By Rev. Fr. Valentine Anaweokhai
Recently my attention was drawn to an online video where a man remarked that in some other parts of the world, when someone is in search of a job, some questions he may likely be asked include; what is your qualification? What can you do or what do you have to offer? He continued, but in Nigeria, getting that same job will depend majorly on who you know? Who is recommending you? To some extent, this is true. My own personal experiences would further affirm it.
A couple of times, people have approached me to assist them reach out to somebody in position of authority for employment or admission into a tertiary institution. They immediately tell you that in Nigeria, it is all about who you know. Worse still, if you have some money to give and bribe your way around, you may likely be fortunate but never always. In other words, it is all about who you know. Getting a contract, appointment, favour, job offer, admission, pass, or approval of any sort, you either need to know somebody or someone who knows someone who is connected or related to the person in charge. It is called the “Politics of Who You Know.” I have been both a victim and beneficiary of this kind of politics too.
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This kind of politics, wherever it is being played, be it in religious organizations, government agencies and ministries, and even in private settings, seems to be the order of the day, while a person’s money, connections, position, status, qualification, and power become an added advantage. Otherwise, you go nowhere and cannot get too far. Sometimes, even to get a Nigerian passport in the USA could take a longer or shorter period depending on who you know. This culture appears to be a Nigerian thing even when the institution is located outside the country.
It is rather unfortunate that when people apply for visas, admission, and job opportunities outside the shores of Nigeria, they do not need to know somebody or anybody in the country’s embassy, consulate, university or organization before such applications are honored and granted. Most often, answers are given based on merit, qualification, and prospects of the applicant. I have personal experiences to buttress this point, but that is a story for another day.
Only recently, the United Kingdom elected a new Prime Minister in the person of Rishi Sunak, a British citizen but of Indian descent. His confirmation as the Prime Minister has been greeted also with racist rebuffs, but the fact remains that for now, he is the man considered most apt, qualified and fit to help the country out of her current economic challenges. He has even promised not to leave behind, any debts for the next generation. If it were to be solely and purely the politics of who you know, then he most probably would not have become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But that is a society that acknowledges, cherishes and promotes virtue, merit, and qualification in leadership and the beauty of multiculturality over and above banal racial, tribal and ethnic bigotry.
In the Gospel of St. Mark 10:35-45, we read how the sons of Zebedee, James and John approached Jesus and made a request, saying; Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory… Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” In Matthew’s gospel, it was their mother who approached Jesus for the request (Matt. 20:20-28). Let us not be oblivious of the fact that Jesus had earlier said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). This may have pre-informed why they approached him and said, “we want you to do for us, what ever we ask of you.”
Whether it was their mother or they themselves who approached Jesus, what were they thinking? That sitting at the right hand and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom was all about who you know? Or how well and fast you can press buttons to have your way into God’s kingdom? Probably, they wanted to play the ‘politics of who you know’, but this time, it backfired. Obviously, Jesus didn’t grant the request, but told them it wasn’t his to grant such, but the privilege was meant for those for whom it has been prepared.
Did Jesus lack the powers and capacity to grant such requests? Not at all. Didn’t he say whatever is asked in his name he will grant? Surely, he did. Jesus does not, and cannot contradict himself. Can he grant us all that we ask him? Yes, he can. But does he grant us all that we ask him? No, he does not. Then why? Jesus knows that it is not all we ask that is good for our well being and salvation. He also knows that certain things we ask come from impure, insincere, and inordinate desires and motives. Sometimes such motives are for oppressive, domineering, showmanship, and prideful reasons. Such was the motive of James and John. St James reminds us; “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).
Jesus’ reply that sitting at his right and left hands was meant for those for whom it has been prepared would imply, on the surface, that such privilege was meant for special people. In other words, it was not meant for everybody. Does not that sound discriminatory, exclusive, and selective? Does it not imply some level of favoritism and self-contradiction? After Peter had returned from the home of Cornelius and was faced with the strict and severe criticisms from the brethren, he explained to them saying: “Now I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is\ right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). So, Jesus cannot be accused of expressing favoritism.
Meanwhile, earlier on, he had warned: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Jesus’ statement could be interpreted to also mean that entering into heaven would not be based on political, religious, ethnic, and socio-cultural considerations, but rather, on one’s commitment and ability to go through the way that leads to eternal life. It will not depend on who you know, who is recommending you, your position and status in society and church, or how much you have got.
Rather, it is your faith and good works. It will depend on one’s ability and cooperation with divine grace to shun sin, evil and the distractions of the world, and be able to stand against injustice, favoritism, partiality, discrimination, greed, corruption, unfair treatment of fellow humans, oppressive regimes and all forms of subjugation and domination. It will depend on ones ability to do good and shun evil. At the end of the day, Jesus gives us a model to adopt: he came to serve, not to be served. He wants us to be at the service of the poor, marginalized, oppressed and unjustly treated, rather than the other way round. I guess James and John eventually got the message.
I hope we too also get the message that the Politics of Who You Know may not always fetch a person what he wants, or take him where he wants, especially if he does not work hard, remain focussed and committed to certain core values and virtues of life, and keep doing the right thing. By extension, this might likely be the determinant factor of who wins the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria, come 2023. Will the politics of who you know that breeds racism, tribalism, bigotry, and nepotism play out this time around? However, yes, the fact remains that the politics of who you know will not take anyone to heaven in the final analysis.
Rev. Fr. Valentine Anaweokhai