Joel Ighosa Ighalo: The public servants who do not care [NEXT]

by Joel Ighosa Ighalo

I’ve always wanted to talk about the nonchalance of public service workers, what you may call their “I don’t Care Attitude.” I have also come to realise that I would be doing grave injustice and subjectivity to the topic if I fail to consider the arrears of remuneration owed to these people by the government, both at the federal and state level. In the past, I never gave this issue much thought, never imagined how people with families to feed and dependants survive without salaries. Then an acquaintance told me his father was one of such persons and I felt bad. Once upon a time, I was listening to the radio and I heard that pensioners in a State in the South-West had congregated, not to protest; this time, but to say a word of prayer to God over their withheld arrears. A retired public servant decried the “ostrich-playing” attitude of the government, stating that his arrears have been withheld for six years.

It leads me to wonder whether or not this treatment meted out on many a serving public servant does not influence the performance of his official duties. In Buchi Emecheta’s classic, The Joys of Motherhood, she mirrors the outlook of native grass- cutters, working in the Railway Station. They always contrived a period in their work hours, to playfully pass the time, with their sentry on the lookout. When he gave the pre- arranged signal that a superior officer was approaching, they scrambled to retrieve their machetes. “Afterall na goffment work,” they said to each other, “Im no dey finish.”

Buchi Emecheta in her book didn’t talk about native workers being owed monumental arrears of salaries. That notwithstanding, a government, at whatever level, is vested with a moral and societal obligation to pay its workers that which is due to them, and execute that timeously. Otherwise, such a government stands the risk of having a despondent, uninspired, and less productive workforce. This could spell dire consequences for the society in general, as you would soon see.

I interned in a state government ministry, and I found out that workers weren’t punctual to work, even when the director was around at 8 A.M. The practice is that a worker would come early to work and enter her name in the register. She would also enter the name of her colleague who might have intimated her the previous day of her imminent lateness. As it is with unchecked vices which tend to thrive, my fellow interns started following their footsteps. I have a classmate who always got someone to enter his official resumption hour for him at 8. A.M, while he came to work around 11 A.M! It was his first work experience and he had already started learning how not to be a productive worker. He would exit the office by 2 P.M, when closing hour was by 5 P.M. I always wondered how it managed to escape the notice of the prowling, sharp-eyed supervisors.

I was assigned to a work under the supervision of a pretty lady. The supervisor told her to do the needful in refining me. She said she wouldn’t disappoint. No sooner had he departed than she turned to me, the disarming smile wiped off her face: “Look, I will be writing my Masters this weekend, so I cannot have time for you. The supervisor doesn’t know about this. Find someone else.” And that was it. She was absent for the period of one month I worked in the office. The cruel twist to the whole arrangement was that she had to grade me based on my performance at work. Only then did I see her. She gave me unimpressive scores concerning my attitude to work. I asked her why. She said she wasn’t around to observe me, if she grades me excellently, she might have to defend it before the supervisor, and she didn’t want that.

I knew many of my classmates would be tendering the assessment report whilst job- hunting but I was eternally condemned from doing same. What would be my response when a prospective employer asks me, “how come you had a B in ‘the respect for superiors’ section?” With much anger swelling within me, I resolved not to work in any government establishment. However, I guess my resolution doesn’t preclude me from going to a government establishment to pay for a service. So I went to PHCN office to recharge my pre-paid metre. It was raining cats and dogs, and as I approached this worker’s office- a “one room affair” with a glass window, I noticed that she was reading a magazine leisurely sipping tea. She lifted up her eyes to look at me as I rapped sharp knocks at the window. She opened the window and said to me, “Pre-paid metre abi? You will have to wait till I finish my tea.” She resumed what she was doing, leaving me stunned, wet and cold in the rain.

Now I do not wish for elders to treat me like a king, I only want to be accorded the slightest measure of recognition that should be due to a customer. I have seen hostile treatment like this in the past. In my school, University of Lagos, when I was having my freshman registration; a girl who couldn’t bear the bawling and bickering, broke down and sobbed like a baby. I believe workers would behave better in their duties, and to customers, if the government treats them well. The only reason why a majority of them are still hanging to the jobs they retain is because the hope of getting a better job recedes every day with the setting sun.

In conclusion, it is imperative that these workers be treated well. The factors adduced by several Governors as to why they cannot pay workers doesn’t hold water. If they would judiciously appropriate the money earmarked for recurrent expenditure with a view to downsizing their litany of allowances, their number of personal assistants and cars initially budgeted for, a sizeable amount of money would be saved to address temporarily the problem of withheld arrears. As a way of finding a lasting solution, the vast deposit of mineral resources lying in many a state of the federation, could be exploited, or don’t you think?

Joel Eghosa Ighalo is an International Law student,  Historian, Reader and a Nigerian dedicated towards the maximisation of the country’s potentialities. He tweets @_empighalo

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