By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
ONE did not have to be a soothsayer to predict that this year’s May Day a.k.a. Workers’ Day celebration would be muted, that it would be devoid of the carnival-like atmosphere that characterised May Days in past years wherein workers from various sectors, dressed in colourful segmented uniformed attires and armed with the symbols of their trades marched convivially before select dignitaries at packed mini stadia or squares amidst background drums, songs and music. This year, the mood is sombre as the average Nigerian worker grapples with the challenges of keeping body and soul together as well as catering to the basic necessities of his family, namely, food, shelter, clothing plus healthcare and education.
In truth, the percentage of salaried people or those who earn regular monthly incomes, that is, those who are fully employed is small in comparison to the total population. A good percentage of our populace is either unemployed or under-employed. This puts further stress on the worker as the number of people dependent on him/her rises. And with purchasing power shrinking due to galloping inflation, it does not also require a soothsayer to know that this could lead to frayed nerves.
Forget the 2017 World Happiness Report which ranks Nigerians as the fifth happiest people in Africa and the 95th of 155 countries in the world. It does not tell the whole story. Imagine that war-torn countries like Libya and Somalia are ranked in the report as third and fifth happiest people in Africa, respectively.
Nigerians have a way of masking the stirrings of their souls to the outside world. They call it “corporate packaging”. Thus, a man who can hardly afford one meal a day could be dressed in the best of suits or well starched babaringa chatting boisterously with his neighbours or others, just to get some “respect” from them. The incidence of hypertension which
does not have any visible facial signs for people to see it, has increased among workers of all classes and other segments of our population.
Depression, which we generally do not consider as a problem and so hardly talk about, is even higher in our society now. It is only in quiet moments when we are alone, away from the gaze of others that we lament over our problems arising from prevailing economic downturn.
Unemployment is a curse; under-employment a lesser curse while those that are lucky to have fulltime jobs now bear a greater burden – having to feed more mouths amongst their unemployed and underemployed households and families. What is more, salaries and wages are no longer regular, they come in epileptic fractions. Many state governments owe their workers between three to nine months salary arrears.
Many pay them only a certain percentage of their full salary or alternately, that is, once every two months. Thus, workers no longer joyfully keep tab of the days of the month in expectation as there is no certainty as to when or if they would get their pay in any particular month.
Thus, hope is replaced with depression. Many Nigerians seek solace in religious activities; others seek to drink away their concealed sorrows and depression but as even the price of alcoholic drinks have soared, they are flocking to local brews – burukutu, ogogoro, etc; Still oters go to the extreme of smoking weed or taking intoxicants, some of which I understand, are now sold over the counter in many places. All of these, however, provide only temporary relief; they do not remove the underlying causes which are rooted in social and economic crises.
Notwithstanding the external pretensions, people are increasingly in need of physical healing (hypertension and depression) and healing of the soul, culminating in the seeking to answers to the great questions of life, namely, what is the goal of a life on earth; why are we here, where do we go from here; why is there suffering and injustice on earth, why are some born
into earthly opulence and ‘enjoyment’ and some others condemned to a life-time of penury and earthly sufferings; why can we not all be happy here on earth from the day we are born to the day we take our last breath, why is there hatred, why, why, why…?.
All of us have been assailed by some of these questions at one time or other and not being able to think them through logically, we often brush them aside. They continue to crop up once in a while, urging us to seek as the words reverberate in us ‘seek and you will find’.
Yet again, we endeavour to suppress them through diversions by enmeshing ourselves in one form of modern day entertainment or the other. How true it is that people remember the Almighty only in bad times, when they are hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Yet, we should think of God always, He being the support of our continued existence…
During last year’s May Day celebrations there was talk and frenzy about increasing the minimum wage to N50, 000. Indeed, the federal government accepted it in principle and a tripartite committee was set up for it. The equation has since changed and all things are no longer equal.
Mum is the word on that now, although government could say it would revisit it when the economy improves or when the country is finally out of recession. Government had been bandying the good news that Nigeria is getting out of recession as per World Bank report.
This is correct statistically. But the reality on the ground is that the average worker and indeed a high percentage of Nigerians are still finding it difficult to make ends meet. Will 2018 May Day be better? We await what it will have in stock
Ikeano writes via [email protected]