M-e-d-i-o-c-r-i-t-y everywhere you go!
Another public enemy that is secretly competing with corruption that has mindlessly crippled us is MEDIOCRITY. We all encounter it everywhere we go in Nigeria but we all endure it and shrug our shoulders and wait a miracle to eradicate it. It is a social danger, a cankerworm we must deal with if we must smell development. On Tuesday April 2, 2013, I published as a lead story in this new2spaper Mediocrity overtakes Graft, wrecks Nigeria. The story received some rave reviews.
I recall that it was a colleague, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, editor of Thisday that first hailed the story describing mediocrity as our major challenge that has tentacles everywhere we go. The source of that story was an article by a Lagos-based Dutch journalist and writer, Femke van Zeiji, fondly called Funke. Her article on “mediocrity” that was trending then online had gone so viral that I considered it newsworthy. The irresistible opening paragraph of the article:
I used to think corruption was Nigeria’s biggest problem, but I’m starting to doubt that. Every time I probe into one of the many issues this country is encountering, at the core I find the same phenomenon: the widespread celebration of mediocrity. Un-rebuked underachievement seems to be the rule in all facets of society. A governor building a single road during his tenure is revered like the next Messiah; an averagely talented author who writes a colourless book gets sponsored to represent Nigerian literature overseas; and a young woman with no secretarial skills to speak of gets promoted to the oga’s office faster than any of her properly trained colleagues…
I thought that was a profound construct by a foreigner on the new competitor. After the publication and reviews in 2013, there were calls here and there that it was a good article, a blueprint for productive success. But again, not even the national orientation agency operatives considered it as a subject to be pursued as a public policy. The issue of celebration of mediocrity did not receive any attention again until October 2015 in Abuja when a Nigerian Professor of English, Pius Adesanmi who heads an African Centre in a University in Canada, addressed it at the annual symposium, The Platform by Pastor Poju Oyemade’s Covenant Christian Centre. The man who said he was missing mediocrity, a trait he took away from Nigeria’s work culture when he got to Canada noted angrily that Nigerians should rise up against the spirit of mediocrity that has held us hostage in the most populous black nation on earth. Again, the morning after The Platform, no one remembered the scourge again.
There is too much room for ordinariness and near absence of excellence and exceptionalism in our personal and public life. No nation can grow, no one’s personal ministry can be recognized as a brand with mindless celebration of mediocrity. Let’s ban it.
For young ones, the context of mediocrity I am drawing attention to is what common dictionaries define as state of only medium quality, not very good, average, banal. We can rename it: inferiority, ordinariness, commonplaceness, poorness, unimportance, etc. The most powerful description here is not very good. It is called average in business school terms where it is treated as opposite of excellence. When we talk of mediocre performance, we mean acts that are average, inferior, commonplace, insignificant, pedestrian, ordinary, so-so, run-of-the-mill…
At the common level, after the death of government technical schools (in Nigeria) where students used to acquire skills such as woodwork, plumbing, carpentry, block-laying and concreting, auto mechanics, electrical/electronics fittings, we have been in trouble. Now in Nigeria, even the electricity distribution companies do not have enough good electricians to maintain installations of customers. In the building industry, how do you get bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, furniture makers, tillers and PoP makers, etc? The truth today is that wise and rich builders procure most of these skilled workers from neighbouring West African countries, notably, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, etc.. The reason is not far to seek: We parade one of the worst skills gaps in the world with a population of about 170 million now. This is a manifestation of mediocrity at all levels. In our country today, it is difficult to get good mechanics that can handle modern cars. You have to patronize all these callous auto companies that shave our heads in our absence with atrocious bills: They don’t repair: they replace all parts. This is a policy failure that keeps failing.
No one is addressing expediency of reviving our technical schools to deal with mediocrity at some levels. The tentacles of mediocrity have reached everywhere even our newsrooms. Now editors are suffering and smiling as modern and very ‘educated’ but incorrigible reporters and writers continue to churn out terrible copies that are beyond redemption. Where will editors find exceptional sub editors who used to be quality control officers in the newsroom? No one to transcribe interviews impeccably anymore. You can’t appoint holders of Master’s degree in English as proofreaders. Even when you listen to some Nigerian Professors speaking to some issues at workshops, you will immediately know why some Universities that are churning out remarkable number of First Class graduates now are merely producing a generation of mediocrities (not mediocres, please). In the public service, even the retired permanent secretaries and directors are very concerned that most of their successors cannot write good memoranda and minutes. Most documents to even the business and diplomatic communities from the public sector are written in poor grammar.
It is already noted but there is no sufficient anger yet in any of our leaders that we need to fix the broken walls of our education system at all levels. That is really the starting point. You can’t address mediocrity without fixing the foundation: educational institutions including teachers’ training schools beyond meretricious level.
At the leadership level, we see mediocrity on all fours. Most heads of government all over the world, head hunt excellent people to reduce tension associated with mediocrity. They look for what Peter Drucker calls “knowledge workers” to improve their brand equity. But not in Nigeria where mediocrities are preferred so that our leaders can manipulate them to do their bidding. Most leaders and governors in Nigeria prefer what Benjamin Disraeli called a “cabinet of mediocrities”. As if he had Nigeria in mind in his comments about Liverpool as recorded in a novel, Coningsby (1844), Disraeli had mused about The Arch-Mediocrity who presided rather than ruled, over this Cabinet of Mediocrities… Indeed, there have been some “arch-mediocrities who are also presiding over a cabinet of mediocrities” in Nigeria. When mediocrities lead mediocrities, what else can we get apart from mega mediocrity?
But there is a sense in which we cannot blame our young people too much. According to an author who specializes in workplace wellness, Mike Martin, we cannot blame our young people for falling into the mediocrity trap. It is a lesson that they have learned from us and only we as their adult models can shift their thinking and behavior. It really does begin with us. If we are going to move back from the brink of mediocrity, we have to think, talk and act differently and we must be angry about this now.
But what Femke, too should realize is that the military that midwifed the second republic (1979-1983) actually transferred a culture of mediocrity to the new arch-mediocrities called democrats now. According to the records of primaries in 1978, there were six strong presidential candidates in the then truly national party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) including Joseph Tarka, Professor Iya Abubakar, Dr Olusola Saraki, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Adamu Ciroma. But at the Casino Cinema, Yaba Lagos, convention venue of the Party then, there was an eventual tie between Alhaji Shagari and Alhaji Sule. It was said then that although the progressives in the Party preferred Alhaji Maitama because of his sophistication, experience and erudition. But the moderates would have none of that as they preferred the less endowed Alhaji Shagari. That was how the powers then mounted pressure on Maitama to concede to Shagari. As we often say here whatever happened later to the presidency of Shagari is left to history for judgment but the story is well known.
From then and up and until now as Bishop Kukah has often noted, we have been producing mediocre office holders but not leaders. The cleric and scholar observed in 2012 that from the beginning of democratization, the atmosphere has not been favourable for the erection of a structure/platform (political parties) and the development of a process and culture of leadership recruitment and discipleship…” This is the system that has been producing all sorts of “executhieves”, “legislooters” and “judicial rascals” from a pool of mediocrities, especially from the second republic. If we jump the military juntas to 1999, we would see how we have been celebrating democratic mediocrity in leadership recruitment. The Abdusalami regime, an offshoot of the IBB-Abacha regime did not allow the South West to choose an authentic presidential candidate. They pardoned and released General Olusegun Obasanjo from prison and imposed him on the South West and the nation.
In 2007 when it was time for Obasanjo to leave office, he too imposed a mediocre process: He stopped Umaru yar’Adua from teaching in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. So, Yar’Adua was imposed on the North West and the nation. And in 2007, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was satisfied as a governorship candidate but was imposed on the nation as a vice presidential candidate in a complex political shenanigan at the Eagle Square. The unprepared vice presidential candidate from the Niger Delta was to be president for six years…Never in the history of political leaderships have so many mediocrities been so imposed on a people.
The result of 17 years of democratic mediocrity is what Femke reflected in these lines : The hardest thing to do in Nigeria is to continue to realize there is honour in achievement and pride in perfection…
The time has therefore come for us to speak out against the Russian word, MEDIOCRITY. We all should develop a culture of anger towards it. There is too much room for ordinariness and near absence of excellence and exceptionalism in our personal and public life. No nation can grow, no one’s personal ministry can be recognized as a brand with mindless celebration of mediocrity. Let’s ban it. But the starting point is serious attention to quality in our education from primary to university level.