As chaos and corruption continue to careen out of control in Nigeria, thought of three emergent— and progressively worsening—problems fill me with deep existential anxieties about Nigeria’s future, particularly for the next generation of Nigerians.
The first is the increasingly unusual, corruption-ridden path to getting government jobs in the country. It is now almost impossible to get any government job without paying for it. It is now becoming the norm to pay hundreds of thousands, and in many cases millions, of naira to government officials before people get employed in government ministries and agencies.
The more “lucrative” a government ministry or parastatal is, the heftier the bribe required to get employment in it. This culture has permeated political appointments. Even ministerial appointments are now literally auctioned off to the highest bidder.
If people are required to pay money as a precondition to be employed or appointed into political positions, they’re basically being invited to a corruption bazaar. They’ll have to raid and pillage the national treasury to recoup their “investment.” That explains why corruption is getting bolder and more audacious these past five years than it has ever been.
Of course, there has always been this sort of corruption, but I don’t recall it ever been this mainstream. It is now a displacement of routine for people to get government jobs through a transparent, merit-driven process. I am filled with dread for the future of the children of poor people if this culture isn’t stamped out.
My second anxiety about Nigeria’s future is about the widening social stratification in Nigerian society. Up until the early 2000s, public universities used to be laboratories for social levelling. Those of us who attended small-town secondary schools met with people who attended pricey private secondary schools in big cities at the university.
When I went to Bayero University in Kano in the 1990s, for instance, some of Sani Abacha’s children went there. Children of governors, ministers, and other high-ranking bureaucrats from Kano and surrounding areas went there as well.
This was true of other public universities elsewhere. Public universities horizontalized the social landscape. I made friends and acquaintances at BUK that my humble background would not have allowed me to make had I not had the privilege to go to the university. Everyone I know in my age range and older says the same.
With the profusion of private universities in Nigeria and the popularity of foreign university education for the children of the wealthy and the powerful, opportunities for social flattening in public universities are diminishing. This ensures the intergenerational perpetuation of the cycles of privilege and poverty.
Sure, social media provides opportunities for social horizontalization, but it can’t replace the deep, meaningful interpersonal friendships people form in universities. And this leads to my last worry.
Even public universities that the children of the powerful are now abandoning are growingly getting out of the reach of the poor. Getting excellent grades in school certificate exams and high scores in university entrance exams is no longer a guarantee to gain entry into universities. (I’ve been told that the University of Ibadan is still a merit-driven institution).
Again, this isn’t a new problem, but it’s getting worse. Just like job applicants are now required to pay extortionate amounts of money to be employed, slots for undergraduate education are sold to the highest bidders.
A few years ago, I encountered an extremely intelligent young man from Borno by the name of Abdulmalik on Facebook. We had been friends for a while, and I’d taken note of his dexterity with the written word, the admirable analytical rigor of his thoughts, and his independent-mindedness. I’d assumed that he was a lecturer.
One day he sent me a private message requesting that I follow him on Twitter. His message gave me an opportunity to ask about where he worked. He told me he completed a diploma course and had applied to the University of Maiduguri for his undergraduate degree but hadn’t heard from the university.
He had eight credits including English and Mathematics and scored 230 in his UTME. He should have been admitted on merit and, because he is from Borno, should have benefited from being in the University of Maiduguri’s “catchment area,” not to mention that Borno being an “educationally less developed state” should have been an advantage for him.
It turned out that his “crime” was that he lost his father at an early age and his mother was ill and poor. He worked as a “maiguard” to put himself through polytechnic and didn’t have any money to bribe anyone to help him get admission at the University of Maiduguri.
His story made me shed a tear. My effort to reach out to my friends at the University of Maiduguri to help Abdulmalik didn’t help. I was told that the admission exercise had already been concluded. Through the help of a genial friend who is a top-ranking official at a Northeast state, Abdulmalik is now studying political science at a state university.
His story emblematizes the hundreds of thousands of young men in Nigeria whose odds of success in life are being dimmed before they’ve had a chance to start. We’ve been taught that education is the most reliable ladder to climb to success, but access to it is rigged against the poor, and people who managed to beat the rigged system to graduate from university are required to bribe to get jobs.
For many people, Nigeria has become the graveyard of dreams and the government has become the annihilator of hopes. If hope is the last thing that dies in a person, Nigeria is risking the death of everyone if it sustains a system that murders the hopes of the vast majority of its people.
Tribute to Chief (Mrs.) Phoebe Chiadi Ajayi-Obe
On June 28, 2020, Mrs. Phoebe Ajayi-Obe, an illustrious and luminous legal colossus died in Ibadan at the age of 92. She was the first ever female Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) from Eastern Nigeria and the second female SAN from the whole of Nigeria. She is also the first female law graduate from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
Her death is personal to me because I’ve met her at least two times here in Atlanta when she was alive. She is the older sister of my wife’s father. That made her my aunt-in-law. When she visited her children in Atlanta in early 2013, my wife (who was then my girlfriend) and my first daughter visited her.
Then in late 2014 when she visited again, she invited my family and me to her second daughter Folahan’s home in Atlanta. In both times that I had the privilege to visit her, I found her to be extremely convivial, generous, kindhearted and, of course, sharp-witted and acutely discerning.
She was also humble, down-to-earth, gracious, and benign in multiple ways. When she invited us to her daughter’s home, she cooked for us. I had already eaten before we got to the house and was kind of full, but it would be rude to decline the food “personally” cooked by a famous Senior Advocate of Nigeria for a nobody like me, so I told my wife that I’d only eat a little— out of politeness.
But the food was so irresistibly delicious that I asked for seconds! In our postprandial conversation, I told her that I had only intended to eat just a little because I had eaten before we got there but that her cooking was so out-of-this-world that I couldn’t help overfeeding. She laughed so boisterously that her laughter became contagious.
Mrs. Ajayi-Obe was an Igbo woman who married a Yoruba man from Ilesha, Osun State, by the name of Dr. Oyedokun Ajayi-Obe in the UK in 1957. When her family resisted her marrying a Yoruba man, Chief J.M. Ajayi-Obe, an NCNC federal legislator who would become her father-in-law, lobbied Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of the NCNC at the time, to persuade her family in Okija that their daughter was safe with his son.
Azikiwe took Chief Michael Okpara along with him to Okija to talk to her family. Who could resist the pleading of Azikiwe and Okpara in 1950s Eastern Nigeria? Needless to say, the late Ajayi-Obe was cosmopolitan, broadminded, and pan-Nigerian in ways you won’t find in people of her generation. May her soul rest in peace.