Analysis: How nepotism is taking a toll on Nigeria

Ifeanyi Abada and Frederick Onyia, in a 2020 research article on nepotism, cronyism and prebendalism published by the European Centre for Research Training and Development in the Global Journal of Political Science and Administration, cited a Nigerian maxim, “One whose father is in heaven would not be destined for hell.”

The axiom, they noted, “is a common saying in Nigeria. Heaven is used metaphorically to refer to a privileged position or important public office, while hell, on the other hand, means a situation of suffering or lack of privileges. Translated to politics, it means that when one is occupying a privileged position in government, his kith and kin are not expected to suffer any material deprivation”.

“The occupant of such office is expected to appropriate the position of his office to dispense favour and patronage to his relations with a view to improving their material condition. It is because of this belief, that appointments into public offices are usually greeted with cheer and celebration by associates of the appointee. Such excitement does not stem from the fact that the appointee has been given an opportunity to serve the country, rather it stems from the fact that the appointee is going to use the discretionary powers of his office to improve the standard of living of his associates,” they said.

They said in most cases, “the appointee in collaboration with his friends and relations organises a church thanksgiving and reception to thank God for ‘remembering him’.”

“Thus, the success of a public officer is measured, not in terms of fulfilling the core mandate, which his office requires, but on how he used the appurtenances of his position to improve the living conditions of his relations and cronies. He is expected to do this to the total exclusion of other Nigerians since by the position he occupies, it is the ‘turn’ of his people to benefit from the perks of public appointment,” they added.

Nepotism might exist throughout the world, but it is more prevalent in societies with limited legal and regulatory safeguards – societies where laws and institutions are weak. Nepotism is corruption and corruption threatens legal norms, democracy, human rights and freedom. It undermines the system of state management, social justice and fairness, distorts fair competition, and hinders economic development and moral basis of society.

Nepotism affects economic development by hindering human capital development. Perhaps, the reason why nepotism is perpetrated more in the public sector than in the private sector is that private sector organisations have profitable goals that need effective employees who have the competence to achieve the final goal, which is maximising the shareholders’ wealth. But the reality is different in the public sector because often there are no measurable goals, especially in developing countries, where the citizen is forced to accept public service outcomes regardless of quality.

A 2019 Statista survey showed that about half of the applicants who secured a position in the Nigerian public sector used nepotism, bribery, or both. Some 20 percent of male respondents and 24 percent of female respondents declared to have paid a bribe for their position in the public sector. In addition, around 16 percent of both male and female respondents secured their job as public officials with the help of friends or relatives.

In Nigeria, nepotism has been elevated to state policy under President Muhammadu Buhari administration. He has been heavily criticised by Nigerians for his lopsided appointments.

In December 2020, Bishop Matthew Kukah, the catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, accused President Buhari of being keen on institutionalising northern hegemony at the expense of national unity in the country.

“President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony. He has pursued this self-defeating and alienating policy at the expense of greater national cohesion,” he had said. “Every honest Nigerian knows that there is no way any non-Northern Muslim President could have done a fraction of what President Buhari has done by his nepotism and gotten away with it.”

In September 2021, Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, accused Buhari of promoting nepotism and acts of sectionalism in all his appointments.

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“The lopsided federal appointments, nepotism and other acts of sectionalism, particularly from 2015 to date, have divided Nigeria now more than at any other time in the country’s history,” he said.

A 2017 BusinessDay report, entitled “81 of Buhari’s 100 appointees are northerners’, showed that 81 of Buhari’s appointments were either from the North-East, North-West or North Central since he became President.

In July 2020, Muhammadu Sanusi, an economist and former Emir of Kano, identified nepotism as the worst form of corruption in Nigeria. He said Incompetent leadership had contributed to the degree of corrupt practices in the country.

He said: “Morally and religiously speaking, corruption is a problem. But let us look at it from the angle of economics and we begin to understand that it is not just the corruption itself but the type of corruption. Part of the problem we have is incompetence, and that is why I keep saying we must pay attention to merit. We have a system called Federal Character and I believe we should have Nigerians from all over the country in public office, but all those Nigerians must be people that are competent. There must be a merit test; a competence test.

“For me, I think the root of corruption is when we begin to de-emphasise merit, competence and performance, and so long as we don’t bring the best in this country to do the job and hold them to account, we won’t go anywhere. The worst form of corruption we have in this country is nepotism; when people get into positions by virtue of personal loyalty, friendship and who they know, rather than what they can actually deliver by virtue of their competence for that office. We need people who can deliver for this country, I mean the majority.”

A 2016 PwC report identified tax avoidance resulting in lower tax base for government revenue; government expenditure in vested interest rather than public interest; hiring based on nepotism, cronyism and patronage rather than merit, thereby reducing quality of public institutions; unnecessary bureaucracy creating further opportunities for bribes and weak enforcement of contracts and property rights as the impact of corruption on the Nigerian economy.

The report projected that corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37 percent of GDP by 2030 if it’s not dealt with immediately. “This cost is equated to around $1,000 per person in 2014 and nearly $2,000 per person by 2030. The boost in average income that we estimate, given the current per capita income, can significantly improve the lives of many in Nigeria.”