Quota System or Federal Character In Nigeria And Affirmative Action Policy In America Compared
New York, USA
Nigeria and America have so much in common! The more I observe and examine the American society and life around here, the more reinforced my belief is in the similarities or commonalties between America and Nigeria! Both Nigeria and America have wide expansive Ocean shores, America has tropical Florida and California, and deserts like the Mojave in California, deserts in New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, just as Nigeria has deserts in my Borno state, Sokoto state etc. and then our near temperate region climate in Plateau state and Savannah grasslands in Niger state like Texas’ Amarillo!
But my immediate prompt to discuss these commonalties is the United States Supreme Court decision on Affirmative Action Program Policies, this policies is upheld by the court and I strongly believe that the court was indeed correct in doing so; The US Supreme Court rendered its decision on Monday June 23rd 2003; Which is being hailed as the most socially relevant and significant legal decision in the past quarter century!
Affirmative Action Program/Policies are laws and rules put in place by the Americans to provide some redress for African Americans who have been denied basic human rights since their forced arrival in this society hundreds of years ago.
Affirmative Action is an attempt to boost opportunities in public endeavors, especially education for African American who have been historically deprived of every opportunities, recently however, there has been stiff oppositions from others, mostly Caucasians/Whites who now complain that the opportunities that are offered to the age-old underdogs (the African Americans) somehow deprives whites of the same opportunities!
It is outrageous that Africans were forced to the Americas hundreds of years ago! And more outrageous, that those whose great grand fathers culturally sanctioned racism that they equally legally enforced, now want to compare their lot the plights and predicaments indignities, oppression and the dehumanization that African Americans have endured for hundreds of years!
The US Supreme Court has historically been on the side of the racists and slave owners, and those familiar with the details of American legal history, including the Supreme court decision in the Dred Scott case would agree, the US Supreme court once decided that a man of African descent amounted to one fifth of a person and therefore does not have equal rights and that he is property to another human being like himself albeit a White person! Talk of historical injustices to African Americans! It used to be against the law in America to teach African Americans to read! You break my legs but you want me to run 440 or Marathon Races?
In 1954 however, the same court reformed itself and started the journey of redeeming itself, when the late Honorable Justice Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer in private practice took a discrimination against African Americans case to the US Supreme Court on the behalf of the National Association For the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) the Late Thurgood Marshall eventually became a US supreme court Justice himself.
In recent times, the strides made by the Civil Right Movement era agitation for equal rights and fairer treatments for people of African descent in America, has been under barrages of attacks, and the onslaught are usually led by Whites complaints, the recent decision by the US supreme court arose from one such complaint by some white students in the University of Michigan system in the Midwest. The decision by the US Supreme Court was favorable to the continuation of Affirmative Action Programs/Policies, but with some modifications. Diversity must be encouraged!
The Constitutions of Nigeria, (from 1979 to 1999) for decades now, have made provisions for a Quota System and the reflection of a Federal Character in appointment of public office holders, this in my view makes perfect sense, in a diverse country and society as Nigeria, Diversity needs to be actively and purposefully encouraged and legally enforced as provided by Nigeria's Supreme law, the Constitution of Nigeria.
All states, but especially the educationally disadvantaged states, need special provisions and protections in the admission process in Nigeria's educational system, especially in higher education and the professions! All Nigerians and Nigeria will be the beneficiaries of such good policy, that encourages the grooming and nurturing of opportunities for every Nigerian from every communities in Nigeria, and particular effort should be made, in order that Nigeria does not live anyone behind, economically, socially, educationally and developmentally, this is in our national interests, its nothing to jeer or sneer at!
In my view, there is the added urgency in the area of education and specifically in the professions, the educationally disadvantaged states received special grants during the President Shagari’s administration in 1981 or 1982? About 50 million Naira was set aside for this purpose. My rationale is that, producing doctors from every nook and crannies and from every Nigerian communities make prudent investment in education and social mobility, even if Nigerians and Nigeria have to collectively pay more or make some sacrifice, in order to ensure that a doctor is produced from your hometown and from mine! I am fully aware of the so-called merit argument, but it is neither here nor there, and it completely ignores the Big Picture!
“Merit” is not the exclusive preserve or monopoly of any particular region of Nigeria, culture and environment and available opportunities and exposures has a great deal to do with what any human being attains, achieve or accomplish in Nigeria and outside it!
In Northern Nigeria for example, there is clearly high literacy rate, even noticeably higher than the literacy rate in the Southern parts of Nigeria, the fact that the North did not embrace Western World education or Western European definition of education, simply does not change the fact that most persons in the Northern parts of Nigeria can Read and Write in Arabic, and being able to Read and Write is sufficiently accepted definition of being a literate person, unless we are to say the Germans, the Chinese, the French and the Japanese etc. are all illiterates as they conduct their lives not in English?
The majority of the Nigerian citizens of the Northern extraction can Read and Write Arabic, so that, if we were to teach medicine and law in Arabic, these Nigerian citizens will be quite at home (even at age 100) whereas, correspondingly, there is no such high literacy level in the Southern part of Nigeria, and this fact is more pronounced in the older generation citizens of Nigeria of the Southern extraction.
The later day acceptance of Western World education has severely and severally hindered the numbers of the “educated” among peoples of Northern Nigeria, but since we are in the same boat, all Nigerians are in the same boat! Our destiny is and will forever be intertwined, it is therefore wise and good investment to actively and purposefully invest in increasing the numbers of our brothers and sisters the Northern part of Nigeria in higher education and in the professions, we will be doing ourselves a favor, favor not to the recipient, but those who are willing to make the collective investment and sacrifice, to bring about a balanced, equal and fair society which Nigeria deserves, this is our path to greatness.
Historically, some Southerners have also been huge beneficiaries of programs and policies similar to what I now advocate, for example, many years ago, I met Southerners who were students in Maiduguri’s BOCOBS aka Borno State School of Basic Studies where they prepared for the General Certificate of Education GCE Ordinary or Advanced Levels and then proceeded to different Nigerian Universities, particularly the University of Maiduguri and I can only imagine the short term and the long term benefits of all these individual Nigerians from the North and the South who benefited, and the short and long term benefit for our entire country!
There were also, many Students, of Southern Nigeria origins, who benefited immensely from the Remedial Education Programs at the University of Maiduguri, even though, the Remedial Programs were specifically targeted at Students of Northern origins from the immediate areas or neighboring states (catchments areas) the direct and indirect benefits are clear to me, or anyone who cares to examine it! The students for whom the programs were intended benefited, students who were outside the targeted group also benefited, the entire Nigerian nation benefits! What could possibly be wrong with that?
Affirmative Action Programs Policies and the Quota System and Federal Character Policies reflect visionary thinking, a wonderful foresight, that should have the force of law, that we should all support and encourage and see that these policies continues to be enforced in Nigeria and America, the Big Picture is that we will all benefit!
The more equipped Nigerians from every community in the nation are, the better we all are! When all Nigerians become equipped with skills, training and professional education in every level or strata, Nigeria will be on the way to our destined greatness! In Sha Allah. God has always blessed Nigeria and will continue to do so, even more abundantly!
Paul I. Adujie is a Nigerian Lawyer and an Information Technology Professional