My friend got a new car and while we were celebrating, an agent brought all the car papers needed to drive without harassment from federal, state and local authorities.
My friend pointed to neat stack of permits, insurances and licenses. The agencies don’t even bother to see the car; the revenue generated is the ‘koko’ (excuse the street slang). That’s why a smoking car on the highway has a neat clean crisp certificate of road worthiness.
This craze for certificates/awards/permits dominates our life in Nigeria, whether from the authorities’ angle, professional angle or individual angle. We chase awards, honorary titles, academic qualification with little or no regard to the worth (or lack) of those embellishments.
In the early days of this column, I had written on a recruitment exercise yours sincerely was involved in which was an eye opener of sorts. It appeared the more prolific the certificate, the more untaught the carrier. We had to resort to an exhaustive one–on-one interview to verify all skills and competence claimed!
One of my childhood friends won a scholarship to a prestigious school in the USA in the early 90s’. This particular friend was as clever (read street wise) as he was brilliant, if not more so. Anyway he got ready for the trip excitedly and a few days to take off, as agreed earlier, I went to his place to begin a stretch of goodbyes. I got to his place and met his dad in the living room fuming. ‘Hello my dear, how are you? Are you aware of what your friend did?’ He went on to lecture me on how disappointing my generation was turning out despite all the hard work our parents had done. By then I was so jittery I could hardly keep still. Anyway, my friend’s dad found out he had collected his “yellow fever card/certification without stepping even close to a hospital”. Therefore my friend was grounded in Nigeria. Is this how he intends to bring the family to disrepute in the US? Was my dad around? He would see my dad later on. I flew upstairs to see my friend. After assurances that he hadn’t implicated me in any way in the alleged yellow fever fiasco; I settled down to sympathise with him. He grumbled on and on; Dad thinks and behaves like an angel, how many people go to test for this yellow fever? People sit down in the houses and collect this card! If you insist on the normal process, the results won’t be out until days after you flight departed the airport! What do we do now? I asked him. Your dad says no more travel for you. Mercifully, my dad stepped in, the following day, he drove my friend and I to see my uncle who was the chief medical director at the teaching hospital and we got the yellow fever card the proper way.
Two things from the incident which still largely, holds true today ; One it is still a lot easier/less stressful and timely to get things done via the ‘back door’ than via the front door. Having someone of influence somewhere on the other hand, will also ensure you get some front door advantages otherwise denied to some other mortals. Now our unending craze for certification/titles/awards ensures these three phenomena will always feed off each other and maintain the status quo.
A colleague went for an academic/professional programme. It turned out one of his classmates had indulged in some ‘impropriety’. Case closed. This was an elite programme and it was unheard of, for graduands’ to ever have their proficiency questioned. Well as it later turned out, not only was the discovered impropriety swept away, this particular classmate was all smiles and revelry at the end of programme festivities/graduation. It turned out he was a son to one of the chiefs in uniform and so be-it. He took a liking to my affable female colleague and as favoured son later told her, “I just need the certificate to sit as an executive director in one of my dad’s business interests”. What about proficiency or skill to handle the briefs that comes with such elevated office and or position? The dad has a retinue of advisers so that was no problem, besides the interests of the son lay elsewhere.
If favoured son (or his father at least) had some essential reason to acquire a certification, (how be it unworthily) then consider Ngozi my friend’s neighbour. My friend Phillip was sharing this nice four bedroom flat with Ngozi and 2 other students during our university days. Ngozi was unlike most students, she was older, matured and she had money. Phillip and other ‘neighbours’ were often fed free by Ngozi; whom was later revealed to be the younger wife of a wine merchant. In return, Phillip and the others would literally do her homework, assignment and projects , (don’t dare say in return for free lunch or dinner as the case may be).Phillip especially became a favourite and Ngozi’s husband would often send him wine and shirts. Anytime I visited Phillip and Ngozi was around, she was either cooking (all others had wisely ceded the kitchen to her) or making her hair or attending to a purveyor of shoes or clothes or make up. It was a mystery how Ngozi always ended up scoring 40s for all her main and electives, even when she copied the most brilliant students in class. When she graduated with a pass degree, her husband threw a party for her inviting his friends and her ‘inner caucus’. Ngozi was a stunner and she never looked more beautiful. I had remarked to Philip, Ngozi should have just won a beauty contest in her hey days rather waste these 5 years at the university (we all agreed it was a waste, Ngozi knew nothing). She would, later that evening, huddle with Phillip and myself; “volks”, (her nickname for me because I drove a Volkswagen to campus) “my husband has opened a beauty salon for me with five girls”. Wouldn’t she go for NYSC and serve? To do what with? “My husband will frame my certificate and put in his office” Ngozi announced to Phillip and I, “while I face my business”. The certificate was more for him and she had agreed to get one because it would improve his status amongst peers!
But even certification duly acquired should be well, sensibly intended. Take Sokolaya, a friend of my sister who graduated in flying colours from the school of medicine. A year into medical practice, she sat the professional exam for chartered accountant, and in no time she passed, again in flying colours. 5 years at an oil and gas company, she was back at the university to read law. My sister shrugged; she says there are opportunities out there and she can’t sit by and let the world pass her by! The law degree is to open up hitherto locked doors of immense opportunity to her. You know Soko, passing exams are no trouble to her, and so I let her be. Well 15 years after medical school, Soko was still acquiring one certificate after another! I thought it was a mumbo-jumbo, but so be it!
My mum got a strange letter one day. It was a letter listing all her achievements professionally and in the community. An award presentation was due to hold in the state capitol. However, she needed pay a token to cover “processing and administrative cost”. I deserve this award, she mused, but I don’t have the money. In the humorous discourse that followed; my dad advised that she held a fund raising event to raise the cash, after all the community could vouch for her untiring good works. Well when her entrepreneurship ladies association met later that week, a member mentioned a letter she had received nominating her for an award. In fact it later turned out that almost every member had received such letter. A little investigation led to a former clerk who worked at the association secretariat. He had the data of all the members which he had then supplied to a character who had registered a company whose core business was to ”recognize, publicize and award deserving professional women who had also advanced the cause of a community”. My dad was furious and demanded the police got involved, but my mum sensibly steered her association off that path. Well, this award ceremony not only later held, but was well attended by big wigs in the society. That could have been me on the TV; my mum teased my dad later on. Show me anywhere in this house with space to take one more award or plaque, my dad shot back. Why on earth do you need one more? He asked. Maybe not this particular one, but one more will be nice, my mum laughed.
I suppose one more award or certificate isn’t that bad really. This being Nigeria, that is.
BR/Ayo Oyeyipo ‘2016