People & Money

Thoughts On Resisting The Injustice Called ‘Federal Character’

By Sesugh Akume

A good number of Nigerians are incensed by the injustice that is Federal Character.

A case in point is: A candidate in Northeast Yobe who scores 2 in the National Common Entrance is considered successful over another candidate in Southeast Anambra who scores 138, and is considered a failure.

None of this is new, as many are aware this has been going on for decades and may have experienced it. How long shall this practices continue?

The Constitution, created this crisis when it stated In section 14(3) that:

‘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 states, or from few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies.’

In the Third Schedule Articles 7—9 it creates the Federal Character Commission and vests it with responsibilities to ensure the above.

However, of the 17 (or so) service chiefs and heads of security agencies in the country under President Muhammadu Buhari, all but 2 are northern Muslims, i.e they are all from one part of the country, are all Muslims, and all speak Hausa as their language of everyday conversation, except the chief of defence staff, and the chief of naval staff. This is so much conformity to the above-cited sections.

For instance, out of the 479 enrolled officers of the state security service (SSS) on 5 May 2017, Katsina, where Buhari is from, had 51 officers, Kano recorded 25, Lagos had seven, Akwa Ibom got five slots. The northwest where Buhari is from had a total 165 slots, which is more than their colleagues from the entire southern Nigeria put together which had a total of 143 officers. Followed by the northeast which had 100.

Yet, we practice the federal character.

To challenge the practice of lowering the standards for others to be qualified at all cost, I would suggest that interested and willing patriots can get the courts to make a pronouncement against it by suing the Federal Ministry of Education. The judgement, if favourable, will apply everywhere else.

Attach the 2020 pass marks guidelines released by the ministry as an exhibit and put them on notice to provide the guidelines they released to prove the lopsided standards.

To analyze this further, let’s raise questions for the court to determine, for instance: whether by understanding its proper construction and true meaning, section 14(3) of the Constitution intends that unqualified persons be given equal opportunity with qualified persons in the spirit of the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity? The court must answer this so that we can stop the pretence once and for all.

Another question for the court to answer is whether examination grading, and standards in the country should be subjective or objective?

How can a candidate from a favored region score 10 and be considered a success, but his counterpart from another region down south who has a higher score of 120 be classified as a failure.

Furthermore, the fraud called ‘educationally disadvantaged states’, catchment area, etc should be reviewed. The government tries to solve the situation with these buzzword by using what I call the ‘Cobra Effect’

The ‘Cobra Effect’ describes a situation whereby an attempted solution to a problem, in the end, makes the problem worse, as a type of unintended consequence.

The Cobra Effect takes its root during the British rule in India. To curb the increasing number of cobras, the government gave a reward for every dead one tendered.

Consequently, others began farming cobras and tendering dead ones for the bounty. After all, nobody asked where, how, and under what circumstance the cobra was killed.

The government realised this and stopped the policy.

But what would the farmers do with the cobras? It was an extra cost to keep and feed them so they released them back into the society.

In the end, there were more cobras than the number that was when the government brought up the measure to reduce them.

Lowering standards for people to qualify without merits encourages laziness, and noncommitment. Rigging a system to favour a tribe, giving them undue advantage over others makes them lazy and entitled.

It incentivises poor performance. There is no drive to achieve and improve. It does not bring out the best in them. If I am rewarded for failing an exam, why should I strive to pass?

If I am entitled to an admission because of my tribe why should I work harder?

There is no incentive to improve. In the end everybody loses. That is why most states categorised as educationally less developed enjoy being there, as against working hard to exit such categorisation.

Fair competition breeds productivity. It is competition that brings out the best in us.

But fair competition isn’t evident in Nigeria. I’d love to know if this unfair system was kept firmly in place because even with poor performance, the same people end up getting all the jobs?

How can a country hope to stand when its foundation is laid on the cornerstone of nepotism?

Who will take this matter up and forever end this travesty? or do we all complain and move on with our lives?


My next piece is on resisting the practice of job racketeering by selling jobs, secret recruitment, sharing job slots amongst National Assembly members and others, all of which have become a norm, thereby excluding persons without the money to buy or connections with those whose job is to work towards a fair society of equal opportunity for all.

Sesugh Akume, a public policy analyst writes from Abuja. He tweets @sesugh_Akume, and is reached via

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