By Taiwo Odukoya
The name Stradivarius is synonymous with fine violins. Antonius Stradivarius insisted that no instrument constructed in his shop be sold until it was as near perfection as human care and skill could make it. Stradivarius observed, “God needs violins to send His music into the world, and if any violins are defective God’s music will be spoiled.” His work philosophy was summed up in one sentence: “Other men will make other violins, but no man shall make a better one than I.”
Excellence can simply be defined as the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. It is not just about doing the right thing; it is about doing it exceptionally well. The truth is the more people there are in any society who put uncommon efforts into common, everyday tasks, the more progress it makes. It was John Gardner who said: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
No society, organization or country can hope to maximize its potential without forging a culture of excellence. The greatest disincentive in the pursuit of excellence, however, is the demonstration and tolerance of mediocrity by leadership. There must be no conflicting signals. Those who have chosen to lead must exemplify excellence in demonstrated integrity and competence. This suggests having the right people in the right places and holding them accountable to certain standards. If they fall short of these standards, then leadership’s response must be commensurate with its determination to build and sustain excellence all through society.
Our society, as it is, is steeped in mediocrity. And this is partly because the government has, over the years, shown that it is possible to circumvent excellence in character and productive output, and still be able to get ahead. Even the young have been sold on this idea. The society is teeming with thousands of university graduates who cannot function effectively in today’s competitive global space, because they found a way – sometimes in collusion with lecturers and administrators – to beat the university system of the required academic merits.
Our civil service, which is supposed to be the government’s machinery for the delivery of quality services to the people, has become a breeding ground for mediocrity. For a firsthand view of this, you only need to take a look at our roads, airports, hospitals and even educational system; everything is in near or total collapse. Yet annual budgets are made and deployed for projects in all these sectors with no visible results. Excellence has given way to a seemingly justifiable quota system, nepotism, and cronyism. While the quota system is understandable in some respect, it must be balanced with merit, a quality that has been all but expunged in our society today, allowing mediocrity to run amuck. To shun excellence is to make a mockery of patriotism. That is why, at best, the average Nigerian is not patriotic.
To build the Nigeria of our dreams, going forward, we must begin to make conscious efforts to revive a culture of merit and excellence. We must go back to the basics, to the most elementary level, to rural and urban centres and drive this in until it becomes a part and parcel of our lives. We must challenge ourselves, at every level of society, to give our best, even as we strive toward continuous improvement. And those at the helm of affairs must provide leadership in this direction: upholding excellence and demonstrating zero tolerance for mediocrity. Let us approach our respective callings as Stradivarius approached his violins. God has placed something in our hands, however little it may seem, to better the lot of society; to produce anything defective would be to spoil the work of God. Let us start today to cultivate a culture of excellence. Nigeria has a great future.
Pastor Taiwo Odukoya can be reached at [email protected]