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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Nigeria-Credentialism,Presidentialism and Federal character

Nigerian Presidential Seal

Credentialism,the undue and excessive reliance on credentials,especially in the shape of certificates,for securing jobs or positions,is a symptom of a society without a work-ethic.And no wonder.In a trust-fund state,like Nigeria,the only business in town,is the sharing of the “national cake”. Nowhere is this trend more evident,or pernicious,than in the appointment of government ministers.People are given ministerial appointments,just because they possess certificates that purport to relate to the ministries,they are supposed to head.No matter that these people have no ideas,on how these ministries are supposed to provide services to Nigerians,and thus make life better.I am not suggesting that having certificates,should not be factored into decision to appoint people.No.I am saying that,though certificates may be necessary,they are not sufficient.

To secure the necessary performance from our governments,at every level,ministers or commissioners should be men and women of ideas.People who have given some thought to those areas covered by their ministerial portfolio.Consider the health ministry.It is wasteful,to make somebody the health minister just because he is a brilliant professor in some  narrow medical field,if the person has never really given a thought to the idea of health-delivery as a social service.You need someone with a vertical view of the health situation;someone with a grasp of the social,cultural and economic factors,that impede the delivery of health-care services to Nigerians.Brilliance,within the walls of a hospital,will not necessarily translate into competence in  public service.

What is true of the health ministry,also applies to other ministries.We need people who can think outside the box.As an example of this,i remember that the  Brazilian government ran a program,to increase vaccination compliance and school enrollment for it’s Indian  population,using financial incentives.People were financially rewarded,if their children  met a stipulated school attendance rate,and visited a clinic on appointed days.This program could only have been designed by people who are socially and culturally aware.Creative people.Not social illiterates.Take the power sector.The minister’s job is not to design transformers.All the technology needed in the power sector is already out there.Electricity technology is old-school,low-tech and has been around since the nineteenth century.His/her job is to ensure that generation keeps up with  projected demand,and to improve enrollment.

To improve enrollment simply means extending electricity to those without it,as well as ensuring that those using it,pay their bills.So it is about accountability.It is about getting the power sector to become self-sustaining.To do this job well,the minister needs more than a handful of engineering degrees in his tool kit.He needs to be able to think creatively,factoring social realities into his calculations.For example,if people are reluctant to pay their bills,leaving the utility with a considerable short-fall in revenue,which forces it to scale back investment in talent and technology,in a context where law-enforcement is weak,and outside the minister’s authority,then you need original ideas to get around this problem.Only a minister who has thought long and hard about the power sector,and it’s centrality to the Nigerian economy,is capable of unknotting the problem.

Underpinning this situation,is the “federal character” principle,which has been enshrined in the Nigerian constitution since !979.According to section 14 of the constitution,”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 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 the government or any of its agencies. ” This principle is the reason we have 27 federal ministries,with almost all of them  having one or more junior ministers.You can imagine the duplication,and waste,involved just to satisfy this requirement.

The United States ,the inspiration for our presidential system,at over twice our population,ten times our total area,with 51 states to our 36,and with a GDP of 14 trillion to our 214 billion,has only 15 federal departments.Go figure.Worse than the duplication and waste,is the fact that it is impossible for the president to pick his team,by himself.Because it is impossible for the president to identify qualified people from 36 states,he is forced to rely on the recommendation of “God-fathers” within his party.Of course these people are going to choose nominees,on the basis of loyalty rather than competence and integrity.If you look at the United States,the president does not micro-manage.He chooses people he knows and trusts,and lets them get on with it.The president is like the captain of a ship;he sets the direction,and lets the crew get on with the steering.

If we want progress,the Nigerian president should have the freedom to choose people,whose ideas align with his agenda.If we cannot change the “federal character” principle,then we should insist that,for this purpose,the federating unit should be the geo-political zone.That way,the president needs to pick only six people to be “federal character” principle compliant,and is thereafter free to choose the rest of his team,from any part of the country.If we are to hold the president accountable, for  the performance of his government,equity demands that the president be allowed to choose those people,he believes to be in tune with his agenda.If the ambition of the “federal character” principle,is to secure national unity and loyalty,then we should plump for  efficient governance,which would really serve the Nigerian people.To do this,we have to unbundle governance into “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”. “cake-baking” must be a meritocratic process,if we want a lot of  “cake” to share.The better the “cooks”, the better and bigger the “cake” to share.Then when it comes time for  “cake-sharing”,we can realise the aims of the “federal character” principle,by ensuring equitable distribution of federal amenities;schools,power stations,hospitals,e.t.c.

Nigeria-“I Pass My Neighbour”:Social Emulation,Lethargic Citizenship and the “Self-Bigotry” of Low Expectations

George W Bush,then president of the United States,used the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations”, against the democrats in 2004.Clearly,Bush used it as a riposte against the type of racism that masquerades as liberalism.Paternalistic,this type of liberalism views the black man as a child,whose needs are to be met,but who is not to be trusted with any great responsibility.Unlike the “hard” variety,which simply says “to hell with them,nothing good will ever come out of Africa,” soft-bigotry says “it is our duty to take care of these people,they certainly cannot do it themselves.” Both varieties are racist,founded on the idea that the black man is incapable,inferior.If you are black,this must make you angry,and sad.

It is  sadder still that we,Nigerians,seem to agree with this racist assessment,a form of self-racism,self-directed bigotry.How else do you explain our talent for travesty and mediocrity.?We just cannot seem to do anything right.We have an aptitude for adulteration and bastardization.We have set the moral and ethical bar so low,that anything goes.Mediocrity has become our  aspirational norm.We have come to expect so little of ourselves.And all this,because we have such low self-esteem.Such low self-confidence.Typically camouflaged in aggressive posturing,our low self-esteem can be seen in our crab-like acquisition of power and it’s symbols:money,titles and women;we seek validation in the amassing ,and ownership,of “objects”.

We feel bereft,denuded,undeserving and unworthy,unless surrounded by status symbols such as cars,houses,titles and plenty of money.Feeling so innately unworthy,we are willing to accept any condition.We would just “manage”. The worst part of it all,is that any attempt to be different,and insist on your right,makes you a target.You see this everywhere.If you have ever used public transport in Nigeria,then you know that protesting that a cab,with seating for only three passengers,should not try to squeeze in an extra person,makes you “wicked”, in the eyes of fellow passengers.You go to a restaurant that is near-empty,you take a seat at a clean table;the next guy that walks in,would probably  make a bee-line for your table,rather than make an effort to get one of the many free tables cleaned by the steward.You dare not protest.If you do,then you must be very “selfish”.You end up eating with your elbows in each others sides and breathing into each others food.

Nigerians expect you to take “it”. Especially when “it”, is dished out by the government.As someone put it, “if the government tells Nigerians to climb a tree,people would simply comply.” Protesting will make you few friends.Instead,for your trouble,you will get a huge dose of abuse from fellow suffering citizens.I remember a few weeks ago,when Okey Ndibe,a professor and  public commentator,protested about his “treatment” by the Nigerian immigration and security services,he was slated by a section of the comments on Saharareporters,an online newspaper.His critics were miffed that he dared to protest,when other Nigerians  had passed through experiences that were much worse than his .Meaning that for suffering to be legitimate or valid,it must be unknown,novel.So novel that you can take out a patent on it.

So instead of protesting,our people take refuge in social emulation.It is all right as long as there is someone worse off than yourself.As an example,take power supply.Rather than insisting that the government should provide adequate power,our people prefer to take their chances with generators.There is a particular mini-generator,whose claims as a source of power are so feeble,so puny,that Nigerians re-christened it “i-pass-my-neighbour”, in recognition  of the fact that it’s main value is social: it’s ownership differentiates you from your neighbour.This ability to find consolation in the fact that there are people worse off than we are,together with the fact that we think that unless we are “big men”,surrounded by “objects”, we are somehow unworthy,constitute a political anaesthetic,leading to lethargic citizenship.It is this unwillingness to exercise our rights as citizens,that underpins poor governance in this country.

Make no mistake about it,the government you get is the government you deserve.The protests in the middle-east prove that governments listen,and respond,to the messages sent them,by the people.If the people are lethargic or supine,they are sending a loud and clear message,which reads,”we do not care.” And if the people do not care,why should the government?If we want change in Nigeria,we cannot be so passive.We have to demand for it.In economics,demand means desire for a product or service,backed by the ability,and willingness,to pay for it.In other words,sacrifice.Politics is no different.Demand for change will have to be backed-up with willingness to sacrifice.Then the government will hear a different kind of message:”Change”. As things stand now,we have suffered plenty,at the hands our governments.But perhaps our suffering is not novel enough?Is it?

Nigeria-“Who is a Nigerian?”: Identity Politics,Zoning and Compatriotism

Identity politics refers to the sort of politics that is founded ,and limited,to the articulation of self-interest and the perspectives of self-identified groups.The identity may be based on race,religion,ethnicity,class or sexual orientation.For a country like Nigeria,parading more than 250 ethnic groups and boasting over 510 languages,it should not be a surprise,that it’s  politics is hostage to tribalist feeling,as most people identify with,and are loyal to, their ethnic groups,rather than the country.As a result,people are identified by their tribes:you hear,”that is a typical Yoruba man” or “that must be an Igbo woman”,”that ” or “that must be a Fulani” or “that must be a Calabar girl” e.t.c.everybody is first an indigene of an ethnic group,and Nigerian last.

The debate is still ongoing,about “Nigerian-ness”.Who really  is a Nigerian? Make no mistake about it,Nigerians still see Nigeria as a colonial joinery,a mere geographic expression.Unfortunately,this debate about “Nigerian-ness”, is not being conducted with “mere” words,or  intellection.No.Instead,people are using knives,machetes,stones,cudgels,bombs and bullets.Ethnic strifes and sectarian violence,like the recent rival-killings and bombings in Jos and Borno,are expressions of the doubts,and rejection,of the idea of compatriotism,the state of being compatriots,across tribal and religious lines.In other words,people are questioning the idea,that people of different ethnic and religious background can be equal citizens with them.People are still finding it hard to accept other Nigerians as equal citizens and stakeholders,50 years after independence.

This mutual intolerance is paralleled by mutual distrust.Each tribe distrusts the other,believing that if given the opportunity,the other tribe would ride roughshod over it’s claims.Therefore,each tribe strives to outdo the other,in the bid for power or office,in the belief that being in office or power,is the only way to advance and protect it’s interests.Zoning of political offices,the practice whereby offices are rotated among the constituent ethnic groups of the state,is an attempt to resolve or limit this unruly scramble for office,and it’s attendant damages.The idea is that by sharing offices among the various constituent groups or zones,everybody will be given a sense of belonging.Clearly anything,in a multi-ethnic setting,that gives people a sense of belonging,must be a good thing.But at what cost?

Zoning carries too high a cost.Not only because it breeds a culture of entitlement among the general population,as people get used to the idea of aspiring to positions for which they are not personally or professionally qualified,but also,more importantly,it directly hinders development.This is because at the highest levels of government,square pegs are put in round holes, to the detriment of us all.People are given appointments,just because it is their “turn”.No wonder then,that these appointees are not only incompetent,but having been appointed for reasons other than merit,they turn their positions into patronage machines,dispensing favour to associates,friends and family.At the individual level however,every one suffers when a government is inept,including the kinsmen and women of the president,with the exception of  his inner circle of contractors and praise-singers.

In contrast,a competent government,regardless of the provenance of it’s heads,works for the benefit of all,by providing infrastructure and building up the economy.If the government delivers for you,why should you care about the president’s origin? Whether the president is from the North,South or Christian,Muslem or animist should be of no consequence. If we are going to develop as fast as we want,we need to unbundle the governance process into it’s “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”  parts.And then we should subject the “cake-baking” part to the highest level of meritocracy.We should insist that only the most qualified persons are appointed or elected to the highest offices of government.With an efficient “cake-baking” process in place,there would be  that much more “cake” to go round.

Nigeria-Nollywood,the “Death” of Nigerian Television?

Family watching television together,1958

According to  an article i read,the other day,Nollywood,a metanym for the Nigerian film industry,is responsible for the “death” of Nigerian television.The author seemed to suggest,that Nollywood not only turned people away from watching television,but it also lured away television’s “great” talents.He went on to list the producers and actors/actresses who gravitated towards Nollywood,away from television.The article got me thinking.Is it really true that Nollywood killed television?Is there not room enough for both?Does one have to survive at the expense of the other?

For me,there is enough room for both Nollywood and television to thrive.Television can thrive alongside Nollywood if it’s content,programs,were better.That it is not doing so,can be squarely ascribed to it’s vapid offerings.In the past,70s and 80s,most urbanites watched television,not because it’s programs were so great,with some exceptions,but because it was the only game in town.The Nigerian audience was captive:it had no options.Until the 90s,when the democratization of access to home entertainment,first in the shape of foreign videos and then later,Nollywood,gave Nigerians much needed options.

With the spread of video technology,bringing foreign movies into most people’s homes,television became something you could ignore,until the news at nine.Most people stopped watching television for entertainment.It was in response to this entertainment-vacuum,that Nollywood came into existence.Nollywood came to fill a need,that television could not meet.It is sheer nostalgia to talk about a “golden age” of Nigerian television.There never was a “golden age”.Yes,there was a time,when a captive audience,lacking options,and going by the standard of the day,thought much of Nigerian television.But that audience knows better,and is no longer captive,today.The audience is more sophisticated.So,too, should television be.

The sort of nostalgia on display in that write-up,where people unnecessarily idealize and romanticize the past,is dangerous.It is dangerous because,based on poor analysis,it can lead to poor policy-making.Before you know it,government will start talking about protecting television,by interfering,high-handedly, with somebody’s business.And television is too important,to be left to the ministrations of these “protectors”.Television provides entertainment,information and education.It brings,and helps keep,the family together,at least once a day.It mediates the governance process,by keeping people informed of government activities.And all this,for free.

Unlike cable broadcasting,generally subscription-based,television is defined by the fact that access to it’s broadcast is free.Funding comes from government subvention,where it is government-owned,or advertising.As vendors of news and entertainment,the media is defined by the ability to aggregate an audience.The better and more useful the content,the greater the audience.Access to this audience is then given to producers of goods and services,for a fee.Thus advertising,which enables producers of goods and services to showcase their offerings to the public,is key to the media being able to fulfill it’s role,as mediators of the consumption process.

For television to build,and keep,an audience,and benefit from advertising,programming must become attractive.This will cost money.More money than it can receive from the government,as subvention,where available.The money has to come from advertising.But advertisers will not pay good money,unless there is a sizable audience.And you cannot have a sizable audience,unless you have good programs.This is the vicious circle,in which Nigerian television finds itself.The main obstacle to decent television in this country,is poor power supply.For television to build a sizable following,would require round-the-clock viewership.This is not possible without round-the-clock power supply.Do not put the blame on Nollywood.

Nigeria-Nollywood Update

Welcome to Nollywood


What is it with Nigerians?Why are we so muddled?Why are we so power-drunk?Apparently,our administrative tool-kit contains only one instrument:the ban.Our governments,unwilling to put in the time and effort,required to govern,resort to the ban,at the drop of a hat.But,of course,you would expect that of those who embody the term “power-drunk”,and whose mandate seems limited to self-aggrandizement.Less expected,and understandable,is the easy recourse to the ban,in the entertainment industry,the bastion of free markets and the frontier of liberalism.

The story making the rounds in Nollywood now,is that of a gang-up of producers mulling a year-long ban,for a certain Nollywood actress of Ghanaian descent.What she may have done,or not done,to warrant this action,is unimportant.If she has broken the law,let law take it’s course.If not,let the market deal with her.Individual producer can punish her,if she is unprofessional,by taking their business elsewhere.If people find her,or her films,detestable,let them stop buying or renting them.

A few years ago,the cream of Nollywood performers were banned for one year.Their crime,according to the producers and marketers,was that they had ganged-up to demand for “high” fees.Their critics conveniently forgot,that by acting as a group to impose a ceiling on fees,the producers were guilty of the same gang-up.In a free market,an artist should command fees that are commensurate with the artist’s market-power.It is that simple.Banning any one from making a living,for one year is an atrocity.This is just abuse of power.Especially when used against  the ladies.

The much-put-upon ladies of Nollywood.The entertainment business is not cake-walk for ladies,especially here in Africa.In a culture that forces the ladies to choose between a successful career,and domestic stability,Nollywood is the toughest possible legitimate business for a lady.In a business where “budget-movies” are the standard,performers are prolific,and have to be,if they are going to make a living.Literally having to scramble from “set” to “set”,the ladies lot is not made any easier,by the implications of the dress-code:in a conservative society,people fail to understand,that the mini-skirt or open-back dress is just industry uniform.

Wearing the mini should not make you a “bad” girl,any more than not wearing it makes a “good” girl.As Fela,the late Afro beat maestro,put it,”uniform na cloth,na tailor de sow am”,meaning clothes are made by tailors and that their wearers are not an alien species,they are no different from us.You really should not judge entertainers by their clothes,or the roles they play,the day-job demands it.These perceptions make life very difficult for married actresses.Recently,there was a story about an ex-actress been stripped naked and humiliated by her husband.People should not be so ignorant.

It is a little rich,to expect that a person who has built a career in the limelight,and is probably enamoured of the bright lights,can be domesticated yesterday,just because she has been given a ring.Especially a young woman,in her 20s, still exploring,and exulting in,the limits of her own power.As a rule of thumb,if you have to force your wife to stop acting,that means you probably do not rate her circle of friends and you definitely do not share her values.By forcing her to choose between the home and the office,you create an antagonism.If you are heat-shy,you should not venture into the kitchen.