By Adekunle Theophilius…
This season of national anomie is obviously not the best of times for Nigerian workers. The words– Emasculated, Apoplexized and Pauperized are grossly inadequate to describe their present predicament. The palpable enormity of despondency suffusing Nigeria was evinced by the fact that the recent announcement of a new national minimum wage was met with stark indifference, undisguised apathy and the ominous feeling that it can neither palliate nor improve their deplorable economic situation.
This unfathomable gloom and intractable hopelessness that has enveloped the average Nigerian worker has its roots in the indescribable financial and psychological haemorrhage Nigerians have suffered over the years exacerbated by decades of poor socio- economic policies, inept leadership, political quagmires and grandiose pillaging of Nigeria’s national treasury.. With the total cabalization and cartelization of the various means, levers and instruments of power, majorities of excluded Nigerians have had no chance, no respite, no reprieve and no breathing space in the economic pogrom wrecked on them. In the early nineties, the common refrain was that poverty ruled over Nigeria’s landscape like a colossus; but now in 2019 Nigeria has not only become the poverty capital of the world, poverty and its attendant mentality have also been ingrained in our minds like items of immemorial myth.
Nigerians toil relentlessly daily to overcome an array of obdurate obstacles that have been erected against their progress. Nigerians strive to acquire additional skills, degrees etc to improve their situation in a very unfair economic system that only makes them to work harder, slave longer and toil more for a tokenistic existence. Regrettably, while majorities of Nigerians pull themselves up by their bootstraps and are hanging precariously on the socio-economic cliffhanger, political office occupants swim in unspeakable luxuries. That is why the assurance member of the House of Representatives who recently became speaker in the current dispensation nonchalantly rubbed it in the face of Nigerians by buying his wife a 100Million naira car.
Then the other dancer who previously had no visible means of income and has been sadly reelected by his constituents flaunts his collection of ‘toys’ worth billions of naira.
Why are dwelling on work. ??, work is central to people’s wellbeing. In addition to providing income, it’s also an important psychological boost that enhances people self worth promotes social contacts and increases national productivity. The impact of qualitative work on the accomplishment of worker aspirations and galvanizing socio-economic and political advancement is so unquantifiable. UNDP noted that work contributes to public good, and that human beings working together increase material well-being and accumulate a wide body of knowledge that is the basis for cultures and civilizations. But how many Nigerian workers actually gets self actualized or get the financial succor and work satisfaction they deserve or require?
The universal principle is that if you work hard you will eventually reap the fruits of your labour right?. Sadly, the probability is high that if you are a diligent and honest worker in Nigeria- you will end up with virtually nothing at the end of the day. Faced with pitiful salaries and skyrocketing cost of living, the average Nigerian worker- Frustrated, Humiliated and Dejected– would need loans or resort to cooperative assistance to pay house rents, to pay school fees, to buy second hand cars, to purchase household items, to perform basic ceremonies like weddings, naming, burials, children parties etc. Unfortunately, the private sector is an active collaborator in the scheme to perpetually penurize and enslave Nigerian workers as most of them engage in unfair and unsavoury labour practices. Just like the inscription “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE that Virgil and Dante saw at the Gate of Hell in Dante Alghieri’s inferno, the woes of Nigerian workers continues unabated post employment as the Nigerian retiree is said to be one of the poorest in the world and Nigeria has been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a pensioner.
The present government reels off some positive statistics and gloats over its various achievements. So many programs to bolster youth employment, diverse social protection schemes, unprecedented capital projects expenditure and patronage of local contractors etc But the paradox is that many Nigerians still face severe social and economic hardships thus raising germane questions about the true identity of the beneficiaries and the actual impact of these much touted programmes?. This was validated by the latest Economist report that Nigerians became poorer during the first term of President Buhari. Truly ran aground like a derelict vessel, the Nigerian economy isn’t just responding to all the fiscal and monetary policies thrown at it causing unemployment to spiral beyond control.
It not only rains, but it pours massively for Nigerian workers. All within the past six months, Nigeria has been described as one of the most miserable, poorest, slave like, open defecation and worst for workers rights in the world. The current minimum wage is far less in value than the 1981 minimum wage meaning that the quality and standard of living of Nigerian workers hit rock bottom in 2019. These grim statistics only serve to underpin the appalling misery of Nigerian workers and the fact that if you are not part of the ruling elites and their acolytes working could just be tantamount to performing the work of Penelope. Convinced that their case is beyond redemption, many Nigerian workers out there have generally resigned themselves to fate and seem to have lost the quest to live independent, fulfilled and enjoyable lives.
From the above, it’s obvious that the average Nigerian worker has been left to permanently penny pinch on the fringes of a very impecunious life. This is where the work of Penelope comes in, work which is eventually fruitless, unrewarding and leaves the worker poorer at the end of the day. An overtaxed, slavish and poorly remunerative work that makes the worker to continuously labour in vain with no end in sight and no hope at all. A type of work that like poverty is a vicious cycle- no savings, no tangible achievement, no headway, just living for the next day etc- No matter how hard, how better and how longer you work, you will never get by and you will never get ahead, with the odds badly stacked against you by a very insidious and reprehensible system that is diametrically opposite to your wellbeing, welfare and progress and this is the kind of work that is preponderant in Nigeria and the kind of work that majorities of us are engaged in.
Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Nigeria always lags behind on Global Human development indices and reports. The synergistic link between work and human development as advanced by the United National Development Programme needs to be continuously highlighted for the sake of posterity. Work enhances human development by providing incomes and livelihoods, by reducing poverty and by ensuring equitable growth. Human development— by enhancing health, knowledge, skills and awareness— increases human capital and broadens opportunities and choices. On this basis, its time for the Current regime to make crucial policy choices via creating work opportunities, ensuring workers’ well-being and developing targeted actions against inequalities that can have positive impacts on the society as well as on the wellbeing of beleaguered Nigerian workers and their families.
I want to implore Nigeria’s social partners to join forces to make Nigeria a better place for Nigerians to work and enjoy the fruits of their labour; to make work a fulfilling activity regardless of cadre or profession; to block loopholes in laws and rules that make it easy for public and private firms to exploit and denigrate workers. Let Nigeria’s social partners strive to uphold the freedoms to associate and to bargain collectively that can make it possible for Nigeria to realize humane and just conditions and terms of employment that can ameliorate our collective sufferings and put an end to the work of Penelope that majorities of honest and hardworking long suffering Nigerians are presently wallowing in.