Letter from America

Source: George A. Adebiyi, Ph.D.
Prof George Adebiyi
Prof George Adebiyi

I used to enjoy hearing Alistair Cooke's Letter from America on the Radio. He did over 50 years of his famed letters from America. He passed away on March 30, 2004. How I wish I could write like him!

I was born in Nigeria and had my early education in Nigeria. I studied engineering at the University of Manchester in England, and returned to Nigeria where I worked for Shell, the University of Lagos, Kwara Polytechnic, and the Federal Polytechnic, Bida. Since 1985 I have lived and worked in the U.S.A., but I have had the opportunity of frequent visits to Nigeria. In 2004 I was a Fulbright Research Scholar to Bowen University, Iwo. My passion these days is on helping people enjoy solar energy in a country that has abundance of energy resources, but suffers so much from lack of access to dependable supply in homes, institutions, and businesses.

In May 2008 I was in Bida for the 30th Anniversary and 13th Convocation ceremony of the Federal Polytechnic, Bida. I interacted with a friend's son who had ND in Accountancy and was working on his HND. He was teaching in a private school. I was shocked to learn that his salary was a mere N5, 000 per month!

In December 2008 I was in Nigeria again, and this time I met a Medical Doctor who was doing the NYSC tour in Sokoto. I was told (if I remember correctly) that she was only receiving about N7, 500 per month. (By contrast, I engaged a night watchman for about N10, 000 per month in Kwara State; drivers easily earn even more!)

In May this year, I was in Ilorin, and I went to a shop to buy a mattress for a king-size bed. The lady at the shop told me she had the NCE, but that the private school she interviewed to work with would only pay her N3,000 per month. We did the calculation together –

Suppose you eat just two times a day at a cost of N150 per meal; you need at least N9, 000 per month just for food.

If you rent a place, you may have to pay as much as N1, 000 per month.

What about transportation to and from work?
What about clothes, personal hygiene, etc.
How does anyone have the conscience to pay a worker a lot less than a living wage?

I asked the lady how much her employer in the shop paid. It was more than she would get with her NCE; she earned N5, 000 per month! Habba! How does she cope? No wonder many resort to immoral and criminal activities to make ends meet. Each misery that visits the country becomes an opportunity for some people to make a little bit of extra money.

There was fuel scarcity; that proved a great opportunity for well-connected individuals to siphon fuel to the road side and make a huge profit. Those who work for Water Corporation bring up crazy bills and threaten to disconnect unless you “see” them. The same goes for PHCN boys who post bills for meters not read, and will gladly keep you connected if you “see” them.

I have a father-in-law who is nearly 80 years old. He has to travel from Lagos to Ibadan every month if he wants to collect his hard-earned pension for the month. He is lucky because I know at least a retired University Don (who was one-time Head of Department) who has not received a kobo of his pension a few years after he retired from the University!

How do you expect honest living in a country that does not keep faith with those that serve faithfully? It is criminal to deny people what they have worked hard for and earned. While America is not Heaven on Earth, there is much about the U.S.A. that I love:

The University I work for pays salaries and wages twice a month, once at mid-month and the other time at the end of the month. Suppose mid-month falls on a Sunday, when do they pay salaries? They pay on Friday (rather than wait until Monday). Isn't that decent?

Times are hard these days all over the world! What happens when people lose their jobs here in the U.S.A.? Society provides safety net to cushion the blow of losing a job; there is unemployment pay to help an individual tide over the initial period after losing a job. The UK does the same!

The Federal Minimum Wage in America is often revised to ensure that workers earn a living wage. For example, in 1956 the minimum wage was $1 an hour. With effect from July 24, 2009, the new Federal Minimum Wage will be $7.25 per hour.

What about retirement benefits? The good news is that pensioners are treated with dignity and decency that they have earned!

I am mindful of the fact that the developed countries had time on their side to get to where they are today. Nevertheless, the only way Nigeria will acquire real greatness is to learn to treat everyone with dignity and respect. A worker deserves his wage; it is criminal not to pay workers their salaries on time. It is even more devastating when retirees are treated with indignity and unfulfilled promise by government and other employers.

The greatest commandment has to do with Love, love for God, and love for other human beings. To love others means that we do unto them as we wish for them to do unto us. Who will feel happy to work hard and not earn enough to make a living? If you wish for a decent living wage for yourself why would you pay your workers less than a living wage? We will all become pensioners one day. Why not treat today's pensioners decently and with dignity so that when it is your turn, you will receive just as good a treatment?

Let me conclude with the lyrics of Nigeria's National Anthem: “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey. To serve our Fatherland With love and strength and faith. The labour of our heroes past Shall never be in vain, To serve with heart and might One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.”

“O God of creation, Direct our noble cause; Guide our Leaders right: Help our Youth the truth to know, In love and honesty to grow, And living just and true, Great lofty heights attain, To build a nation where peace and justice reign.”

George A. Adebiyi, Ph.D.
(Professor of Mechanical Engineering)
[email protected]

June 23, 2009