By Rudolf Okonkwo
If the Super Eagles had lost last Sunday’s match against Ivory Coast, calls for Stephen Keshi’s head would have overtaken the airwaves. I, too, would have supported his immediate firing. But not for the same reason that some Nigerians would have advanced.
I would have argued that Keshi failed to utilize the enormous talents that Nigeria has to make a decent showing at the African Cup of Nations. Some Nigerians, on the other hand, would have contended that Keshi should be removed for fielding predominantly Igbo players. The rumbling was already approaching a crescendo before Sunday’s game.
I must confess that I do not know anything about contemporary football. I have since swapped soccer, as we call it in America, for American football. So I do not know these players wearing the Nigerian jersey. I have no idea where they play their professional football careers and how good they perform for their respective teams. I am not sure how fit these players are. All I know is that when Keshi was given the job of assembling the team to represent Nigeria, I expected him to pick the best Nigerian players at home and abroad, irrespective of their ethnicity or states of origin.
Having said that, I am not naïve about the Nigerian peculiarities and propensities. I know it doesn’t often happen that the best are picked. I am not even arguing that it happened in this case. As an invested outsider not involved in the processes of choosing a team, my eyes are focused on the results. My refrain for Keshi is, perform or pafuka. And I am sure that Keshi is aware of that. I am sure he is not that dumb as to intentionally jeopardize his coaching career just to advance some ethnic agenda.
I am aware that in the past someone must have intentionally chosen to pursue an ethnic agenda even as it jeopardizes his job. As you read this, it is probably happening in one or more sectors of life in Nigeria. Actors like that are often people who feel so connected with the powers that be that they fear no repercussion no matter the public outcry. In the lifetime of a nation such discriminating acts have shown, time and time again, to be temporary and ultimately futile. But I honestly believe that the most important case Nigerians can make in their everyday life is to insist that people given responsibilities must perform. We must raise our expectations and reduce our indifference. We must denounce their excuses and demand results.
A similar scenario is perhaps playing itself out in the military. A lot of stories are emerging of how the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika is alleged to be promoting Igbo army officers over others. First and foremost, I must say that I lost respect for Ihejirika when his brother was using military boys to terrorize political opponents in Abia State and he did not stop him.
Like the Keshi situation, I do not know anything about the military. I have no idea the courses they take and how they earn their promotions. Again, I am sure there must be a guideline for promotions that is based on competence and merit. I am sure it has not always been followed. As an invested outsider, I want to insist that it should be followed. If it is vague it should be made clear and specific. And in all things, transparency must be paramount. Often when we champion accountability and transparency it is not just for the governed. It benefits the office holders too. When things are transparent both the goat and the chicken will concur.
The information that leaked out to the media about promotions, or lack thereof, in the military showed a concerted effort to discredit and ultimately get rid of Gen. Ihejirika for favoring Igbo officers in promotions. Apparently, like such allegations, the examples used were selective and subjective. I personally favor getting rid of Ihejirika for a much more serious reason - failing to restore security in Nigeria.
Sheik Gumi has called the allegation against Gen. Ihejirika another Igbo attempt to dominate the military. I find that very disturbing, to say the least. Even if Gen. Ihejirika is dancing to the drum of some evil spirits deep inside Okija forest, how does the action of one man constitute an attempt by the Igbo to dominate the military? It hasn’t even been 50 years since hundreds of thousands of Igbo people were massacred for the same trumped up reason behind the January 15, 1966 coup?
As long as people in polite circles find it uncomfortable discussing issues like this, the ragamuffins will run with it, adding salts and peppers. I deplore those who say that if, truly, Ihejirika was favoring Igbo officers in promotions he should go ahead because others before him had done the same. Maybe this is a teaching moment for us to go in the right direction – the path to excellence through merit. Maybe it is time to ask the question; Who’s afraid of excellence? Who is afraid of merit?
I understood that there was a time when Nigeria’s railways used to function well. There was a time when Nigeria’s civil service was something of pride to the nation. There was a time, not long ago, when people earned their positions. There was a time when people could account for the things they owned. Those were the days that we should all work to recapture. This sad detour to mediocrity has failed us all. Meritocracy inspires competition, increases standard and advances the whole society. The opposite of it is what we have now.
After wallowing in mediocrity for such a long time, having people of our own ethnicity represented is more important than what they represent. We have become so mentally screwed up that we confuse presence with substance. Twenty percent of zero is still zero. Andy Uba as Obasanjo’s domestic aide did not fix the roof of my hometown school or provide a path for genuine drugs to get to my town’s general hospital. Instead, it opened illegitimate doors for him to own mansions and a private jet.
Most decent people do not care how many tribal marks are on the faces of the men and women who are keeping their electricity on for twenty four hours, maintaining their road from Lagos to Okitipupa and performing dialysis on their relations with renal failure. My greatest fear is that we have degenerated to that point when meritocracy is synonymous with Igbo dominance. Now that will be a point of no return.
The day Nigeria died was the day we dethroned meritocracy and enthroned mediocrity. That was the day the race to the top reversed to become a descent to the bottom. The day Nigeria will be buried is the day this trend becomes a habit. Or is it a habit already?
Please correct me if I’m right.