When the trending news of Justice Ishaq Bello, the only Nigerian nominee for election to the International Criminal Court, ICC, jury in 2020, surfaced in the mass media, several public pundits began to raise questions on the doctrine of Merit-Based Selection in the Nigerian context. Some of the issues raised bordered on nepotism and clannishness in the public appointment and recruitment processes in Nigeria – the two most excruciating banes of our national unity and national advancement.
Premium Times of October 2, 2020, reported that President Muhammadu Buhari had in June, 2020 nominated Justice Ishaq Bello, the Chief Judge of Federal Capital Territory High Court, for the election scheduled for the 19th session of the assembly of state parties. Mr. Bello was among the 20 jurists nominated from the 123-member countries of the ICC for the job contest. Things turned out sore when Mr. Bello, the only Nigerian nominated for the contest, blew up the country’s chances after an abysmal performance in the pre-assessment interview. In a statement released by the international court, the court claimed that Mr. Bello lacked the requisite knowledge of the workings of the ICC and its jurisprudence. Meanwhile, prior to his nomination by the President of Nigeria, Mr. Bello had held several high ranks in the Nigerian Judiciary, amongst which are Deputy Chief Registrar, magistrate and legal adviser of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, judge and acting chief judge, and so on.
In the view of several public pundits, they find it very illogical and inexplicable that such a high ranking jury in Nigerian jurisprudence would perform abysmally in such an interview; others questioned the process and system that brought him to such exalted position in the Nigerian judiciary, while others attributed his ascendancy to the system of Federal Character, also known as ‘Quota System’, which has seemingly fanned the flames of mediocrity and jettisoned the merit system in our corporate existence. Far above these questions, some others questioned the integrity of the process that led to his nomination for this sensitive ICC job – Was the nomination based on merit or primordial consideration?
While I hold the contrary view that several other underlying factors, among which are poor preparation and lack of enthusiasm, may as well be responsible for such abysmal performance by Nigeria’s nominee, on the other hand, some existing anomalies in Nigeria’s public appointment and recruitment processes come to mind and raise well-founded suspicions.
In recent times, there have been lots of public outcries in several quarters regarding the mode of federal appointment into crucial positions by the Muhammadu Buhari led Federal government of Nigeria, which has seen a vast majority of federal appointments tilted towards individuals from Northern extraction – the president’s region of origin. Consequently, when Justice Ishaq Bello, another Northerner, was nominated for the ICC job contest in June 2020, the nomination did not come as a surprise to many spectators. Sadly, we are at low ebb in our corporate existence where the prerequisite for securing public appointment or job in the country today is no longer determined by the extent of one’s qualification and experience, but instead determined by one’s ethnic background and religious inclination. Accordingly, meritocracy is being sacrificed at the altar of mediocrity which ultimately impacts negatively on the institutions in the country, as well as the image of the nation.
Students of history would recall that in the 1970s and 1980s when Professor Taslim Olawale Elias, an erudite Nigerian jurist, was elected first as a judge and later Vice-President and then President of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, also known as the World Court – a kind of sister institution to the ICC – the kind of intellectual prowess exhibited by Mr. Taslim marvelled stakeholders at the ICJ and other members of the international judicial community, to the extent that a jurist was once reported, through the grapevine, to have exclaimed, “ If there is anything in law that Taslim doesn’t know, then that thing doesn’t worth to be known”.
Without any doubt in my mind, the like of Professor Taslim Olawale Elias certainly abound in Nigeria’s judicial community today. Thus, had it been the nomination of the country’s representative for the ICC job contest followed a rigorous and an unbiased selection process; most likely a more saleable candidate would have definitely emerged as Nigeria’s nominee since the preferred candidate would have been drawn from a pool of outstanding Nigerian jurists who are performing excellently at both national and international levels. Obviously, Nigeria, which is known to have some of the ‘best brains’ scattered in various fields of the human endeavour around the globe; would have averted this show of embarrassment and scorn.
Hence, as the euphoria, as well as the despair of Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary, continue to pervade our national discourse; some questions readily come to mind: Why have we not been able to define our course of progress as a nation based on the merit system? Why have we continued to fan the flames of nepotism, tribalism and sectionalism, instead of promoting national unity and advancement through meritocracy?
As I brood over the above questions, the following words of veteran novelist, Professor Chinua Achebe, ring in my mind:
“The denial of merit is a form of social injustice that can hurt not only the individual directly concerned, but ultimately the entire society. The motive of the original denial may be tribal discrimination, but it may also come from sexism, political, religious or some other partisan consideration, or from corruption and bribery. It is unnecessary to examine these various motives separately. It is sufficient to state that whenever merit is set aside by prejudice or whatever origin, individual citizens, as well as the nation itself, are victimized”
In conclusion, in line with the above admonition by Professor Chinua Achebe, the choice before us as a nation is simple: Embrace the merit system in all spheres of our dealings and advance as a nation or imbibe the spirit of mediocrity and nepotism and remain stagnant.
Happy belated 60th independence anniversary Nigerians.
The writer of this article, Duruibe Stanley Chigozie, is an author, researcher and an economic and financial analyst. Email: email@example.com