Your Human Dignity 101 -By Pius Adesanmi

Filed under: Article of Faith,Global Issues |

Pius Adesanmi

 

I like it when a reader who genuinely wants abstractions to be broken down into concrete, demonstrable public information takes me to task. I thank the brother who came inbox from Cambodia – Naija, una dey waka sha – and wanted me to elaborate on dignity.

I have been harping a lot on the theme of dignity lately. My thesis has been that the fundamental human dignity of the Nigerian citizen is the first casualty of the irredeemable hubris of the Nigerian state and her officials.

At the local, state, and federal levels, Nigerian officials are so arrogant, so full of themselves, so convinced that they are dispensers of value to unworthy, lowly citizens; that human dignity is not feasible in Nigeria. I thought we were on the same page but the brother from Cambodia sensitised me to the need to be illustrative.

Our ongoing conversation about salaries is a good place to start. AS horrible as it is, non-payment of salaries is not the real location of your indignity. It is only part of the architecture of indignity. Let me tell you a short story.

In my twenty years of life in civilisation, I have only experienced salary delay by a few hours once. This happened so long ago – I believe it was in 1998 – that the details are now a tad hazy in my memory. On payday, the computers go to work automatically at midnight, crediting your account. You wake up to your salary. It is clockwork. It is not something you are conscious of – as routine as the oxygen you breathe every second.

Even in civilisation, accidents happen. On that day in 1998, we woke up to no pay. I was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia. I was fully funded. I was on a Killam doctoral fellowship, one of the most prestigious doctoral scholarships in Canada. However, I was still supplementing it with all sorts of campus odd jobs that I have written about here. To wake up to no pay was a disaster.

Civilisation kicked in. All affected salary earners started to receive hourly apologies and updates on what was being done about the situation. Not general public announcements. Individual emails and phone calls from apologetic officials. There was a number to call if you needed more information. Some apologetic official picked up the phone if you called the number.

The salary delay lasted about half a day due to a computer glitch. I must have received about three emails and three phone calls from officials apologising to me and reassuring me that all was being done to resolve the issue and all was being done to ensure that it did not happen again.
Then came another shocker to my system. I received another email that psychological counseling was being provided if I needed help to cope with the trauma caused by a half-day salary delay.

This is how every salary earner was treated that day by a penitent system that had failed them for half a day. We were entitled to an apology. We got loads of it. We were entitled to the humility of officials who understood that our right to our pay for work done had been violated. We got that humility. We were entitled to explanations and the idea of somebody taking responsibility for the failure. We got it. We were entitled to reassurance that all would be done to prevent a repeat. We got it. Above all, we were entitled to officials who understood that none of these things was a privilege. We got that too.

I hope you understand what dignity means now. Which Nigerian state governor and their political and media aides have ever personally apologised to you via email or phone for all these salary delays? Which federal ministry, parastatal or agency, has ever apologised to you personally for salary delays or outright non-payment?

Remember: every time a political aide announces salaries in their usual arrogant tone, devoid of humility and with no apologies and you feel good about it – that is your human dignity in a casket.

Ok, let me not do aseju by expecting personal apologies in a 17th-century body politic. Have you ever encountered a collective apology to the work force? Consider again the statement issued by Governor Ayade and his media aide to the workers of Cross River yesterday. It is so rude, so haughty, so arrogant, so condescending that I am still beside myself with rage this morning.

Governor Ayade – bless his soul – has been so magnanimous to pay December salaries. No apologies. No explanations for months of unpaid wages. Nothing. Next time any state governor’s aide comes out with this sort of rubbish, I encourage you to take a coconut and crack it on his head. We have to stop taking this nonsense from them. Just who the heck do these people in government think they are? Enough of your dehumanisation by hubristic Nigerian officials.

Yet, this is the attitude of Nigerian officials in every LGA, every state, every federal institution. The pabambari of this congenital arrogance, of course, resides in Aso Rock as an institution. No apologies for anything. In fact, any transaction they have with you is a privilege they are conferring on you. This is a rape of your human essence. You are being denuded, stripped of your dignity.

If you want to determine how terrible a number the Nigerian state and her officials have done on you, pause and see how you process the information I have shared with you here about your dignity. Do you think that you deserve the treatment I got from officials when my salary was delayed for half a day in 1998 or do you think it is the idealistic and utopian rant of a disconnected diasporan who does not understand our realities, who doesn’t know it, who doesn’t get it?

The mental damage that Nigerian officials are doing to you and your children is great.

Remember, “our realities”, is a discursive subterfuge that Nigerian officials use to dumb you down and further dehumanise you by normalising a culture of mediocrity, lowered, and diminished expectations in your psyche. They make you feel that dignity is fit only for oyinbo people. They make you believe that Rome was not built in a day and that we too shall get there some day – maybe in 200 years.

Yet, it takes them only a few minutes to compose a bullcrap statement or a tweet or a Facebook update, telling you that his Excellency is so good and great that he has bestowed your December salary on you. The time they spend writing this sort of rubbish can also be spent apologising to you for salary delays.

Remember: every time a political aide announces salaries in their usual arrogant tone, devoid of humility and with no apologies and you feel good about it – that is your human dignity in a casket.

It works for them.

It shouldn’t work for you.

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.

 

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