The challenge of patronage in national development (2)
Let me state categorically here that the price of incompetence is greater than that of corruption. The relationship often is that the former is a product of the latter while the former in turn promotes the latter, just as a son is a father of a man. In our ensuing discussion next, we shall adumbrate on this. Going further, the filling of positions in the country is another area of concern. For the tendentious tribal jingoists, ethnic irredentists, religious bigots and their likes, they will have to pardon me for I am not their fan on this. I believe that competence, rather than ethnicity, tribe or religion, must be the overriding consideration in appointments into offices.
I have been advocating this competence question and I am unrepentantly repeating it that, for our country to be cured of its ailments, we need to move away from quota system, federal character and their ilk. It is simply not progressive. No nation stays healthy on the strength of this. Reverse discrimination that used to be the basis of these mechanisms no longer exists in our nation.
The origin of the federal character principle and quota system was from the reverse discrimination principle in the early days of the United States of America. It is a concept with always a terminal date. It never inures in perpetuity. In Nigeria, however, it seems now to be eternal, as if a particular tribe or ethnicity has been consigned permanently to retrogression. In fact, in some instances, it is meant to be a form of affirmative action. From my interaction with all tribes in Nigeria, I am not aware of any tribe that is naturally disadvantaged, particularly academically, for example. In fact, in terms of employment, what is even required now is affirmative action. As indicated in my column in the Daily Sun of January 16, 2020 “Am I a Nigerian? https://www.sunnewsonline.com/am-i-a-nigerian-1/”, I am of the strong opinion that, if all positions in the country are brought up, there are sufficient northerners that are competent to fill all without compromising standards. Ditto for all other tribes.
The narrative is often given that would anyone of us allow an incompetent pilot from our tribe to fly us or a quack medical doctor from our village to treat us? I am sure certainly not. Our attitude in this regard must change. I was recently contacted by several people on the recent teachers’ recruitment in Lagos State. The belief is that it is another patronage issue and I should be able to use my small clout to secure some patronage. I was expected to influence the recruitment of some people into the teaching service, certainly qualified or otherwise. My answer was simple. I would not do so except the person passed the qualifying examination. Why this reaction?
Simply because my own children do not attend public schools does not mean that I should unleash danger on the children of the less privileged by aiding the recruitment of incompetent teachers to teach their children. A lot of us won’t think that deep before acting. We need this change of attitude urgently to save the system. The question is: why are we endangering ourselves in the name of patronage by appointing incompetent people to offices? In the midst of many competent hands, can’t we make do with the meritorious ones? It is my prayer that we have a rethink. If an appointment is to be made, ensure that competence is the yardstick. Nothing prevents a leader from appointing people he knows, provided they are eminently qualified and prepared, bodily and mentally, to do the job. The public is the beneficiary of such gestures.
And that is why J.F. Kennedy was reported to have quipped when he was challenged for appointing his younger brother as his Attorney-General by asking whether among his peers, he was not as qualified as any other person for the job. And the office of the Attorney-General was a post Robert Francis Kennedy did not disappoint in holding as the balance of history may still be said to have tilted in his favour. Thus, where political patronage is carried out but with evidence of merit, one may only find purely sensational criticism based on mere sentiments. The critic may not find a foothold in the arena of public support in such a situation. Of importance and equally retrogressive is the idea of demoralising and corrupting civil servants in the system due again to the issue of patronage. Some of these people came into their various organisations with zeal, focus and energy to deliver on their mandates, with the ultimate intention of attaining the peak there. Some even undergo special training and capacity development sessions at their own costs.
What do we find? At the penultimate level of their career, a person is brought from nowhere to head the organisation, thereby demoralising the existing officers. Sometimes, a cab driver in the UK, who failed at all efforts at home and thereby relocated to a foreign land and has acquired no useful training abroad other than dishwashing, is brought home by a political leader who feels that his primary obligation is to satisfy his friends and family. Such a person is then appointed the director-general of an organisation required to provide an essential service for which the man is ill-suited as expertise in cab driving is not the skill required. With pretentiously horrifying phonetics and terrible jargons, he presides over the affairs of the state over his superiors who are only not fortunate enough to receive the same kind of political patronage he has succeeded in getting. And it does not take him time to drop the phrase “in the UK” (pronounced “you kayhee”) in order to intimidate the civil but unfortunate servants placed under him. I am not too sure that this same plague is not what is afflicting our sports performance in international competitions. A situation where excellent sportsmen and women are jettisoned in the name of federal character calls for urgent ‘repentance,’ as such discriminatory act is even sinful, apart from being retrogressive. At times, the country would have spent so much on developing the capacity of a number of civil servants without optimal reaping of any benefit as they are not allowed to put to beneficial use the knowledge they have acquired with sponsorship by the nation.
The worst scenario is usually in the regimented services like the armed forces, the police, Immigration, Customs, etc, where, once someone of a junior rank is picked for elevation in order to serve the parochial purpose of a leader, all his seniors are automatically retired! Little wonder most of the contemporary civil servants have resorted to illegally amassing as much material gains as possible in order to compensate themselves for the sacrifice of not attaining the peak. Another point of hemorrhage!
Finally, our state of coma as a nation todays is not unconnected with this enthronement and entrenchment of incompetence and parochialism in the system. In the face of all these, the country will continue to be sick, except we readjust. I am of the view that, as leaders in whom public trust is vested in terms of allocation of resources, we can still patronise our supporters without hurting the system. I recall my days in Lagos State Government. We patronised round pegs for filling round holes. The beneficiary was the masses.
When it comes to engaging politicians for the sake of patronage and to sustain their allegiance to the party, you can always join them with other competent hands that will empower them without endangering us. However, in terms of the core operators of the system, it is substantially a no-go area for patronage, except in extenuating circumstances in which peculiar competence is not necessarily required. And in such a situation, merit is still the watchword.
At this juncture, let me reiterate the fact that, if we agree that the injury or affliction of incompetence on our nation’s health is higher than the price we pay for corruption, we, therefore, need to double, if not triple, our efforts in waging a war against this inimical patronage beyond what we dissipate on corruption. Recent harvests of death in Kano, for instance, in which several prominent names have been interred with their bodies, have shown that, as a nation, we need to reflect and retrace our steps.
Notwithstanding the failure of proper records, higher patronage of cemeteries and mortuary attendants in the state has exposed whatever the state might be covering up. A woman recently lamented the loss of her son-in-law on the social media in an audio clip that went viral on how our system was unable to respond to the gradual loss of his son-in-law until the young man became a victim of the ubiquitous COVID-19 in Kano. It was evident that, as at then, there was no single test centre in the whole of Kano and there was no single means of treating anyone who contracted the deadly virus. As if our leaders were under a spell to make their own human souls contribution to a witchcraft coven, they allowed the ignorantly joyous multitudes of almajiri to continue singing “babu corona,” until the latter proved its existence by taking the pride of the state. What nation allows that? The lie of the land right now does not impress anyone. Thus, for the sake of our nation and generations yet unborn, I appeal that we turn a new leaf. As we lay our bed, so shall we lie on it, as we are currently witnessing.