This article is a bit satirical in its later part while trying to convey a strong moral lesson on civility in the way members of some occupational groups feel too superior in relating with some other occupational groups. We are all aware of the incessant inter-union squabbles in our hospitals between the medical doctors and nurses, or between doctors and the rest of the unions. We are also very familiar with the incessant inter-union conflict between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the rest of the unions in the university system, just to mention a few. The article is therefore meant to draw attention to the need to appreciate the dignity of labour generally whether we are talking of truck pushers, cleaners, subsistence farmers, petty traders, drivers, carpenters, plumbers and what have you. The article is meant to support the view that ‘a man’s dignity depends not upon his wealth or rank but upon his character’ (see Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, Revised Third Edition, p 241).
This article further makes the point that well-organized societies give some modicum of respect to workers in every occupation that serves the society. Every occupation is therefore considered relatively important given their complementary contributions in keeping the society going. But the ravaging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shockingly exposed how some occupations which hitherto over- exaggerated their importance are now considered non-essential in the fight to keep humanity from extinction.
The emerging reality is that our social life is no longer going to be the same in post-COVID-19 pandemic period. Presently, COVID-19 pandemic is having its huge negative effects on virtually all aspects of human life. Human beings are being asked to re-adjust their cultural ways of life, their daily work activities and means of livelihood, their other events such as wedding, burial, naming, and birthday ceremonies. It is also affecting our too many excellence award ceremonies and the not-so-excellence (commercialized) award ceremonies, ‘owambe’ parties, among many other activities. Presently, except for people performing essential duties in some occupations in different countries of the world where there is a general lockdown order by their government, the rest of us are told to stay at home or work from home if extremely necessary. If for instance, you are like me who is directed to stay at home during this period of lockdown in Lagos, FCT Abuja and Ogun states, then, you are not providing essential services to the society. It means that you are less important in keeping the society going under this COVID-19 health emergency.
But those in the Essential Services can go on saving lives or supporting the maintenance of power, water etc infrastructure, and offering social, financial, telecommunication and mass communication, as well as agricultural products supply chain services, without you and my humble self. Does this imply that all the educational institutions including universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and secondary, primary and nursery schools are all not important in the present fight against COVID-19 pandemic? The answer yes if you are not among the health workers or those providing essential services to keep the society going.
Coming to some professions, the society and the government have a way of elevating some occupations to a higher pedestal of importance than others. This elevation carries with it higher economic reward, sometimes outrageous too. Think of the legal profession (which every elite family would like to have their children choosing), where are the lawyers in this fight against the COVID-19? I hear some people saying that we can do without their ‘troubles’ and still succeed in the fight against COVID-19. So the Bar and the Bench are not important now in the war to save humanity from the ravaging scourge of COVID-19. Yet they are there looking for technicalities to contrive disorder in the electoral system rather the order that maintains the stability of the state.
Where are the international professional footballers who are fabulously paid to entertain their weekend ‘worshipers’? They sometimes ‘disorganize’ some families every weekend especially young couples that need to be together but cannot because of Premier League football matches played in England and not even in Nigeria. Who cares for these footballers in this period of ‘pandemic pandemonium’ (to borrow a phrase from Fola Ojo in the Punch newspaper of April 3, 2020). You may say that some of them are donating money. Yes you are correct, but let them also go and develop the vaccine that would have saved the over 1000 number of deaths that were shockingly and embarrassingly recorded in the United States in ONE DAY on Friday, April 3, 2020 under the watchful and boastful eyes of ‘almighty’ President Trump. New York State alone got a share of over 500 number of deaths on that date. We need these international football idols to go and save lives in Italy, Spain, France and Britain.
Where are our politicians who earn fabulous salaries and allowances in the various legislative arms of government? Our distinguished senators and honourable members have all disappeared instead of going to the ‘war front’ to demonstrate how extremely important they are in the fight against this ravaging COVID-19. No matter how they labour to defend themselves that I do not understand their role in a democracy, the bottom line is that they are all at the mercy of some of our neglected first responders (our heroic health workers) discharging their duties in the health sector with very low percentage allocation in our annual budgets over the years. This is definitely not the time for medical tourism for our distinguished personalities as we are all in it together here for treatment.
Where are the members of my union – the Academic Staff Union of Universities? Sometimes they elevate their importance on top of the tallest Iroko tree in my home town Nguru, in Aboh Mbaise LGA of Imo State? Do not misunderstand me that I am saying that our eggheads (who have no eggs to eat now due to IPPIS palaver with the government) are not important any longer. But the society is calling them (including myself) to shame this COVID-19 ‘pandemic pandemonium’. We can do this with our cutting-edge research on the much needed vaccine against the scourge. Any one of us who achieves this breakthrough from our not-so-much comfort zone (during this present period of indefinite strike), will definitely put ASUU on top of the Liverpool Football Club on the English Premier League table.
Now to my heroes: all the health professionals (big and small, senior and junior), I doff my hat for you. You are the most important. The society will continue to celebrate you. I just read that the federal government is planning to provide medical life insurance for you. But do not carry your importance too far. Remember you must eat food produced by the poor farmers before you can live and get the strength to work. Again, remember you were taught by teachers from nursery to the university levels before you became very important. So the poor farmer and the poorly paid and less-respected teacher (that spinsters run away from marrying) helped to produce you. But be humbled also that your present-day occupational hazards are enough to scare away prospective entrants or your world be fiancée s and fiancé. The teachers may after all be the gainers. Meanwhile, I can hear some doctors and nurses saying that they will no longer run away to America in search of greener pastures even if President Trump offers them visa-free entry. Please stay here in Nigeria my dear ones, because we value you as our most important occupational group in fighting this scourge. We only need the government to do the needful in providing attractive welfare package.
•Prof. Obasi teaches Public Administration at the University of Abuja. Email: email@example.com