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Where are Nigeria’s technocrats?

By Tabia Princewill

WE operate a very strange system in Nigeria, one where neither talent nor competence are the necessary prerequisites for success. I’ve said time and time again in this column that the media are at fault for creating superstars out of thin air and for protecting the interests of those who work against the public good as opposed to exposing their misdeeds.


However, until organisations can afford to pay a living wage (and employers no longer owe salaries) Nigeria will not achieve the ethical standards which are the norm in Western academia, journalism or public service.

Success in this country isn’t about being competent, this accounts for the dysfunction apparent in virtually every sector of our economy and our society. How many states in Nigeria have been led by technocrats, by people whom outside of would-be political experience and networking have real world knowledge or any understanding of governance, proper planning and policy?

Political experience

Besides the obvious example of Lagos, very few states in Nigeria have seen consistent improvement. No matter what one thinks of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Lagos, in comparison to other states in Nigeria, has benefited from his choices in terms of leadership.

Many other states in Nigeria would have benefited from a Fashola or an Ambode if politics in our country wasn’t still so crude and based on other considerations than performance. We are also often told not to compare what obtains in other climes to the mediocrity we have become so comfortable with in Nigeria.

This comes from the same political class which prefers that our standards remain low so they can continue to inflict mediocre ideas and people upon the masses who quite frankly cannot imagine that they deserve better. Service delivery is last on the political agenda in many corners of Nigeria and the people most affected remain those who cannot afford to become a government onto themselves and privately source clean water, electricity, health care and education.

The civil service, which should have been the last defence against poor leadership over the years, by ensuring the continuity of credible, quality policy irrespective of who is in power, has become just as ineffective and greedy as the political class.

Rarely, in Nigeria, does one find cabinets filled with experts and technocrats. If one is particularly good at anything in Nigeria, one ironically decides to stay away from politics, leaving national decision-making to certain characters who rather than discuss ideas inflame the masses with ethno-religious discourse to distract from their emptiness.

However, there have also been cases in Nigeria whereby technocrats perform poorly once they are actively involved in politics.

There are two possibilities here: either it was a case of “in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king” and said technocrat was never truly the best but rather appeared “decent” or “manageable” because the general standard was so low to begin with, or his principal, the governor or the president he works for, hasn’t enabled him to do his job.

Cases of sabotage, within an administration, are all too common in Nigeria, where at every moment there seems to be a small group of people working to frustrate positive developments so as to safeguard their own interests. Despite all this, the truth remains that overwhelmingly, Nigeria has not benefited from the best in terms of political appointees who should be scrutinised more widely.

In truth, this should be done by the senate, our representatives, but the practise has always been, particularly during the time of the PDP for ministers to “take a bow” in front of their friends and colleagues in the National Assembly, therefore avoiding questions regarding their competence and knowledge of the portfolio they are about to assume.

But without reforming the civil service, the backbone of any administration, reforms will be slow and near impossible. There is a real disconnect between the civil service in Nigeria and the virtues of competence, timeliness and effectiveness. Regaining this culture goes beyond retraining certain people.

At some point, we must have a government brave enough to get rid of those who aren’t pulling their weight and costing the state too much. Recruitment into the civil service is too lax, and promotion exams, where they exist must be reviewed: gone are the days where the very best found their way into the civil service.

Too much is left to chance in Nigeria. We are yet to fully give ourselves the means to succeed by attacking the issues right at the root. What government will be brave enough to do this?


Nigerian returnees from Libya

THEIR testimonies are deeply troubling and point to a social malaise we are yet to come to terms with. Many of the girls were allegedly tricked by their pastors who put them in touch with middlemen promising them safe passage to Europe.

Some of the girls, abandoned in Morocco naively asked “is this Europe?” pointing to many of our young people’s lack of knowledge of the outside world. A lack of education and decent opportunities is killing young Nigerians, literally and figuratively.

Opportunities exist only for a certain class of young people; the rest can only access the dream of a better life via social media. Fantasies of “life in Europe” are born from anatural desire for the basics of a fulfilling lifewhich many abroad take for granted.

Our people fall prey to con artists simply for wanting lifestyles which in a democratic society shouldn’t be seen as a luxury.

Unlike their falsely contented parents who were subdued by military rule and a classist society that enables only the whims of a few to materialise, young people in Nigeria, urged on by global ideas and consumerism (everyone wants the latest phone, clothes etc. which are not considered luxuries abroad), we are breading young people who are completely lost.

Their society doesn’t work for them and neither does the outside world to whom they are a burden due to their lack of skills especially. Nigeria is teetering on the verge of crisis and we don’t even seem to realise it.


Thanksgiving in the face of injustice: The strategy of religious enslavement

I WAS feeling poorly over the weekend. After listening to a few jokes about how it is “un-African” to succumb to a bacterial infection or any such “weakness”, it occurred to me that we have taken “suffering and smiling” to be a virtue. I was ill because of contaminated water, and someone’s response to this was something along the lines of, “as a Nigerian, your body should be used to such”.

The idea that because one is Nigerian, one should “toughen up” accept the failure of the system and do what one can to survive, is the basis of our problems. The average Nigerian believes that whatever suffering hasn’t yet killed him can be joked about.

The Nigerian ability to accept or endure pain in its many forms is a danger in itself: we keep convincing ourselves that terrible situations, a lack of basic modern conveniences are fine, so long as one is still alive to complain.

We should be very concerned by this trend, amplified in times of penury: religious leaders are currently calling on their followers to simply be “grateful”, give thanks and pray for a better 2018. If not for bad roads, insecurity, instability, hunger, poverty etc. one wouldn’t need to be so “grateful” for a life free of accidents, for food, shelter etc.

I don’t believe God loves the nations where citizens can access such rudimentary benefits, any more than he does Nigeria. The difference, is that in those societies, citizens ask questions of their leaders and demand accountability: they aren’t simply “grateful” to be alive. Religion as practised here is killing our capacity to think.

Unlike the rabble-rousing pastors of Latin America (of which the current Pope) who awakened people’s political conscience by telling them of their rights, religious leaders in Nigeria comfort people in their lazy acceptance of a criminal status quo.

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.