Arts

Violence: Teaching Corporate Management Through Literature

Title: Violence  Author: Festus Iyayi
Publisher: Longmans (1979)

In solving problems, literature does not supply easy answers; it rather upholds complexities, which is life. By default, there are complexities anywhere human interactions exist. Literature goes ahead to mentally equip us, deepen our minds and extend our sensibilities in skilfully coping with and negotiating the complexities of life. It is the business of literature to empower us in making the best possible choice in the many alternatives of real life and to illustrate before hand, the consequence of each choice and each alternative whether at school, the family, in the place of work or the club.

This novel, Violence by Festus Iyayi, with scenes alternating between homes and places of work, offers possibility of discourse around some management implications and principles like leadership, questions of strategy, human resource management, organizational behaviour, and communication skills; but its central thesis centripetally revolves round business ethics.The book is a remarkable resource in that page after page it trumps up a store of ethical conflicts and choices made in the face of each conflict.

Idemudia and Adisa are a young childless couple living in complete penury.An empty and hopeless stomach gets up late. And so in the opening page, Idemudia wakes up by 10 in the morning to taunts and threats from his wife. He goes out to escape her and luckily gets a job to offload 1500 bags of cement from some trailers at a construction site owned by Queen the wife of the rich Obofun. He returns home in the evening and got terribly ill from the day’s stress. Adisa with their neighbours struggle so hard to get him to the hospital where he is finally admitted for some days. While in the hospital, the rich Obofun makes some protracted passes on Idemudia’s wife, Adisa and she finally complied in order to settle his husband’s accumulating hospital and drugs bills. In the end when Idemudia is discharged, he is employed again at Queen’s construction site where because of poor pay, he leads other workers to foment a trade dispute and a threat of strike. Queen calls him and proposes her body to him so as to discredit his leadership and crack the ranks of the workers. Unlike Adisa, Idemudia walks out on the fleshy offer despite the heat-heat of passions and what is worse, his continued employment has been tied to his doing it.

The philosophy of ethics is the reason why it must be obeyed. As it is with the characters in this novel, so it should be for corporate organizations. It may be very inconvenient to be ethical but in the long run it is profitable.Queen is a naturally beautiful, flamboyant and attractive woman who employs her body to obtain rebates, to curry favour with business associates and to win government contracts that she seldom execute or do poorly. After a while, a new government comes and all those she has secured in her pocket are sacked en masse. She is asked to refund the contract down payment.

Iriso, her male business partner also loses 3000 eggs and 2000 tins of milk in rebates to Queen after each hour of pleasure with her. The extreme intimacy between them has weakened Iriso’s power to say no to Queen’s this routine demands. But Queen is not like this in the beginning. The book instructively tells us: “her conscience nagged her each time after she had gone out and had an affair with a man. But gradually, she lost her conscience in the thousands of naira that poured in to her.she didn’t have any scruples anymore, none whatsoever.” But Adisa only succumbs once after her aunt whom the novel introduces as a voice in Adisa’s mind pressures her continually to do it-do it and not suffer herself as a beautiful woman living with a wretched sloth. When she does it and violates marriage ethics, she is almost lynched by her conscience. She is crushed sad, she could not live free, could not eat, could not talk with anyone, and living becomes more lacerating and unbearable. The author tells us that even when she draws her cover cloth to sleep, it is like a heavy iron over her body.

Unlike her husband, Idemudia never compromises himself even though the book is equally strong on taking his conditions to the farthermost limits of hardship like Adisa’s, only that there is no obvious inner voice egging him on. Fidelity to morality or ethics to the very end come what may is what transforms a person or an organization from being common to an extraordinary brand. As she is seducing Idemudia and he refusing, Queen queries: “To be rejected, turned down by an ordinary labourer!” Pain swells in her heart because her irresistible package is an offer even very important people in the society do not refuse. Refusing, hence not only stands Idemudia out, it empowers his brand.

Nevertheless, it is not only in his strenuous respect for ethics and morality that distinguishes Idemudia, he displays some notable leadership qualities. However his sort of leadership is not by deliberate choice of wanting to lead rather the motivation from his concern for the common good brings forth the leader in him. To back this up, he has solid abilities. The first time Idemudia offloads cement for Queen, she tells us, he is fast and reliable. With all the suffering he encounters in his childhood, adulthood and his family life, that he does not break or bend to the omnipresent corrupting forces shows us he is resilient.That he sells his blood, though unethical, to feed his wife shows that he is caring and self-sacrificial. In addition, when he is recalled back to Queen’s construction site, the first thing he observes was a building that is not safe for the labourers. Besides this habitual concern and altruism, Idemudia also has a good sense of initiative and a committed spirit on behalf of social justice: he leads and organizes an industrial action for the welfare of other site labourers. The Greek site engineer notes: he is clever. Queen adds: he is experienced. he is articulate. “he is the one to speak. He works very hard. He knows. He is an organizer.” More, he is principled, morally and ethically scrupulous because he does not permit the allurement of fine flesh and of bribe and the higher office of a foreman proposed by the management to compromise his resolve.

Curiously on the other hand, he is a wife beater at home. Maybe it is realising that this habit is a bad one that he finds it easy to forgive Adisa when he got to know that she slept with Obofun, the husband of his temptress. But the novel does not tell us directly that Idemudia forgives her, rather: “he leaned back towards her and buried his head against the warmth that was her bosom.” Ladies and gentlemen, this proves he is innovative.

Other management principles widespread in the book are strategy and organizational behaviour. Hardly has the book opened that we are introduced to Idemudia already organizing his co-workers: Osaro, Patrick and Omoifo, debating with them issues of just remuneration and questions of work safety. Like a good leader, an effective communicator and motivator, he has enough ideas and has faith in planning, conferring and debating with his colleagues in the spirit of diversity thinking before forging a consensus. In fact the novel is full of images and phrases of accord and team spirit: “they moved with one accord”. “herded themselves together under the little shed”. “rubbed hands together”. “stand together”. “putting down the headpans, shovels and buckets, not individually but collectively.” The strategy to realize their ambition of pay rise is not in violence as title of the book screams but in collective peaceful protest and strike action. Again the narrative deploys a powerful image when the strike is in the offing. It says they are alwa

ys meeting by “the concrete mixer.” Of course a concrete mixer is a machine that accepts and mixes aggregates of water, sand and cement to form concrete used to withstand load in building projects. So, in effect, it is in togetherness that we find abundant strength.

Conflict of interests will always occur in organizations. As we see in the book, the workers asking for higher wages are preoccupied with their family responsibilities and liabilities while the management is preoccupied with maximizing profit and scrambling around in response to the government’s directive to return unexecuted contract funds. The management here, comprising Queen and the Greek site engineer behave badly in terms of strategy, human resource management and crisis control. Instead of expressing an option for efficient dialogue, prompting the workers to see things from the management’s perspectives also, stepping in each other’s shoes really, the management rather resorts to secreting their leader, Idemudia, and bribing him with money, higher post and sex. He declines them all and so he is sacked. But he will not be job-wanting for long because he is of strategic importance and a valuable asset.His is a brand espousing remarkable qualities and expertise which is why after his initial test run, Queen at all cost rummage around town in search of him and eventually fishes him out of the hospital to join her workforce.

 

Damola Awoyokun delivered this review at the British Council Management Forum, Ikoyi, Lagos. He is at osoronga@yahoo.com

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