– by Azuka Onwuka
Recently, the photos of a lady described as a “former senior banking lady in Nigeria” with a mop stick in the United Kingdom trended on different social media platforms. The Nigerian lady published the photos herself about her relocation to the UK and how she was working as a home care person (taking care of the aged, the infirm, babies, etc).
But the story was repackaged by some Nigerian online platforms with a sensational headline that a senior banking professional relocated to the UK and became a cleaner. Not surprising, many Nigerians who read only headlines ridiculed the lady and the issue of Nigerians emigrating to other countries to do “menial jobs.”
That negative reaction of many Nigerians was born out of poor understanding of how Western economies work and a wrong attitude towards labour. The disparity between jobs seen as “professional” and those seen as “menial” in Nigeria creates this attitude in many Nigerians. Some jobs are looked down upon in Nigeria because of the remuneration that accrues to them as well as the lack of respect they attract.
When Nigerians emigrate to Western economies, their academic qualifications don’t bear the same weight they bear in Nigeria. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and most other professionals don’t just stroll into such a new country like Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and get jobs in their areas of specialisation. Many professionals have to undertake certification before they can practise such professions. Some people will discover that the field in which they have chains of degrees is not in demand in their new country. They need to acquire new skills. Most Western countries value skills over certificates.
But most importantly, emigrants immediately discover that because of the depreciation of the naira, spending money made in Nigeria in Western economies is like throwing money into a deep hole. One million naira that can pay for the rent of a decent three-bedroom apartment in Nigeria will not pay the one-month rent of a two-bedroom apartment in the Western world. The way to ensure that one does not run into a financial crisis is to get a temporary job while waiting for the permanent job. Few people are lucky to get the desired permanent jobs within a few weeks of arrival. The rest take up temporary jobs first. These include home care, call centre, grocery, etc.
The good news is that in the true sense of the word, there are no menial jobs in the Western or developed economies. “Servants” are also virtually non-existent. A person who cleans the floor or cuts grass or clears snow or drives others or takes care of the aged or infirm or does security work for a company is not seen as doing “menial jobs” as obtains in Nigeria and most of Africa. The person is employed and paid according to the number of hours worked like all professionals. And he or she can work as an officer in a company during the day and work as a cleaner for another company in the evening or weekends.
You can’t toy with them. You can’t disrespect them. You can’t owe them salaries. You can’t turn them to your servants who carry your bags or run errands for you and receive all forms of indignities from you as their “oga”. You can’t even afford them as your personal cleaner or driver or cook or “gate man” like most of us in Nigeria do, because developed economies don’t pay peanuts like under-developed or developing countries.
In fact, once people relocate to other countries, most of them discover that their chains of degrees are not rated highly like having some skills. Some drop their certificates and learn plumbing, carpentry, truck driving, etc, which pays well. Many plumbers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, etc, earn more than those who work in banks, law firms, and other corporate outfits. If you need their services, most times they will tell you that they won’t be available until three months away. And when they eventually have the time for you, they charge you according to the number of hours their job entails. They will even charge you for the time they spend smoking cigarette. If you need them to remove an extra nail or bolt, they will give you the bill for that. There are no stories about it.
Children start working and earning money from about the age of 16, and nobody who works up to five days a week earns less than the equivalent of USD1,000 per month. And that is for those who are studying or preparing to get into the university. Full-time workers earn more than that because they are allowed to do more than one job. It is a system that teaches people the dignity in labour – not sitting down and waiting for handouts.
Most parents don’t pay university fees for their children. The children work to raise money to do so, supported by scholarships and loans from the government. Many of them don’t even bother to acquire any university education because they see it as too much stress. Once they are through with high school or secondary school, they learn a trade. That skill equips them all through their life. They simply get higher certifications in their field and rise in rank and earning. You don’t need a university degree in a developed economy to be very successful in life.
In developed economies, nobody cares about what you do or what you earn. You just make your money, pay your taxes, pay your bills, and live your life as you choose, within the dictates of the law. As long as you are willing to work and are hardworking, you can never be poor in a developed economy.
Unlike in Nigeria where certain levels of workers cannot afford certain good things of life, cleaners or plumbers or carpenters drive very good cars like every other person, live in very good apartments or buy good houses, go on holidays to different cities, and send money to relatives in their home country, if they are immigrants.
Jobs are available. You don’t need any connection to get a job. All you need is your qualification and suitability for the role, whether it is full-time or part-time. Nobody is ashamed to do any job because no job is menial. There is no free money and there is no stolen money. If you play smart (the Nigerian euphemism for stealing or corruption), the system flags you and sends you to jail. You lose your integrity and credibility.
That is why those countries continue to grow while blessed countries like Nigeria continue to regress and wallow in crisis.