SOMETIMES one wonders if those in government are really serious about bringing to an end the multifarious challenges facing this nation. If not, the solution is straightforward: live by the right examples and transparency. The governor of Edo State came out the other day to say things are hard and some of his colleagues immediately came out to attack him.
We always find ways to detract from the right diagnosis, even though we all know that when we get our diagnosis wrong, there cannot be solutions to our problems. The other day I was looking at a video recording of a preacher who, from his accent, is a Ghanaian and he was castigating the attitude of workers in his country, blaming them for the collapse of manufacturing companies. He was full of praise for the methodology of the Indians in the managing of manufacturing concerns.
Our Nigerian brothers were quick to catch in on the debate, destroying the reputation of the average Nigerian worker; dismissing him as a thief who cannot be genuinely entrusted with the responsibility of running businesses. I reflected over the situation and was confronted with the following questions: Is it the attitude of the Nigerian worker that drove Michelin and Dunlop out of the country?
Is it the Nigerian worker that has made over 500 businesses to fold up in a spate of three years? Is it the workers attitude that has influenced the decision of the Shoprite super market chain to sell off its Nigerian investments? And, is it the attitude of the Nigerian workers that has made Shell, Chevron and other international oil companies to decide to cut their investments in the oil and gas sectors of our country’s economy?
As I have pointed out earlier, we keep applying the wrong diagnosis and that has made us to lose sight of the big picture. The Nigerian worker is not the right model if we are to place them on a scale with their counterparts from outside the country. But we have failed to consider the fact that the environment conditions the behaviour of people and such can be adequately addressed if properly pinpointed.
There are different models that have been tested over time to condition workers’ behaviour and in some of the private sectors, some of these have been implemented to satisfactory levels. It has failed in government and certain private institutions because the leadership of such institutions have not proven themselves to be clean and transparent. You cry to the authorities that you want indigeneship control and you are given a catering contract to feed workers in one of the off shore locations; barely five months into the contract, the quality of the meal starts deteriorating, to the extent that the workers are no longer getting half the quality they had when the expatriates were incharge. Who is responsible for this?
You agree with your principals to be paying workers N150,000 per month. But at the end of the day, you are paying your workers between N30,000 and N50,000 per month and pocket the remaining as commission. Who is killing the business? We cannot even give examples of government establishments because the system there is rotten all through. In a situation where top officers share the money and leave the crumbs to the workers, what is to be expected? Just like the politicians, our entrepreneurs and big business leaders have not always come out clean with the workers and this goes a long way to determine workers behaviour.
Everyday you read the news, you are confronted with the threat of one strike or the other; if it is not ASUU, it is the doctors or the judiciary workers and so on. Even the national identity management workers had to embark on strike to force government to accede to their requests.
In an industrial relations situation, there is the triangle of the government, the workers/employees and the employers. It is also assumed that all of the three must work progressively towards a common goal, with all the ingredients of trust. When trust is lacking, nothing good can come out of the relationship; it is like the relationship between a husband and wife: no trust, no progress. For us to properly situate the Nigerian challenges, we must, therefore, address these three steps: the government, other employers of labour and the workers/ordinary citizens.
The government, apart from being a major umpire in the whole system, is also an employer of labour; it is supposed to lead the way by setting the right examples in all ramifications: right wages, employee benefits, workmen compensation, work environment standard, safety, pension/gratuity and the rest. Government believes in making others to effect compliance without bothering about itself and the image it is painting. I went to one of the NAFDAC offices and couldn’t find a place to relieve myself when pressed; they do not have a functioning toilet. Many of the police vehicles you see on the road are often battered and without brake lights.
Government is the biggest killer of businesses in this country. If you are doing business in Nigeria and do not know how to meander the through the terrain, your business is as good as dead.
In Nigeria, 90 percent of what you have in your feasibility report will become useless when the operations begin. Even the materials that are supposed to be manufactured in Nigeria will find ways to be scarce because of one obnoxious government policy or the other. In the case of small-medium businesses, if the business is not making progress, how do you get money to pay workers? The beginning and the end of workers challenges in Nigeria rest squarely on government. If government gets its regulation right and sets the right examples for the private sector, everything will go well. Someone has worked for 35 years in a government establishment and two years after retirement, he is yet to receive his gratuity and pension. How do you explain this?
Meanwhile, government officials will be going to private establishments to harass officials over non-compliance. Every developing nation is trying to extricate itself from dependence on super powers by looking inwards and producing things for themselves. But our leaders are digging us deeper into slavery. For instance, the fleet of vehicles imported for the National Assembly members at a time of very scarce foreign exchange resources. What example is the leadership setting for workers? How will the workers behave after seeing such level of unpatriotism from the very same people that are supposed to show them the way?
What examples are we setting by running after the Chinese for loans to build our railways, with agreements that are clearly unfavourable to the Nigerian worker? There is no room for full backward integration in all the loans we are getting from the Chinese.
The Chinese come with their technology and workers and leave the menial jobs to Nigerians. What kind of example are we setting from this? With everything happening in the country presently, it will be much better if our economy is run in a proper manner – much transparency and right examples. I guess this will be a tall order to ask from those in charge of governance.