How many are completely free of any form of bias? Such fellows should be the first person to cast the stone. If none is able, then we should look ourselves in the mirror, and ask how we’ve been nepotists, and make a promise of fairmindedness, going forward. Until then, we are all nepotists!

During my college days, as a member of the Association for Social Justice in Africa (ASJA), one of the issues we spoke against was nepotism. Of course, the central focus of ASJA was the struggle between the bourgeois and the proletariat. To that extent, the association was Marxist leaning. It was also not unusual then, though, as most progressive elements identified more with Marxism. But that is now history. Capitalism has ‘conquered’ everyone into ‘total submission.’

Apart from capitalism, with its unbridled exploitation, but ably reinforced by democratic institutions as exemplified by the U.S.A, the reality of life has been that people do take advantage of situations that look favourable to them. There is an element of nepotism in virtually everyone.

The dictionary defines nepotism as “the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” It goes further to give some synonyms of nepotism as “partiality · partisanship · unfair preference · preferential treatment · special treatment · preference · favor · one-sidedness · prejudice · bias · inequality · unfairness · inequity · discrimination · positive discrimination · reverse discrimination · keeping it in the family · looking after one’s own · jobs for the boys”.

When you look critically at the definition above and the synonyms as well, we will realise how much an individual can become a nepotist without knowing it.

Let me illustrate with a life story. I will keep the names of other people private. One of them may be reading this.

It was in 1985, in the city of Kaduna. Two of my friends or better still townsmen decided to pay another one a visit at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, where he was studying then. Due to our financial constraints, we could not take the ever available and fast bus to Zaria, and we opted to travel by train. Remember also that it was a risky trip, as there was almost no means of letting our host know we were coming. For that reason, we made our budget based on the possibility of not meeting him, and we had to return by train that day. Though I gave another comfort that I have my way around Zaria, with friends and even relatives, that can bail us out if such situation occurred.

On getting to the train station at Kakuri, we realised that we have some time on our hand before our train arrived. And with little change left from our tight budget, we decided to treat ourselves to a bottle of palm wine sold around the station. Before you scream ‘palm wine in Kaduna!’, do know that palmy, as it called in local parlance, can be fermented from rice. Yes, you heard that, from rice just the same way, burukutu is fermented from millet. Most Army barracks in the North get their palmy from rice, local rice, the same used for the staple,tuwo shinkafa.

I cannot recollect precisely what happened, but we met some ‘soja’ men (Army officers), and within a short time, I was conversing with one of them in impeccable Hausa language. Then, I quickly switched from my Ekiti intonation (accent) into Hausa. My people grumbled as they could only pick a few of my ‘fake’ words.

One thing led to another. One of the men, let us call him Soja 1, started asking me questions. JAMB questions! In those days, though there was no kidnapping, people were known to disappear without trace, and as such it was wise to be selective about what one could disclose in public. First, he asked me where I was from? I played my number 6 fast. I said my mother was from Jos. He asked where was my “angwan” (street), of which I responded as Rukuba Junction. I said that for two reasons. If I had told him Dilimi or Nassarawa, he would know I am Yoruba. That can earn me the derogatory “Berebe banza.” Two, Rukuba is close to the Army barracks in Jos, which rang a bell to him. Then he asked me to mention streets from Rukuba to Terminus. Remember that it was a military regime that time, as such if I didn’t want to do the frog jump, it was better not to protest at all. Anyway, the question was a small thing then. You can call us (Aderomose and me) that time walking GPS, as we had the geography in our heads, as far as Jos was concerned. There was no “lungu” (corners and crannies) in Jos we had not trekked. Even, if there was Goggle then, the search engine would have taken a cue from us. When he asked my name, I replied, Lawal. Everybody answers Lawal – Christian, Muslim, Hausa, Berom, Igala, Igbirra, Yoruba, Zuru. It was a safe name in public then.

I was barely halfway into my description of those streets when he ordered six bottles of palmy for us.

Brethren, you should see the luck that had befallen my friends. They then requested me to continue my conversation with Soja 1, to forget about them and keep the supply line flowing. Imagine, fellows who were already calling me “Jeki’nKano” (Kano Donkey), just because I switched to Hausa to their initial displeasure.

To cut the story short, that was how, when the Soja men were leaving, my friend added one more bottle each for us, and squeezed some coins into my palm. A soja man gifted me money! When my friends thanked him, he simply replied to them, “wanna dan wan na ne” (this one is my brother). I was his brother because we spoke the same language. The palmy we drank, simply put is nepotism! We drank the palmy of nepotism. It was that simple.

I decided to play a prank at that point. I pocketed the money! After a few seconds, my friends asked how much the Soja men had given us. I asked them “who is us?” To their shock, I said the man said I should give the money to my mother. “Did he know your mother?” was asked in unison. I explained how I told him my mother was from Jos. “But your mother is not from Jos, bring our money joor.” Of course, the money was added to our ‘common purse’.

When we do things for people because of our common affinity, we are indulging in nepotism. If what you do for those you know, becomes challenging to do for a total stranger, you are as terrible as the nepotists in a government office or any institution.

I remember a particular governor then (can’t remember his exact name though) who, when he was accused of awarding contract to his son, asked if his son was not a bonafide citizen of the state.

All forms of bias, racism, ethnicity, religious affinity, professional grouping, in addition to relational closeness, provide ready avenues for nepotism to thrive. It takes quite some ethical uprightness to live well above nepotism.

How many are completely free of any form of bias? Such fellows should be the first person to cast the stone. If none is able, then we should look ourselves in the mirror, and ask how we’ve been nepotists, and make a promise of fairmindedness, going forward. Until then, we are all nepotists!

Oluwadele L. Bolutife, a chartered accountant and a public policy and administration scholar, writes from Canada.