Kabiru works as a security officer in the house of Dr Alabi. Although, he was hired as a ‘gateman’, there is hardly any other chores Kabiru does not do in Dr Alabi’s compound. He washes the cars (Alabi has two, Lexus Jeep and a Toyota 4Runer), does gardening and man the security post. Since he took up the job about 3 years ago, he has not had time to go anywhere. Some time last year, he indicated interest to travel home for the Salah break, but Alabi would not have it, arguing that he did not hire him to be away from his duty post. Kabiru has since shelved the idea of traveling.

What worries Kabiru about his job the most however, is not even the manner in which his movement is restricted. It is rather that his condition of work has been poor and unappealing. The security room where he is supposed to live and operates from has barely anything for comfort. The room has an old stool Kabiru had patched more than five times since he resumed work, and a matt he uses to pray and also sleep upon. The room’s window is like a pigeon hole so that staying inside is pretty much like being carried in a black Maria van.

To make matters worse, Dr Alabi has not been forthcoming with Kabiru’s N10,000 monthly pay as at when due. For about 7 months now, he has been fed one story or another as to why he should exercise patience. While Kabiru waits in patience however, Dr Alabi never misses to entertain ‘business friends’, family members and ‘associates’ to sumptuous parties and dinners at almost every turn of the weekend. It is during this type of occasion that Kabiru gets to ‘feel his Oga’. He would be served food enough to keep his mouth munching for days. And when latter he gets to request for his meagre salary, he would be told:

“Ah, Kabiru! Don’t act like we treat you bad in this house? We give you food here. Wait, in this era of economic recession, who doesn’t owe salary in this country? Abeg, wait till next week please.”

Kabiru’s fate is similar to many people in our society today. Ours is a society that cuts and separate what are individuals’ due, and then give them in piecemeal while framing it to look as if, they are actually doing the individuals really some good that deserve commendation. For instance, during the peak of late payment of salary in Nigeria, the one blamed on the recent economic recession, few governments who were managing to keep up to date were busy broadcasting on air how good and praiseworthy their principals were. They do not owe salaries. But after a check on these governments, it was discovered that these same governments owe huge backlog of emoluments due to their workers outside the statutory monthly take home, including refusal to honour promotion awarded to workers. Till date, some states are still paying piecemeal salaries, with some workers receiving almost 25% of their monthly pay.

Away from salary, dignity of labour requires that a person’s condition of work should be dignifying. This principle takes into cognisance, things like number of hours spent on work, hours given for rest and leisure, and the condition of work space, whether such supports the worker to deliver more efficiently. It also involves whether a worker has access to health package that allow him/her to enjoy good health benefits. Opportunity for workers to development their capacity, and for what is called “vertical mobility of labour” (i.e. room for promotion) also count in favour of dignifying work condition. These issues are well covered in international instruments like International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (see Article 7, a through d). Section (d) of Article 7 particularly addresses the need for leisure, “periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays”.

Although, Nigeria is a signatory to the above Covenant, both public and private employers of labour continue to selectively honour some while violating many of these rights. their argument is akin to Dr Alabi’s family. They can afford to owe workers, but not the other way around. At least, they fulfil ‘some obligations’. Unfortunately, one of the fundamental principles undergirding respect for human rights is indivisibility. Human rights are a wholesome set of fair packages which should not be selectively respected.

Why is this the case? Well, no right is more important than the other, and each right is intricately linked to the rest of others. Take for instance, the picture painted above about Kabiru and his job. You cannot begin to discuss whether his pay is more important than the condition of his work. In each category, the condition of where he works, the amount of rest he gets, and of course, his take home package, all of these things invariably affect his human dignity by adding something to it (when they are fairly supplied) or subtracting something from it (when they are not met).

Are rights interdependent then? Absolutely, yes. The health of a worker obviously affects his/her productivity and job satisfaction. Equally, capacity building can positively impact on the dignity of labour. Hence, neglecting these elements, as many employers are doing in our society, grossly negate best practice and of course, violates human rights principles.

Beyond labour, this discussion can be applied to other sectors of the society. For instance, you don’t choose to feed your children while refusing them access to education when you can afford, or you don’t praise yourself for giving food money to your wife everyday while at every slight provocation, turn her into a punching bag, or you don’t choose to seek citizens’ votes while refusing them participation in issues of governance. Human rights are indivisible and are interdependent.


Contributors: C. O. Ikegbunam Esq.
C. A. Nwankwo Esq.
D. A. Okoliko

This is a free educational material and not a source of legal advice. If you need any, please consult your lawyer.

HRCRC Staff having outdoor activity during their 2017 Staff Day

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