By Joseph Udo
Not all that glitters is gold,” is a popular adage. Yet, in Nigeria, we seem to keep trying to get gold only from glittering gems when we can save resources and accelerate development of the Nigerian economy by appointing proven experts who have been successful locally rather than ‘import’ technocrats to do the job.
I am not saying that there is no value in inviting Nigerian talents who are based overseas to come and contribute to development in the country, but my worry is the frequent reliance on such technocrats to bail us out. What I remember most about some of such technocrats who get appointments to lead critical government ministries and agencies is their foreign accent and rich social network (some are even classmates with world leaders in Great Britain and the United States, and often drop those names in public discussions).
Besides these social etiquettes, I only remember the lengthy and controversial discussions in the public sphere about what policy suits the international community (of which they are postulates) and what Nigerians actually need (which they feel is not right). And you wonder how they would ever understand what Nigerians need when they do not feel the pain of sitting in traffic for long hours, sleeping at night with mosquitoes humming because there is no electricity to power the fan or air-conditioning system in the sitting room, walking a long distance to the village stream to fetch water, watching your children return from school in the morning because you are unable to pay school fees, drinking ‘garri and groundnut’ for lunch at work because you can’t afford anything better, and crying along with your sick child because you don’t have money to take him to the hospital and no one is willing to lend you some money.
This article will avoid highlighting examples of ‘foreign technocrats’ who have performed below par and let us down. But readers can pick their choice from immediate past governments and failed institutions in the country. Not all that glitters is gold, definitely. Given our peculiar circumstances, having degrees from the best university in the world and leading a world-renowned organisation do not imply that a particular candidate would be successful in our local clime.
I believe that first-hand understanding of our local environment should be mandatory in most cases. As such I would like our leaders who take decisions on appointments to take a cue from sports coaches, especially experienced football coaches who often select ‘form over class.’ For example, a club side recruits a marquee player for about £50m, but after a few matches the coach notices that the player is yet to adapt to the club and the league. Instead of continuing to use the celebrated player to please fans, an experienced coach will leave him on the bench and use another player who is in form and can perform better. That is why is you see coaches’ substitute or bench star players in a match even when they are not injured.
The joy is that if you look around you will find a handful of Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in various fields and are ready to contribute at the top level. We can find such ‘in form’ Nigerians in corporate institutions and government agencies. They have been in Nigeria most of their lives and know common practices and what should be best practices. The transformation of the agricultural sector in the previous administration is a classic example of a job well done by an ‘in form’ Nigerian. Lagos State government has pioneered several successful projects in taxation, and other areas, led by ‘in form’ Nigerians. And there are many more examples in government agencies, corporate institutions and Small and Medium Enterprises.
Another opportunity is here to start afresh as the federal government and some states ponder appointments to key positions. ‘Class’ epitomised by foreign degrees and experience like fine wine is what we all crave – but where it has not been tested in our local environment, I would suggest that indigenous (in form) experts should be nominated for assured high performance and economic reconstruction.
Udo sent in this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org