Nigeria Matters

Happy Oliver Twist Day

Sabo is a popular area in Mokola, Ibadan. Apart from it being predominantly occupied by the Hausa/Fulani community in Ibadan, Oyo state, it’s also a beehive of daily activities ranging from bureau de change to brothel services. While these two could be unseen by unsuspecting eyes, alms begging in this area is central. It has reached such a crescendo that it now seems literarily impossible for any government – state or local – to curb. Alms beggars in this area are quite numerous and transcend all ages. Unlike other vocations where hard work is a primary necessity, the lackadaisical attitudes of the beggars are legendary as the only qualification for a successful begging career is the ability of one’s eyes to go lachrymose when the big men come calling, coupled with a resounding Ba bi Allah, E ta mi lore or Yem ego depending on the ethnic group. As Nigerian workers celebrate another May Day today, with yet another request for more money, just like Oliver Twist, the only nearest comparison that I can make of their new record breaking request is Ba bi Allah!!!

Since only-God-knows-when, monthly salaries had been the chosen method of workers’ remuneration in Nigeria. The system is simple, stress-free and insulated from the incessant global economic crisis. It allows workers to plan their finances and draw budgets based on the expected figures at the end of the month. With this system, paying school fees could be easily incorporated into the monthly schedule as well as footing other bills and other miscellaneous. These allow workers to go about their daily chores without worrying about the unpredictable nature of national economy. This however has a negative impact on the nation’s economy.

In a serious country like US and Canada, workers are individually paid based on the respective individual’s number of hours of active labor, and not a flat monthly salary for every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Yari. This is put in place to guard against the lackadaisical attitudes that is contended with when workers become complacent and nonchalant against the backdrop of the popular Yoruba proverb which says that oga ta oga o ta, owo alaaru a pe (whether the boss makes profit or not, the laborer must be paid).

Here and everywhere, Nigerian governments at all levels are daily fingered as the major reason why Nigeria remains in its present precarious comatose condition. While this is truly true, we writers often forget the evident fact that Nigerian civil servants are also dutifully contributing their quota, maybe far greater than politicians’, to this ‘success’ story.

In the Nigerian public civil service, especially in various government ministries, institutions, agencies, and establishments, the workers’ complacency is legendarily epic. Some come early to work just to sign the daily register after which they leave for other assignments. I’ve been to some government establishments especially at the local government level where workers spend the entire day playing the beautiful game of draught, chewing kola nuts, listening to a portable radio set, while daily awaiting when the next payment voucher would be signed. The palpable overall mentality at the various government parastatals in this retarding part of the world is ‘na government work, I no fit die for 9ja’. This mindset has culminated in lower-than-expected work output with synergistic larger-than-expected resultant effects.

Government- owned textile industries now produce cockroaches in larger quantities than Ankara materials; PHCN workers cannot even produce enough megawatts to power PHCN offices across the nation as some of them (like the one in my area) rely on disturbingly noisy heavy duty Lister generating sets; NITEL officials couldn’t guarantee clear phone calls during rainy seasons and in areas where birds perch on NITEL wires since the weight of a day old parrot could disrupt NITEL telephone and fax services for weeks; same sad tale unite other Nigerian government- owned agencies. However, we convincingly blame government while the lackadaisically performing workers usually go scot free; thanks to the eloquent Nigerian labor leaders like Oshiomole.

Adams Oshiomole warmed his way into our hearts not just for his signatory khaki conductor outfits, but his numerous firebrand statements at various NLC rallies when workers wanted more, and the government remained adamant, or in a more subtle word… headily stubborn.

In the latest of such conquests, labor is asking for a whooping =N=52,000 minimum monthly salary. It’s going to be a thing of great joy for this feat to be achieved. However, in all sincerity, do all Nigerian workers deserve the proposed salary scale? I expect several conflicting opinions. To ensure fairness, I’m proposing a per-hour salary system.

To make the wage drama more interesting, let the federal government match labor’s demands with a well matching mouthwatering package for the cadre of workers that truly deserve more payment. Let all workers be paid based on the number of hours he/she puts into active service. Let top officials at the various sectors of labor liaise with their workers on an acceptable per hour wage. This would address some discrepancies in the labor sector.

It’s not fair for a receptionist who spends most of the day applying lipstick, retouching shampooed hair and remaking her facial make up to be placed on the same salary scale with a generator engineer who daily sweats it out at the hot engineering room; or for Nurse Bintu who only service the doctor-on-duty to have the same salary, because they are on the same grade, with the medical laboratory scientist who spends hours counting thousands of white blood cells with the low magnification microscope in his dimly lit laboratory.

It’s also unfair for the worker who comes to work at 8, disappears at 9, reappears at 2 and finally leaves at 3 to be collecting same or more money than the accountant whose neck is ‘accustomedly’ arched all day long while balancing the ministry’s trial balance and tattered ledger. It’s totally unfair.

The labor leaders should rather pursue fairness, equity, job satisfaction, motivating incentives, rewards for hard work, and retirement security, in place of the familiar annual same excused Ba bi Allah cries which further elaborates the wide abyssal depth/barrier, and the age long battle for preeminence between the led, and the leaders.

Although the labor leaders would deny it, their request directly or indirectly stemmed from the realization of the millions of dollars being siphoned, squandered, embezzled, or misappropriated by top government officials. I believe they are attempting to reduce the flow by enforcing a redistribution of national wealth into the hands of the workers who supposedly work for them. As poetic as this may seem, it’s totally against what the oracle of labor-employer relationship is all about.

The Nigerian civil workers according to a popularly quoted statistic are less than 10 per cent of the entire population. If this is true, then the remaining 90 per cent should also ask for their own share. There is no need for this selfish divide-and-share approach that is uniting us all against the leadership.

Doctors want their own man as minister of health, Ijaws want their own men in choice positions; Hausa politicians want to hold on stealthily or openly to the presidency for the next 4 years; home based footballers seek to be the majority on the crew en route South Africa… the list is endless. The mindset now is to take all, or manage the crumbs that you could get… just like Mokola alms beggars.

The labor and government should realize that Nigeria is a country of over 150 million people who individually could legally lay claim to the

national wealth. Hence, there is need for all to come to the roundtable and iron issues out such that a side won’t be like the big man throwing few coins at the greedy beggar who can’t help but ask for more. The reason is simple—we are all big men… or could be, if circumstances change.

One more thing. If the pay-per-hour scale is adopted, how much do you think Yari would be taking home to Turai this month? Zero thousand Naira I guess. Happy Workers’ Day!!!

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