I had gone to the area council secretariat for N-Power verification for four days in a row now. Every morning, I would leave home early so I could get there by at least 7.00 a.m. Every morning, too, I would write my name on an attendance list. The verification exercise had only started properly a day before.
“More than 200 hundred people have been verified,” boasted an NSCDC official today. But, going by how far they have gone with the list, only a little above 100 people from the list had been verified. The other 100 were probably goats and cows belonging to the first 100 that had been verified.
Today, I was tired of all the hassle. An acquaintance had asked me to write her name on the attendance list for the day before she comes. When I did that, she was the 400th on the list. She would probably not be able to do hers today, and I told her as much. But she came.
”You should just go back home and sleep, or do something better with your time, because there is no hope for you,” I joked. She laughed. She could do hers before I get to do mine, she retorted. I did not argue with her. She could even get paid without the verification, I riposted. She agreed with me on that too. Everything is possible in Nigeria. She said she needed to see someone, and left.
Less than 20 minutes later, she returned. She had done the verification. It didn’t matter whether her name was on the list or not. She knew someone who was an official—probably a family member, or a friend, or an acquaintance. I was not stunned. I was not angry. Were I angry, it would have been directed at something else, something vague—like the general mess that Nigeria has become, the rot that is now its institutions—that I could not have been able to pin down. And if I were not so tired and a little tetchy already, I would have asked her to cut soap for me. The moment she told me she needed to see someone, I had a prescience that she would come back with a story that she has done the verification, or something similar to that.
Sadly, we are used to it, this nepotism and favoritism that have come to be accepted as part of our lives as Nigerians.
Nepotism is a practice of granting advantages to relatives and friends. It could be in entertainment, education, politics, sports, etc. Nepotism comes from the Latin word nepotismo, and can be traced back to the period—from the Middle Ages to the 17th Century—when Catholic priests and popes, lacking heirs to succeed them, gave preferential positions to their nephews, and elevated them to the cardinalate [i]
The practice could be political, like when a powerful figure appoints his relations to positions without appropriate qualifications. (Example: Donald Trump appointed his son-in-law and daughter into advisory roles to the President, and Robert Mugabe appointed his wife to be the next president of Zimbabwe.) It could also be organizational, whereby a person gets employed through familial ties [ii], which has become the order of the day in Nigeria.
A survey in 2019 shows that nearly half of the applicants who secured a position in the public sector got it through nepotism or bribery, or both. According to the survey, 20% of male respondents and 24.3% of female respondents paid a bribe to secure their positions in the public sector, while 16.1% of the male respondents and 15.6% of the female respondents got theirs through nepotism. Also, the report shows that 13.4% of male respondents and 9.3% of female respondents got it through both nepotism and bribery [iii]
Although the survey may not perfectly present the state of nepotism in Nigeria, it is no news that nepotism has now become a norm. It has been made to look like a normal thing such that once we have a relative, friend or an acquaintance holding a position, we expect to be treated differently by them. We expect them to use their position to grant us some advantages—and it does not matter whether we are qualified or not. After all, some of them got there through one form of nepotism or the other, we think. We get angry with relatives who are in one position or the other and have not used their position to favor us in any way. The truth is that we all have benefited from nepotism at one point in our lives, in different ways.
It is now normal to ask Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) candidates whether or not they know anyone in the institutions they have applied to, institutions in which admissions are supposed to be on merit. When applying for public sector jobs, the first thing that comes to our minds is who we know that will ensure that we get selected. And when there is no one we can point to, we feel hopeless.
Nepotism and favoritism, even if not related to financial misdemeanor, are the most common forms of corruption in the public sector in Nigeria. Because the “internal regulatory framework” is weak and lacks any form of “external regulatory oversight”, public officials capitalize on the powers at their disposal to grant employment to relatives and friends. They even go beyond granting employment to the process of appointments, trainings and posting [iv]
The problem is that we complain about this only when it does not favor us. When it does favor us, we remain mute and take a that-is-Nigeria-for-you stand. I wonder how we can get rid of this. I wonder how we can condition our minds to stop thinking in terms of who we know and what they can use their position to do for us. The future of the next generation looks foggy. I can not help but imagine how Nigeria will be in the next 50 years, how its public sector will be like. If something as inconsequential and simple as a simple verification exercise requires that you know someone, that you have to make do with nepotism, then the future of Nigeria is really bleak.
[iii] Nepotism and Bribery in Public Sector in Nigeria in 2019 by Simona Varella. Accessed from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1198761/nepotism-and-bribery-in-public-sector-in-nigeria/
[iv] Confronting the Monolith: Insider Accounts of the Nature of and Techniques of Corruption in Nigeria by Musa Bala Zakari and Mark Button
Nicholas Leam is a Nigerian Writer. He participated in the Crater’s 2021 Remote Internship for Writers.