EDITORIAL: Time to review federal character principles

Visa Ban

Recently, some leaders of the Southern region filed a N50 billion suit at the Federal High Court to challenge President Muhammad Buhari’s alleged violation of the Federal Character Principles of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through marginalization in appointments made by his administration since 2015.

The 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs)-led suit sought the court to fine the president, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Clerk of National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission (FCC) for, in their acts, violating provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

This is one of the cries over the need to address skewed socio-political opportunities and injustice in the Nigerian State. By trajectory, the cries for political reform in Nigeria did not start yesterday. It had been there before independence, and the coup of January 1966 demonstrated the peak of the urgent need to address them.

Alleged victims of nepotism and tribalism wanted action to correct past discrimination. Champions of ethno-regional interests wanted to counteract present unfairness. Ardent nationalists wanted the stability and effectiveness that would result from the promotion of diversity.

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The Federal Character Commission (FCC) is one of the outcomes of the many that had to be made. It introduced a quota system and the subsequent constitutional entrenchment of affirmative action. The commission, FCC, is a federal executive body established by Act No 34 of 1996 to implement and enforce the principles of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructures among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was to correct perceived past discrimination and unfairness as well as ensure future equality.

Functions of the commission, in specific terms, include working out an equitable formula for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the civil and public service of the federation, working out modalities and schemes for redressing the problem of imbalances and reducing the fear of relative deprivation and marginalization in the Nigerian system of federalism as it obtains in the public and private sectors.

The commission is also to monitor and enforce compliance with the foregoing principles using some legal frameworks. All these are designed to ensure that tribes and ethnicities in Nigeria are evenly represented in the affairs of the country. But the commission has been said to have misused the opportunity offered by the reason behind its establishment.

The common argument is that it encourages mediocrity at the expense of merit- in a system where competence of one social group must be underplayed to project the incompetence of another group. This does not only reflect in admission processes into the federal government-owned educational institutions, but also in the areas of employment. In the end, the Federal Character idea encourages brain drain. It is partly responsible for the divisive indigene/ settler syndrome which has blighted Nigerian national life.

Currently, it is one of the biggest impedances to economic growth, industrialization and development in the country. The way it is operated at present, Federal Character is about sharing existing educational and bureaucratic facilities. This narrow emphasis on ‘sharing the cake’ glosses over Nigeria’s social history of communal and regional groups who strove to overcome educational and social disadvantages through collective action. With this it has reinforced everything it was designed to put an end to. It lowers standards in education and professionalism.

Now as a result, you have less qualified and gifted people leading major ministries while those better at the job never get the same opportunity and incentives. While many continue to hold support for the Federal Character Commission with the central argument of the need to balance the Nigerian society, others, especially critics of compensatory opportunity, are of the opinion that the state institutions should be ‘blind to ascriptive group affiliation”.

If the aim of FCC is to equalize opportunities, every segment of Nigerian society – governments, communities, families, and individuals – has a responsibility to contribute to eradicating the structural inequalities. As it is now, the operation of the commission has caused disadvantages for other particular groups. The policy of the commission, in the first place, should not be a permanent feature of our national life. It should be discarded with once it overcomes the inequalities that gave birth to it.

If the perception is that the commission has not achieved the aim of its creation, it should be restructured in such a way that every segment of the Nigerian society has the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to removing or reducing the structural inequalities.

If indeed the entire idea is to promote national loyalty in a multi-ethnic society, perhaps there should be a change in nomenclature and operation in such a way that sharpens the focus and ensures the very purposes for which it was conceived. It is better off as Federal Equal Opportunity Commission.

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