Last Friday, at the Greater Nigeria Pastors Conference, Osinbajo, in a smugly virtuous umbrage, criticised the socio-cultural penchant for elevating “quota” system over merit in Nigeria. He argued that for Nigeria to be a better country, appointments should be based on individual suitability for the position, not ethnic identity. The delicious irony of his magisterial solipsism is that this was not the first time he would make such an observation. In December 2016, he made a similar remark in Abuja at the conferment of the Nigerian National Order of Merit where he argued that placing quota over merit does not work in our collective interest. Osinbajo was responding to allegations that Buhari’s appointments have been, so far, tribalistic in outlook but he could have done us favour why the preponderance of those who have qualified for positions under Buhari have been members of his tribe.
Ordinarily, it should not be hard for one to agree with Osinbajo except coming from a high-ranking official whose administration closed its eyes to the “clandestine” recruitments of their cronies to the so-called juicy offices in Nigeria, his admonition rings hollow. A year ago, the scandal broke that the Nigerian apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria, secretly recruited relatives of President Muhammadu Buhari, his ministers’ children and relatives, and other high-ranking All Progressives Congress members to the bank. The Vice President now wants to pontificate on “merit” or speak against “quota.” Unless, of course, he clarifies what he means by merit, and how and why the children of his political associates qualify for “juicy” government positions more than the children of millions of Nigeria on whose back they rode to power.
Osinbajo should explain what “merit” may mean in the Nigerian context when President Buhari has the nerve to ask the World Bank to concentrate developmental projects in the “Northern Region” of the country. Where is the equity herein? Yes, indeed there is a case to be made about rebuilding the parts of the northern region that had been ravaged by Boko Haram. But when such an initiative comes from a President who has been more provincial than national – especially from his world view to his political appointments – his self-justifications pass the smell test. For whose benefit was Osinbajo pontificating when the political elite he works with, especially the ones who valourise poverty to bamboozle their simple-minded followers are the ones who abridge merit to favour their own scion? If they genuinely believed in merit, they would throw the recruitment process open and not pass their entitled kids through a back-door waiver.
Osinbajo must surely know all these and jumping over them to make some sanctimonious statements about “merit” vs. “quota” is a waste of our time. He should save the sermon for his associates at the next APC rally where everyone will pat one another’s back to salute their mediocre achievements.
Osinbajo, last month in Lagos, also spoke against Nigerians and their habituation to corruption. He claimed he found it disheartening that Nigerians have accepted corruption as a way of life and they even celebrate corrupt officials. Osinbajo decried such attitudes. Again, one is inclined to agree with Osinbajo, at least, theoretically. Several instances support his assertion: from the scandalous amounts that are regularly expropriated in Nigeria, to the obscene waste of public funds on white elephants, Nigeria is being bled by her carers. An instance where one of the poorest and unproductive states in Nigeria has a governor who rides an SUV worth a reported N44m (and which, recently, got burnt in Lagos) should ordinarily be deemed unacceptable. However, some of the most corrupt public officials in Nigeria today are in Osinbajo’s party, and several brazen acts of corruption have been carried out under their watch. Osinbajo still has the gumption to publicly sermonise against corruption?
Osinbajo’s new-found advocacy, coming from a man who serves in a government that has been accommodating of corruption, as recent events show, and which has managed its relations with the public on with an admixture of arrogance and profound ignorance, is at best, laughable. If Osinbajo wants to condemn corruption in Nigeria, he does not need to go to Lagos to make empty speeches. Right there in the Federal Capital Territory, where he lives in government quarters, are the faces of official corruption in Nigeria.
There is little need to criticise poor and longsuffering Nigerians groaning under their jackboots for their lack of inspiring following, he should start his preaching with his associates who pad the annual nation budgets to scandalous heights.
The APC, drowning under the weight of their own quackery and self-imposed bondage of heightened expectations and over-promise, should not turn around to blame Nigerians for not being the change they want to see in the world. It is not the fault of Nigerians that Buhari’s government is embroiled in the scandal of the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina. It is also not the fault of Nigerians that Osinbajo chose to play a rather pusillanimous role that belied his activist stance when he was questioned on the foggy role he played in the NNPC- Maikanti Baru issue.
Meanwhile, in August, shortly after Buhari returned from his extended medical leave in the UK, Osinbajo was quoted as saying in a speech that medical tourism was draining Nigeria’s reserves and needed to be checked. As it turned out, the remarks were made by the D.G. of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, who represented Osinbajo at the event. When the irony in his reported statement hit him, Okechukwu claimed to be acting on his own behalf and not the VP’s. Despite Okechukwu’s attempt to refute the damage by owning the statement he made on behalf of the man he represented, the point was clear enough: these people are double-dealers. Their virtues are a put-on, and not ingrained; their moral and ethical acts are pre-written and pre-rehearsed, not spontaneous. Okechukwu’s statement was spot on but he had to retract it for the sake of the President who would not live up to his own promises to stop medical tourism.
Finally – and this last point does not exhaust the catalogue of Osinbajo’s double-dealing – he criticised the church for not speaking out enough against corruption. Two weeks ago, while speaking in Lagos, he remarked that corruption exists in Nigeria because the church is in cahoots with corrupt politicians. As usual, Osinbajo’s remark was “on point” although I only partially agree with him on the issue of persistence of corruption in Nigeria.
Corruption in Nigeria is systemic, and whether religious leaders shout themselves hoarse or not, it will continue. No society has ever alleviated corruption by merely ramping up the society’s moral consciousness. If they did just that, people will still pillage and plunder public wealth if they get the means. Countries that are relatively free from corruption are that way, not because their religious leaders work overtime, but because they developed modern and sophisticated means of stopping itchy fingers from accessing the public resources. Osinbajo, as a professor and lawyer, should know this.
Osinbajo says the right things but to the wrong audience and at the wrong time too. The very things he publicly condemns are what the constitution empowers his government to redress. If, for instance, anyone wants to speak of appointing people into public offices in Nigeria based on merit and not on some nepotistic formula, it should not come from Osinbajo who is Buhari’s wingman and is therefore implicated in the lopsidedness he condemns. The same goes for his other criticisms. If he is disturbed by his conscience and wants to turn things around, he should turn to the President and have a critical conversation about the shortcomings of their government and their aborted manifesto. The change they once promised us does not begin with Nigerians who are suffering from their lack of effectiveness; it begins with those like Osinbajo himself who have executive powers.
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