Monday, June 29, 2015

Unpaid Nigerian salaries

When I was a boy growing up under my father’s roof, he called me into his bedroom one evening and thrust a piece of paper in my hands. I was able to read and understand some of what he was telling me via the piece of paper but the others I couldn’t understand at once. The part of the paper that I didn’t immediately understand had very high sounding words like ‘sincerity’, ‘integrity’ ‘honesty’ and such other words ending in a letter y. Even though I came to understand some of these words at a later stage of my life, there was one piece of advice he gave to me then that he didn’t think I would need to grow up to understand. He said, ‘Work hard, believe in yourself and always respond to your employer with a sir, and when it is the end of the month, just stretch out your hand, and you will get a salary’.

Over the years, I found out that my beloved papa may have been wrong after all. Was he referring to another country in the civilized world and not Nigeria? In other parts of the world where qualified people are gainfully employed, they receive a decent wage weekly or monthly. There are usually very well thought out welfare programmes that ensure that the welfare and benefits of staff are taken care of. If in the event that an employer cannot take care of all your benefits as an employer, he opts to employ you as a contract staff, or he tells you so out rightly that he cannot pay you. Some of the media houses that I interacted with overseas say that they understand that because they cannot afford to take care of the housing, health, transport needs of their staff, they engage staff part time, cut costs and run the system lean and prude. What drives that kind of attitude is a certain philosophy that places a premium on the value and worth of the human being.  That value and worth is placed on the individual, and his capacity to create wealth for the state and for his employer if his needs are met in tune with the value of his capacity to create wealth or contribute to the capacity for that wealth creation.
But it is not the same thing here in Nigeria. Your country/employer sees himself as doing you a favour rather than the other way round. If a Nigerian or any human being for that matter is qualified to be employed in any company, not paying him his due when due is a crime and a sin against God. As a matter of fact and in most in most cases, the employee is seen as a liability rather than an asset to the company. Certain people speak of the person who goes to an office to work and earn a living in very despicable language. At whim, he is likely to be dismissed without a compensation package. After all, aren’t there a million and one unemployed in the labour market for two a penny? I know a friend who resigned from this company after working his heart and soul out for four years and needed to move on. He gave the mandatory time in lieu of notice but at the point of disengagement, his salaries up to three months remain unpaid. I know of another case where the employer would do everything he can to ensure that an aggrieved member of staff seeking to leave his employment is put through a programme to resolve whatever dispute or condition that the employee grieves about. Thereafter if the employee seeks to move on, he gets a pat on the back, collects his dues and moves on. 

But in our country, this is the exception rather than the rule. In Osun State and in several other states, it is no longer news that salaries have not been paid for upwards of 7 months. And the governors are seeking a bailout, and whatever that means I cannot tell, apart from the fact that they are asking for free money with which to run their states. But it stands reason on its head to have a state government, elected by the people, and who took an oath to defend the people that elected it subjected to the horror of working for nearly a year without a salary – and without any reasonable explanation. Insensitive as it may seem, it stands reason on its head a little longer that Nigerians being dehumanized like this still go to their offices daily even without a salary. It must be that such persons as these have had the good sense to  seek alternative methods of putting body and soul together and meeting their responsibilities or that these beloved Nigerians have been conditioned to live lives measured out in cups of rice. 

The unfortunate thing about all this is that our people are suffering in the midst of plenty. Our undoing is that we are focused on only one revenue source, oil. There’s no state in Nigeria that doesn’t have one form of endowment or the other. You name them – Anambra, Sokoto, Lagos, Kano, Jigawa, Adamawa, Edo – have minerals like lead, zinc, amethyst, dolomite serpentine gemstones, kaolin and more than 20 others – buried under their grounds. But nobody is trying to dig them all up to earn money. Nobody is trying to use the monies from oil to build industries where our people can produce shoes, buttons, boots, bots, nuts and shirts and skirts. In most of these states where salaries have not been paid, there are no industries, no middle class only parasites feeding on a host in Abuja. The governors that are asking for a bailout and wringing their hands that they have inherited near-empty state coffers are actually the greatest enemies of Nigeria. They represent a minority, voted in by a majority, supposedly in the interest of the majority. They are holding Nigeria’s greatest asset and resource - the people - to ransom with their inability to harness the potentials in Nigerians for Nigeria. 

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is editor in chief Bob MajiriOghene Communications, Benin City Nigeria.