I’m using above as title to this brief focused on going down memory lane. The title is fitting. The music album of that title was waxed by one of the world’s greatest rock bands, Rare Earth, in 1972. CDs were yet to arrive; streaming was perhaps not even in the research pipeline. Music, singles or in long play (LP) came in vinyl and those of us buoyant and in the group amassed several LPs with a standard turntable to play them. Then, even if the ‘latest sound’ was spun on the radio, you could say correctly who the artist was. Each musician or band had a unique style and in spite of creativity which was a standard offering, it was possible to know who the artist is after listening to a new single or LP for the first time. Music today is a study in non-creativity and boring repetitions.
To the issue of the day. Like the music world, Nigeria has ‘changed’ in incredible proportions negatively in less than half a century. Those of us in the ‘old school’ are bewildered although to stay alive we join.
In 1985 I was in the Cross-River State Ministry of Agriculture. It was in the days that people were laid off without procedure. Workers went to the office not knowing whether it was their last day there. Any strange face was regarded with suspicion as an SSS staff or agent out for information to lay people off could be on the prowl. It was the heydays of the Buhari-Idiagbon administration.
I was in the office one day when a strange face bounced into the compound. Mr Andy Inyang (God rest his soul) used to walk with a bounce. He had met one Mr (now Dr). Matthias Eka seeking for young people with an MBA for recruitment into Icon Limited (Merchant Bankers). By then MBA was the hottest qualification in the US and everywhere else.
I decided to gamble for it could have been a ploy by agents to get me a redundancy letter.
Out of the 8 of us interviewed that day, 4 were employed, 3 from the South and one (Mr Lamar Gadzama) from Bornu. That was just 35 years ago, with current developments looking like one century. As Andy told me, his effort and that of Mr Edon Odungide stopped at getting my application to the Personnel Department, later, Human Resources Development Department (HRDD). Shortlisting and interview outcome were based on standard rules which had excellence as the platform. Did Icon lose by using competence as the watchword? No, for among other things Icon was generally the Lead Bank in syndications, Treasury management, and other banking sub-sector activities. During the explosion in new banks, Icon lost several key staff because recruiters started there. Ask the Olas of this world. I met Emir Sanusi there; he came after me as usual after a competitive interview.
Take a second case. A friend from Akwa Ibom attended interview in Nigerian Tobacco Company Plc. He took 2nd position in the group (I think it was Legal Department). One person was required and the person that came first was appointed wherever he came from. Two years later, that person resigned. NTC simply went back to the file, got the address of my friend and sent an appointment letter. My friend accepted the job.
Contrast above with Nigeria of today. Selection into the National Team for football, sport, etc is based on surname. Why would anyone be surprised that Cameroon which is the size of one State in Nigeria routinely beats us in international competitions? Can the most competent academic from Sokoto be the Provost of Akwa Ibom State College of Education today? If you are not West or core North, just teach and collect salary; don’t ever have the temerity to dream of being VC of Ibadan or Zaria respectively. This is one reason one Prof Ekpoudom submitted that there is no international university in Nigeria today. I was in Apostolic Church Seminary/College of Theology, Obot Idim Nsit, Akwa Ibom State yesterday. Established in 1960, the first three Rectors were white people. Can a non-Akwa Ibom person hold the office Rector in that religious institution today?
We have come a long way but we are on the wrong path. Imagine attempting to be SUG President in Rivers State University if you are not from Rivers State or even General Prefect in a Unity School outside your State. That is where ethnicity starts and the youths grow up with that understanding. They don’t need to work hard: with a popular family name or the right tribe admission, jobs, promotion are yours for the asking. If the Principal of a secondary school appoints a non-indigene, he or she is seen as a sell-out and a traitor. It is so deep-seated. I had that experience six years ago.
Nigeria, we hail thee. As we fan the flame of ethnicity, we must realize that it is anti-excellence and productivity. While we hoist destructive policies and downplay or completely relegate capacity and excellence, we are unwittingly destroying the system. Caps should fit the wearers for the common good. Interestingly unqualified persons – square pegs in round holes – are usually so incompetent they can’t even serve their tribes as originally conceived. They rather destroy the system such that everyone loses – including themselves. I highlighted this in my post on the hue and cry against skewed appointments into high Federal offices.
Can we have change backwards in time? It is why I titled my poetry collection about the debacle in Ogbaland, “Looking forward to Yesterday.” I yearn for the good old days when excellence and performance had precedence over ethnicity and ‘man know man or woman.’ Maybe the problem is that supply of labour is far ahead of demand. The solution to that is not to lower standard but to institute deliberate policies on job and wealth creation. In 2017 I asked the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Character whether there an Executive or Private Member’s Bill on job creation has ever been presented to the National Assembly. They had no answer. Rather everyone is busy chasing the few vacancies available in government departments. Let’s learn to put the cart before the horse.
I rest my case.