“In sheepskin coats, I silence the lambs
Do you know who I am, Clarice?”
– Murder to Excellence (Kanye West ft. Jay-Z)
Whenever I talk to my friends or mentors who crave careers in public service, the number one lie I realise they have bought into is that government is the only way to make recognizable impact in the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t support that conclusion.
What we know for a fact is that for every naira our government lays its hand on, far less than 30 kobo manages to trickle down the ordinary Nigerian in public infrastructure. So you have to wonder what kind of impact these individuals imagine they will make in government.
To make matters even worse, much of government is heavily populated by uninspiring dolts. I hear there was a time only the smartest students were accepted to our civil service. Well, those days are over, thanks to federal character. Today, you read some policy papers and much of it simply doesn’t make sense.
Oh, and perchance, you are somehow clever by half; there is always that permanent irritant – our compromised National Assembly, ever ready to stop anything that appears like progress from going through its shameless chambers in one piece.
Take for example, Madame Oteh’s treatment at the hands of Mr Hembe, the House Committee Chair on Capital Markets (why do we even need one?). I’m not sure what kind of experience in regulating Capital Markets Mr Hembe has but it didn’t seem like he had a clear understanding of how securities regulation should work. Of course, that probably doesn’t matter much in light of Hembe and his fellow fiends’ hefty sitting allowances.
So remind me again, what in this web of corruption and compromise resembles the desired impact on Nigerians our public intellectuals go into government in search of?
What is particularly surprising to me is how little we learn from the mistakes of those who come before us in this respect. It is a well-known fact that history isn’t very kind to public intellectuals who go into government. Especially in Nigeria, few people come out of the government’s cesspit of corruption smear-free. So why are so many brilliant people with a bright future ahead of them committing career suicide by jumping into the pissing pool ironically branded “public service”?
After consistently pondering this issue, I think I might be finally on to something.
I suspect that this illusion of the government’s impact combined with the Nigerian’s culturally endowed subservience to authority (a weakness we often mistake for respect) is being exploited by some devious individuals inside the Government to silence conscientious public intellectuals.
Outside of government, our public intellectuals freely and intelligently speak their minds to their peers and to power. However, in the realm of Aso Rock’s reality distortion field, they quickly learn that every sentence must be appropriately punctuated with “Your Excellency” and many important things are best left whispered or worse yet, unsaid. Soon enough, the once vibrant public intellectual we all once knew and admired is a shadow of his former self.
Just like in the old Ottoman Empire, where execution by garrote (strangulation) was reserved for very high officials and members of the ruling family, the path of government appointed destruction is reserved for our countries brightest and best. Unfortunately, it is remarkably effective. Prominent victim after prominent victim, the twisted rope of government subservience has quickly strangled voices of impact into guilt-filled silence.
In a Nigeria where objective truth is scarce, our greatest public service is our voice of enlightened conviction.
Don’t be tricked into silence.
The government is the garrote.
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji | On Leaders and Company
Aboyeji is CEO of Bookneto, a student focused education technology company based in Canada. In 2008, he worked as an intern at the Settlement and Integration Services Organization in Hamilton and then went on to work with the World Youth Alliance at the UN Headquarters in New York as an intern. Shortly before founding Bookneto, he served as the President of one of Canada’s largest student publishing companies, Imprint Publications.