Essays / The Pontifical Papers



This is the third part of the article series, “The Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy”. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This is the third article in a series dealing with what an issue I have termed the “Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy”, an examination of the parallels between the structure of corporations and participation in Nigerian policymaking. Last week, I discussed the individually and collectively irrelevant Nigerians when it comes to policymaking: the masses or, to use the corresponding terminology from our corporate analogy, “Menial Workers”. Now, we turn to the individually irrelevant, but collectively persuasive set of Nigerians, the “Junior Staff”.

The Junior Staff of the Nigerian corporation are, strictly, the ordinary Nigerians. They are ordinary in the sense that they are not particularly deprived (as the majority are) nor are they specially privileged. They constitute are a major percentage of the educated class, but they are still a minority of the total population. But these Nigerians are quite “visible”. They are the ones seen and heard through social and traditional media. Their visibility, consequently, makes them the international representation of the Nigerian identity. And so, members of the Junior Staff tend to conflate their identity with that of the common Nigerian.

This category of Nigerians is mostly composed of the secondary to tertiary educated, fairly knowledgeable, low to middle-income, and usually salaried, Nigerians. These Nigerians form the core of the civil service bureaucracy. It comprises social workers in health and allied sectors; the “white-collar” workers in small and medium scale enterprises; the entrance to mid-level “professional” workers; as well as the majority of aging, retired and pensioned professionals.

Unlike the, up to 70 per cent overall, deprived members of the population, the Junior Staff have generic access to the benefits provided under commercial, health, immigration, pension, taxation, banking and capital market laws and policies. These Nigerians have the education and income level often required to take advantage of the benefits and protections in laws and policies.

Because of the benefits they derived from the political system—and the risk of these benefits diminishing—Junior Staff Nigerians pay attention to government policy and its consequences, even if only as a passing topic. They are on television and radio to critique policy; they share information and opinion on social media, at salons, offices, and bars. Some write blog articles—or run newspaper columns—to disseminate their latest opinion.

As a collective, the Junior Staff operate the functional aspects of the Nigerian political economy. They hold the keys to the revenue generation machinery of government and, if necessary, they can shutdown government business through strike actions. Their presence in the media, their participation in professional bodies, civil societies and pressure groups makes them collectively persuasive. They are, therefore, problematic to policymakers when they are in unity.

The Aggressors: The more dissatisfied members of the Junior Staff would often rally other Nigerians in the guise of student union leaders, youth leaders, social crusaders, human rights activists and other “troublemakers” and “rabble-rousers”. These ones eagerly lead or organise protests, write scathing articles, produce rebellious music, art or literature, promote antagonistic NGOs and civil society organisations. The more cynical ones simply withdraw from socio-political interaction in acknowledgement of their inability to defeat the machinations of the political system.

The Apathetic: Less dissatisfied members of the Junior Staff are not so interested in upsetting the Nigerian political system. They simply want to carve a good existence within the allowances of the political system and lead satisfactory private lives. Some of them may even promote NGOs and projects that cooperate with or complement government policy. Still, they are more concerned with their private comfort, taking inspiration from the utilities available to the middle-class in developed countries: generators to replace public electricity, boreholes for water supply, sport utility vehicles for bad roads and shoddy mass transit, private guards for security, and luxury estates to insulate themselves from the symptoms of system dysfunction. These set of Junior Staff acknowledge that the Nigerian political system is dysfunctional, but they also think it is unassailable. For them, the prudent course is to get on with the programme, or otherwise risk the private comforts they have managed to attain.

The Opportunists: The most ambitious members of the Junior Staff are happy with the political system so long as they have personal opportunities to participate in its processes. These ones can see the prospect for advancement through the Hierarchy of Nigerian Policy and they exploit it. They understand that, to get up in the Nigerian political system, a person has to be smart, hardworking and possess an infinite capacity for self-abasement. These are the educated bootlickers and bottom-kissers. For them, there is nothing wrong with the political system; there can only be something wrong with the people who control it.

Of course, these are not sharply divided or mutually exclusive lines. People change their attitudes to the political system over time, or even exhibit different views simultaneously. However, needless to say, (other than the emergence of the educated elite in the 1920s to the 1960s when participation in Nigerian policy was more amorphous) the Junior Staff have not successfully penetrated the policy making process. This is not just because the autocratic aspects of the political system has a solid socio-legal base, but also because not every member of the Junior Staff is dissatisfied with the political system. Some simply want a higher level of personal participation as appointees of government (the “Management”—if we are to continue our corporate analogy) or elected members of government (the “Directors”).

Hence, participation in policymaking—the most significant right in a democracy—continues to elude most Nigerians. The Junior Staff—the direct bridge between the underprivileged masses and the privileged elite—are often more concerned with their own advancement than with the empowerment of the majority. Nigerians in the Junior Staff category prefer to safeguard their comforts through loyalty to, and affiliations with, the political class.

This is how things stand today. The Junior Staff of the “Federal Republic of Nigeria Plc” are too easily dismissed, impressed, “settled” or intimidated by an official show of strength. When a collective of Junior Staff, whether as a virtual group on social media or in reality, is infiltrated by government influence, the individual members revert to their original irrelevance: and the collective persuasion over policymaking is lost.

Read Part 4

Originally published in slightly different form here in my weekly column for Sunday Punch.

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