Affirmative action in the education sector was adopted in America to enable the educationally-disadvantaged blacks to catch up with their white counterparts. The policy was deliberate and lasted for a specified period of time. The blacks reciprocated the gesture by working hard. Today both races are relatively at par.
In Britain, the policy is called positive discrimination. It is a welcome policy so far the essence is appreciated. It can however be abused if it is made in such a way to encourage indolence. This view is gradually becoming the lot of Nigeria in her federal character policy as it concerns education.
The bone of contention has been the plight of some states mainly in the North as it pertains to education. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, a greater number of some states in the North have been categorized as educationally-disadvantaged. This led to the adoption of the catchment area policy in admissions into unity schools. This policy has been in existence since the birth of the independent Nigeria, and the same region has remained the same.
The salient question remains: why is it that the same part of Nigeria has remained educationally disadvantaged? From every indication, Nigeria’s own version of affirmative action is gradually turning into negative discrimination. The recent cut-off mark policy initiated by the ministry of education has called for absolute introspection by well-meaning Nigerians. How then would one describe a situation where the cut-off mark for a male pupil from Abia is put at 130, same for a female, as against 35 for a male and 35 for female from Bauchi state! Both male and female pupils from Kogi State are expected to both score 119 as against 9 and 13 for their counterparts from Sokoto state.
This gesture of the Jonathan administration, inasmuch as it is commendable because of the administration’s quest to right the wrongs of Nigeria, however calls for education stakeholders to consider why the northern part of Nigeria has remained stereotypically education-disadvantaged in spite of the region’s political vantage influences since Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
Institutionally, how many private universities are in the North? At the last count, it is only Atiku Abubakar University, Yola, which is even beyond the reach of the poor. Why haven’t the likes of Ibrahim Babangida, Mohammed Buhari, Abdulsalam Abubakar and Aliko Dangote build one each? By now the multiplier effect would have been meteoric. Also many states in the North cannot boast of a state university or polytechnic. Without mincing words, there is no state in the South without a state tertiary institution. Virtually all the private tertiary institutions in Nigeria are clamped in the South.
Although the recent move by the Jonathan administration can be a step in the right direction, let there be a time frame for it. It should not be allowed to over linger otherwise its essence will be defeated.
Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, states that no citizen of Nigeria shall be discriminated against on the basis of his community, ethnic group, place of origin, gender, religion or political opinion through any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of government.
Before the advent of Nigeria’s civilian administration in 1999, Ebonyi state is reputed to be highly educationally disadvantaged. In fact it was assumed that every hawker in major commercial cities in Nigeria came from Ebonyi. But the succeeding administrations in the state did not rest in their oars to extricate the state from the squalid mess of being tagged educationally disadvantaged. Starting from Sam Egwu to the Martin Elechi administration, education has been the centre-point of the state. Today, Ebonyi has become a state to reckon with when it comes to education. Courses run in its tertiary institutions have gotten accreditation ahead of others before them. Ebonyi people are also studying at the best universities across the world through the state’s sound educational policy.
Akwa Ibom state is another state where institutional doggedness has proven a point. Hitherto all the maid and male servants in Nigeria are presumed to originate from the state. But the state’s visionary leaders since the current dispensation have changed the scenario for the better. Akwa Ibom is now a state to behold when it comes to education in Nigeria.
The northern governors and indeed northern elite should convene a summit to understudy what is amiss in their region. It is both systemic administrative failures and nonchalant attitudes of the individual selves of the North. It is nice at this point to put the northern part of Nigeria in parallel with their southern counterparts to synthesize what might be working for and against both.
The South-West region has an edge over other regions of Nigeria in the education sector because of a singular ingenuity of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He used his good offices and launched sound educational policies for his people. Today, the Yoruba people have become the trail-blazers in Nigeria’s educational industry.
The South-East people were not as fortunate as their Yoruba counterparts. There has not been a significant educational policy in the South East to run at par with their educational attainment. There is no universal scholarship programme in the region since independence. The only one was the general one introduced by the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
How the South-East people recovered from the pogrom of the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War which killed their pioneer educational scholars, destroyed their education institutions including the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which was bombed, and caused a systemic structural failure of the zone should be an eye-opener to the past and current northern governors and leaders.
Even the colonial administration did not favour the southern part of Nigeria. The indirect rule policy of the imperial masters brought a lot of confrontations to the populace and forced some of them to flee. The likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe escaped the British policies to study in a more liberal society of the US, which enabled him to return to champion the struggle for independence of Nigeria and Africa at large.
During both the draconian indirect rule and the Nigeria Civil War, the northern part of Nigeria was conducive for educational advancement. The political structure set by Othman Danfodio was never impeded. The backwardness of the northern Nigeria educationally remains a big worry to the Nigerian project.
The recent effort of the Jonathan administration will still be defeated unless northern leaders, from the councillors to state governors, rise to the occasion to educate their citizenry. This is the time for them to soft-pedal in their quest for power and concentrate on rebuilding their foundation which is not well rooted. A leader is the one who serves beyond self.