March 21, 2019

Nigerians and the horrible culture of owing their workers – Nkem Ndem

Nigerians and the horrible culture of owing their workers – Nkem Ndem

There is a joy that comes from getting paid for a job, whether well-done or not. Think about it,  a majority of people wake up in the morning for this. They deny themselves of certain luxuries and sometimes necessities, get on the road and labour most of the day.


Actually, almost everyone is given some kind of training on this culture from childhood. The culture ensures that they gain employment and get a job at some point.


Why do they do this? They want to earn the salary or wage that comes with the job!


Even the workers who seem to work but not necessarily for a stipend still do it for a benefit anyway. They do it perhaps to meet religious calling or service a passion.  So, if a person has put in hours training and exerting themselves, shouldn’t they get paid at the end of the day? Is there a justification for them being deprived of their wage?


I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is building a startup. He employed a number of people to assist his endeavor. While these people were mostly fresh graduates or interns, they were all on some kind of pay-roll.


But then, he was saying that he would not be able to pay them this December as he needed the money blocked out for their salaries to make some kind of side investment which would yield much more money for the company.



I asked him if the workers were okay with the delayed payment. He went further to say it wasn’t delayed. He wasn’t sure yet when he will pay them as there is no certain date for the investment returns. However, he was sure he will pay them.

Of course I called him out on it.


The first question: Did you discuss this with your staff and they agreed to your scheme?  And next , what provision will you be making to cushion the effect of their salaries not being paid for this month of December?


As you can imagine, he had no response to these questions really and I found it really disappointing. I guess what really ticked me off was when he said: “owing staff is a normal thing.”


This is a Nigerian youth who is about 28, with employees of about the age range of 22-30, and already he has kick-started the horrible cycle of owing workers!


On a regular basis, you find  on the internet morbid stories of people killing or maiming staff who requested to be paid their outstanding salary, or even the other way round, people murdering their employers out of anger or pain from suffering.


Why start a business and employ someone if you have no intention of rewarding them as agreed? Sure, times are tough for many companies these days, and when cash is short it is tempting to try to save money by delaying payment to employees or not paying dismissed employees. But paying your employees is one of your top obligations to them. If you have employees, you must pay them!


And it is not just about refusing to pay the salary at the end of the month, other ways Nigerian employers oppress their employees include: withholding or deducting from salaries without prior notification or consent, withholding pay as punishment because the employee, maybe violated a company policy or maybe wanted to leave on what the employer considers bad terms or refusing to reimburse staff after they have used their personal funding for activities pertaining to the company.


An employer cannot withhold a portion of an employee’s wages without their consent, except for withholding required by law. Neither can an employer withhold pay as punishment. Even if an employee violates company policy and leaves on bad terms, they are still entitled to their full paycheck!


Even more, do not expect an employee to use their personal funding for company runs when you have no intention of paying them back, even if they are partners in the company.


Dear Nigerians, we need to move on from our archaic tendencies and be better. With proper budgeting and planning, such issues as owing staff will not be a problem really.


Cut back when you need to, and do not feel hesitant to pay staff even if you do not achieve the expected revenue for the period. Do not rob Peter to pay Paul! Even more, keep it at the back of your mind that refusing to pay these workers will affect the way they work as they will not be adequately motivated to give their best. In the end, you might just be pennywise but pound foolish!


Lilian Osigwe Editor

A Creative and Versatile Writer.  
Currently writes for SabiNews Media

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  1. Emeka

    Hello, Lilian.

    Great write up. Should an employer who owns an individual several months salary be sued?
    Do you think it’s advisable even when the employer still employs.

  2. Sunny

    Hi Nkem. I’m an expatriate based in Lagos and suffering pretty much all of what you’ve mentioned in your article. I wish to meet you to discuss further and explore solutions, please.


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