Coming on the trail of embarrassing scandals of impunity, shameless corruption and gross impropriety that has beset this administration, the recent comment of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, condemning the quota system as an index of corruption, is a very weighty remark that tugs at the core of Nigeria's strategy for national development and integration.
Prof. Osinbajo, who was guest speaker at the Greater Nigeria Pastors Conference, convened in Lagos by the Senior Pastor and founder of Foundation of Truth Assembly (FOTA), Pastor Yomi Kasali, was quoted inter alia: "It is important for us as a nation to change our idea and insist on merit. We must continue to advocate that there must be merit in our appointments and do away with sentiments and Nigeria will be where it ought to be ... if we want to win in Nigeria, we must insist on merit. We must insist on fair-minded and just people in positions. That is how countries are run all over the world. It is only in this country that the first thing we do is to ask for quota system."
Unpleasant as the remark may be, it is a frank, courageous and sincere evaluation of the state of affairs in the country. This is not the first time the vice president would express with such candour his convictions over the anti-corruption drive of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Not too long ago, as Acting President, he took the Father's Day celebration in Aso Rock Villa to urge pastors and church leaders to brace up and expose, ostracize and reject members, who are living above their means, or perceived to be unduly or unjustifiably affluent. Despite the legal backing accorded to the principle of quota system by the Constitution and the misgiving associated with the management and practice of quota, Osinbajo's remark is liable to misinterpretation.
It is very unlikely that Osinbajo's remarks suggest that the principle of quota is wrong. For if it were the case that quota system is a politically unjust principle of governance and this country had shunned it, every public establishment and desserts accruable to different parts of the country would have been dominated by one powerful majority or one in a position of whatever advantage, a potentially disastrous spectacle in such a diverse country as Nigeria.
For proper understanding, quota plainly depicts an official limit on the number or amount of something that is allowed. It entails officially fixing a minimum or maximum from a particular group that is eligible to do something. One dictionary defines it as "the proportional share or part of a whole that is due from, due to, or allocated to a person or group."
As a principle of distributive justice, quota system ensures equitable distribution of desserts, needs and even opportunities from the common wealth, especially in the midst of scarcity. Thus quota system creates room for balancing, affirmative justice, integral development, amongst others. Quota system, however, does not need to promote mediocrity as it assumes that there are deserving candidates, that is, those who merit opportunity but are denied same by certain circumstances like. Rather than being a ration that must be filled by undeserving candidates, proper management of quota enables a part of the whole that has been denied opportunities to have them. It entails using the best within the quota allocated.
However, the problem with quota system in Nigeria is the management and implementation. Whilst it ensures merit within a representation, in Nigeria this principle is being abused in favour of ethnicity, religion, family, and other primordial sentiments. This is what seemed in the reckoning of Vice President Osinbajo to be inimical to progress and national growth.
One of the terrible fallouts of the management of quota system in the country is the continuous regeneration of mediocrities in degenerative order. Every successive leadership, despite being acquainted with the shortcomings of the previous ones, ends up being worse than them. The situation has become so bad that in various literature and media, reports abound that in Nigeria the worst people are those in government, while the best are not only out of government, many are outside Nigeria, and are contributing to the progress and development of other nations.
Another dangerous consequence of the abuse of quota system is the prevalent marginalisation that occurs in every segment of public service and institution. For instance, Nigerians are aware of the unfair implementation of quota system in the educational sector, whereby scandalously outlandish cut-off marks are brought out for candidates aspiring to Federal Government Colleges. It is replicated in public office whereby an unqualified and ill-prepared candidate occupies a public office because the quota of his part of the country must be filled at all cost!
The consequences of this obnoxious policy are dire for the country. Undoubtedly, in agreement with the vice president, the abysmal integrity deficit that has become a way of life, the unabashed corruption plaguing the system, and the disenchantment with the government leading to ethnic tensions, political unrest and unnecessary militancy, are evidence of the absence of merit.
To address the problem arising from the improper management of quota system, there is need for the government to build mechanisms of equalisation between the higher groups and the lower groups. Government must bring about a mechanism for efficacy and national productivity. It is not enough for a country to parade an array of people with excellence of intelligence. It is no secret that many public officers with enviable professional credentials, and who aspired to their position with good intentions, have even been corrupted as a result of the existing rot in the system. The frontiers of intelligence must be expanded by excellence of character, and any nation that does not expand the frontiers of excellence is doomed to fail. Politicians and public office holders in Nigeria should think out of the box and make long-term plans for the people's development across all divides. Instead of the narrow-mindedness of erecting physical structures as evidence of development, leaders should acknowledge that government is about people and not just about structures.
It is in this regard that Nigeria's leadership should take the lead in building a nation of the best and the brightest and in all things should seek out only the best even as it seeks to foster inclusion.