity Conference. The first, I understand, held in Manchester, England, last year. The theme of this year’s conference is “Edo State: Working for a better tomorrow”. It is obviously from the abundance of a noble mind, filled with patriotic zeal, that such a theme could emanate. It however contrasts with the perception of our people at home. When I told my family and friends that I was travelling to Italy, their first hunch was that I was coming here to take frustrated Edo daughters back home. That is the kind of thing advertised back home. Our children abroad are accused of all manners of fraud, the most frequent of which is Advance Fee Fraud, popularly known in Nigeria as 419. But I know, and it is obvious from your present endeavour, that the number of you who are honest, hard working, respectable and responsible are far more than the few that are responsible for the bad image.
It is not surprising therefore, that you have decided to distinguish yourselves and re-assert the historic virtues of the Edo man; his fortitude and forthrightness, through an assemblage of this nature. That is how it should be. It was the good old Irish Statesman. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who said that:
“When bad men combine, the good (ones) must associate; else they will fall, one by one, (in) an unpitied sacrifice…”
I am glad that you have decided to associate yourselves and, more importantly, that you have thought it fit and proper to discuss issues that unify and uplift you, your homestead and humanity in general. It is even more gratifying and re-assuring that this is a “Unity Conference”. That you need to unify and remain united is an imperative that cannot be over-emphasized.
Your conference today gives me great joy, pride and confidence. Every Edo son and daughter at home must feel the same way. And I will tell why.
In September last year, your counterparts in America, EDO NATIONAL ASSOCIATION in the Americas, invited me to their 10th annual convention, which took place in Chicago. I could not attend due to exigencies of the time. But I sent them my paper, which was on “The inevitability of Homestead”. Your theme today is talking about a greater tomorrow for the same homestead!
Only last July, I was again invited to America, but by another sister association of yours, namely EDO OKPAMAKHIN. This time I went. Their conference took place in Boston, Massachusetts. My paper was on the “Problems of Development in Edo State and how to overcome them”. Once again, you can see that all three topics mutually re-enforce each other. I shall return to this American outing later. Suffice it to say that the profound impressions it left on my mind largely influenced my acceptance of your invitation.
Today, here I am in your midst; amongst Edo sons and daughters in Italy, to discuss, yet again, issues that touch on all aspects of our lives; individually and collectively; as a race, community, state, nation and humanity generally.
I have thus seen you gathered in America. I have heard of your earlier conference in Chicago, USA and of your later gathering in Manchester , England. You are now assembled in Verona, Italy. I am confident that your brothers and sisters are similarly gathering themselves in other continents and corners of the World, just as we do at home. One common grain that runs through all these assemblage is the concern for your people and your state. It is therefore my confident hope, earnest plea, and indeed my clarion call, that in the not-too-distant future, an Edo Peoples World Conference should be held. I charge you all to be the initiators and moving spirits of that project.
Before I dwell on my topic today, let me recapitulate on the American episode. I said there, as I want to later say here, that Edo State needs repackaging. Wonderful presentations were made on various aspects of our States socio-economic existence. One particular paper dwelt on “Industrial Road Map of Edo State”. It was a “Locus Classicus”. But when you sum up all the presentations made and add the spirit of the participants, together with the faith of the organizers, what you get is “Road Map for the Greatness of Edo State”. I pay them glowing tribute, and I am sure that I will have cause to extend similar glowing tributes to you at the end of this conference.
QUOTA SYSTEM IN EDUCATION
Let me take you down memory lane; through my personal experience over three decades ago. Just before the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) started, the leader of the secessionist state, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, of the Nigerian Army, (who had earlier been appointed Military Governor of Eastern Region by then Head of State, Gen. J. T. U. Aguyi-Ironsi), announced that his Government could no longer guarantee the safety of non-Easterners living in the Region and, therefore, they should leave. Thousands of Midwesterners were affected. In particular, Midwestern students at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, including those in their final year, had to leave. They all returned to Midwest and the Government had to find the solutions. For the students, we were able to sent some to overseas institutions, within the available resources. But there were may others. One of the bold steps taken by Government to ease this problem was the setting up of the Midwest Institute of Technology (MIT), which later became known as the University of Benin, when the Federal Government eventually approved its establishment.
When the MIT was established, we decided that merit will be the guiding principle, in the admission of students. To give practical expression to this policy, it was decided that the Institution’s first in-take of 200 students will be by entrance examination, the possession of enabling qualifications notwithstanding. Few centers were established (for this entrance examination), one of which was Enugu. Senor staff members were sent to ensure strict supervision of the examination in each center.
When the answer papers were marked, it was discovered that the first 200 students with the highest marks came from the Enugu center! Although enquiry later showed that students at the center cheated, the cat had been let out of the bag. I insisted that there was no way merit predicated on fraud can work. It was immediately decided that a quota system of admission into MIT had to be introduced, to enable every section of the State to benefit from the new institution. Consequently, every Local Government Area in the Midwest was allocated specific number of seats for the admission of its indigenes, while merit was allocated 20%. The rest is history.
The question now is whether this quota system is still relevant today as it was then? To answer this question, let us first of all, look at the value and validity of education.
According to the renown Nigerian educationist and trade unionist, Dr. Obaro Aso:
“Education is the service that services all other services”
I agree with him completely. Indeed, all sectors, segments, facets and strata of humanity are serviced by education. If you are a trader, farmer, shoe-maker, barber or in any vocation or occupation, you are certainly going to be better if you are educated. Thus, with little effort, you become an acknowledged professional, in your chosen field.
Education reforms the mind. It was the English Philosopher, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) who wrote that:
“Education has as its object the formation of character”
Thus an educated man that is wild, could have been a beast without education!!
I have deliberately gone to this extent on this subject even though I know that the subject matter is one that is obvious enough for everybody to see and appreciate.
My reason for doing so is that if education is so integral to the life of a man, then why restrict access to it? Why impose conditions and erect hurdles and barriers on its way? Such are the posers that this topic raises. The question may now be asked whether quota system is still relevant in our educational placement. The answer is yes and no.
From the little account I gave earlier, it is correct to say that many student who, otherwise, may not have gained admission, were able to do so through quota system. With this system, every community or part of the state/country, will feel the impact of the institution and see it as belonging to them. Different families will have access to education and merit will be identified in various parts of state/country. These are some of the advantages of the system. Let us now look the other way.
I have stated the fact elsewhere that sometime ago, the number of candidates qualified to enter the Universities from MidWest (and later Bendel) State, was more than the number of such candidates from the whole of the Northern States combined. Northern leaders then reckoned that something had to be done. They had to adopt aggressive measures to ensure the enrollment of Northern pupils. Consequently, quota system, catchment area, state of origin, etc, were introduced. Unfortunately, while these measures protected certain areas, it worked hardship on others, suppressing the bright ones. Worse still, while it lowered standards in the protected areas, it heightened same in the other areas, thus introducing a disparity and dichotomy that have since festered into other spheres, breeding social discord and despoiling the moral fibre girding society. Yet the baby should not be thrown away with the bath water. A dynamic solution had to be worked out. Under this approach, 20 per cent of the total admission is reserved for merit, while the remaining percentage is allocated on the basis of quota system, to bring in the brightest in each community.
Fortunately, many states have today established their own higher institutions. Similarly, many private Universities have now been established in Nigeria. While the state owned institutions protect the various components, the private ones are open to all, subject only to ability to pay the fees.
I will not flog this matter more than that. One lesson we must all learn is that education remains the greatest legacy we should bequeath to our children. That is why, the late educationist and social critic, Dr. Tai Solarin, wrote in 1970 and I quote:
“We define as a rogue the man who steals our money. We call him a highway man who way lays us at the point of a revolver… we call him a thief who cheats us by cleaver crookery… But these in each case, are pygmean thieves. I consider a man’s greatest thief, or the arch brigand, or the wickedest rougue, the man who by accident or design, particularly if by design, contrives to and, successfully or not, deprives a youth of his opportunity to be educated. He who stands between a young boy and his chance of education is the wichedest man anywhere”.
QUOTA SYSTEM IN EMPLOYMENT:
Section 153 (c) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, establishes the Federal Character Commission. This is a novelty in the history of our constitutions. What we had before now, is a restatement in previsions of chapter 11, section 14 (3) and (4) of the said constitution, which says that the composition of the government should reflect federal character and diversity of the people, to avoid the predominance of persons from a few states or a few ethnic groups in government.
It is only by stretch of argument but it is also a statement of fact that quota system, and its new concomitant, federal character, have affected our economy. Employment and promotion are now on the basis of quota, in the pursuit of federal character. This is understandably predominant in the public sector, where eminently qualified persons are often rejected in order to take on those from other areas.
Not long ago, the pursuit of quota and federal character was attempted in sports. Suddenly, the Eagles camp had a mixed grill of Nigerian youths from the States of the Federation. It was a wonderful experience seeing them together, but the result was a calamitous disaster. In the end, talent had to be allowed to prevail over quota.
Today, the question must be asked whether quota system is (still) relevant in a deregulated economy. It should be noted that in a deregulated and liberalized economy, such factors of production as land, labour and capital should be equally deregulated and liberalized. The forces of demand and supply do not understand or work under quota system. Market forces do not obey regulations.
Consequently, Nigeria’s Government, which is pursuing a private sector led, deregulated economy, is obliged to apply liberal and fair policies that will encourage enterprise and promote individual talents. Gladly, that appears to be the attitude of the present Nigerian Government, and this is the appropriate point for me to drive home in this paper.
YOUR EXPECTED ROLE IN TODAY’S NIGERIA:
Whether it is the sector of education, or in the wider economic spectrum, the Nigeria of today is much more private sector driven than it was many years ago. I guess this is in conformity with the theory of globalization. There are vast opportunities for private sector participation. The duty of Government is to provide the basic infrastructures and create the enabling environment.
Let me admonish you, as I did to your counterparts in the U.S. that you must come home to invest. The present (social) insecurity at home will not become better by your staying away. Currently, the Central Bank of Nigeria has directed that all Banks must re-capitalize to a minimum of N25 billion. Mergers and acquisitions are thus being negotiated. It is obvious that the banking sector will play a leading role in the emerging Nigerian economy arising from the on-going reforms. This is an opportunity for you to invest in and possibly, buy over the controlling shares of our Bank, the New Nigeria Bank, and of other Banks.
There are many other areas you can invest in. let me restate that we cannot compete with the developed economies in, for example, the manufacture of space technology. But with your exposure to Western capital and economy, you can invest in and encourage the growth of our local agriculture and our sports development. Agricultural exports can boost our foreign exchange while promoting our national and continental pride, strength and recognition. It will also help to end the influence of foreign culture on our through food imports and externally motivated agricultural policy.
Talking about sports, Globacom, a Nigerian GSM provider, is today doing a good job in sponsoring aspects of Nigerian sports. You can sponsor or establish private sporting organizations like football and boxing. Ditto individual athletes and sportsmen and women. You can also establish sports manufacturing companies for sports equipment at home, in partnership with international giants close to you here. Or you can get their franchise to do so at home. All these and more, are enormously beneficial to your State and its people, just as they are equally, economically rewarding to you.
This issues we have gathered to discuss here today are very important national and topical ones. But since our charity must begin at home, I have added due local colouration and tailored them to provoke your patriotic instincts. Let me restate here as I have done elsewhere that we have to re-enact the Edo Renaissance. We should once again re-establish ourselves so that like our forebears, we can and, we will, be recognized as primus inter pares, among the comity of ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. You can start these individually, in groups and in your Associations, like the one under whose aegis we are now gathered. Ask yourselves quietly, such questions as:
a) Can my children speak my native language?
b) Have I taken them home this year to know our people?
c) Have I been home myself in the recent past to keep abreast of developments?
d) Have I any investment at home?
e) What investments have I made to ensure a pleasant future for me and my familiar?
f) What plans have I toward returning home?
g) How can I join my colleagues to make joint investments at home?
h) How can I get my foreign colleagues to invest in my State?
i) Am I one of those giving my state and country bad image?
j) How can I improve the image of my people, state and country?
I also want to reiterate my call on those of you overseas to show more interest in the governance of your State and, by implication, in the politics of your Country. Edo State needs support. Its leaders need encouragement. As we move towards 2007 when a change is expected in its government, we all need to put all hands on deck, to repackage it for the challenges that lie ahead. We must do these with the same sense of unity, oneness and solidarity that I have seen you all demonstrate here today. I am therefore glad that I will go home satisfied that you already appreciate these as the duty you owe yourselves, your generation and posterity, to the glory of God.
May our ancestors guide you all.
May the living God Almighty bless you and your families.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Dr. S.O. Ogbemudia
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