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Femi Owolabi: Nigeria and the politics of who you know

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Femi Owolabi: Nigeria and the politics of who you know

by Femi Owolabi

In Nigeria, the surest qualification to getting anything is simply by knowing somebody who knows somebody that knows somebody.

Beyond nepotism, it has become our habitual culture as Nigerians, such that even when you are by merit qualified, you still find your way through who you know.

The solipsistic character of some Nigerians who now see themselves in the position of relevance is as a result of this. Say ‘good morning’ to one of my uncles without adding ‘sir’, he will deposit a slap on your face while his other hand beats his chest as he asks you if you’ve forgotten who he is. And who is my uncle? He is a senior civil servant whose friend happens to be the NLC chairman of their local chapter. So, he is someone you can give your CV to and through his friend, the NLC chairman, you are assured of getting a job at the Local Government Secretariat.

Recently, as events unfolded at the launch of Obasanjo’s foundation in London, a friend who was reporting live from the venue told us that Aliko Dangote was refused entry by the security guys who of course ain’t Nigerians, until Obasanjo accidentally walked out and then moved close to the security guys to rescue Dangote.

‘Don’t you know this is the richest man in Africa?’ Obasanjo was reportedly quoted. Which security man will be so stupid to try such nonsense here in Nigeria? Even if Dangote had forgotten his IV at home, at the mention of his name, all heads should bow and in sycophantic manner punch their fists in the air, shouting ‘Rankadede’ or ‘Tuaele Baba!’  Forget protocol. It is London security men that see granting entrance to someone without an IV as incongruous.

Yes, it is possible in Nigeria to be caught jumping over the fence of a Central Bank and if you can boastfully say and prove that your grandfather is the cousin to the IG’s uncle, you are freed. Let me show you interwoven experiences that explain this topic properly.

One of the days in my final year as a student unionist, when the accolades ranked me as a senior comrade, I was incautiously loitering around a hall where an external examination was going on, and in less than a minute, a battalion of newly-recruited and ambitious Man O’War cadets monitoring the hall pounced on me. It appeared as if I would be the first criminal they’d ever arrest in their Man O’War career. As one swept the back of my head with the back of his hand, one threw his knee into my buttocks, and another grabbed me by my boxers, trouser-waistband and belt, held together, and was jerked up like he’s pulling the rope of an I-better-pass-my-neighbor-generator that has a faulty ignition. These kids must be suffering from agnosia and wouldn’t know who I am, I managed to mutter. Who you be? One of them snarled at me and ordered that I should be taken to the guardroom.

I didn’t disclose who I was and like one forces a horse to the stream, I was forcefully dragged out of aggrandizement to the guardroom and was locked up. Soliloquizing at the dark corner of the guardroom, I remembered that I still had my phone in my pocket. I brought it out as fast as I could and scrolled out the digits of the Man O’War commandant.

As he answered the call, I was showered with hailing and salutation. Basking in the adulation, I smiled and asked the commandant to guess where I was calling from. He answered that, if I wasn’t calling from the union secretariat, then it would be from a NANS meeting in Abuja. I got him shocked when I told him I have been locked up by his boys and was waiting to be transferred to the police station. The commandant won’t even bother to ask what offence I had committed as he shouted ‘that’s impossible’. In lesser minutes that I had imagined, the commandant arrived at the guardroom and ordered my immediate release. The cadets who arrested me were summoned and the commandant disclosed my person to them. And thereafter, whenever any of these cadets walked into my direction on the walkways, he will stamp his left foot, chest out, throw his right hand across his forehead and would say ‘senior comrade!’ My fleeting visit to the guardroom would have been an elongated one. I was arrested for loitering around an exam hall which was punishable, but excuse me! I knew somebody in charge who was incapable of taking me as an offender. I have not come to indict myself but this is how things are done here.

The other experience is of a friend who was posted to Ondo state for the one year NYSC mandatory service. After the three-week camp, he was assigned to NNPC in Ore as his place of primary assignment. It has been his dream to get a place related to what he studied; Oil and Gas.

Unfortunately, he was rejected. I have often wondered about the stupidity of government organizations that reject NYSC corps members. I recently heard of corps members who were rejected by a public primary school, and I ask where else would they be redeployed to? This, however, is a topic for another day.

My friend was unsatisfied with this rejection, while others that were also rejected by NNPC sought for reposting to lesser organization that would welcome them. Understanding the politics of who you know, my friend’s act, albeit unseemly paved way for him. He went back to NNPC with a forged letter he claimed he had gotten from one of the directors in NNPC headquarters in Abuja. This letter cleared him from the gate through to the man in charge.

He had also made an arrangement with one of his fellow corpas to call him at a calculated time that he would be with the man in charge. And while the man in charge perused the letter from Abuja, my friend gave him his phone that someone was on hold to speak with him. It was the arranged NNPC boss from Abuja who spoke authoritatively in a borrowed baritone voice. ‘Yes sir’ the man in charge intoned respectfully and my friend was, with immediate effect, officially accepted.

My friend would later go to their NCCF to testify that he knew nobody at NNPC but God miraculously worked out his placement. After all, blessed is the servant who applies wisdom. And to the glory of God after the completion of NYSC, NNPC still foolishly paid salary into his account up to the fourteenth month if not fifteenth.

In Nigeria of today, your 399 JAMB score won’t be the first thing to ask while seeking university admission, what comes first is who do you know? In Nigeria of today, your first class certificate won’t give you your desired job, what will is who do you know?

Therefore, if things still go on this way, it’s advisable that you start to know somebody who knows somebody that knows somebody!

@fEMIoWOLABI

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