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Your kindly Nigerian Oga

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By Desmond Ovbiagele
A  few days ago, I received a phone call from a friend who stumbled upon the last article I wrote in which I lamented the predatory instinct for pecuniary gain that seems to have established itself as a defining national characteristic across all facets of our daily lives.

He commiserated with my righteous angst, then listened with interest as I proceeded to expound further on what I posited to be the cause of this corrosive phenomenon.

Essentially (as I explained), the prevailing culture of gratification-by-force (without any value added by the hopeful beneficiary, except perhaps for an unsolicited, overly effusive greeting) stemmed from the self-interested acts of ‘kindness’ by unscrupulous politicians and other big ogas who regularly sprinkle naira at every point of contact with the working class, not out of any genuine concern about their well-being, but merely to guarantee that the VIP treatment they are accustomed to continues without disruption.

This has served to cultivate (deliberately?) a debilitating societal mindset where the concept of exchanging tangible value for an appropriate reward (your contractual pay) has been overtaken by the embarrassing (and often, downright humiliating)theatrics of sycophancy extended as a burnt offering to successfully entreat the favour of the god called Mammon.

It was at this point that, to my surprise, I heard murmurs of disagreement on the other end of the line. Intrigued, I paused then asked my friend to explain. Surely he wasn’t going to attempt to exonerate the  culprits from the crime?

Apparently not. What he actually wanted to do was broaden the field of culprits to include myself, himself, and basically any other typical Nigerian who was in a position to contract the services of others on a regular basis.

Oti o! Count me out of such a list. How could I possibly be part of those contributing to the problem? Haven’t I always paid salaries on time and in the right amount?

Ah … but that was his point. The ‘right amount’ was where he felt we frequently fell short of the glory of God. His position being that we employers of (typically informal) labour often take advantage of our superior negotiating leverage to contract and maintain casual staff salaries at clearly inequitable levels, with the strategy of topping up to normality through periodic handouts (e.g. at weekends or for specific tasks performed) that deliberately convey the impression of employer magnanimity in order to solicit gratitude and reinforce loyalty. So how were we different from the big ogas, and unscrupulous politicians?

Hmmm. I gave this some thought. His observation struck uncomfortably close to home. Was I in the habit of dishing out the occasional handout? Ehm … yes. But surely those were acts of charity and goodwill on my part, supplementing modest incomes through my generosity?

But the concept of ‘generosity’ needed to be scrutinized more closely. After all, there is also the concept of inflation. The purchasing power of a fixed sum is not the same year on year. Food, transportation, other basic necessities —the prices of all these are always on an upward trajectory. When last did we take the initiative to review salaries accordingly, talk less of effecting a genuine increase?

Always useful to remember when pointing one’s finger, that there are three pointing back at you.

No doubt, in some cases the spirit is indeed willing but the pocket is weak. But for several of us, the issue is probably more of the inner satisfaction we derive from preserving what we consider to be a shrewd bargain for services provided—which unfortunately compromises our moral footing when attempting to take a stand and cast stones.

On a humorous level, my friend narrated the consternation of a certain ‘madam’ whose chosen salary ‘top-up’ was food, and who took offence on a fateful day when her long-suffering employee rejected the dish offered to him as not meeting his taste!

I still believe that the blame for a lot of the moral decay in our society lies largely with those who persistently misuse their financial power to perpetuate a cycle of dependency for their own selfish purposes.

But come the end of the month, I suspect I may just have some budget recalculations to do.


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