This week the top story in the untidy flow of the Nigerian political process is #CBNIllegal hires, which is about how the central bank of Nigeria reportedly employed relatives and friends of politicians and political appointees for jobs without going through the due process involved in such recruitment exercises. Nigerians of course especially the youths on social media were quick to cry foul, “illegality,” “nepotism” were some of the epithets which started making the rounds. That response is proper because the process by which these people were recruited is is illegal, there is no mincing words about it, but it was the second word nepotism that really gave me pause. Then it got me thinking: What is with all the frothing in the mouth and indignation over this nepotism issue anyway?
This may sound reactive, but ladies and gentlemen, we need some perspective here.
At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I have complained about nepotism myself in the past However, I feel it is time we really sat down to talk about this thing called nepotism so that it doesn’t look like we are raising a storm of righteous indignation over nothing. I am not going to start arguing over the definition of nepotism, any dictionary worth the paper it is written on will give you that. What we should really be thinking about is putting things in perspective and not being in a hurry to scream nepotism in the same tone of voice we scream murder, genocide, and treason.
Let me explain what I mean with an example, whenever the position of the Vice Chancellor of a Federal University becomes vacant, what the university does is send out advertisements to the public. This is in order to allow people outside said university who feel they are qualified to participate in the election of the new occupant of the office. More often than not, however, it is an insider that often wins the elections even when there are outsiders who have qualifications which are equal to and greater than that of the winner. Isn’t that nepotism if you look at it in the strict sense of the word? Yes it is. But does it make any sense to bring an outsider to occupy that position when there are insiders who know the system and who are suitably qualified to run it? Think about it.
“But they should have made the positions public so that the suitably qualified man of the street can have a chance to be part of the process.” Some people indignantly argue. That argument is legitimate and correct, but let us look at it this way. If for example a child of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and say a child of the “man on the street” were to apply for a position ( which they have equal qualifications for) at the World Bank, it makes sense for the World Bank to employ the Okonjo Iweala because of the work that their mother has done at the world bank. A child who is in her line of work will have picked up a few insider tricks from her, and at least would be more familiar with the environment than the man of the street who would have to be put through his/her paces. Again, in this case having the Okonjo Iweala with a name and a reputation to protect reduces the chances that the kid is going to misbehave, and if the child does misbehave, they have someone that can take responsibility for the misbehaviour. Is that a form of nepotism? Yes it is. But does it work from a practical standpoint? You bet it does. From a humanist persoective, the process is unfair, but its logic is sound and to a business that is the most important thing.
At the risk of stirring up controversy, let us look at the Bible itself, one would notice that from the time of Moses in Exodus up until the Kingdom of Israel split after the death of Solomon,in the Book of Kings, only the Levites were allowed to be priests, and by extension the Chief Priest must be a Levite. It was an instruction that came straight from God. Which means even if the Rubenite or the Judean was as holy as an Angel, and the Levite whose turn it is to be Chief Priest was as sinful as the devil, (and there were numerous examples of this) it was the Levite who won out. So would you accuse God of nepotism then? No and that brings me to my next point, the privilege of becoming chief priest is part of what the Levites get for the work they do in the temple(which you can read about in Numbers if you feel like it). Thus by the same logic Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu for example by the virtue of having worked with merit in the Nigerian economic and political space deserves the privilege of putting his suitably qualified son in any position within said economic and political space, shout nepotism till you are blue in the face, it changes nothing. If you have an issue, you may have some success challenging a leader being given such privileges in the first place, but you can’t challenge said leader for using his privileges for his own benefit. The process is as unfair as hell, but it is the logical thing to do.
The thing is children of rich people and politicians always get a lot of envy and hate especially in Nigeria, where their parents are perceived to be dishonest and corrupt. However as much as we want to complain about the easy life they have, nobody deserves to be a lightning rod for largely undeserved hate because of something they have no control over, like their parentage. The frank truth is denying someone an opportunity he is qualified for “because he is rich anyway” is still unfair, accusations of nepotism or not.
I will not devolve into the “He who has not benefitted from some form of nepotism be the first to cast the stone” argument, because that would be extremely cynical and petty, but I’ll end with something a friend pointed out as we talked about this issue “instead of complaints about how much privilege these people have, why don’t you work hard too so that you can be able use nepotism as well.” That is obviously as cynical and reactive as hell but f*** me if it isn’t the logical thing to do.