Nigerian ills are a legion. Corruption, lack of patriotism, vision, discipline etc. has been fingered as Nigeria’s major holdbacks. True, the problems with Nigeria are many and grave but the acceptance and elevation of mediocrity in place of excellence is the singular most definitive failure, with impunity a close second. An ominous cloud of mediocrity has settled in on us. Worse, we are living in a house of cards. This house is unstable, it is leaking, held together by expired glue and a prayer from the Saint of Lost Causes. Mediocrity has become our national symbol. We condone it, celebrate it, accept it and it has become normative. It is an open sore, it has festered, the wound now has teeth and itches at the edges. A scratch here, a scratch there, it heals not, because the chickenpox that is intent on ridicule perches on the nose of its host for all to see.
What happened? The resource curse caught up with us. We became a nation of lazy drones and a conglomerate of rent seekers. In just a generation we lost our set of traditional mores that sublimates private aspirations to the demands of optimistic meritocracy. We got unmoored and became a society of ever fewer behavioral norms. The Nigerian does not believe that with every right comes a corollary duty. Instead of creating a culture of excellence, we have been lulled by complacency and have eased our way into mediocrity. We do the things we have always done because it is the easiest thing to do and we can cream off some gravy while at it.
Currently, our national monument of shame, the Murtala Mohammed International Airport is getting a stupendously insulting whitewash of counterfeit laminates, particle boards and dry walls; many are jubilant and in a rush to congratulate the minister for doing a spectacular job. This is at a time when nations with less resources are building terminals that are jaw dropping architectural masterpieces. We are a pathetic bunch who applauds every town hall, primary school building and culvert built by our leaders. We design posters and pay for advertorials to hail them as the Moses of our time when they commission village boreholes. Erie Chapman, America’s nationally renowned healthcare executive said “If we live in a culture of mediocrity, there is a real risk we will ease back to our lowest performance. Only a small percentage of us are strong enough to sustain excellent performance in an environment of mediocrity.”
Nigeria’s culture of mediocrity was brewed from the desecrated pot of our education system. Within 25 years, JAMB’s cut-off mark for admission into the Universities has fallen over two standard deviations from what it was at the onset. If 180 out of 400 is acceptable for admissions, why wont we applaud 40% job performance as excellent? I know of no place outside Nigeria where the education system considers 40% as acceptable benchmark for admissions. 40% is simple and complete failure. A country that conceptualizes this level of mediocrity as success is destined to be ruled by retards; what this says about us is that a student who knows 40% of whatever they are supposed to know is brilliant. How can one expect people to aspire to achieving excellence when they are under the impression that everything they do, regardless of standard or quality, is to be celebrated as hugely successful? We have inflicted on ourselves a general lack of ambition, we are focused on good enough above all else. Nigeria has become a society of low standards, where the bar is set so low that we expect and celebrate mediocrity.
The fish they say rots from the head. A week ago, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala looked every inch like a Festschrift testifying her competence in sugar coating astonishing failure. She spoke about our G.D.P at 6.5% – a growth no one feels. The President took his turn in celebration of his own legendary mediocrity as a derivative of our collective incompetence. He schmoozed us about his self-adoring midterm score card. He spoke as if electricity is a given, as if healthcare is accessible, as if equal access to basic education is guaranteed for every child regardless of circumstance, as if drinkable water is available to the majority of Nigerians, he spoke as if Nigeria is paradise. Before he could finish his speech the chorus singers and “today’s men” went agog, celebrating incompetence, impunity and mediocrity despite the humbling statistics of grossly insufficient jobs, poverty, dependency on one export commodity (oil), high food importation, huge housing deficit, poor infrastructure, high inflation, falling foreign reserves, rising domestic debts and high recurrent expenditure.
It is easy to fall into the trap and to blame the government, the leadership, the President, the Police, the politicians, the civil service and every other possible person or group who may have some measure of influence in public life. If you have, I have questions for you. Who is this person or persons called government? Who is the Police, the civil service, the politicians? If your father, mother, uncle, aunt…relation works for government in any capacity, he or she is the government. We are the problems, the polluters of this land and the embezzlers of our common trust. Life is full of choices. Excellence is a choice. Mediocrity is a choice. Have you chosen excellence or mediocrity? Why don’t you choose excellence today? Why don’t you be the change Nigeria needs? Make that commitment and be prepared to becoming a target for those who are comfortable with mediocrity. If and when that happens rejoice in being a target and stay the course. Nations excel because individuals took their duties seriously. Be afraid not, if you stand alone. Soon, others will join you in the pursuit of excellence and over time excellence will become the norm and mediocrity will be unacceptable.
The key to achieving excellence is to focus on what is within your control. You do not control the economy, the President, your Senator or Representative, the Police etc. You control yourself and how you respond to things that happen in your environment. This is about doing better at getting better. This is about seeking excellence and not perfection. While pursuing excellence, it is ok to make mistakes. It is ok to fail, as long as there are lesson learned; as long as those mistakes and failures are not repeated, as long as we learn and grow from those experiences. What can you do? Model your life in the pursuit of excellence; do your job right, do your job well, improve and show it. When you do, your colleagues, family, friends will often follow your lead and you can create a legacy of excellence within your home, your office, your community, your state and in Nigeria. Change often brings resistance, be prepared to fight the good fight and be armed. Arm yourself with knowledge, facts and references because excellence can only be achieved by definition, action, measurement, validation and repetition. Fight for what is right. Do what is right. Fight for excellence. Fight to win back the soul of this country. May God help you and may God help Nigeria.