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Nasir El Rufai’s candid advice to northern leaders and elites

Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai stirred up the hornet’s nest few days ago when he advised the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the national institution that organises the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), to stop giving preferential treatment to candidates of northern extraction especially those from the north west, north east, and some states in the north central geopolitical zones.

Responding to El Rufai’s claim, JAMB’s head of information and media, Fabian Benjamin, countered El Rufai by saying the position of JAMB is that it was not within its purview to give preferential “cut-off marks” to applicants, that it was the governing councils of the tertiary institutions in Nigeria-Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education both private and public, that have the prerogative power, having considered the all the requirements, to fix the appropriate cut-off marks for their institutions, and that has been the tradition ever since JAMB was established in 1978.

El Rufai’s conviction that the north is no more in need of this preferential policy stems from the fact that an average labourer in any country nowadaysis a global person. If he or she so wishes, could migrate from one country to another in search of greener pastures, and as such, such individuals should be globally competitive.

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Northern Nigeria had a slow start to the acquisition of western education at independence which explained why some preferential policies were introduced to Nigerians of northern extraction to catch up with the rest of country especially their counterparts in the South East and South West.

While that program might be desirable at the beginning till somewhere around late 1980s, however, with the needs of the world now, that preferential treatment has actually outlived its usefulness. Again, if the preferential treatment was limited to education only, perhaps its impact would have been mild.It is now a standard inother areas of human endeavours, such as recruitments in military formations and employment into ministries, departments and agencies of federal government.

If after sixty years of independence, a region that has enjoyed so much preferential treatment still lags behind in literacy rate, high poverty rate, more out-of-school children, it then calls for an urgent review

In the last decade, states in northern Nigeria, particularly Kano and Kaduna states,did award overseas scholarships to their indigenes costing those states billions of naira. The beneficiaries in their respective universities abroad would not have been given preferential treatments because those institutions train individuals for the global market.

There are quite a number of self-sponsored northern indigenes who are schooling in North America, Europe and Asia. These are ample evidences that Nigeria cannot continue to sustain an anachronistic program that benefits no one.

With the power of hindsight,this policy has not generated the desired benefits to the northern Nigeria. There is high illiteracy rate in the region especially in the north east and north west. Not only that, the out-of-school children problem is worse in the north compared to southern Nigeria.

Not only that, poverty is still very high in the region. The northern region’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is also low compared with other regions in the country. This is an assessment of how far the program has fared since it was introduced.

If after sixty years of independence, a region that has enjoyed so much preferential treatment still lags behind in literacy rate, high poverty rate, more out-of-school children, it then calls for an urgent review of such system to be replaced with another that is more beneficial.

The preferential treatment is already causing disaffection in the country. The impression nationals of this country have now is that it is a crime to come from certain states in Nigeria, because regardless of their investment in education, their country will not recognise it. This is true because no matter their scores in entrance examinations into unity secondary schools or public universities, someone with lower score will be admitted ahead of those that have higher score, all because they came from certain states.

It is time northern leaders and elites reassessed this system to be replaced with a merit based system. Not only will it make the people of the region to be more competitive and productive as Governor El Rufai observed, increasing competitiveness of the northern region will be a catalyst forattracting investments.

The train of the global development has moved towards the land of competitiveness. This is the time northern leaders and elites should jettison this archaic system and embrace competitiveness.

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