2023 Reflections: Rounding Up 365 Days in One Day

Let’s begin with praise and worship.

Uwak mfon,

Uwak mfon Abasi k’idem mmi o

Ndifreke uwak mfon Abasi k’idem mmi o (2x).

My reflections for 2023. First, gratitude to God and man. In 2023 I experienced God’s interventions in ways that I could describe as Deus ex machina. Human beings are also sources of joys and smiles whom God uses to effect miracles in our lives. Hence, gratitude to God should go hand in hand with gratitude to human beings. I specially thank God and those amazing human beings that He used to bless my life in 2023.

In a space like Nigeria, staying grateful or finding things to be grateful about could be the catalyst that differentiates the happy from the depressed. There is always that constant need to count your blessings. The things that I passed through in 2023 made me rethink the Nigerian set up. It is a highly skewed system that has to be rejigged or rewired. There are so many absurdities that we have tolerated in Nigeria for many years without questioning them. Let me begin by asking, and the question is; who created this system, the Nigerian system?

Who created a system where the country’s best brains are pushed into the coffin of the civil service nailed shut with the law that they cannot participate in politics except they resign and cannot do business even if their salaries cannot take them from month to month? These civil servants have degrees that are not transferable to their offspring and yet cannot own businesses that can be transferred to their children, even when most of them are poorly remunerated. These laws would have made sense if the welfare of civil servants was a top priority by politicians. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, most workers are poorly treated by the government apart from being poorly paid. Even when they retire, they do not get their gratuity on time; indeed, some have died waiting for these monies.

It is time for us to rethink these obnoxious laws or, if we choose not to rethink them, repackage the welfare and remuneration of civil servants and let them have it as at when due. I am saying this because my duty is to study systems and to see how flawed they have become in order to ask for a change so as to favour those affected by the evil system. If you are asking civil servants not to have extra means of income so as to enable them focus on their work one hundred percent, then you need to show commitment to their welfare by making adequate means and structure of compensation available.

The politicians who made these laws knew exactly what they were doing: push all the best brains into the civil service, let politics be the preserve of the rough guys who refused to read while in school. This way, our society would be run by thugs and if anyone with sense tries to say something sane, they would be gunned down. I am surprised that even those affected by these laws have not seen the need to lead a protest. I insist that it is, perhaps, only in Nigeria that a civil servant would work for thirty years without being able to have a roof over his or her head. But a common thug who shoots his way into a political office is able to, within four years, build houses and rent them out to civil servants who have been honestly working for many years. Again, let me ask. Who built this system?

The poorly remunerated civil servant who has children and other family members to feed is prone to all forms of compromises which we have witnessed and read about in the news most of the time. The politicians want it that way because they can easily use money to get the civil servants to do their bidding. Survival, after all, is the basic instinct of man. A person whose survival is threatened by hunger can do anything to survive, including helping to rig elections, changing official figures and damaging the nation’s security.

I must let everyone who cares to know to know that if they must understand how a nation is structured, they must study the laws of the nation and how those laws affect people’s lives. Nigeria is currently structured to favour those in power spaces who do not do any work, while the civil servants who do the most work are left to rot in penury and shame. The Nigerian system reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where the animals work in hunger while the pigs enjoy the milk produced by the animals’ labour. That is the kind of irony that we live with in the Nigerian system.

In 2023, I was particularly appalled by the treatment of academics in Nigeria. A nation that maltreats her intellectuals is a nation ruled by mad dogs who have a deep-seated disdain for education and anything cerebral. A Nigerian professor is placed on a miserable wage that insults their years of research and academic output. Yet the system finds more ways to ridicule them by withholding these wages and making them to almost beg for them. A poorly educated person working as an assistant to a politician earns more than a Nigerian university professor. Again, who created that system?

I think we need to blame the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for refusing to take the welfare of its members seriously but instead prioritise other areas of needs in the university, like funding and students’ welfare. ASUU’s ‘selflessness’, laudable as it is, has been the bane of academics in Nigeria. Why cannot professors in Nigeria earn worthy salary structures? The reason is that the Union has refused to demand it. Thus, I blame ASUU for making academics live miserable lives in Nigeria. And this is the same reason why academics are not respected and it is the same reason why the brainy ones do not want to be lecturers, making room for the darkest minds to join the system and perpetrate darkness in the handling of the education system. It is time for ASUU to wake up and demand the right treatment of/for academics in Nigeria.

If the Nigerian professor is not well paid and thus lives from hand to mouth, it would be possible for them to be manipulated by politicians during election period. They can be made offers they cannot refuse and thus ruin the destiny of society. Again, survival instinct kicks in and human nature works its work. What I see then is the weaponisation of hunger in the Nigerian system against academics and other unfortunate workers. In 2024, we must review the system of reward for workers in Nigeria, especially against the background of the demand for a new minimum wage arising from the removal of fuel subsidy and the consequent increase in the prices of goods and services.  

In addition to the foregoing, I have also observed that the no-work-no-pay rule was formalised to cage, manipulate and gaslight workers and to prevent them from demanding their rights. It is good that people should only be paid when they have worked, but to apply the rule when workers are on strike demanding better working conditions is obnoxious and barbaric to say the least, because it amounts to the weaponisation of hunger in a bid to weaken the Union’s resolve. I think that any government that applies this rule should be described as medieval.   

One of the best things that happened to me in 2023 was winning the Nigerian Prize for Literary Criticism. I thank the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited for instituting the Nigeria Prizes to encourage excellence and innovation in research and creativity in Nigeria. However, in the spirit of advocacy, I would like to appeal to the NLNG to equate the worth of the three prizes. Currently, the Nigeria Prize for Science and the Nigeria Prize for Literature are worth 100,000 USD apart, while the Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism is worth 10,000 USD. I think that the worth of the Prize for Literary Criticism appears to send across the message that the critic or his work is not valued compared to the work of the scientist and the creative writer. I have practised in the two modes – literature and criticism – and can say that, arguably, it is more difficult to practise as a literary critic than to practise as a creative writer. Apart from this, the younger generation who are looking for career paths are watching. Let them not think that the critic’s work is inferior to that of the creative writer. The critic defines the literary taste of the time and so should be accorded the dignity of place and prize. I know that the NLNG is a listening brand and that something positive will be done in this regard. Until then, I once again appreciate the Nigeria LNG Limited for encouraging creativity in Nigeria through the Prizes.  

The other thing I would like to say concerns the vision for 2024. The vision for next year should be personal as well as collective. Both should include the quest for justice in our micro and macro spaces. Everyone should strive to get justice in 2024. In our dealing with clients, customers and other human beings, let us constantly ask ourselves if justice has been done and if we have also been well served.

 Have a blessed new year.

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