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A Society That Does Not Reward Competence Will Develop Poorly

Chimamanda Adichie left Nigeria for the USA at the age of 19. Today, she’s in the news again for winning yet another award as a writer. Isn’t it wonderful that a person from just about anywhere in the world, can go to the USA, and succeed on merit?

Adichie and Lupita Nyong’o are two great examples.

They came in as outsiders, and they’re getting objective appraisals based on merit.

In Nigeria, Is Finding Authentic Success on Merit – Especially as an Outsider – Possible?

Let me share a true story that offers some useful insight…

Back in 1997, the Cameroonian owner of a small French language coaching centre I attended in Benin City, became good friends with me, during the 3 months he tutored me. I attended when off duty from work as a young shift brewer in Guinness.

One day he told me he was attending the election of new executives for the Edo State branch of NAFTA – National French Teachers Association. I think that was the name.

If I recall correctly, the venue was an auditorium in Edo state’s University of Benin, or maybe it was Igbinedion Education Centre. It’s been a while now, so I’m not sure.

Anyway my teacher had a fellow Cameroonian male friend, who I will call “Oyam”, who’d worked some years as a teacher in a secondary school in Benin City.

Oyam had published 2 books (to help French learners) with a local printer. And he also had audio tapes that taught proper pronunciation.

As an adult learner aiming to consolidate my fluency in the language, I had bought one of the school teacher’s books, and found it very practically helpful. This was after attending a 3 month intensive training course in my teacher’s language school (for which I paid N35,000 in total).

Oyam had been very active in the association, and made his ambition to be elected president known to all.

By the end of that day, he lost that election with the lowest number of votes. And the winner was a Nigerian who struggled to speak French and had not produced any works of his own.

My friends were however not surprised.

They had always told me how those of them who chose to work in Nigerian schools often had to change their names and claim to hail from areas like Calabar, and border towns like Ikom (which I passed through on my 1st visit to Cameroon).

In fact, a year before, my teacher had taken me to visit some of his countrymen he’d found working as French teachers, under adopted names, in some schools.

When I asked why they did so, one such Cameroonian teacher explained that he had learned the hard way.

And what he learned was that if he wanted promotion on merit, consistent with his demonstrated competence as a French teacher, he had to hide the fact that he was NOT a Nigerian!

He then explained how he’d been forced to keep moving from school to school, wondering why Nigerian French teachers who often were not half as competent as he was often got put ahead of him. This happened, no matter how long he stayed there, and despite the fact that he often did most of the work.

Simply put, as a foreigner, he found he rarely stood a chance against a Nigeran. In some cases, a fair minded school owner/proprietor would ignore complaints and appoint him. But the others would generally make things difficult by refusing to cooperate with him!

He said he sometimes overheard them saying: “How can someone come from another country, to lead us, while we’re here?”

And that was when he decided to change his name, and claim to be from close to the border area, but that he’d spent some growing up years in Cameroon.

The next job he got with a big school afterwards saw him get appointed Head of department within a few months!

That was where my teacher and I visited him.

How Many Foreign African Nationals Who’ve Lived for Decades In Nigeria Stand Any Chance of Getting Elected Ahead of a Nigerian?

Today we know about Nigerians in the UK and USA who occupy public office.

But have you ever wondered if foreign African nationals who have lived here for decades, can get elected into public office, or positions in private organisations (e.g. clubs, associations, universities etc) on merit?

Do we even have one example in the Nigerian senate today for instance?

Are we to assume that we do not have Africans from other countries,who have made this place home for them and their families, who can be useful in service?

What signals do such people get in relating with us?

Some may have ideas that they believe can benefit us. But our attitudes could make them keep away from offering themselves for service.

I say this above because I’ve met many such people living quietly in Nigeria!

But look at Botswana, South Africa, USA and you’ll see Nigerians who arrive and get appointed right to the top of the hierarchy, based on their demonstrated competence in the universities there.

I know a number of persons who have experienced this.

These countries, especially the USA, had to evolve to become this way, by moving away from extreme racism.

The successes since recorded over there, by Achebe, Soyinka, Adichie, and many other excellent Nigerians prove those countries have done it progressively for decades.

My Question is: Can the Same Be Said For the Nigerian Society?

Does a nobody from another country stand a chance of achieving – based entirely on merit – the highest levels of success and recognition, IN NIGERIA, if s/he is starting from zero?

Indeed, can a complete nobody who is a full blooded Nigerian, born and raised in Nigeria, reasonably aspire to authentic success, based entirely on merit IN NIGERIA, if s/he is starting from ground zero?

Just like we see happening in the USA for our people in Diaspora?

My personal experiences and observations, over the past 12 years, make me fear the answer to all those questions is NO.

That’s Why Nigerians who Win Visa Lotteries to USA Often Rejoice, and Party, and Even Give “Testimony” in Church!

They do that because they are so sure they will get a better chance of being rewarded on merit for their efforts over there!

The truth is that a society that rejects the culture of rewarding merit and competence, will suffer poor socio economic development.

And that is why Nigeria suffers lack of progress today, even compared to many smaller and less endowed nations.

It affects virtually every area of our lives – including the schools our kids attend.

One example: Parents pay teachers to ensure their kids score ahead of all others. It’s so rampant today.

This ensures the best students who study hard, and whose parents do not try to influence the process, end up losing out!

And we see the results in school leavers who demonstrate poor evidence to back up the credentials they carry around!

And that’s why many gifted and highly competent Nigerians rarely stay in the country. Most find ways to go where they will be allowed to flourish.

If things are to change, we have to start from the basics…from the home, beginning with ourselves, our family members, and then from there into larger society.

Unless we do that, mediocres will continue to dominate in the Nigerian society!

Final Words: We Have to Make The Right Choices In the Best Interests of Our Country!

One night in late 2012, I attended an event organized by Adichie’s NGO (through which she provides writing training courses to young writers from across Africa), in conjunction with Farafina, an indigenous publishing house (see Kachifo.com).

One night in late 2002, I attended an event organized by Adichie's NGO (through which she provides writing training courses to young writers from across Africa), in conjunction with Farafina, an indigenous publishing house (see Kachifo.com) - Picture of the cover of a brochure I picked up at the event

The event was held at Lagoon Restaurant, on Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria. And it had many notable writers and poets in attendance, including Adichie herself, of course.

It was sponsored by Nigerian Breweries, and I recall Timaya was the artiste invited to perform.

There were books by many up and coming as well as established writers on display, for sale. What I learned that day, from observing proceedings (including presentations to writers who’d completed their training), told me Adichie is keen to help us rise to the international standards that will benefit us a people, by re-discovering our passion for African story telling.

But I cannot help wondering whether the larger Nigerian society will embrace this obvious need to change…

Yet, we need to, so that our new generation of writers, for instance, can get due reward and recognition right from their own society.

If we do not, they will be forced to seek what is due to them abroad, like so many others have done in the past.

And our nation will continue to suffer the negative effects of that trend.

The choice is ours to make!

[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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