Monday, 9 January, 2023
Six weeks after the civil war ended in 1970, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Federal Commissioner for Finance, addressed the revolutionary convention of the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), the ancestor of today’s NLC and TUC. Chief Awolowo, at that event, listed what he called “the imperatives” necessary to make the Nigerian worker fit for his proper role in post-civil war Nigeria. Central in the imperatives, he said, was that the Nigerian worker “should be better fed, better housed, better clad, and better provided with some of the comforts of life.” He explained that the success or failure of Nigeria’s “aspirations and efforts”, going forward after the 30-month war, “would depend not only on the skill and wisdom of our planners, administrators and chief executives but also on the fitness of the working class to play effectively their allotted and indispensable part.” The sage stressed that the Nigerian working class, “like their counterparts in the advanced countries of the world, would always give their very best if the following conditions are met: security of continued employment; enlightened wage policy; congenial condition of work; good health as well as good general and technical education for the individual worker; efficient supervision…” (See Nigerian Tribune, March 2, 1970).
Next week Sunday (January 15, 2023) will mark 53 years since the civil war ended. A month and two weeks from now will also be the 53rd anniversary of the laying before the federation of the above well-enunciated ideas. So, more than half a century after, shall we ask what has happened to those Awo’s musts for workers? Maybe, I should be more sensible in asking that question. You don’t demand to see a nation’s beard after the nation itself has been confirmed burnt. The question should be: What has happened to Nigeria itself? We fought what we called a war of unity; we killed one another in millions and proceeded to flunk the very reasons a person would want to be called a Nigerian. We ignored leaders with ideas and took our throne to pigs in their sty. What came out of what we did (or did not do) is a country no one wants to serve or work for. The Nigerian worker has been particularly badly treated; he has also badly treated Nigeria. The result is a very ugly nation of warts and blisters.
Last week, we lost Professor Ayo Olukotun, consummate scholar, media intellectual and newspaper columnist. He was ill. I heard the news and sank in sadness. He was my mentor and fan; I am his fan. He died at 69. I had a long chat on this death with a professor friend working in the United States. “You know if he was not here, he probably would have lived beyond 90,” I told my friend. He said I was right. It is very difficult to live well and live long here with all the toxicity in the air. Professor Olukotun was a very hard working good man who deserved the best of everything. But did Nigeria give him that? Like thousands of his colleagues who serve Nigeria, there was hardly a thank you. While we mourn him and pray for the repose of his soul, it is possible that the tear we shed is actually for ourselves, the living. Who is next?
America’s 33rd president, Harry S. Truman, got overwhelmed by what his teachers did in his life and on one occasion wrote and told his readers: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” They receive no thanks here. Professor Toyin Falola, in a piece days ago, lamented the plight of university lecturers in Nigeria. And he provided very stark figures. I read him and felt like telling young people around me: If your ambition is to become a university teacher, you can but must you be in Nigeria? If you insist, it will be in the interest of your future to have a clear idea of what you are plunging yourself into. Falola wrote: “On average, the net salary of a professor in Nigeria is at ₦400,000 per month. To the nearest USD, this is equivalent to $850 per month (at the official exchange rate or $550 at the street market rate). Compared to other countries, a professor in the United States earns an average of $6,164 per month, a professor in Canada earns an average of $92,000 per year, and a professor in the United Kingdom earns between £3,500 and £5,000 monthly. In a more similar economy to that of Nigeria, professors in South Africa receive a net salary of R527,137, an equivalent of $30,974 when converted to USD.” Go through those figures again.
Those who suffer in Nigeria are not just teachers -primary, secondary and tertiary. The sufferers are everywhere, in all sectors. Even those you think stand on terra firma cry too. Judges; they cry in purdah. And the tears won’t stop unless the ruptured ducts of Nigeria are operated on and comprehensively restructured.
Check this: Husband and wife retired as judges. They had fame and name; they wielded enormous powers while they held the gavel. But that appears to be where all the glamour ends. All they have now are words of lamentation. A video is on the internet showing retired Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court and his wife, retired Justice Toyin Taiwo of the Lagos High Court with tales of disappointment and abandonment. “We earned the same salaries but the allowances were different,” the husband told their interviewer in the video. “The allowance at the Federal High Court is very poor, very very poor,” he continued. “I just pray that they fast-track this issue of reviewing of the salary of judges because I know it is going to affect those of us who are retired. What comes in as salary of a retired judge is nothing to write home about,” he disclosed. “We retired more or less about the same time,” the wife cuts in. “He retired in July; I retired in September. I know that the Federal High Court has paid his gratuity and he’s getting his pension. Lagos State, since I retired in September, I haven’t received any pension, I haven’t received any gratuity. I think it is very, very unfair. I devoted how many years? Thirty three years to Lagos State government. I need my gratuity; I need to be appreciated,” she said.
I discussed the Taiwo couple’s predicament with a retired judge two weeks ago. He told me the situation was not peculiar to them or to where they worked. “Retired judges in various states and at the federal level are suffering helplessly from the failure of the state and Federal Governments to pay their gratuities and other entitlements as guaranteed in Section 291 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended,” he told me. Then he proceeded to list names of retired judges in my state (Osun) who are suffering and smiling. “All of us are yet to be paid our severance packages and gratuities, despite all efforts, both formal and informal,” he told me. Some cases are very disconcerting – like that of a retired chief judge who left service in 2012 – eleven years ago – and died years later without collecting his gratuity. His family is still begging his employer to pay what he should have earned to take care of his health. My informant gave eight other names of retired judges being owed. And I knew virtually all of them – some as friends, some as compatriots. I used to envy them, now I know that they are victims of Nigeria just as the teachers who taught them law.
I have a friend who says, always, that he has no pity for our unpaid or badly paid university teachers and for judges who suffer injustice. “They professed this tragedy,” he insists. But they appear to be in the minority, those who support evil, I always remind him. Last week, I wrote about locusts and the Umuofia of Nigeria who think the swarm rally in cities to give life. They suffer the spirit of error. Kites are not kitted to care for chicks. Those who worked Stockholm syndrome into our political lexicon are still doing what denied them supper yesterday. “How do you explain the refusal of the oppressed to learn that it is not possible for their tormentors to be their liberators, even when they are kinsmen? ‘Fools Die’ is the title of a work by Mario Puzo. Mario Puzo is incidentally the author of another great work, ‘The Godfather’. The Godfather is riding the waves. The Plebeians will always run after their Caesar, even when he is a godfather of the pillagers mis-labelled politicians. The poor is first cursed by himself before the society causes his turmoil.” The reader who sent that caustic piece to me gave his name as Alagemo Atanda. What a name! I know Atanda as an Oriki; I am Atanda too. But Alagemo? The English word for that name is chameleon, a being with 360-degree vision.
So, what have I been saying? Unless we treat our teachers well, they will do what Fela said they should not do – they will teach ‘nonsense.’ They are already doing so. It is the same with judges. And it is to our eternal shame. In 1982, England’s Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in one of his most controversial moments, put in a book entitled ‘What Next in the Law’, words that stridently opposed blacks from serving in the English court as members of the jury. Why? “Some of them”, he said, “come from countries where bribery and graft are accepted as an integral part of life and where stealing is a virtue so long as you are not found out.” There was uproar. He was made to say sorry – even to resign. He had no respect for us and for his compatriots who share our colour. But, was he wrong? Dr Omololu Olunlolyo last year gave me a quote from Chief Ladoke Akintola: “Honesty is the best policy, but it is not the most profitable policy.” That ‘truth’ was true in Nigeria of that time; it is tragically still true of Nigeria of today. The way we treat ourselves here, how do we prevent the privileged from selling his privileges while they hold the reins? I attended a seminar at the UCH, Ibadan, in 1996 where someone said “typists sell typing sheets because a badly paid worker would always find a way to claim his right wages.” Listen again to Justice Taiwo Taiwo: “You must take care of your judges while they are sitting, and afterwards, so that they won’t look forward while they are sitting. I’m not going to say more than that.” What a warning!
The Nigerian judge is a human being; unless he is sure of a future without pain and want, he will sell injunctions; he will sell justice as a precaution against post-service injuries. He may already be doing so. And we are all the losers.