By Yinka Ajayi
It is generally believed, from observations, that the average Nigerian is disinclined to hard work. It may be uncertain to pin down how this perception came about but that is one very clear thing as against what is believed in some other climes that hard work comes naturally to the people. For people in such climes, they have been made to believe that they were born to work hard to earn their living.
*Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN
Indeed, hard work should not seem to be something anyone should appear exceptional in, even as it appears that the reverse is the case in Nigeria, especially among civil servants.
Most people are not result-orientated; people procrastinate a lot, just as most public office holders are not in tandem with the vision of management and the mission statements of their organisation.
And what people do is to sit back and allow things to flow the way it will flow, not knowing that they are in office or a particular employment to help facilitate things and make things happen as opposed to watching things happen.
Today, it is believed that the current generation of Nigerians are not ready to work anymore, while people are not rated on the basis of productivity but on the basis of the certificates they carry, just as there are no heroes in the country as most Nigerians prefer to cut corners to live good lives without earning them.
These and more were some of what stimulated a national honours awardee of the Order of the Niger (OON), Professor Epiphany Azinge, to establish the Epiphany Azinge Foundation, with one of its objectives being to vigorously pursue the promotion of work ethics in the public sector in Nigeria with a view to reinvigorating patriotic fervour, dignity of labour, and hard work.
Azinge is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), with expertise in Constitutional Law and Legislative Studies. He is A former Director-General of the Nigeria Institute of Legal Studies and the current member of the Commonwealth Arbitral Tribunal London, representing Nigeria and Africa.
To this end, and out of personal experience as a humble public servant driving the strategic vision of his office during his five year tenure as chief executive, and through the Epiphany Azinge Foundation, he has been involved in several efforts to stimulate a reorientation of the people on the culture of Work Ethics to drive the nation on the path of hard work.
Having been privileged to study abroad, Azinge imbibed the culture of hard work as an average Englishman he observed worked very hard. Therefore, propelled by the desire to give back to the country, and in line with the objectives of his foundation, he is vigorously pursuing the promotion of work ethics across the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The high point of his private initiative to evolve a new orientation in the workplace in the country’s public service is that his activities are carried out on a probono basis as he charges no money to do what he is doing. He pays his air ticket, accommodation and other logistics to make Nigeria a better place as he travels across the federation on this self-imposed assignment.
He maintains that he derives a lot of joy doing what he is doing and traveling all over the country at his own expense.
Having been to other countries that were colonised by the British and seeing the people work extremely hard, even though they may not be making as much money but with joy of the fulfillment, the smile on their faces as they do the work, he believes that the prevailing culture is not a function of the impacts of colonialism.
Azinge, who was not keen in speaking to the media on his activities in order not to be perceived to be blowing his own trumpet, maintains that he has come to the incontrovertible conclusion that, basically, there is something in the DNA of an average Nigerian lately; something in their blood, that does not encourage work hard.
Probably as a result of the oil boom and perhaps at a time in the country, Nigeria had too much money and people now imagine “that money can just come down from the trees or fall down from heaven as manna. So, why do you need to work?
“But, I believe that we have gotten to a point where the message will be driven home, especially to the younger generation for them to know that it is either you work or you don’t earn your wages.
“Earning money as a reward is something we should not lose sight of in this country. People feel that you can stand up in this country and make a billion naira overnight by doing the wrong thing”, he said.
According to him, the “Epiphany Azinge Foundation noted this point and included it as one of the objectives of the foundation; to try to promote and propagate the gospel of a culture of work ethics.”
He has been, in a very altruistic manner, going out to offices, to ministries, to state government parastatals, among others institutions, to preach to them on the importance and relevance of imbibing the culture of work ethics.
On his approach to the project and the positive feedback he is already receiving, he noted that when he speaks to a particular department or ministry or agency, “I try to speak to them from the context of the job they do.
“I take the pains to assemble the laws setting up the parastatal or the agency or department or the ministry and then I speak along that line. When I go to a state, I try to speak on the core value and vision of that particular state and what they concentrating on, so on.
“Now, my position is that most of the people we speak to, they do what they do, not because they want to do them but they do them out of ignorance. Nobody seems to have told them, either through the human resources department or through internal training that this is the way forward.
“Now, I’m trying to fill in that gap. I’m trying to talk to people who, otherwise, are ignorant. But from all indication, I have gotten feedback and the feedback are that people are now coming to realise, after I have spoken to them, that they are not doing the right thing ant it is important for them to do the right thing.
“So, we need to build that nexus so that people will understand the connection they have with government. If not, the philosophy of “Na my Papa work” will always continue to resonate.
“But we want to kill that so that you know that you are inevitably intertwined with government.
“We also make them realise that most of them will not be in the public service forever.
“Anyone who is lazy in public service will be lazy when you come out because you have not developed that culture of hard work over time.
“When you are retired, you now fill that your world has come to an end because you don’t know what next to do”, he observed.
Azinge, who has been in public office for a while, rose to the position of the chief executive and director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. During the period of time in the public service, he was not in a position to run a private enterprise. Before then, however, the Azinge & Azinge law firm was already founded.
The leadership of the law firm was handed over to his wife, Dr Valerie-Janette Azinge, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and also a national honours awardee of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in her own right, and haven disengaged from the public service, Prof Azinge now runs the law firm alongside his wife.