by Oraye st. Franklyn
One of the reasons it was difficult for me to get into the university 7 years after I left Secondary School was because I could not raise enough bribe money needed to grease the palms of whoever was writing the admission list. It was not because I was not qualified. Being qualified was secondary especially since there were more qualified people than available spaces. And you know how it works. Once you get jammed, you have to go back for another JAMB. Besides, in those days, you had all sorts of lists from Governor’s to Speaker’s to VC’s and what-have-you’s. These, of course, had some people who had to be admitted whether or not they met the criteria.
My quest for admission to study Law repeated for years unending until I took the advice of my Literature Teacher, Dr. Ibiwari Ikiriko, of blessed memory, to study English. That year, I reluctantly chose English as my second choice and Law as my first Choice. As it had always turned out, I did quite well. Although that was the case, my name was not published on the merit list either for English or Law. What got me even more offended was that I found those who had lesser scores than I did being admitted on merit.
I worked with Hilda Dokubo then. I took the entire result sheet containing the scores of all those who had applied to study English at that University to her and showed her that something was fundamentally wrong with the process. She confirmed that I had the second highest score for English. She demanded to know how I got the list. I told her how I beat their system online to get the entire shit.
Irritated by the mess, Hilda Dokubo took me in her car to the then Vice Chancellor of the University to explain to him her own predicament of not understanding why my name was not on the merit list. We gave them our list. They examined it. It was authentic. They asked me how we got it. Hilda told them that was not the issue. Well, my name had to be published. I paid my fees and had commenced the process registration in that university when I got the news that a young lady (she’s currently my Facebook friend) had also gone to the then VC of the other university to insist that I be admitted on merit to study Law and she pulled off what even Napoleon The Great could not achieve. My name was also published for admission. I had to abandon the registration process to study English at the other university to commence another one for Law at this other university.
This story does not tell of my voyage to the University of Jos and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma or even of my first missionary journey to the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology, all in which a cumulative amount of 7 years and untold resources were expended to get a fighting chance on merit. Nothing yielded until we had the material to insist on our demand. What if rather than insist, I gave up and took to crime to get back at the system that held me back? Aren’t others doing same?
This story is nothing new to most of you. Some of you had similar experiences if not worse, while others were the beneficiaries of the system. The question that must be asked is how our society has been improved by short-circuiting due processes and merit? Have we made progress? No! Are we worse off? Yes! Why so?
It’s simple. Merit recreates itself. Mediocrity does same as well. What a society rewards, it promotes. What it promotes, it establishes and what it establishes becomes norm. The bad news is that we will not get better until we change our ways of doing things. If merit is not accorded its pride of place in our affairs, “go up, come down”, things can only get worse because the operative rule is defective.
If however, we decide to turn a new leaf and begin to make merit the basis of our considerations, more quickly than we imagine, things would change. A person of merit will be more amenable to promote the value than not. People of merit almost always add value than not.
You can perform the experiment yourself. Engage two people on an assignment. Get one on merit and get the other on whatever other consideration. The result will always be the same. It is the person on merit that has the credential to deliver on the assignment. Most times, the other person on the strength of his weakness will attempt to undermine the one on merit. It happens everyday in offices and social circles around the world.
Our society cannot make progress until we go back to upholding values and reworking our reward systems. The economic and security crises we face today are traceable to our penchant for devaluing values. But if we can now see, that in the end it doesn’t help anyone, as no one is insulated from the backlash as is being vividly dramatized in Nigeria today, then we should make hay while the sun still shines to ensure we salvage what is left before the whole house comes crashing on our heads. It’s up to us, really.