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Hypocrisy of Merit and Federal Character

05 May 2013

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Simon Kolawole Live!: Emailsimon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com


As Nigeria gallops towards 100 years of amalgamation, one of the most contentious issues has been the place of quota system and meritocracy in government. Meritocracy campaigners argue that Nigeria is “backward” because public offices are not filled on the basis of “merit”. They contend that we promote mediocrity under the guise of “federal character” by not giving the jobs to the best candidates. In other words, let there be open competition for both elective and appointive positions so that the most qualified will always occupy them. This standpoint means there should be no zoning or rotation of political offices. There should be no quota system and federal character. It means, for instance, that all the ministers of the federation can come from one state – as long as they are the best.

Those who favour “federal character” base their argument on the principle of “equity”. They argue that it is only fair and reasonable for the character of government to reflect the diversity in a multi-ethnic society. This, in their thinking, will promote a sense of belonging among all parts of the federation. The quota system and federal character principles invariably mean there will be rotation of political offices between the different parts of the country. By building a system where every group is represented, Nigeria will become a more cohesive and integrated country – the proponents argue. But it also means that the candidate produced by a part of the country may not be as qualified as that from another part.

I am not about to argue my own position on this contentious matter of meritocracy vs federal character. I am going to do that someday, certainly, but my mission today is to expose the hypocrisy in the debates and agitations. Last week, in an article I tagged “Militancy and the Politics of Hypocrisy”, I argued that we are very hypocritical the way we discuss issues of national interest. What we condemn in Lagos we condone in Lafia. What we praise in Lokoja we pooh-pooh in Yenagoa. Normally, what is sauce for the goose shouldn’t be poison for the gander. I condemned the inconsistency. Today’s discussion is an extension of last week’s, this time focusing on the hypocrisy embedded in this merit vs federal character debate.

Expectedly, the argument is built around the North vs South politics. There is a tendency for the North to support federal character and the South to demand meritocracy. I will start my examples today with the North and end with the South. It is now common for Northerners (I mean the “core North”) to argue that there should be power rotation “in the interest of equity”. Much of the opposition President Goodluck Jonathan faced in the 2011 election was based on the need to “maintain the PDP zoning formula”. President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Southern Christian, had ruled Nigeria for eight years between 1999 and 2007. His successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Northern Muslim, had ruled for less than three years and died in office.

The North said it was only “fair” for a Northerner to be president to maintain Nigeria’s “delicate balance” which could be disrupted if Jonathan, another Southern Christian, became president so soon. There is obviously a sense in this argument. However, the hypocrisy that tears into my belly is that most of those promoting “equity” in Aso Rock are usually not promoting “equity” in their home states. For instance, Northern Christians have been complaining for ages that there are so many (not all) states in the North where Christians will never be appointed commissioners or nominated for ministerial positions. They cannot be deputy governors or governors in many states. In fact, Northern Christians complain that they are denied allocation of land to build churches. They are denied slots on the state-owned TV and radio stations to air Christian programmes. State sponsorship of pilgrimage is exclusively for Muslims.

So my point is: if quota system, federal character, zoning and rotation are meant to promote “equity”, “fairness”, “a sense of belonging” and maintain “delicate balance” as the Northern promoters of these values want us to believe, why are these principles to be applied only in Aso Rock and not in their home states? Don’t ethnic and religious minorities also have a right to “equity”, “fairness” and “a sense of belonging” in the states where they come from? Shouldn’t they also enjoy from the principles of “rotation” and “quota system”? It is at this point that I shake my head at the double standards that characterise our politics in Nigeria. If we believe in fairness, what is pepper soup for Yahaya should not be poison for Yohanna.

Come down to the South – the world-renowned champions of “meritocracy”. Many Southerners often talk as if only the South has competent people. In their minds, the rest of Nigeria is dumb and mediocre. They talk as if “equity” and “merit” are incompatible. So, if an Ibrahim gets an appointment, it is because of “quota system”. But if it is an Akintunde or an Emeka, it is “merit”. They will not even bother to compare and contrast the CVs. Being a Southerner automatically makes you more qualified than a Northerner to hold a government position – in their funny logic. You often hear Southerners vigorously campaign that a government position should be filled on “merit” – meaning a Southerner should be appointed. What a dry joke.

This “merit” doctrine says it should never matter where appointees come from. All the positions in a cabinet can be filled by people from the same village “as long as they are qualified”. What I cannot understand, however, is when some of the proponents now complain that their senatorial zone has been marginalised. “It is the turn of Enugu North!” “It is the turn of Oke Ogun!” “It is the turn of Delta North!” Really? I thought it is only “merit” that should matter! I thought the same zone can be producing governors “on merit”! Why are they kicking against “rotation” and “federal character” in Aso Rock and canvassing “our turn” back home? Why is “rotation” poison for Ali but potato for Alike?

Well, that is how hypocrisy works. We are full of prejudices and biases. We are insincere. We are inconsistent with our logic. What we condemn in Lagos we condone in Lafia. What we praise in Lokoja we pooh-pooh in Yenagoa. That is why we hardly have a decent, honest debate about Nigeria. Petty politicking always beclouds our sense of judgement. Shame.

And Four Other Things...

AMNESTY COMMITTEE
As the committee on security challenges in the North gets down to work, may I plead with them not to repeat the mistakes of the Niger Delta amnesty programme. The major aim should be to reclaim the youths, not just militants, from the streets. We must starve the Boko Haram ideologues of foot soldiers. Meanwhile, the idea of a Ministry for Northern Affairs should not be contemplated. That will be another invitation to bazaar. I honestly still can’t understand the need for Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. It should be scrapped before the South-west and South-east begin to ask for their own ministries.

NCC AND MTN
Am I missing something? The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has directed MTN to increase its MTN-to-MTN (on-net) tariffs because they are so low they are almost creating an “MTN callers club”. I am at a loss. The real idea behind anti-trust is to fight for the customers. I would, therefore, think it makes more sense to direct other networks to cut their own on-net tariffs so that ultimately, the customer benefits. Asking MTN to raise its tariff, in my opinion, does not take all the issues into consideration. It seems more like the NCC wants to protect other networks rather than the consumer.

FAKE BOMB DETECTOR
British fraudster, James McCormick, was last week jailed for 10 years for selling fake bomb detectors to Asian and African countries. In the process, he made more than £50 million in what I will call blood money. The device, which looks like an antenna, is very similar to the one held by our soldiers at checkpoints along Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Expressway, Abuja – but there is yet no evidence that Nigeria bought any equipment from the British fraudster. I am forever impressed by how well the prosecutors handled the case and how the court dispended justice promptly. If it was in Nigeria …

AIG AND HERBERT
A recent report in Leadership newspaper suggested that there was a rift between the Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, and his deputy, Mr. Herbert Wiwge, over succession issues. Aig-Imoukhuede is retiring in December having served 10 years as the bank’s chief executive. He was reported to be favouring someone else to succeed him. This was a surprise and a source of worry to some of the bank’s customers and investors. It had seemed cast in stone all along that Wigwe was Aig-Imoukhuede’s natural successor. Commendably, the newspaper has retracted the story. That should settle it.

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