Africans, and indeed most people across the different cultures of the world, can relate with the maxim, ‘whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Embedded in this short saying is the primordial principle of human dignity and work values. From Kenya to Ghana and Lagos in Nigeria and many other cities, it is commonplace to sight commercial vehicles, including wooden articulated lorries, painted with all colour-shades of illustrative images accompanied with captions such as ‘‘No food for the lazy man,’ ‘Life is too short…,’ ‘Live and let live,’ among other inscriptions that daily scream for public attention.
These captions convey nothing short of one central message: there is dignity in human labour! Indeed, creatures such as lizards appreciate this value when they nod their tuft-less heads after a momentary feat of securing a life-saving crumb. Basically, these illustrations signpost the dignifying sense of value that each person should feel in whatever vocation attracts the daily subsistence for them, regardless of their stations in life. Work is a compelling component of the human life, and working in any trade, vocation or professional calling is both an essential and an existential aspect of making meaning out of the already chaotic, laborious and short human life.
In his classic short literary work titled The Prophet, the Lebanese American writer Kahlil Gilbran explores the many sides of the human condition that are essential to the process of making sense of life and existence. Of ‘work’ he writes that, ‘…to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons.’ ‘Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour is a misfortune / But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born…’ Then he further stresses: ‘And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God / And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth…’
These were the meditations of a writer of Lebanese origin who possessed a profound sense of human labour and transposed same into this literary litany. Little wonder that even the Nigerian work environment – with particular reference to business and industry – is populated with Lebanese nationals, of which many are factory owners producing consumable goods ranging from food to other household items. Many of these foreigners keep up with such water-tight daily routines that challenge the quotidian experience of most Nigerians. All of this they do, just to balance the business books. The same applies to the Indians and the Chinese in Nigeria. On the contrary, to a large extent, the Nigerian attitude towards work is a rough stone that repeatedly summons the intervention of moralists, psychologists and behavioural critics.
In what may be adjudged a candid nationalist self-assessment, if not considered an outright class-suicide of any sort, a Nigerian observer on a popular online digital forum once considered some of the reasons why a lot of Nigerian youths are unemployable these days to include a culture of impatience and impulsiveness that manifests as a lack of capacity and willingness to delay gratification. At the start of a new job, a horde of Nigerian youths are in a hurry to show off to friends and their immediate community the ignition key to the latest automobile in vogue. The economic and ethical essence of having a gainful employment is completely lost on them.
Another factor that has become ingrained in the modern youths of Nigeria is the culture of irrational buck-passing that puts the government at the receiving end of all blames for their inability to secure meaningful jobs. Indeed, if the Nigerian entity were to be a sentient individual, he or she must have developed a thick-skin response to many of these transferred culpabilities. Time, and certainly recent history, has shown that even youths who have no idea of their lives’ direction or have little or no sense of purpose, all find the government blameworthy for their no-employment status. The Nigerian social space is replete with cross-sections of youths who, in a decade of graduation as school-leavers or tertiary graduates, have no work history. In many instances, creativity, initiative and the enterprising spirit are conspicuously absent. Many will attest to the fact that resourcefulness is more of a personal trait, a factor that transcends what any government could directly impart.
Writing in the thirteenth volume of the Global Journal of Management and Business Research Administration and Management, Dr. Orok Arrey noted that the offhand attitude to work characteristic of the Nigerian worker is independent of geopolitical divisions, rural-urban residence, religious affiliation, sex or age. The Nigerian society is frequently exposed to a flurry of occasions in which monies acquired through illicit means had been spent with brazen profligacy not only at parties and other social functions, but also at religious houses.
The culpability of the latter institutions speaks to the evident breakdown of the moral foundations of society. Essentially, moral values often provide the tapestry for ethical behaviour that defines the general orientation of any society. As such, values are usually a composite of individual and collective principles and standards of moral and ethical judgement that people live by. The predominant values of any society mark the identity of that society and a sense of what matters to it across ramifications.
Many youths wait for government jobs for reasons that include poor cultural and ethical orientation. While it should be an honourable and distinguished decision for the average Nigerian youth to desire to enlist for government employment, this should be streamlined to clear career paths in civil and public services. Where the ambition of a youth is to become a diplomat, a career in government is naturally deemed appropriate. But the percentage of persons in this category is of a small one compared to the population of applicants in most other areas. The vast majority of the youths want government jobs for security, a fact that appears antithetical to the natural expectation of youth who, in that time of life, should be daring and venturing because they are sure of themselves.
The general thinking is that government jobs come with no stress – physical and mental – as comparable to other sectors. Nigerian youths do not want ‘stressful’ jobs so they can have in their hands ample time to engage other ‘side hustles’. In such dream jobs, nobody is going to stress them. They will have the liberty to resume for work at any time they like. This prevalent laid-back mentality that ‘nobody can stress me,’ or that ‘I can make money’ as against earning salaries and wages, is indicative of a systemic political culture where political players ‘invest’ in elective and appointive positions with the aim to ‘recoup’ such ‘investments’ when they settle down into such political offices. Hence, government work is considered a good source of ‘easy wealth’ acquired by fair or foul means.
These whys and wherefores perhaps provide an insight into the possible reason why Nigeria as a nation has a huge number of young people trying to join the Police, the Customs Service, Immigration Service, the NNPC, Ministry of Finance, among other MDAs. In 2016, the Nigeria Police had advertised opening for 10,000 personnel but the force had received about 796,152 applications. In 2018, the Nigeria Prison Service had called for applications for its 6,500 slots of jobs, but got up to 1.2 million applications. In 2019, up to 524,315 applicants had indicated their interest for the advertised 3,200 jobs at the Nigeria Customs Service. According to one media source, up to 828,333 people had applied, while still a whopping 524,315 applicants completed the process. Also, by October 2019, about 2.5 million persons applied for the 10,000 job slots at the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) while up to 1.4 million applicants had jostled for the 5000 openings at the same defense outfit in January 2020.
While it is no longer news that Nigeria battles the crippling challenge of youth unemployment, it is equally important to query the genuineness of intentions of the thousands and millions of youths who do all things possible to get into the employ of state and federal governments. On September 4, 2020, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced its arrest of one Hajiya Hadiza Umar Abubakar who had defrauded a job seeker, Nuraddeen Abubakar of the sum of N3,000,000 through a fake promise of securing employment for him at the Commission. This episode is a typical exemplar reflective of the systemic dearth of youth values in the country.
With the general scale of ethical decadence among Nigerian youths reaching an all-time level, the government and indeed all religious and traditional institutions have a colossal task of getting the country’s youth back on track. In her early years, Nigeria had a commendable record of demand by private firms and multinationals who wrote to religious organisations and important public personalities showing interest in having in their employ youths who were not only well-trained but also worthy of trust. And the nation had a battalion of these at that time of her burgeoning nationhood. The narrative is a different one today.
Government has the power to question the sources of an individual’s wealth and this must be seen to be done where individuals are found living above their legitimate earnings. Closing the loopholes for corrupt practices in government institutions could help stem the tide of young people who believe that there are fortunes to be made in the civil and public service. The Nigerian civil and public service will be purged when line managers or superior officers get adequate punishments and sanctions for poor work ethics, or for erring from laid-down working procedures. The Nigerian youth is clearly in dire need of support as our moral substructures have badly caved in, paving the paths towards social and institutional collapse as the nation presently witnesses. Government, religious and traditional institutions, and all stakeholders must live up to what they preach, while the educational programmes and institutions should be restructured to make our youths more creative, resourceful and initiative-savvy. So much work also has to be done at the level of the family, where much of the rot can be situated. Only when these begin to happen can Nigeria return to the lost age of optimum youth employment with the befitting moral and ethical values that accompany labour.
Dr Udu Yakubu
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