A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday declared as unconstitutional the decades-long state-based, quota system admission into federal government colleges, also known as unity schools.
The trial Judge, John Tsoho, in a ruling on the disparity in admission, yesterday declared that the action of the Minister of Education in prescribing and applying different requirements for candidates seeking admission into Unity Schools is in violation of Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
The court further held that the provision of the constitution is superior to any administrative law or policies adopted by the Minister of Education. The court eventually directed the Minister of Education to apply uniform admission requirements, especially cut-off marks, to all candidates seeking admission into the Unity Schools.
The court’s decision was sequel to a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed by a Senior Advocate Nigeria (SAN), Dr Olisa Agbakoba, against the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Education.
Agbakoba, in the suit, is seeking for a declaration that the action of the Education minister in prescribing and applying different requirements, including cut-off marks for candidates seeking admission into Unity Schools, is in violation of the constitution.
The Originating Application was filed on September 30, 2013, for the following Orders: (1) A Declaration that the administrative acts of the Respondents, particularly the 2nd Respondent which prescribes and applies different requirements including cut-off marks for candidates seeking admission into Federal Government Colleges, based on gender, ethnicity, states of origin etc, is discriminatory against Applicant’s grandchildren and the group/class they represent, on grounds of ethnicity, states of origin, gender etc, and therefore violates Section 42(1) of 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(2) An Order directing the Respondents, particularly the 2nd Respondent to apply uniform admission requirements, especially cut-off marks to all candidates seeking admission into Federal Government Colleges, notwithstanding their gender, states of origin, ethnicity etc.
(3) An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Respondents, particularly the 2nd Respondent, whether by itself, its agents, servants, privies or otherwise howsoever from further acts of discrimination in admission to Federal Government Colleges.
(4) Such Further Order(s) as the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances Dr Agbakoba stated in his 19 paragraphs Affidavit to support the originating 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.
In particular, the Federal Government prescribes different cut off marks for different states, based on candidates’ gender and their states of origin. The ministry, however, in its counter affidavit to the application, argued that the Federal Government policies on Education, particularly as it relates to qualification for entry into Unity Schools, is formulated to represent the federal character of the country as enshrined in the constitution and subsidiary legislation.
The ministry added that there is no discrimination where government policy is driven at ensuring substantive equality and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy rights equally irrespective of their sex or ethnicity.
It further averred that the different cut-off marks is to equitably allocate admission spaces to both states that are marginally ahead of others and those marginally behind others.
After hearing arguments from counsels to the parties, the court 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.