National development: Legal equality and federal character principle
Continued from last week
In Nigeria, the principles of affirmative actions can be found in the federal character principle, which has also been enshrined in the constitution. Section 14 (3) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 3rd Alteration states: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few state or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.” In applying the literal rule in interpreting this provision it would seem that the provision was put in place to as a pre-emptive provision against any form of domination by any group of people in Nigeria.
However, the essence of affirmative action is curative and not pre-emptive; such that it is applied in situations where there has been subjugation of another ethnic group within a nation or in cases of gross racial or class discrimination. The purport of the principle is to ensure even development among all classes of citizens in state, after incidence of ethnically subjugation or gross racial discrimination. The provision is not intended to be a lifelong, but temporary has it loses value as soon as that par development has been achieved.
The principles of affirmative actions was never designed to encourage mediocrity has it is been witnessed in Nigeria today at all levels of the society. The composition of public parastatals, appointment into public offices, award of scholarships and even admission into public institutions is now based on the federal character or the quota system. In handing down employment to citizens, people are considered by their state of origin at the federal level or their local tribe at the state level; the federal ministers must be appointed on the basis of state representation Sec. 143(7) CFRN 1999 3rd alteration; award of scholarship is based on geo-political zones of the applying scholars; while admission into universities is now classified into merit, catchment area, educational disadvantaged states. These are few areas where the federal character is manifestly obvious and causing more attendant problems than the intended national integration. These various forms of affirmative actions are against the provision of Sec. 15(3) CFRN 1999 3rd alteration which declares: “accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.” This provision is in tandem with the age-long tradition of legal equality where there is no basis for any sort of subjugation and discrimination. It is obvious that sec. 14(3) and sec. 15(3) CFRN 1999 3rd alteration are in contravention of each other; sec. 14(3)CFRN 1999 3rd alteration promotes the principles of affirmative actions and the resultant effect is the federal character that has led to high level of mediocrity, bribery, corruption and national disintegration.; on the other hand, sec. 15(3)CFRN 1999 3rd alteration provides for legal equality, a merit based decision-making devoid of all forms of discrimination and extrinsic factors.
Any nation that is serious about her national development must as of necessity arise above mediocrity and ensure that decisions are merit based and not on some frivolous classifications. There has been no incidence in Nigeria that warrants the inclusion of sec. 14(3) into the constitution of Nigeria, no ethnic group has suffered such level of gross discrimination and subjugation that warrants the provision of the federal character into the constitution of Nigeria. In the twenty-first century, this principle of affirmative action is fast becoming obsolete and countries are committing themselves to a merit system that promotes equality and national development. Therefore if Nigeria must make progress the federal character provisions must be expunged from the constitution, the federal character philosophy must give way and all decisions must be based on merit and consideration of national development. Sec. 15 (3) CFRN 1999 3rd alteration could read as follows: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the diversity of Nigeria and promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that all decisions are based strictly on merit, in fairness and in a transparent procedure by the government or in any of its agencies.”