By Muyiwa Adetiba
This scene is very familiar to those in the publishing business. You are owing the newsprint suppliers. They are threatening to stop further supplies unless you offset some of the outstanding credit. Those who are supplying ink and chemicals are also grumbling. The vehicles going all the way to Calabar in the East and the ones going all the way to Kano in the North need urgent repairs if not downright replacement. But there is no money. In fact, you are owing three, four months in salary arrears.
And you cannot get respite from the banks because you have stopped servicing your loans. Meanwhile, the advertising agencies are owing you tons of money, and paying in trickles. The distribution agents collect in bulk and settle piece meal. And if you are not vigilant, full editions can be easily misappropriated.
You are owing everybody and everybody is owing you and you are left with next to nothing to do the basics. No wonder Sonala Olumhense, my friend and colleague once likened publishing to passing through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a valley that very few people emerge unscathed from.
This was the scene I found myself in and was grappling with some years ago during my publishing days when my editor suddenly came up with what he thought was a brilliant suggestion. He had gone to the university with the editor of one of the more successful newspapers and was convinced the guy was not a better journalist. So why shouldn’t his salary be at the same level with this editor? After all, their children attended identical schools and their wives visited identical markets.
Sounds logical? At least it must have sounded so for him to have presented it. He however conveniently overlooked one small detail; that the particular newspaper his university mate was editing grossed in a day what we struggled to gross in two months. My counter logic was to point at a publisher who was younger than I was in age and in the profession, but whose publication had crawled through the proverbial valley and was living in a posh area of Lagos. I then asked my editor if it was not also logical for me to emulate him.
The point I am making here is that we are where we are as a nation because of our culture of entitlement which leads to demands that often have no bearing with the financial status of the institutions we are involved in. A chief executive of a bleeding institution wants all the allowances and accoutrements of the more successful chief executives. A foreign study once stated that Nigerian chief executives don’t look at the balance sheets of their respectful companies before making financial demands.
The employees are not any better. In fact, they are often worse. I have worked with people who believe they deserve their monthly pay whether they put in an honest day’s work or not. Or whether they have deliberately or inadvertently contributed to the parlous state of the company. The 56,000 naira demand by Labour on May Day at a time many states are struggling to pay 18,000 naira is a case in point.
Don’t get me wrong. The wage demand is within their legal rights. A review is statutorily due just about now. And we only have to look at the poverty level in the country and the worsening purchasing power of the naira to know that the present take home pay can’t take anybody home. Nobody in a Nigeria where there are no amenities and safety nets should have to clothe, feed, provide shelter and send their children to school on 18,000 naira a month.
Unfortunately, because something is desirable does not make it feasible. That is why it amounts to a wrong demand at a wrong time to ask for three times your current wages at a time when the national purse has dwindled to a third of what it was two years ago.
There is a caveat though for me. Organised labour must prove that the states, many of which are struggling to pay the current wages, can indeed afford more if they tidy up their acts. But it must provide proof, in figures and statistics, of the profligacy of the states. It is not just enough to stand on the podium and announce that the states can afford more. Do your homework and prove it.
Also prove that the enhanced wages will not generate more unemployment because that would defeat the whole purpose. You also have to prove that it will not lead to abandoned projects and decaying infrastructure which will in turn lead to the inability to generate increased IGR for the states.
Organised labour must come up with alternatives to the cost of governance at the federal and state levels. It must visit the cost of maintaining the state and national assemblies. It must pay more than a cursory look at the political hangers-on that dot the landscape. It must look at the various areas of wastages including ghost workers. Having done all of these and more, the organised labour must now proffer ways of generating greater IGR.
It must critically examine the role of its workers in making Nigeria one of the most difficult countries in which to start and do business. It must demonstrate its willingness to partner with employers of labour both in the private and public sectors in reducing the incessant and often trivial strikes that hold the country’s economic and educational progress hostage. It must change the attitude of pay without work and plan towards a leaner, more efficient work force.
Nigerians are generally industrious and enterprising. But our attitude to employment is all wrong. We see it as a meal ticket. Many moonlight and even undermine the very organisation that provides their wages.
So my dear comrades; some work needs to be done on your part before you can win the support of critically thinking Nigerians on the feasibility of your wage demand at this point in time. Everybody, from leaders to the led, must learn to bake the cake before we can share it. Otherwise, it would be a virtual cake.