January blues and workers’ plight
It is January, first month of the New Year. It is the month that closely follows the end of year celebrations, when families meet, people travel, when people get too much to eat, too much to drink, when people sit back a bit and enjoy the throes of dying year, the joy of being counted in the new year.
Some do it with reckless abandon, deliberately forgetting the throes that come with spending beyond one’s income in December. It is the month when some travel home to show wealth, real or imaginary, ill-gotten or legitimate. It is also a period when some return home and look for future partners. It is certainly not a period for dying; yet people die and pour sand into the garri of enjoyment for their loved ones!
Of late scarcity of petroleum products has joined the factors which make the worker blue in the pocket and red in the face. Although people want to let down their hair in December when basic necessities or the power to do so are absent, it increases despair and hopelessness.
A nation plans things to take full advantage of the level of spending which takes place at the end of the year. This is no rocket science. It is practical economics and welfarist thinking.
For some the last week of the last month of the year is a period of thanksgiving. It is a period of looking back and evaluating achievements and failures, of things done and things not done.
As one enters January there is a feeling of passing from one calendar year into another. For me my spiritual year ends after celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles by second or third week of December, and I enter a new period, a new phase and look forward to the physical end. To be sure the spiritual beginning is more important than the literal/physical beginning.
January is the month of paying school fees for the children too. After the merriment of the last days of December and the early days in January the worker faces the reality of the month of January. January! Named for the two-faced god Janus! The month carries both the sweetness of renewal and the dearth of funds to meet some obligations, like school fees, and routine feeding expenses. The rice in the house has been well consumed on account of many visitors and holidaying family members.
In the calendar of workers, it is said to be the longest month. Workers have no choice but to wait and wait for the end to come and for the coming to be over. They then go back into the old cycle.
January Blues! It is also when some make promises, about what to avoid, what to do, and what to start. It is filled with some spirit, the spirit of renewal, of commencement and entering a new course. How successful people are in this quest for renewal is a different matter. To overcome the blues, one must do some practical thinking in December. The harshness of the economy and the fact that in some states salaries aren’t paid make things worse. It compels one to prepare for the blues that come with an empty pocket.
One of the problems of the Nigerian worker is the wage level. Hardly in any sector run by the government can we find any worker whose pay is enough to move to the end of the month in some comfort. With a minimum wage of N18,000 a month, no worker in the public sector can stay out of the blues. Indeed, the so-called Levels 15 to 16 are glorified names and nomenclatures.
Broken down to the monthly take-home, a State Director in the Civil Service does not take home as much as N300,000 at the end of the month. A Professor barely takes home N450,000. A Permanent Secretary at State level does not earn as much as N400,000 as take-home pay. The banks have also joined the evil train of not paying workers living wages. What this exposes the Nigerian worker to is ‘creating ways and means’ for survival. This is one of the reasons for rampant corruption in the Civil Service.
The blues also affect traders and service men. When there is no money to spend, things are at a standstill. Stocks from the period year remain on the shelf until things begin to pick up again, say from March or April. Government spending which stimulates the economy in our clime is also slow. But it need not be so. Planning an economy is practical; it is not left to circumstances. People stay up all night, roll up their sleeves and make sure things do not slow down terribly for the people. This is where government has a role to play.
It is common knowledge that Government is the greatest spender in the Nigerian economy. The informal sector is impoverished- no power supply, no water, no small credits to stimulate business. Government should, as a matter of urgency, develop policies that would help small-time businesses to wake up and run on their own steam from Day One in the year. Healthy economies run twenty-four hours throughout the year. One of the ways to achieve this apart from loans and credits is the availability of power supply.
Going forward, we have to create a system in which you do not have to work in NNPC or Chevron or Mobil International and a big bank to live fairly comfortably on one’s salary. As long as the monthly take-home pay of workers cannot take them home, workers would be in permanent blues throughout the year.
The desire to escape poverty would then continue to provide a basis for devising means within the system to meet basic commitments. This by no means is no justification for corruption. But our elders say that you must first chase away the fox before you tell the hen not to wander near the bush of your compound. Happy New Year without the blues!
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