Dear Mr President,


Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world, yet it has one of the lowest minimum wages, lower than Afghanistan, Republic of Benin, Cameroon, Congo, and even Republic of Niger.

It is interesting to observe that in all of the countries mentioned above, there are those in the public and private sectors who earn outrageous salaries while some earn salaries that can barely take care of their transportation. I find this trend disturbing. A man once argued that the gap is justified because those on low wages are not educated. He went further to say that cleaners, house helps, drivers, messengers and the likes of them cannot expect to receive decent wages. I could not help thinking what a heartless moron he was. But I didn’t tell him so, Mr President. He was a big brute, and might have just chewed me up.

I tried to explain to the man that every worker is of equal importance in society, that the cleaner is as important as the president, the security guard of equal worth as the CEO. The man was livid. He did not let me continue. Spewing angry words at me, he stormed off. Mr President, I’m sure you see my point, unlike that brute of a man.

Here’s the thing. Society cannot function properly if all of us obtain the same level of education. Whatever our educational qualifications, we are of equal importance to society. Just the same way that a car cannot function if something as small as a plug is missing in it. It does not matter how big and expensive that car is, all the different parts must be in place for it to work. In fact, assemble the most expensive car in the world, attach the most ridiculous price to it, until you put fuel into it, it will not move. Take out the battery and it will not move. Cut out a tiny piece of wire and it will not move. Do we then say that fuel, battery or whatever is the most important component of that car? The same can be said of the human society.

Looking at our country, I have come to realise that corruption thrives only because many are not valued for their contribution to society. As a result, some are so poor and others so rich. I thought that if there was equitable distribution of wealth, the world would be a much better and happier place. I’m not saying that all of us should be rich. In fact, I know people who detest wealth. Personally, I do not want to be rich. Just to be able to pay my bills and write stories that would resound with the smallest messages.

I know a young man called Alaba, a plumber, who came to work for me once. He came to assess the job and told me what his fee would be. I told him I couldn’t pay him that amount for the job he was going to do. He said okay he would give me a discount, I should pay any amount. I explained to him that what I meant was that the amount he had charged was too small for the job he was going to do. Alaba was speechless. I told him that I would pay him twice as much, only that he should do a good job. He did a very good job.

Afterwards, Alaba explained to me that he and other artisans cheat their customers because they never pay well. So they do a bad job and overinflate the cost of materials. I told him, ‘Next time you go out to do a job, tell them your fee and stick to it. If they can’t pay, walk away. Only make sure that each time you work for a client, do it very well.’ ‘If I don’t do it somebody else would do it,’ he said. ‘If everyone develops the same attitude, they will be compelled to pay. You know why?’ I asked. ‘Why?’ ‘Because the client does not have the skill required to do the job. You must understand how important you are to society.’ I became a mentor to Alaba. Today, he has an HND in Building Engineering.

Mr President, in government offices, even in the private sector, the stench of corruption is overpowering. Some people, however highly placed, take ‘poverty mentality’ into public and private offices. By poverty mentality, I mean the mind-set that one must steal or cheat to earn a decent living. Ever before they got into office, they had imbibed poverty mentality. So they steal and steal and steal. Those in lower positions do the same thing because their salary is not enough to sustain them and because they have always seen poverty mentality as a way of life.

Mr President, eradicating corruption in Nigeria is not something that can be achieved through rhetoric or just by locking everyone up in jail commando- style. At the end of the day, if the root cause is not addressed, the plague will persist. Eradicating corruption should be a way of life based on decent and equitable wages for all workers. Other measures may then be taken.

I hope I have made some sense.

With best regards,

Odafe Atogun