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August 19, 2011

Laws of success (in Nigerian Government)

It’s been seventy-nine days since May 29 – it does not seem like much is happening but much has happened. We have somewhat new federal and state cabinets and loads of new special advisers, special assistants and technical advisers to the president, vice president, ministers, state governors, commissioners etc. Without a doubt, government is the biggest employer in Nigeria and it means everything to get into government and stay there.

Over the years, the most inattentive observer would have noticed some things about the way people in government behave; the special traits they exhibit and the strange, unexplainable things connected to government work. There is an explanation: as diverse and disparate as we are in Nigeria, some behaviours, actions and utterances have become sacrosanct for a successful career in government – whether in appointive or elective position. As the officers of the new administration settle in here are some of the laws of success – norms so distilled and perfected from decades of practice that they have become laws – to guide the new officers on their way.

Law One – praise God for what He has done for you (not Nigeria) with a string of celebratory parties. This is really important and no matter how hard a government official tries to avoid this particular law of arriving – there is just no way out. Friends and family will host a few on your behalf and the sheer number of people who will come to your house or office to congratulate you for this new position will make it look like there is a week long party at your house – so you might as well give in and let the champagne flow.

The partying and celebrating is not to be looked upon as anything improper; indeed it sets the tone for the type of inclusive and expansive office which you will operate once you start work. It provides people with the opportunity to come close to you at least once or twice before the doors of access are firmly shut and tell you what they expect from your leadership.

Depending on how lucrative, scratch that, strategic your new position is, there will also be full-page ads congratulating you. Do not be distracted by the fact that you do not remember the names claiming to be your classmates from the set of 1970 or recognise the names of the mothers of your village who each carried you on their backs at one time or the other. Be gracious. Take out a couple of full-page ads yourself, listing each and every person who congratulated you in person, by email, SMS or Facebook and make sure you use a picture of yourself with a finger pressed into your cheek and your eyes looking into the sky for guidance – this will help those who have no clue who you are and what you look like.

Law Two – Hire as many people as you can from your clan/village or ethnic group. Your life depends on this one because there is no way you can trust anyone who does not speak the same language as you do, or who understands your culture or even likes the same foods as you do. And if they do speak the same language, sometimes that is not enough; they must be from your local government area, especially if your predecessor was from a different local government. All sorts of policy issues will become impossible to execute the minute you let other ethnic groups or outsiders into your inner circle.

It is unfortunate that the civil service rules does not allow political appointees such as ministers or commissioners to fire at will. But there are ways around that. You can transfer ‘outsiders’ to other ministries and agencies where their kind are in charge or to quiet places where they can tap their fingers on bare tables in obscurity until a change in government.

Law Three – renovate the office or start looking for alternative office space if you can. The reason why this is critical is because without moving or renovating i.e., lifting wall units and breaking down adjoining walls you will not be able to find all the hidden talismans which have been arranged for you by your predecessor or those who are resentful about the fact that yet again, there is another ‘know-nothing-about –the-way-things-work-here’ whose hand they have to hold.

Law Four – pepper the walls of your domain with pictures of the President of Nigeria and the appropriate Minister. And if you are the Minister, make sure your public relations officer gets a befitting picture of you taken for this purpose. Has anyone landed at Heathrow or JFK airports and seen a picture of David Cameron smiling into their face as they leave the steaming arrival hall two hours after they landed or the Secretary of State for Transport smirking at them over a rickety baggage conveyor belt? No? Then it is because these countries have not yet tapped into the secret industry that is official portrait manufacturing, mounting and maintenance.

Law Five – thou shall not act like you know anything. Nothing will guarantee that you will be kicked out of government faster than you can say ‘I.T.K’ than exhibiting that you know something about the sector you are supposed to be in charge of. Ask basic questions; defer to whomever you report to; and if possible, sleep at meetings and your job will be safe. A legendary career civil servant in one of the agencies charged with getting rid of government property would come in first thing in the morning, drop his jacket and briefcase in his office and go to the library where he would sleep until about noon. Then he would stroll around the offices of his seniors to remind them how loyal he was, go for lunch, then back to the library for a nap and then it was quitting time. Perfect – he threatened no one and retired only when even his adjusted birth certificate indicated that he was 5 years past retirement. Fly under the radar – let this be your motto.

Law Six – be fawning and obsequious. There are many ways you can achieve this and you have a variety of options to choose from. You may be the type who likes to cook – take food to your boss’s house everyday. Be the first to sign up for aso ebi whenever any of his children are getting married and if possible, you should be in charge of forcing the over priced aso ebi down the throats of all employees. There are also opportunities when your boss is away to prove your loyalty: meet her at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja when British Airways lands at 4.30am. And if you are still not sure if you are brown-nosing enough – find Charles Dicken’s Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, he’ll teach you a few more tricks.

And last but not the least, Law Seven – make sure you are always happy and smiling whenever your picture is taken. For instance, Ministers always look extremely happy and content at the end of their weekly federal executive council meetings. We are never sure if the merriment is because (a) they are happy they were not fired during the meeting or (b) there is nothing about Nigeria and the work they are faced with that is daunting or sobering or (c) they just cannot believe their luck at finally making it to Nirvana. Whatever the case is, make sure you have a happy grin plastered all over your face.

We the public will only know how well you did in adhering to these laws when the next round of elections or appointments are done. Until then- best of luck and we cannot wait to be you.

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