‘The Problem with Us…’


Teacher’s Diary

“The problem with us…” is a cliché in almost every Nigerian’s repertoire of language. Everybody quickly signs off an undesirable action, be it of incompetency or zero-ethics, or of poor general attitude, as every Nigerian’s nature or standard of performance.

For about 10 years now, a presently distraught friend of ours has changed his personal assistant/receptionist four times. At the outset of his business outfit, he confidently shared with us a list of reasons why he’d rather not employ a married woman. These reasons included: constant requests for time off due to child care; lateness to work due to household chores in the morning; sleepiness at work due to encumbrance with housework and wifey duties; poor dedication to work due to commitments on the home-front; the likelihood of frequent requests for maternity leave or requests for time off to nurse sick children, and so on.

Thirteen months into her current employment our friend’s current young and unmarried PA (like the past ones) has begun to inundate our friend (her employer) with: requests for early closing for the day due to symptoms ranging from headache, menstrual pains, diarrhea, body aches, general malaise (the list is endless). Others have included, receiving a call from their village to go over to visit her sick mother or father; request time off to baby-sit her sister’s little children and request for early closing times or shorter working days to attend church fellowships and meetings; request time off to fix a leaking roof or broken door… “There is just no end to her excuses” our friend ranted.

“Ask her to leave!” we suggested. Our friend quickly countered, “no because it is the problem with us! It’s the problem with all office staff everywhere in Nigeria nowadays. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Staff want the pay but won’t pull their weight. Not giving time off for these reasons (as above) is considered as being heavy-handed. In addition to this, withholding the pay for the days off work (for these reasons) is viewed as wicked!”
So how then would our friend run a good service? How would he ever break even or begin to make profits?

We thought over our friend’s statements, asked around and verified that a lot more Nigerian employers are facing huge staff turn-overs for similar reasons. We can’t seem to shift from seeing our friend’s statements as incredible given that Nigeria already currently has a total of about 30 regional and national public holidays (online data 2018). We know from the National Bureau of Statistics that Nigeria lost at least N9.74 billion in 2015 and also in 2016 respectively as a result of many public holidays declared by the federal government with 15 days reportedly observed as national holidays in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Subsequent reviews of these figures adjured it to be underestimated.

There is no disputing the huge financial cost of public holidays to the economies of Nigerian private and public establishments. The negative impact of these work-free days on our overall national productivity continues to be detrimental to staff’s individual and collective attitudes to rigour and labour, as well as to the country’s development. If the holidays must stay these huge year-in year-out, teachers must begin to think of ways to inculcate a culture of diligence, hard-work, accountability and fairness in students. We must begin to make our children do to others what they’d like done to them.

Omoru writes from the UK