There is a cultural problem in Nigeria that normalises looking down on service industry workers. It is almost a rite of passage for Nigerian kids to be told at one point or another to study hard so as not to end up a plumber, builder, welder, or a security guard.
For the average Nigerian parent, if you are not a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, you have arrived at a deep failing they are likely to take so personally that your relationship might never recover thenceforth. What these perhaps good-intentioned parents fail to realise when they repeat this rhetoric is that, at the other end of their denigrating story are people, fellow human beings, whose service big and small is integral to the smooth functioning of society. People who will hurt to know how poorly they are seen by the very society they wake up every day to sell their service to.
Following a question from Twitter user, @_PLICE, asking Uber drivers to share their experiences with horrible passengers, one such person at the receiving end of this kind of rhetoric shared a jarring story about a passenger who insulted him in front of her child.
@_mcsmiles revealed that he had picked up the woman and her child from Lekki and while they were in transit, the child deeply absorbed in whatever he was doing on his phone, she had chided the child saying, “Better pay more attention to your books or you will end up like this man. An ordinary taxi driver.”
@_McSmiles, who said in later tweets that he had maintained his cool and dropped the woman off at her destination because he wanted to model to the kid the right course of action at the face of provocation, nevertheless cried afterwards.
“I cried in my car for over 20 minutes [be]cause I couldn’t understand what I did wrong,” his tweet read.
Whether by accident or careful design, Nigerians, mostly middle-class white-collar jobholders, have a disturbing distaste for the honest hard work of service industry workers.
It is in the contrived animosity for maids – which in Nigeria often means an underpaid and abused child labourer, as husband snatchers (a misnomer for ‘rape survivor.’) It is in the deeply held stereotype about tailors being willfully mischievous when it comes to meeting deadlines. It is in these and all the other little dehumanising things, like telling your kids they will be failures if they end up in the service industry and not in a white-collar job on the top floor of a high-rise toiling for one corporation or other – even if you tell them this in private.
Service industry workers are no less important than white-collar high flying jobholders, one cannot do without the other. This is a well-known and honoured truth in advanced societies across the globe.
This flawed aspiration to occupy only certain kind of jobs considered lucrative and the almost apoplectic aversion to jobs considered less is the relic of an industrial age worldview that died at the turn of the century. Many developing nations are yet to catch up with the times, however, and Nigeria is one of them.
Thankfully, there is a roiling shift in cultural attitudes. Hopefully, it sweeps away this dangerous notion or sooner or later we will all be begging to find skilled workers and coming up empty-handed. Nobody deserves to be the butt of cruel attempts at teaching ‘life lessons.’ Least of all the people ensuring we find the ease we labour daily to amass enough money in hopes of attaining.