I am writing this column on May Day. May Day is the globally recognised day of workers; when workers’ issues are put on the front burner: Their welfare, their plight, their future and all of that. But over the years, it’s become a day of lamentation and distress. A day to announce how terrible workers have fared; how dehumanised they have been reduced, as the world economy takes a pummelling.
I am writing on May Day, and spread before me are major Nigerian newspapers, featuring lead stories on May Day in the country. And predictably, it’s a tale of anguish, lamentation and gnashing of teeth. It’s a sordid tale of how the Nigerian worker has been so pauperised that his take home pay takes him nowhere near home.
It’s also a tale of anger. Anger from the Nigerian worker, and the workers’ central unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. It’s a cocktail of knocks and abuses for the nation’s leaders, the governors and all those at the helm of affairs. It’s the day of venom and spilling of bile.
As I read the sad news, I’m getting quite sad. You can’t help it. The situation in the country today is indeed saddening and depressing, not only for the worker but many Nigerians: Experts say the economy is in a shamble, living for many a mirage with the purchasing power too powerless to purchase anything. Will it be an exaggeration to say Nigerians are passing through the worst period of their lives? Will it be blowing things out of proportion to say that many Nigerians didn’t quite expect the sudden and dramatic turn of events, where they have seen things collapsing before their very eyes and unable to do much about it? I honestly don’t think so. Things are, indeed, quite tough.
Many Nigerians are fast losing their sanity due to hunger and distress in the land; not a few have turned executive and ordinary beggars. Unemployment line lengthens, even as many are being kicked into the job market. If that’s not enough to sadden and depress anyone, I wonder what else could.
But, it is also very annoying.Because we really didn’t have any business being at the bottom of the ladder, but for the mismanagement of the past and the irresponsibility of those who had been charged with superintending our affairs. And that’s being euphemistic. Our present situation, to put it the way it should, can be attributed to stealing and looting over the years; looting of the common till, state resources; plundering the economy. What we have now are the after-effects of that display of brazenness and recklessness.
The news of loot recoveries and confessions; the EFCC inquisitions and news of diverted funds tell the pathetic tale of the rape of a nation by its prodigal leaders. It tells the tale of a nation severely bruised and battered over the years by predatory leaders at all strata.
However, it’s not just the past that haunts our nation, the present shocks us. From what we hear and read, it seems not much lessons have been learnt from the mistakes of the past. It seems not many of those at the leadership positions today have changed their attitude to public office and public treasury; not many are willing to embrace the ‘change’ mantra of the Buhari administration.
It’s shocking to hear that corruption hasn’t quite disappeared from the system; that stealing is allegedly still going on underneath; that corrupt officials are still behaving and living in the past. And that should worry the president. That should also make him beam searchlights on the new men at the helms. Nigeria can’t afford to replace a set of crooks with another set. Eternal vigilance should be our watchword.
For the change Nigerians voted to have true meaning, both the leaders and the led must key fully into it. It shouldn’t be a precept only for the led, while leaders mouth it, as a slogan of deceit and camouflage. Change should have no stratification, nor should it be discriminatory or selectively adhered to.
A friend and critic once asked me this rhetoric question: ‘Yes, they ask the citizens to make sacrifice and endure the challenges of the present for a better tomorrow, but the questions are: Are they making the sacrifices they ask of others? Are they and their families enduring any hardship? Is sacrifice to make Nigeria better only for the poor and ordinary Nigerians?’
This, certainly, remains the underlying contradiction of the present, which should be honestly and realistically addressed if citizens will enthusiastically key behind the leadership. Isn’t it said you preach more effectively with your actions than words? Is example not always better than precept?
A nation preaching austerity and fiscal discipline should have no business with governors on chartered flights and large entourage; with profligacy and ostentatious lifestyle that tells nothing of the austerity and belt-tightening being preached to the people.
At the last count, over 20 states are owing their workers’ monthly salaries (some as long as eight months), yet you find the governors of such states and others flying everywhere on chartered aircraft, with millions sunk in bills of such travels and other frivolities. What, for example, is a poor state doing with an entourage of 12-15 exotic cars in its convoy? States that can’t even discharge its statutory obligations to its workers have governors, living like emperors!
On workers day, my heart goes to the Nigerian worker: Harassed, harangued, heckled and dehumanised by those whose business is to provide for his welfare and wellbeing. Yes, things are tough all over the world occasioned by a meltdown that has refused to defreeze, including Nigeria. But the Nigerian worker is not in agony only because of the downturn in the economy. But also, on account of a clear lack of focus and discipline in many states of the federation, which chief executives are not showing enough will power and creativity to get out of the woods.
I agree entirely with Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, when he says in an interview with The Guardian: “I do not think that inability to pay salaries and meet other needs of the people has to do with the amount of money that is available to them. Instead, the irresponsibility at the states needs to be checked. The real problem at the state and local government levels is basically lack of transparency and accountability.”
As I have argued severally in this column, you can’t build a new nation on old bricks. Not on the bricks of corruption, indiscipline or hypocrisy.
The trouble with Nigeria, I once noted here, is not that it is impossible to have a wealthy nation providing the best services for the majority, if not all, its citizenry.
“The issue is, we have a few greedy individuals, who seem sworn to creating a dynasty of the super-rich, at the detriment of others, who are in the pathetic majority. Go to any part of the globe, Europe and the United States, Nigerians own the most magnificent buildings, drive the most exotic cars, have the highest number of private jets in Africa, and generally live life to the fullest. But they are not more than 0.001%, while over 90 % of their compatriots live on less than a dollar a day.
Except for a few states, you can’t find evidence of governance, not to talk of good governance, in many others. What you have in many states are a flurry of activities, heat without fire, motion without movement. Blaring sirens going everywhere, but nowhere. We have ‘Excellencies’ who haven’t delivered excellent services. At least, not the ones we can see or feel.” Indeed!