No, not that Jerry! Not Jerry Useni, the would-have-been head of state after his boss and paddy in revelry, Gen. Sani Abacha, suddenly kicked the bucket consequent to, if some reports were to be believed, a night together of lascivious romping in the laps of some imported Jezebels.
No, not that Jerry!
Although I must apologise to retired Gen. Jerry Useni, for my foolish ignorance when upon my return from exile I quietly eased myself out of a function in Abuja at which I found myself sitting on the ‘High Table’ together with Jerry Useni. I vamoosed (or in the old Lagosian lingo, peeyae-ed) unannounced and unnoticed on account of my fright of “what people would say” had the newspaper carried a photograph of a back-from-exile me sitting on the “High-table” with the same Jerry Useni those of us in the struggle against Abacha had loathed next only to Abacha himself!
That function itself was some charity or sporting function to which my late friend, Yinka Craig, who was the master of ceremony, had railroaded me into attending and conscripted me unto the high-table before Useni, the chief guest of honour, arrived!
Such idealism (and such conceit) as I had is what folly is made of. Nigeria is not the place for such unwarranted “holiness” I was to find out to my chagrin. For whilst I was busy fooling myself that we had arrived at a point where “the grains of Nigerians passionate about moving the country forward” would be sifted from the shaft of those who had brought the country to ruination, many of our leaders in that struggle were busy negotiating their ways to juicy positions and appointments with both the interim military regime Gen. Abubakar and the successor rigged-in civilian government of Gen. Obasanjo!
Jerry Useni must have been laughing!
One moment we heard about all the chains of houses and estates cheery Jerry had to show for his chumminess with the absolute ruler, Abacha. Followed by huff and puff of the new power wielders that Jerry and his ilk would soon be divested of all their ill-acquired wealth. Then the next moment nothing more was ever heard. Merry Jerry went Scot-free!
But what I did was what I thought we needed to move Nigeria forward, by shaming corruption and the corrupt. Not putting them on high-tables, standing up for them when they appear in our gathering, granting them interviews, making them feel important and forgetting their crimes against the nation, and, worse, of all, giving them national honours!
I have digressed so terribly. I apologise.
The Jerry I speak about today is one I met on my British Airways (BA) flight from London to Lagos last Saturday the 12th. Jerry was one of the Flight Crew.
But before I go any further, let me quickly say, lest I’m suspected to be on a PR thing for BA, that I am not a BA fan, although lately I’m beginning to fly them more.
Talking about me and my folly; O, how many times I’ve been fooled into boycotting one service/product or another just because someone called for it. The rebel in me never asked questions: “Boycott Shell Oil for ‘crimes’ against Ogoni”, pronto, I stopped buying gas from any Shell station; “Boycott BA for messing Nigerians up”, that’s it, no more flying BA. That and many more only to find out that those who had called us out into the rain are well under shelter!
This BA’s Jerry was one of the stewards serving us in the “poor man’s” cabin of that flight. A bit chubby-faced, and rotund, Jerry caught my eye with the cheer, zest, and unflappability he brought to his job. In my nearly half-a-century years of flying, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone with such pleasantness at his or her job.
At the best of times, Nigerians are not the easiest people to deal with on flights, in fact on anything, and those at the lower rung of the ladder have a knack of choosing every little opportunity to flex their muscles and act out the “big man” too. Insatiable and hard to please, the Nigerian could exhaust all of biblical Job’s patience!
I watched with joy as I saw Jerry take on one “Oliver Twist” of a passenger after another and with such comportment and cheer. I overheard a particular one ask coffee but when Jerry speedily turned up with it, he went into full denial insisting he had asked for tea, and when Jerry turned to get the tea, came the loud order, “and don’t forget the biscuit.” No “please”, nothing – Order!
As Jerry was busy trying to please this guy, another passenger was nagging him for her own “order”. And yet Jerry could have been on roller-skates with the speed of his pace to please.
The lesson I speak of today is that of dignity of labour and being happy on the job.
Nothing irks me more than seeing someone going about his or her job with a frown on the face and with a rudeness that can kill. I have seen workers – stewards, counter-clerks, nurses, or whatever – snap at the customer so horribly you would wonder what he or she was still doing on the job.
But Nigeria is a place where there is no dignity to labour; workers are oppressed and made to feel subhuman, hating themselves, hating their jobs, and hating life! Workers are poorly paid and when this is added to the inhumane treatment they get, addressed and ordered around even by children and wives of their employers it becomes understandable why attitude to job, especially of the menial kind, is without cheer.
Sadly, unlike the elite cadre of uppity middleclass, of doctors, lecturers, etc who can afford to down tools and hold their employers and the masses to ransom, there is no such recourse to the army of labourers and low-level workers. Strike, what strike?
There is urgent need to restore dignity to labour in Nigeria, for only then can there be honest work for honest pay and genuine manpower productivity for economic growth of the nation can ensue.