By Josef Omorotionmwan
FROM the rural frying pan to the urban fire, the average Nigerian has been virtually an endangered specie. His life has been characterised by continuous struggle – he has to struggle even for those things that citizens of other countries take for granted and, which they get as basic rights.
If a man must struggle through school and finally graduate into unemployment; if the system is such that enables the few lucky ones who are said to be working to be owed backlogs of salaries, sometimes for upwards of 24 months; and meanwhile retirement has become a death sentence as many pensioners have perished, “waiting for the dead-man’s shoes”, as it were, then, there is something fundamentally wrong. And in our type of situation, every window of opportunity should be explored to the limits.
Admittedly, working in Nigeria is an ordeal. Even at that, the principle of Reward and Punishment requires that people should emulate good examples and discard the bad. Lest we forget, while politicians were crisscrossing the country during the last campaign season, some healthy administrative changes were taking roots in Lagos and Enugu States.
In both States, not only have they introduced Paternity Leave into their workforce; they have also increased the traditional maternity leave from 12 weeks to 24 weeks.
Paternity leave is defined as a period of paid absence from work to which a man is legally entitled immediately after the birth (or adoption) of his child. In the UK, the paternity leave is currently two weeks. In Canada, men get a couple of days off, as negotiated with their individual employers.
The Maternity Protection Convention C183 adopted in 2000 by the International Labour Organization, ILO, requires 14 weeks of Maternity Leave as a minimum condition.
In Lagos State, a man to whom a new baby (or babies in the case of multiple births) is born is now entitled to two weeks (10 working days) paternity leave at the time of the spouse’s first two deliveries. In Enugu State, the paternity leave is three weeks.
The thinking here is that for a young couple, the husband is given the opportunity to support his nursing wife, at least while awaiting Mama’s arrival from home.
Six months maternity leave with full pay for female public servants is in place in Lagos and Enugu States. This, however, is for the first two deliveries. For third and subsequent deliveries in both States, the maternity leave will revert to the traditional 12 weeks – six weeks before and six weeks after delivery. Male officers shall not be entitled to any paternity leave after the first two deliveries.
The strong point behind the six months maternity leave is that in six months, a baby is considered strong enough to be left in a decent crèche for proper care, having gone through close affection and nurturing by the mother for those very important and delicate first few months of his or her life.
Ideally, nursing parents-employees would utilise the privilege to devote fuller attention to their children, thereby promoting emotional bonding between parents and children when it matters most. It also has a propensity to make public officers remain more dedicated on their various beats and schedules.
Indeed, paid maternity leave does not only promote the mother’s and the baby’s health; but it also improves the odds of women returning to work. In fact, women use maternity leave not only to bond with their babies, but also to establish new routines that eventually allow for a successful return to work.
The Enugu State government holds strongly to the view that the extended maternity leave regime would encourage nursing mothers to engage meaningfully in the internationally recommended four to six months of exclusive breast-feeding for newborn babies. Besides, the policy would strengthen the family as a social unit and also promote mother and child welfare.
We agree essentially that pregnancy is not a disease per se. But other long-term arguments in support of the expanded maternity leave provide pointers to the fact that psychiatrists and psycho-analysts are agreed that the relationship between the infant and its mother during the first two years of a child’s life are most critical for bonding.
The long-term consequences of maternal deprivation include juvenile delinquency, reduced intelligence with the resultant poor scholastic performance and the inability to show full affection or concern to others. Luckily, the effects of all these can be reversed if relief from deprivation is instituted early enough.
It is in the face of all this that some advanced countries like Canada have instituted maternity leave regimes for a maximum duration of 52 weeks for each birth. In such cases, though, some employees could easily develop the fast pregnancy syndrome in which they fall into the cycle of becoming pregnant soon after the one year maternity leave. Such employees would proceed on one year maternity leave at nine-monthly intervals. Depending on the number of children they are blessed with, they could attain retirement age, and retire, after putting in an aggregate of less than 10 years of effective service.
This introduces us to the debit side: if women take long maternity leaves, the neoclassical thinking would predict that their lifetime earnings and opportunities for promotion would be less than those of their male or childless counterparts, thus creating a situation of “motherhood penalty”.
And it is also to be expected that only menial, unimportant schedules would be reserved for such. The guiding principle here is that you cannot have your cake and eat it.
On balance, nothing vitiates the fact that the Lagos and Enugu States initiative is an idea whose time has come. It is in conformity with the practice in many parts of the world. We recommend its adoption under Federal legislation for universal application throughout the country. This much we owe our labour-force, if only as a demonstration that the labour of these heroes shall never be in vain.