Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Lagos in a landmark judgment has ordered the Nigerian Government to apply a uniform cut-off mark to all candidates seeking admission into Federal Government Colleges, otherwise known as Unity Schools, irrespective of their states of origin.
Justice Tsoho, in his ruling, declared as unconstitutional the state-based admission inequality in Federal Government colleges.
A human rights lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, had instituted the suit against the Federal Government and the Minister of Education, challenging the prescribed different cut-off marks for different states, based on candidates’ gender and their states of origin.
Agbakoba argued that the decision of the defendants violates the candidates’ fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination guaranteed by Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
He had argued that Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution prohibits administrative or executive actions by the government that discriminates between Nigerians on grounds of ethnicity, gender, religion and place of origin.
Agbakoba had asked the court to declare that the administrative act of the respondents, particularly the Minister of Education, 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, among others, is discriminatory against applicant’s grandchildren and the group or class they represent, on grounds of ethnicity, states of origin, gender, etc. and therefore violates Section 42(1) of 1999 Constitution.
He also prayed for: “An order directing the respondents, particularly Minister of Education 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.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, particularly the Minister of Education, whether by itself, its agents, servants, privies or otherwise howsoever from further acts of discrimination in admission to Federal Government colleges.”
In a 19-paragraph affidavit, Agbakoba had averred that since the inception of the Unity Schools, the Federal Government had maintained great disparity in admission requirements for candidates wishing to be admitted into Federal Government colleges.
In particular, he had argued that the Federal Government prescribed different cut-off marks for different states, based on candidates’ gender and their states of origin.
After hearing arguments from counsel for the parties, the court ordered that the Federal Government and the Minister of Education should apply a uniform cut-off mark to all candidates seeking admission into Federal Government Colleges, irrespective of their states of origin.
134 Average For South-East, As Low As 2 Marks For Zamfara State
In July 2021, SaharaReporters reported how the Federal Ministry of Education pegged cut-off marks for admission into the 104 unity schools nationwide at 134 on average for the five South-East states, while states in the North had cut-offs of 20 marks and even below.
This cut-off is out of a total of 300 marks.
SaharaReporters had obtained the cut-off lists as released by the Ministry for the 2020/2021 academic year, showing the huge disparity between the cut-off marks which candidates from South-East and South-West states should have and what the candidates from North should obtain.
According to the breakdown, Anambra had the highest cut-off of “139 marks for both males and females; Imo 138; Enugu 134, Lagos 133; Delta 131, Ogun 131, Abia 130 and Edo.”
Osun and Oyo were among the 10 top with the highest cut-off marks with both of them having 127 marks.
SaharaReporters observed that the least 10 cut-off marks for Unity Schools were all northern states; Gombe 58; Nasarawa 58; Borno 45; Jigawa 44, Bauchi 35; Kebbi had 9 for males and 20 for females.
Also, Sokoto had 9 for males and 13 for females; Zamfara had 4 marks for males and 2 for females.
Taraba and Yobe were the least states with Taraba having 3 for males and 11 for females while Yobe had 2 for males and 27 for females.
The cut-off marks were reportedly released by the National Examination Council.
“Some pupils are admitted into Unity schools with as low as two marks in the common entrance examinations while some can only get into the same schools with at least 130 marks. Slowly mediocrity has crept in.
“While a candidate from Anambra State has to struggle for 139, a candidate from Zamfara is looking for just 4 marks. Yes, it is true that the quota system is meant to give educationally disadvantaged regions of the country an opportunity to access quality education, but that gap is ridiculous.
“Merit should also be a strong consideration,” an education expert, who did not want his name in print, had explained.