In 2008, after I learnt that I had been posted to Katsina State for my National Youth Service, I got in contact with a former classmate from Abuja Law School who was a Northerner. He assured me that he had connections in Katsina and that he would see to it that my primary assignment would be with the coveted Ministry of Justice. I did eventually serve at the Ministry of Justice in Katsina and I had a good year (will blog about my Katsina experience in another post). Though I cannot say with certainty how much influence my former classmate had on my getting the position, the point is that when he offered to help, I didn’t balk at the idea or mention how wrong it was that I would be favored over others.
Many of us complain about nepotism (and corruption) in Nigeria – nepotism being ‘the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs’. But how many of us protest against it when we or our loved ones are the beneficiaries? A few months ago, a dear friend told me of her experience during an interview in Abuja for a federal government job. Of the five candidates selected from her state for the interview – and there may have been hundreds of applicants – one was the governor’s daughter and two were related to the State Commissioner whose ministry was the same as the federal government one that was employing. She didn’t tell me who the other two were but I had no doubt that they were also related to some politicians. Sincerely, I was excited for my friend because she is brilliant and hardworking and I believe she can competently discharge the duties attached to the position. Also, after we graduated from law school, the three people from my class who I learnt got federal government jobs all had someone in Abuja. Two were nephews of a former minister, one had an aunt who occupied a very top position in one of the ministries. Again, I was happy for them. And I deem them competent. Passing the law school exam is sufficient proof of their skills. What is more, one of my former classmates is now, I understand, a personal assistant to his Commissioner uncle.
Nepotism is also prevalent in the private sector. I once got a job interview with Globacom. For the second stage, the interviewer was the CEO’s daughter, Bella Adenuga. Apparently, she occupies a high position in her father’s company. I don’t know if she has a background in human resources but she came across as confident and I believe she knew what she was doing.
In the United States, nepotism goes by a different name, an embellishment, – networking. When you are looking for a job here, the most common question you get is, ‘Have you tried networking?’. I visited a Nigerian family recently, and one of the host’s children (by the way, she mentioned that villages in Nigeria are getting noisier and more polluted with each visit she makes to Nigeria) advising me to network more told a story of how her younger sister, an attorney, got her new job. According to her, her sister (let’s call her Ola) had applied for job with a firm and was told, ‘Sorry, we do not have any position for you at this time’. However, after Ola made a phone call to her former classmate who knew somebody, she got a call from the same company saying that a position had suddenly opened up, and just like that, Ola got the job.
Even with laws put in place to ensure that all applicants applying for a job get equal consideration, public service in the United States is still characterized by nepotism and favoritism. The only difference is that it is more subtle than in Nigeria where it is perpetrated brazenly. In March this year, one of the biggest cities in United states had to review their hiring procedure when more than 30% of those hired in a department, the department’s first hiring in five years, were family members of the department current employees. As civilized as the United States it, it has seen the emergence of many political dynasties. Of the twenty years between 1989 and 2009, the United States was ruled by a father and son for a total of twelve years. There’s also the Clinton dynasty. Not to mention that during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as the president of the United president, he appointed his bother, Robert Kennedy, as the United States Attorney General.
To be sure, there are ethical concerns about nepotism especially in public offices. Besides depriving equally and sometimes more talented applicants of jobs, the beneficiaries of nepotism may not be competent to perform the duties required for the job. And since they know they cannot be easily removed because of their connections, many of them fear no consequences for their performance and are slack on the job. On the other hand, it is argued that nepotism promotes trust and reduces backbiting as one works with people they understand better and who have their interest at heart. It is also argued that having known the relative or friend prior, a person making the hiring decision is in a better position to judge whether they can do the duty unlike making a decision to hire a complete stranger based on a thirty-minute interview. Either way, nepotism is something we will always have to deal with as even the most advanced of societies have yet to get rid of it.
So for those of us who have an obscure surname or do not know somebody that knows somebody, let’s take it in stride when we miss opportunities because of favoritism. After all, we all benefit from it at some point. If we keep quiet when it favours us, then we definitely have no moral standing to speak up when it works against us. And if you consider that the word Nepotism has its origin from a practice that was common in the Catholic church where popes appointed their nephews as cardinals – a practice that has since been abolished – you may judge less and who knows, even decide to network. I do hope though that when you find yourself in a position to hire, you will make fair hiring decisions thereby taking humanity one step closer to its quest for an ideal world.