Ethnic Quota For Nigerians Is Challenged
By JAMES BROOKE, Special to the New York Times
Published: November 06, 1988
At the age of 11, Adeyinka Badejo is learning the hard way about affirmative action, Nigerian style.
The daughter of an eminent political science professor here, Miss Badejo hoped last month to win admission to a Nigerian Unity School – a Government-financed prep school for top universities here and abroad.
To Miss Badejo’s dismay, she discovered that several of her sixth-grade classmates scored lower than she did on a national test, but that they won admission to the prestigious boarding school system. In this West African nation where virtually everyone is of the same race, the difference is ”state of origin” – often a code phrase in Nigeria for tribe.
Miss Badejo scored 293 on a 400-point test – three points below the cutoff for girls from Ogun state, a southern state largely populated by members of the Yoruba tribe. If she had been born to parents from Kano state, the northern heartland of the Hausa and Fulani tribes, she would have sailed into a Unity School with a score as low as 151. ‘Federal Character’ Policy
Miss Badejo’s rejection was a result of Nigeria’s policy of ”reflecting the federal character.” Through nationally mandated quotas, this policy is intended to insure that Nigeria’s disadvantaged tribal groups have equal access to higher education and to Government employment.
Femi Badejo, Adeyinka’s father and a professor at the University of Lagos, decided to sue Nigeria’s Minister of Education on the grounds that the Unity School’s admission policy constitutes discrimination.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and one of its most diverse, the case has attracted attention comparable to lawsuits challenging affirmative action programs in the United States.
Late last month, Nigerian reporters packed the three wooden press benches in Court 19 of Lagos High Court as opposing lawyers in black robes and white wigs argued their positions.
During a recess, Mr. Badejo, clad in a yellow dashiki-style shirt favored by the Yoruba people, limited his comments to saying: ”There is no comparison between affirmative action in the United States and ‘federal character’ in Nigeria.”
For Nigeria’s southerners, Mr. Badejo’s case has become a minor cause celebre, and several southern educators and politicians have sharply attacked the 10-year-old quota system. ‘Unjust Discrimination’
”I think it’s unjust discrimination,” Lateef Kayode Jakande, a former governor of Lagos State, told a Nigerian reporter. ”The way out is to encourage the underdeveloped ones to catch up, rather than to bring down the developed ones.”
In Ibadan, the nation’s largest city and one that is largely Yoruba, Dapo Ajayi, a high school principal, said the national quota system discourages southern students who see it as reverse discrimination.
Support for the federal character policy comes from Nigeria’s north. The northerners, most of them Muslim, long resisted Western-style education first introduced by Britain, the colonial power here until 1960. Nigerians on the Atlantic coast -Yoruba in the west and members of the Ibo tribe in the east – sent their children in large numbers to British colonial schools.
Today, almost 30 years after independence, a new generation of Nigerians bears the stamp of this colonial inheritance. In the test Miss Badejo took last September, the cutoff point was set by the score attained by the 500th-ranking boy or girl in each state.
Cutoff scores for students from states largely populated by the Ibo or the Yoruba ranged from 280 to 303. Cutoff scores for students from northern states with high Hausa and Fulani populations ranged from 151 to 252.