By Rev. Fr. Simon Peter N. Okanumee, Smmm
Shortly before the 2023 Nigerian elections, some State Governors implemented pay increase for Civil Servants in their states. Some also made political appointments of Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Special Advisers and so called Technical Officers; while some went as far as promoting Civil Servants. I began to ask myself: were these not the same State Governors who cried to high heaven before 2023 election season that their States had no resources to pay the New Minimum Wage approved by the Federal Government to Civil Servants? What changed?
The worst part is that some of these State Governors made similar increments and promotions after they had lost in the elections, for those vying for second term in office or for those who had wished to singlehandedly determine their political successors on their own. I asked again: could it be that the whole game plan was to reverse the implementation and cancel the appointments after winning in the elections, for those who did it before elections or to make things impossible for the incoming governments, for those who did it after losing in the elections? What an irony!
It simply says one thing: Nigerian politicians know the right thing to do but lack the political goodwill. Worse still, these politicians fail to realize the economic implications of poor conditions of service. Thus, the paradox of Nigerian political economics is that the government desires a flourishing economy and higher externally and internally generated revenues without improving poor conditions of service of workers who drive the system. What is being done about brain drain – massive exodus of our best brains to foreign lands? Who are those to drive the economy?
Recall that recently, a new Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives seeking to amend Medical and Dental Practitioners Acts which will mandate all Nigerian-trained medical and dental practitioners to practice for minimum of five years in the country before being granted full license to practice in a bid to making it difficult for medical and dental practitioners to relocate abroad in search of better conditions of service. Is that the solution? Thus, this article attempts to establish connection between the welfare of labourers and actualization of our economic potentials.
ESTABLISHING THE LINK
In economics, there are three primary factors of production, namely: land, capital and labour. Of all these factors of production, labour is the supreme. In his book, “Freedom as Responsibility: The Social Market economy in the light of the Catholic Social Teaching for the Nigerian Society,” Ezumezu makes this submission: “Human labour is the dynamic causative creative and purposive factor in all production activities. Land and capital remain passive, inert and recipient factors of production. It is human labour which activates them into productive means.”
This is not difficult to understand because it is the human labour that processes and transforms the other factors of production into useful products. Without human labour, land and capital would remain dormant and worthless. In other words, human labour is the propeller shaft that turns the wheel of any economic growth. So, failure to oil the shaft that propels the wheels of locomotion of any mechanical system would consequently make room for a clog on the wheel, and such will definitely drive the system to a halt. Labour is the supreme factor of production and we can only expect maximum productivity when labourers are properly and adequately catered for.
Regrettably, in Nigeria, workers are paid pea-nuts as salaries and such tokens remain stagnant for years, with little or no increment, even amidst economic inflation. Worse still, these pea-nuts of salaries are not paid as at when due. Workers dare not demand for allowances. There is hardly promotion for workers and when such happens, it is not based on merit. Other welfare and retirement packages like gratuities, pay-offs, pensions and death benefits are not paid. These poor conditions of service are often written on workers’ protest cards like: “my boss is a comedian, the wages he pays are a joke;” “my take-home pay cannot even take me home,” and so forth.
CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
The foregoing is the fate of most workers in Nigeria because there are seldom spelt out conditions of service in the real sense of a written consensus or terms of reference between employers and employees. Mostly job applicants are employed, deployed and exploited without regard to their rights to just wage/salary. Employers arbitrarily decide what and when to pay their employees. Retrenchment or discharge terms and conditions are not discussed. Employers simply hire and fire employees at will, thus leaving the employees’ fates at the mercy of their employers.
The concept “Conditions of Service” can be understood in two senses: namely, conditions of service as “the working environment” where employees of labour find themselves and conditions of service as “the terms of agreement,” written or otherwise, under which employees of labour operate. Ordinarily, in any establishment, government or private sector, guidelines or conditions of service are adequately and clearly spelt out for prospective employees. As such the terms of engagement are committed in black and white under contract law to be strictly adhered to by the two parties. References are made to such in the event of resolution of contract disputes.
In other words, conditions of service are the terms of reference in what transpires between employers and the employee before ever the latter is employed and deployed. Regrettably, what most labourers in Nigeria get and suffer from are conditions of service in the former sense of the word, that is, the working environment in which they helplessly find themselves. In most cases too, such working environments are unsafe and hazardous. Even when employees enter into any form of written contract stating conditions of their service, such terms of contracts, in most cases, are at best in the favour of employers, and at worst, not being respected by employers.
THE ADVERSE EFFECTS
Unfortunately, one can make bold to say that the idea of “conditions of service” exits only in theory in Nigeria. To this end, the whims and caprices of employers become the terms and conditions. Consequently, the basic remunerations employees receive leave much to be desired. It is uninspiring and discouraging to say the least; nothing to write home about. This has made quality life for workers in Nigeria a mirage. It has equally given foreign investors the temerity to ‘dehumanize’ Nigerians on the soil of Nigeria, which is unacceptable as it is condemnable.
Evidently, the pitiable poor conditions of service in Nigeria have socio-political and economic consequences, and mostly they are rather unpalatable. Some of the negative effects of poor conditions of service in Nigeria include, but are not limited to, the following: High rate of migration of highly skilled professionals and best brains from Nigeria to other countries in search of greener pastures; poor result due to lack of motivation and commitment on the side of employees; some employees resort to being doubly employed in other places or doing private business in order to earn more to augment what they are paid in their primary employment.
Worst still, bribery and corruption becomes the order of the day; workers exploit every slightest opportunity they have to enrich themselves to be able to pay their bills. This is why extortion, intimidation and begging by Nigerian workers are so rampant. There are also cases of frequent industrial actions which affect labour productivity; there is little or no discipline among workers because they feel they are no longer bound by the ethics of their profession; caution is thrown to the wind because employers lose the moral authority to discipline employees; and there is lack of dedication to duty due to lack of interest in a work that does not put food on the table.
By all standards, the conditions under which people work in Nigeria are unfortunately unacceptable. These having been said, how can the current poor conditions of service in Nigeria be addressed to create the desired enabling environment for economic development and socio-political wellbeing of Nigerians? In my humble opinion, for a new phase of Nigeria’s economy, the following recommendations are some of the ways forward in improving the poor conditions of service in Nigeria and towards the realization of the full economic potentials of Nigeria.
First of all, there should be provision of written conditions of service and this memorandum of understanding between employers and their employees must be strictly followed to the letter. We should ensure that employees are entitled to their salaries/wages, which should be paid as at when due. We should ensure that employees are entitled to their allowances for overtime and other extra-ordinary assignments accomplished. There should be annual leave for workers and maternal leave for pregnant and nursing mothers. Retirement or retrenchment packages like gratuities, pay-offs and pensions should be paid and death benefits disbursed to the bereaved families.
Finally, it is pertinent to note that on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, the Federal Executive Council approved the amendment of Nigerian labour laws to bring them to the standards of international laws and statutes. Whatever this amendment entails is still not clear. One can only hope it will be in the best interest of workers and not some political antics aimed at divesting Labour Unions constitutional powers vested in them to exercise freedom of association and right to peaceful protest. Recall how the Federal Government registered two new parallel Unions in 2022, just to split and distract ASUU from remaining focused and resilient in making their demands.
Hence, as we observe this year’s Labour Day on May 1st, I call on the incoming Federal and State Governments to ensure the foregoing recommendations are implemented in the new amendments to bring about: total commitment to service, reduction in brain drain, eradication of bribery and corruption, end of frequent industrial actions and protracted strikes and actualization of our economic potentials. If politicians can implement improved conditions of service during elections, they should sustain such after elections; for “the labourer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7).