Almost everyone is hooked on short cuts and determined to get rich or die trying. To drive us further near the cliff, the culture and structure of government incentivise the breaking of laws and allow people to circumvent rules and regulations. An example can be found in the rank of ministers, where fat cat embezzlers and subsidy thieves have found refuge.


We profess and advocate industry in Nigeria but do we live it? We say there is dignity in labour, be it mental or physical labour, but do we really promote earned income? What percentage of working Nigerians rely on what they truly earn? We can choose to be sanctimonious about our resident fraudsters, diaspora outlaws, internet scammers and ritualists who think they can earn money from human body parts. This changes nothing. The rest of the world sees Nigeria through the prism of fraud and bad governance. Dignity of labour has since vanished from these shores. To believe in one’s sweat is to covet penury. Every now and then, the young see old pensioners dying on verification queues. They see those who have toiled in their youth, suffer and die in penury in old age. Without anyone telling them, they understand the equation of work in Nigeria is based on a kaleidoscopic array of variables that favours only those who steal. All they see is disgrace in labour. As in many things that are becoming alien to us, the personal, political, social, and economic meanings of work are eroding. Work has become unpopular, or even a burden. Almost everyone is hooked on short cuts and determined to get rich or die trying. To drive us further near the cliff, the culture and structure of government incentivise the breaking of laws and allow people to circumvent rules and regulations. An example can be found in the rank of ministers, where fat cat embezzlers and subsidy thieves have found refuge.

Who wants to work when Nollywood movies and popular culture celebrate instant wealth? Who wants to walk the long, hard route when Churches preache wealth without work and orchestrate testimonies of miraculous windfalls from the God of signs and wonders? Who will enjoy learning a trade when physical labour is synonymous with poverty? How do you preach dignity in earning from one’s sweat where the prevailing belief is: If physical labour is dignifying, why are farmers, bricklayers and those who work with their hands mostly poor? Even mental labour – the province of white collar jobs – is bifurcated into two camps. On one hand is the good-for-nothing salary earners who owe rents, school fees and are debtors to market women, and on the other, the political racketeers profiting from our collective misery and “smart” scam artists. In less than fifty years, we have managed to recreate Nigeria as a society where those who stand on elevated positions on the ladder of dignity are forgers, grifters, scam artists, known thieves and the political mafiosi.

We must believe in hard work again. We must teach young people that it is not labour that confers dignity on us, it is we who must put dignity in the labour in which we are engaged. Teachings at home, in schools and places of worship must denounce idleness as evil, and industry as a righteous duty.


We have lost the plot. We must believe in hard work again. We must teach young people that it is not labour that confers dignity on us, it is we who must put dignity in the labour in which we are engaged. Teachings at home, in schools and places of worship must denounce idleness as evil, and industry as a righteous duty. These teachings must condemn and criminalise any labour, any cause, or any business, where evil is done. Work of any kind, be it physical or mental, can only be honourable and dignified when the aims and objectives of those who engage in it are pure and hurt no one.

True dignity lies in one’s character and respect for self. Great work done with precision, skills and mental acuity should command admiration. It does the country no good to look down on or up to another, due to their trade or profession. There must be respect for honest men and women, no matter what trade or profession they are engaged in. A man may not always be able to choose his trade or profession. He may just find himself in a trade or profession by default or circumstance, but every man chooses his character.

Our individual, collective and national destinies are tied to honest and productive enterprise. Our fortunes will see a sea change when we begin to accord people respect on the basis of their intelligence and moral worth. It is only when we appreciate and appropriate civil qualities and tow the path of honour and duty that we will command international respect…


The recent FBI raid on Nigerians brought us shame, as the beheading and jailing of drug couriers abroad do. Nigerians are looked upon with disdain and even hatred in many parts of the world. In Middle East and Asia, every Nigerian is thought of as a potential drug mule. In America and Europe, Nigerians are associated with wire and credit card fraud, insurance and romance scams. Many Nigerian lives have been taken in South Africa and many livelihoods destroyed because of crime rings run by Nigerians there. The time has come to take a deep look at ourselves and our values. The poor must not be treated without dignity. Many are born poor and are working very hard to escape poverty. Many are illiterate through no fault of theirs. The poor or the illiterate are most often, victims of circumstances of birth. Many in this land lack opportunities for improvement due to no fault of theirs. They must not be stripped of their dignity because they are poor or unlettered. If people labour in dignity, they deserve our respected. What fuels crime at home and abroad is our love of money and crass exhibitionism. We respect whoever has money, without any thought about how he became rich. It is a destructive outlook and it has to change.

Our individual, collective and national destinies are tied to honest and productive enterprise. Our fortunes will see a sea change when we begin to accord people respect on the basis of their intelligence and moral worth. It is only when we appreciate and appropriate civil qualities and tow the path of honour and duty that we will command international respect and take our pride of place. We must say and show by our actions that a worker must be paid his dues promptly, that we must respect honest work, even if it fetches little. We must teach and show respect, honesty, enterprise, grace in speech and conduct, be kind-hearted and hard working. Nigerian citizens as ambassadors of Nigeria will be seen through the lens of the universal currency of character. For now, we do not look good at all.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo