Nigeria! A Nation Where ‘Head Pass Head, Pikin Pass Pikin’ – Ahmed Oluwasanjo

An exclusive story published by SaharaReporters that reported that, “at least 91 people tied to influential or highly placed Nigerians…were recently offered juicy appointments by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in a hiring process that was highly secretive”, inspired the title of this piece.

Of course, asking whether, ‘head pass head or pikin pass pikin?’ in Nigeria would elicit different responses from different quarters. Those who believe in the gospel of ‘God created all of us equal’ would argue that one head is no better than the other, while some would argue otherwise, appealing to the fact that there is a natural hierarchy in the scheme of things, leaving some people as lords and other as serfs, no doubt with the issue of power relations involved. But whichever way we choose to look at it, the truth is obvious that ‘head pass head and pikin pass pikin’, which goes beyond mere physical attributes of the sizes of our heads.
To understand this in the Nigerian context, a simple comparison of the ordeals of an average young Nigerian, born with no wooden or plastic spoon with the ‘life-is-good’ experiences of those born with silver, golden and diamond spoons would substantiate that, indeed, ‘head pass head, pikin pass pikin’.

To start with, quality education should be to develop the potentials in both children of the leaders and those of the led in any sane country. However, an average Nigerian faces a lot of challenges in acquiring education.

Aside meeting up all necessary requirements for admission, gaining admission into one of our higher institutions of learning without bribing or influencing someone in the system – using one’s connection – is a miracle. Likewise, surviving the unfriendly learning environment, the scheming of maniac bride-taking lecturers and frequent strikes to graduate from our higher institutions within the stipulated period of study is a big achievement. And above all, getting a decent job after the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme to start out in adult life is a struggle that calls for one adorn the “whole armour of God.”

As a matter of fact, after the NYSC programme, most Nigerian youth usually wake up to the bitter truth that getting a job is not as easy as imagined during their service year. Once the bitter realities of living unemployed catches up with them, those who believe unemployment has a spiritual cure would start seeking spiritual help to break free from it. Others who have the penchant to cut corners would resort to job racketeers, while those who are realistic and resolute after job-hunting for a while, drop their certificates under their beds to hustle; some as taxi drivers, okada riders or masons.

It’s so sad.

On the contrary, in this same Nigeria, children of politicians and high ranking government officials have no single idea of what their contemporaries from poor homes go through. They attend the best private international primary and secondary schools, and they get best of quality education abroad at the tertiary level, so having an idea of the poor education their parents provide ordinary Nigerians is impossible. Also, the fact that they return to Nigeria only to pick up juicy jobs in government agencies, ministries and multinational companies as result of their by fathers’, mothers’ or uncles’ influence in the country does not give them a feel of how and where the shoe pinches.

Whenever children of the influential/highly placed Nigerians are to be recruited into public institutions, it is referred to as replacement. In this case, vacancies would not be announced in line with best practice and there would be no aptitude test to assess the competence of those recruited. Beneficiaries of such recruitments simply seat at home and get their employment letters on a platter of their parents’ connection.

It’s very much unlike the open recruitments for the hapless Nigerian youth which are usually characterised by numerous irregularities, including extortion and bribery. Recalling the 2014 Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment that escalated into a national tragedy, claiming the lives of about 16 young Nigerians across the country, would resonate well several with Nigerians.

Indeed, “life is bread to some, while to others it is an oven”.

Of course, we know all fingers cannot be equal. Even in more developed countries, there is a gap between the political class and the led. However, the political class in these places do not eat both the harvest and the seeds, leaving the poor with nothing to eat, as obtainable in our system.

This brings me to the crux of this piece: the secret recruitment of children and relatives of some Nigerian politicians by the Central Bank of Nigeria, as reported by SaharaReporters a few days ago, and the some salient issues that should not be swept under the carpet just like that.

According to the news platform, “The recruitments are deemed irregular because the CBN failed to advertise the vacancies in order to allow opportunities to all qualified Nigerians to apply for the jobs. In addition, the bank’s “political” recruitments did not follow principles of federal character set out for employment by government agencies and other public institutions.’Jobs were just handed to the children of ministers in the current administration,’ one bank official stated. The source added that many of the new hires were asked to pick their department of choice after their irregular employment was concluded.”

After this news broke, I had to read that part of the report over and again to be sure I was reading right. Could this still be happening under the present ‘change’ administration? But I thought we had voted things like this out with the immediate past administration? Frankly, this should give us reasons to fear that we might be far from realising the new Nigeria we all voted for. We voted for a new Nigeria where “corruption is to be killed if we do not want it to kill us”; a Nigeria where recruitments are done on the basis of competence and merit, and not on: who is your father? Who do you know? Or who knows you? It becomes more perturbing seeing ministers in this ‘change’ administration involving in nepotism, cronyism and job racketeering, which were some of the reasons Nigerians rejected the last administration.

In fact, many of the Nigerian youth who vehemently campaigned and voted for change, did so not for the promise of the N5,000 stipend for the vulnerable, but in order to see a working system that provides a level playing ground for all in Nigeria. I recall that candidate Muhammadu Buhari, in one of his campaign videos said that, he should be given a chance to prove to us that “Nigeria can work again”. If I may ask, is this how Nigeria would continue to work? Will Nigeria work better when the president’s ministers are championing nepotism, cronyism and job racketeering in public institutions? From this development, wouldn’t it be right to assume that similar clandestine recruitment exercises have been carried out in other public institutions in favour of the children, relatives and girlfriends of ministers and high ranking government officials since this administration came on board?

Please don’t tell me that the president should not be brought into this, because we never listened to such excuses in the days of Goodluck Jonathan. In other words, what we collectively condemned in the days of Jonathan cannot be applauded today under Buhari’s watch.

I also have no doubt that those who defended the padded budget proposal, even after President Muhammadu Buhari publicly admitted that it was greatly flawed by irregularities, would defend this fraudulent recruitment. Perhaps, this clandestine recruitment would be blamed on chimps in the government or trivialised as blackmail from the opposition. But whatever twist they chose to give it, It would be better they blame it on Lord Lugard or Tafawa Balewa because Nigerians will not want to hear that it was also part of the mess inherited from the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

As far as I am concerned, the CBN’s statement on this issue is nothing but hogwash. Do they think Nigerians are yam heads? If we may probe further, are beneficiaries of this fraudulent recruitment more qualified than millions of unemployed Nigerians out there? Of course no and I have no doubt that many of them – children, relatives and girlfriends of our minsters who were recruited – might not make it if subjected to aptitude tests alongside several other unemployed Nigerians. Second, how do we expect them to uphold the core principles of the public service: neutrality, non-partisanism and impartiality when their employments are offshoots of nepotism and cronyism? Of course, it is not out of place to assume that they would end up bringing in their brothers and sisters the same way they came into the system. Third, how do we expect them to be effective and efficient in their work when their competence were not tested before being employed? Again, this explains why incompetent hands pervade public institutions. And lastly, how do we expect those who, according to report, chose the departments they wished to work in not to become demi-gods there in CBN?

Ironically, this is manifesting in a government that belongs to ‘nobody and also to everybody’! It is taking place while the government is begging the youth to be patient for the jobs it avows to create at no fixed time.
A few months ago, our Minister for Labour, Senator Chris Ngige told the Nigerian youth to “forget white collar jobs”. In his words: “our children should forget about white collar jobs for now. They should use their hands and learn how to make tiles, make POP, do some carpentry work. These are jobs that are paying even in the western climes.”(sic). Of course, his biological children and close relatives are very likely not to be among those he addressed as such, and one could also conclude that by saying “our children” in this context, Nigige was referring to Nigerian youth who could be used for electoral campaign and maybe, as willing thugs during elections.

Let’s face it. Without soothsaying, we know that the beneficiaries of this fraudulent recruitments, who according to SaharaReporters are children and relatives of highly placed Nigerians, are regarded as having better heads than millions of unemployed Nigerian youth; they are special children – better pikin – who can never be told to learn plumbering or carpentry as their father’s friend, Ngige has advised. And by extension, whenever we hear any of these politicians deceiving the youth by calling them the “leaders of tomorrow”, we now know they are actually referring to their children.

At this juncture, I would like to remind President Buhari of one of his statements that I held to my heart for a day like this. I recall that on September 6, 2013, in his widely published article, “It is About Nigeria, Not Buhari” he said, “Nigeria has been good to me. I was an orphan but it educated me and trained me and offered me the ultimate prize…” Today, the army of unemployed Nigerian youth are not calling for half of what he has benefitted from Nigeria. They are not calling for too much likewise. All they are saying is: let there be fairness in the recruitments into public institutions. If everyone is subjected to the same aptitude test and the children of the poor fail, fine. Of course, they will have no complain that children and relatives of high ranking government officials who performed better in the aptitude test have the jobs.

Summarily, sacking one senior officials and redeploying many others at this time would definitely not stop job racketeering in the public service. This is why those found guilty in this case should be prosecuted to convince Nigerians that the president truly belongs to everybody and not just his political cronies. If this is not done, we should not be surprised when the Nigerian youth start changing their surnames to names of serving ministers in his cabinet to qualify for CBN or NNPC jobs. Perhaps, then we would have names like Arase Kachiku or Atiku Dambazau applying for jobs at the CBN. Just saying.

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