A heart-breaking experience of a job seeker made its way to the social media once again. This time, the story defies the logic beyond human dignity, it says:
“I went to collect employment letter at [name withheld] and something happened. I and some people were not employed because we didn’t stand up to greet the female MD that we barely know. We were asked to come very early, which we did. We sat at the reception, people were passing and we were greeting. When the MD passed and we greeted her “good morning ma” she said that “we are sitting to greet her, and for that reason we can’t work in the company.” That’s how she didn’t sign our employment letter. She employed those that came later than us who didn’t see her enter. We even knelt down to beg her that we didn’t know, but she refused. And I heard that they worship her there.”
Majority of job seekers in Nigeria have one experience or the other that resonates with the above story, and it’s not ending anytime soon because of the level of impunity that it thrives on.
Everyone who has an edge over others in Nigeria tries to exploit it, a tradition that can be traced to Nigeria’s political culture – worship leadership. From the offices to the streets, the question: “do you know who I am”? resounds with exploitative influence and abuse of power.
In the office, it has become so institutionalized due to the fact that there is no umpire and the actors have bossed their way through such liberty to every of their ignoble wish.
A staff recounts how he was suspended for three months because he was carried away on the phone and didn’t notice when the MD got into the office. So he didn’t stand up with others to greet her as her ego demands, and even though he went on his knees begging, his three months suspension was served faithfully.
There has been another case where the MD has ordered her staff to call her mummy, even those way older than her. It’s a choice of calling her mummy or losing your job, a predicament many are not ready to go through right now, so they bend to keep their job.
In the many instances of abuse of power and humiliation by employers, one question many keep asking is: “Where is the umpire”?
In 1978 when the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) was founded, it was with the aim to protect the interests of workers. The fundamental aims and objectives of the NLC are to protect, defend, and promote the rights, well-being and the interests of all workers, pensioners, the trade unions and the working class in general.
And part of its mandate is to promote and defend a Nigerian nation that would be just… transparent and prosperous through the attainment of the following objectives:
To promote, defend and advance the economic, political and social rights and wellbeing of Nigerian workers and pensioners.
To work for the industrialization and prosperity of the Nigerian nation and ensure protection of jobs, full employment and a humane working environment.
To continually struggle to influence public and corporate policies and legislation on all issues at all levels, in the interest of workers, disadvantaged social groups and trade unions… among others.
In line with these objectives, the interests of every Nigerian worker should have been upheld, and the excesses of employers put in check. But it has been more of a communiqué than a cause, and the proliferation of bad working conditions in Nigeria is telling the story.
A banker once narrated how their MD introduced the rule of morning worship in the bank. And it doesn’t matter your religion, you must join the devotion every Monday morning or face the consequences.
You find something similar in many other companies, where the bosses make the rules not minding people’s fundamental human rights: From sexual exploitation to extortive deduction from workers’ salaries to forcing religion on them. The semi-god rules are condoned by the workers because they want to keep their jobs, and because NLC has failed in its job to protect workers from humiliation and abuse.
Although in 2017, the NLC led a protest to MTN’s regional headquarters in Abuja over its entrenched practice of casualization. The protest pummeled MTN to make promises to address concerns on the company’s unethical and illegal corporate behavior against Nigerian workers. But MTN refused to keep their promise by addressing the problems until 2019, when Labour once again took a protest action to their offices.
The gesture yielded the needed results and was commended; MTN complied. But the NLC has focused on matters relating to the federal government, and the need to push for the amendment of the Labour Act to protect the right of every Nigerian worker has been pushed aside. That means, the abuse and humiliation is going to continue with much more impunity.
NLC should do more to protect workers from egoistic and all other forms of abuse that have become institutionalized because there is no umpire. There should be a complaint unit where workers can report their ordeal and get help. There should also be a legal accessory to the unit. One case treated as a warning example will serve as a deterrent to others, and gradually, bosses will learn to respect their workers’ rights.