Unity Schools and unjust cut-off marks
At a time when agitations and mass discontent are raging across the country as a result of perceived injustice, cheating, marginalisation and inequity in the system, the Federal Ministry of Education is going ahead with the entrenched and lopsided admission policy into the 104 Unity Schools, whereby, states in the north are favoured in the admission through very low cut-off marks while the southern states are denied admission through very high cut-off marks.
The admission is conducted as if the schools belong to the states and not the Federal Government; hence, the northern states have to be given special favour. This, unfortunately, is still going on despite a court verdict that abolished disparity in cut-off marks in the schools since 2014. The Federal Ministry of Education has chosen to disobey the court order and nothing is being said about it. Hapless pupils from the southern states are being denied admission simply on grounds of states origin and gender.
An order given by a court of competent jurisdiction ought to be obeyed by both the Federal Government and the minister of Education in the interest of the rule of law. Why should the minister not comply with the court order?
The culture of obeying court orders only when it favoured one doesn’t augur well for the system. The Federal Minister of Education has chosen to disobey the court order since 2014 without sanction, whatsoever. How can democracy and good governance flourish amid lawlessness? It is incumbent on the minister to comply with the court order in the interest of justice, fairness and progress.
It would be recalled that on November 17, 2014, Honourable Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Lagos delivered a landmark judgment in which he declared as unconstitutional the disparity in the Federal Government Colleges admission requirements.
The judgment followed a suit filed by human rights lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, against the Federal Government and the minister of Education in which he challenged the admission disparity. Agbakoba’s case was based on Section 42 of the 1999 constitution, which prohibits administrative or executive actions by government that discriminates between Nigerians on grounds of ethnicity, gender, religion and place of origin.
Agbakoba had stated in his supporting application that since the inception of the Unity Schools, the Federal Government has maintained great disparity in admission requirements for candidates wishing to be admitted into Federal Government colleges. He noted, in particular, that the Federal Government prescribes different cut-off marks for different states based on candidates’ gender and state of origin.
Based on the foregoing, Agbakoba prayed the court for among other things: 1) A Declaration that the administrative acts of the Federal Government and Education Minister, which prescribes and applies different cut-off marks for candidates seeking admission into Federal Government colleges based on gender, ethnicity, states of origin are discriminatory; 2) An Order directing the Minister and Federal Government to apply uniform admission requirements, especially cut-off marks to all candidates seeking admission in Federal Government colleges; 3) An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the minister and Federal Government from further acts of discrimination.
In its judgment, the court declared that the application of different cut-off marks based on the states of origin and gender violates the candidates’ fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination as guaranteed by Section 42(1) of 1999 Constitution.
The court, thereby, ordered the Federal government and minister of Education to apply uniform cut-off marks to all candidates seeking admission into Federal Government colleges, irrespective of their states of origin. By that order, the court, ipso facto, abolished discriminatory admission into the Unity schools.
Where there is rule of law, the Federal Government and the minister of Education would have no choice than to comply with the ruling. There would have been no need to remind the two parties of their need to obey without hesitation.
But, unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria, where lawlessness is the norm. It is, therefore, not surprising that both the Federal Government and the Education minister have ignored the court order and have continued to perpetrate the same injustice that led to the legal tussle. The Federal Government has not deemed it fit to direct the Minister of Education to comply and the Minister of Education has not made any attempt to present a memo to the Federal Government on the need to obey the court order. What is on display is impunity and executive recklessness. How can the country make progress in a state of anarchy where everyone does what he likes?
Nothing, absolutely, has been done to appreciate a subsisting court order that was given in the national interest. So far, both the Federal Government and the Minister of Education have continued to act as if nothing happened; as if they are unaware that such an order still subsists. Yet, the same Federal Government keeps harping on the rule of law as well as its absolute commitment to it.
The release of another discriminatory admission cut-off marks by the Ministry of Education for the 2017/2018 admission into the so-called Unity Schools shows a blatant contempt of the rule of law by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Education. The north is still favoured while the south is diminished.
For example, the cut-off marks for Anambra, Imo, Lagos, Ogun and Delta states are, respectively, 139, 138, 133, 131 and 131. Compare this with the cut-off marks for Sokoto (13), Kebbi (9), Zamfara (2), Taraba (2) and Yobe (2). This is scandalous to say the least.
How do you convince a child from Anambra or Imo who scored 130, for example, that he/she is not qualified for admission, while another child from Taraba or Yobe states, who scored unbelievable 2 marks is qualified, admitted and even given scholarship? How on earth do you convince the cheated children that they are in One Nigeria! Who is deceiving who?
The unjust admission policy is based on a skewed quota system that applies such criteria as educationally disadvantages states, environmental, gender and merit. Whereas, merit gets only 40 per cent of the total admission, 60 per cent goes to other frivolous considerations that have nothing to do with merit.
The result is that merit is thrown to the winds while mediocrity is promoted. How can Nigeria develop by operating a blatantly faulty system? Is this how countries that are making waves in Asia and South America made it? We are facing a hopeless situation as long as this kind of perversion subsists.