The SSS Employment Scandal And Disadvantages Of Ethnic Chauvinism By ‘Tope Oriola

The SSS Employment Scandal And Disadvantages Of Ethnic Chauvinism By ‘Tope Oriola
  • PublishedApril 29, 2017

remely controversial employment exercise by the SSS is generating ripples in the country. A report by Premium Times (also published by Sahara Reporters) indicates that while Katsina state had 51 persons, all the southeast states had a combined total of 44 persons. Such preferential treatment is not new. The reinstatement of Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, who was implicated in the killings of over 600 civilians, is one recent example. General Mohammed was reportedly retired in 2014 for reasons unconnected to the killings, according to an Amnesty International report. He was surreptitiously brought back to the military in early 2016 during a period in which several officers had been dismissed, demoted or jailed for lesser offenses.

Not all Northerners benefit from or will ever benefit from the lopsidedness. I was in class with multiple senior police officers in a graduate program many years ago. One was an assistant police commissioner, a northern Christian, who claimed to have been marginalized because of his religion. His juniors had become police commissioners and had been heading state police commands while he was consistently overlooked. That’s not to suggest that only northern Muslims benefit from such arrangements, rather it is to show the multi-layered regimen of extra-legal factors being used.

I will not argue that these practices should stop. In fact, those implementing them via their zero-sum thinking should feel free to continue the practices. As a concerned Nigerian, my aim is simply to highlight the implications of such practices.

Besides further undermining Nigeria’s elusive unity, these practices will continue to favor a relatively small number of people to the detriment of the North. Such practices will not contribute to the development of the north. They will succeed in undermining whatever progress is made. “How”? You may ask.

A friend once narrated how he went to a hospital in Abuja to check an ear infection (he could not afford to go to London given the delicate nature of ear infections in Nigeria). The doctor on duty was a man from the north. The patient refused to be checked by the doctor. He left the consultation room and went to a matron who was from the south. He explained to the matron that he was afraid of having his ears checked by the doctor whose competence he was unsure of. His concerns were that the doctor might have graduated from a university in the North, where he was certain standards were not high. The matron assured the patient that the doctor was indeed trained in a northern Nigeria university but was one of the best doctors at the hospital. I was mortified by the story but had no counter-points to issues around JAMB cut-off point.

Perception is a major organizing principle in the world of humans. How many people ask a doctor for his or her credentials before being examined? Have you ever boarded a plane and proceeded to the cockpit to ask for the pilot’s license? This story accentuates one of the consequences of the hiring practices in the SSS, Nigeria Prison Service, the military and the public sector in Nigeria. Such practices make other Nigerians to a priori and unfairly question the competence of professionals from northern Nigeria. They may be viewed as products of a quota system with adulterated standards and therefore undeserving of whatever they have accomplished. But that is the more obvious part.

The more serious consequence is that over time, Northern Nigerians may begin to question the competence of fellow northerners. When and where the stakes are truly high (take brain surgery, for instance), northerners may view professionals from the north as somehow not up to the task. Those “connections” and ethnic solidarities have their benefits but their long-term effect is self-doubt.

For instance, Northern parents may prefer southern teachers; patients in the north may feel more comfortable with and adjudge southern health professionals as better trained and more knowledgeable; mechanics from the south may be deemed more competent than their northern counterparts and a northern chief executive may prefer to hire a southerner for jobs that are demanding. My point is that these practices will damage the psyche of the north in the long run.

These hiring practices will not solve the problems in the north. The beneficiaries will never be secure in themselves and will never know how good they are without the benefits of tribe and religion. Such practices will encourage indolence and foster the sense that hard work does not pay. Other parts of the country will begin with the assumption that they have to over-perform (e.g. on JAMB) and may, in fact, work harder as the cut-off points are higher in southern states.

Over time, such persons will simply make Nigeria a stepping stone and over-perform especially internationally. They will view Nigerian government agencies as elegantly set up for mediocre persons, who cannot compete unless they indicate their state of origin or religion on application forms.

I met the chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Police Affairs in 2016. The House was in the process of considering a request from the Nigeria Police Force to use electromagnetic disruption technologies such as Taser CEWs. As part of a research team that had published fairly extensively on the issue in Canada, I wanted to offer my expert opinion on the matter. The chair was from one of the northern states. The young woman who was his office manager was from the southeast. This made for a fascinating observation at the National Assembly as the representative’s constituents thronged to his office and the office manager professionally handled all kinds of situations. What I deduced was that when it mattered, the politician went for competence over and above ethnic sentiments.

Finally, self-doubt is a hefty price to pay especially when it becomes a group phenomenon. Those carrying out these practices must recognize the long-term psychological impact of what they are doing.

‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Kindly follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola

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