Wednesday, 13 November 2019 19:26

[OPINION]: Of equity, equality and developmental agenda: A case for Nigeria’s underdevelopment - Rilwan Balogun


”Equality is leaving the door open for anyone who has the means to approach; equity is ensuring there is a path to that door for those who need it.” - Caroline Belden


Development agenda(s) have been the central focuses of every government in all developing countries in the world. No doubt, every responsible and responsive government needs map out some forms of agenda as a blueprint for its administration, hence, Nigerian government is no exception.


According to some political enthusiasts, our stance as a nation to true federalism is the bane of our political, social and economic development, hence, colossal deformities. The duo concepts of equity and equality are paradoxically bipolar but Siamese concepts that pose some technicalities when defining and applying them. In a more concerned manner, these concepts are literally and technically abused and misinterpreted, perhaps because of their wide latitudes, as they relate to political, social and economic discourses. According to Blaze Bolenbargh in his research, posited that when these two concepts are reversely defined, what this breeds are inequity and inequality which have been on astronomical increase and permeated, virtually every political, social and economic space in developing countries. Many Philosophers have argued that, what perhaps, brings about these malaises is the global economic processes of globalization, economic liberalization, and integration.

While emphasizing on the impact of ascertaining equity in the development of every society, the World Bank’s World Development Report, 2006 on Equity and Development placed a concern on social justice and combating inequality at the centre of the development paradigm. According to the report, what had attracted so much attention by economic policy makers of every country is the fact that inequality and inequity have become more central to both academic inquiry and policy debates in developed and developing countries alike. Inequality, therefore, at global space to wit: economic, political and social have been an underpinning factor sabotaging the performance of every government in power.

Nigeria is a mere geographical expression comprising many nations with diverse backgrounds and beliefs. The focus of this critique is an examination of the conspicuous part of the Nigeria’s constitution which states in its preamble that “… we the people of Nigeria have resolved to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people”. [ emphasis mine].

Based on the above wish and aspirations, one could inquisitively surmise and query that, in a bid by the government to propagate good governance and cater for its teeming citizenry, what then is the best political, social and economic ideology that can be adopted by the government, in other to bring to reality its constitutional wishes and aspirations as propagated in the preamble to its grund norm? Would it be right to say the best and most effective principle the government needs adopt is the principle based on equity or equality? On a more technical definition or interrogation could it be justifiably said that the two words are six of twelve, half a dozen of the other or words that are bipolar apart?

One of the most contentious issues that the 2014 National Conference grappled with was fiscal federalism; the allocation of revenue collection, taxation right between and among the federal and states governments. This includes the so called “resource control” question. As a matter of fact, the convoluted Fiscal Revenue Allocation formular and the most chewed “resource control” question in Nigeria forms a central theme in government characterized by a chequered historical antecedent. {Onuigbo et al 2015].

In a nation, where there are multi ethnic groups like our dear Nigeria, equity in it baseline definition is where societal wealth is distributed based on the need of every diverse group. Here, what we get from this equity ideology is the fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.

The concept of equity both in social, economic and political spaces transcends the shallow understanding of what those at the helms of affairs in Nigeria can relate. As a matter of fact, adherence to equity concept in governance involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedure and processes of all institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources.

Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial, it involves treating each individual according to his or her need. On the other hand, equality in relation to social, economic and political development has to do with the idea of all-inclusive and the extermination of the idea of the medieval political philosophers who assumed that human beings were not merely different, but equal in terms of their moral, political and social worth. This school of thought deems this natural; a phenomenon which inherently natural, hence, man cannot do away with it. Equality is the state or quality of being equal, involves treating every individual in the same manner, irrespective of their differences and needs.

The idea of all-inclusive doctrine aimed at achieving equality among the diverse groups in Nigeria reflects in its constitution, hence the provision of section 14(3) of the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution, a fortiori subsection 4 of same section stretching its constitutional stance to the state level. The section stoutly stipulates that the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.

Drawing from the analytical comparism of the duo concepts of equity and equality as contemplated by the two relevant provisions, that is the preamble to the constitution and section 14(3) of the same constitution, it can thus, be concluded that there are two contradictory stances of the constitution, which can only thread similar but different paths as regard governance in a multi ethnic society like Nigeria.

To further adumbrate, the technical meaning of equity as enshrined in the Nigeria’s 1999 constitution posits that societal wealth will be distributed in a way that is fair and just to every ethnic group in Nigeria. In a more factual manner, what equity means according to the preamble in the constitution is for example, in states that are educationally less privileged in terms of educational system should be more funded than states are comparatively advanced in education. This means that larger percentage of the 691.07 Billion which constitute 6.7% of the proposed 2020 national budget should be equitably disposed to states that are educationally lagging behind.

Equity in this sense talks about a case of bridging the gap in order to attain at a just and equitable society. In another perspective, equity in line with the intendment of the law makers clearly reflects in the constitutional directive of federal character. Appointment based on the dogged principle of federal character should be based on fair consideration of regions where there are larger percentage of those who are literate. This portends that where a state possesses high number of educated indigenes but largely unemployed, thus roaming the streets, then, the educated ones from these states should be more considered when it comes to appointment into federal government agencies or parastatals than states with lesser percentage of educated indigenes.

In terms of local government creation, it can be averred that the creation of local governments which is based on land mass rather than the population brings about inequity. Conversely, however, the consideration of the number of inhabitants, rather than land mass results into inequality as regard development. That, I posit is equity in its real definition and the purported intendment of the framers of the constitution and its inclusion in the preamble of the Nigeria’s constitution.

Equality on its manifestation, as propagated in our constitution, the purport of section 14(3) of the constitution which stipulates the tenet of federal character, is a principle enshrined in order to checkmate the dominance of a region, hence, the adherence to equality of access to political, social and economic rights. Suffice to say that the composition of the senate, which gives each state of the federation three senators each, is a brain child, birthed by the enshrined principle of federal character, which ultimately is aimed at attaining equal access to power in governance.

Comparatively, on this basis, I thus asseverate that equality by virtue of the section 14(3) which mandates federal character, is a conspicuous constitutional contradiction, inadvertent though, to the preamble of same constitution which professes equity.

In conclusion, the misnomer in the interpretation and adherence to these two concepts has led to inadvertent underdevelopment in Nigeria. The conclusion that can be objectively drawn from this analysis is that the concept of equity as stated in the preamble and the concept of equality stated in section 14(3) of the same constitution is wrongly interpreted and applied. Perhaps, the two concepts in itself are paradoxically two parallel lines which can never be attained once at a time.

This I posit that, when a society poses to attain equity; be it social, political or economic, then, what it means in its technical sense is that access to power, societal wealth, and other forms of rights shall be legally permitted based on the needs of that particular region and the exigency of reality not only in relation to the development of that particular state or region but the whole country at large.

Conversely, the idea of equality portends that both the social, political, economic and other rights shall be legally permitted and distributed on equal basis, irrespective of the needs and reality of a particular region. Poignantly, Nigeria’s interpretation and practice of the constitutional directives of equity and equality in its social, political and economic objectives in governance are distorted and bastardized ones, which have been the bane of development in our dear nation.

Balogun, a legal practitioner, sent this piece from Lagos.
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