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The Objectification Of Labour

As the rancour held sway over avoidable fatalities from the Nigerian Immigration job tournament, you recollect an experience in that factory of slaves called OK Biscuits, located at Oshodi in Lagos.

You had heard harrowing tales of labour tyranny in that place, and so decided to go see things for yourself. The option was to play subterfuge and gain employment. You had to know someone there, an Oga. If you didn’t, then you’d have to go there every day and wait outside the gate, hoping that you’d be picked for employment. You would never be.

That Friday morning, your contact had picked you from the gate, into the premises where you waited for hours before someone finally came to attend to you. While you were waiting, the various employment contractors were lobbying for the contract to recruit you through their companies, from the Ogas. There were about three of these companies there, whose representatives worked as supervisors in the factory.

Afterwards, you were taken to Personnel, then to the expatriate Ogas. You were shoved around like some ware for sale, and you got the feeling you were being inspected for purchase. You felt like a slave.

No, you were a slave.

Later, you were given a registration form from one of the employment contractors. You filled the form and submitted with two passport photos. You were then taken to the IT room where your fingerprints were entered into the database. No contract or employment letters. From that day, you were reduced to a mere number. Numbers were better at slave profiling: they conjured no imagery of human identity, and signified nothing but a piece of work toy, an object. You became a little numerical entity: 402.

You had to resume an hour before your shift, so that you could “queue for selection”. Yes, that you were employed did not mean that you were really employed. The slave masters, black men like you, captains of slave conditioning, stood in front of you and a hundred others, their heads held high. They selected first the muscular ones, then the ones they knew, and then the ones that paid some kind of bribe. They were the editors sieving pauperised workforce for labour fascism. If you were lucky, you would be selected; else you’d go home. If you were selected, you’d go into the factory complex and queue again until it was your turn to sign in. Remember, you would not write a name on the register. You would write your number. Then you’d thumb-print and go in. As a first-timer, you didn’t know anything about how the work was done. So you stood around and waited for the slave masters – the supervisors.

The first job you were given was near the oven where temperature was simply unbearable. But those who worked there before you weren’t complaining, so you wouldn’t. Like them, you’d get used to it. The job was to make sure that biscuits were in line. And they seldom were ever in line due to bad machinery. The cost of repairs was the forgone alternative ignored over employing the human accessories of machine-work.

From there you were redeployed to the cream room two days after, and given a plate and a large cart-like pot. The plate was for collecting cream from the mixer. This was much easier. But you later realised how tasking the job was when it dawned on you that you had to supply about five sandwich machines. It took about 15 minutes for one machine to be fed with cream, so when you were on the third, the operator for the first machine was already screaming your alternative identity: “Cream Boy!”

Transferring the cream from the pot to the sandwich machines was very cumbersome. The cream stuck to your hands and the plate. Sometimes the plate would be so cream-encrusted that you couldn’t use it anymore, so you’d use your fingers to scrape it clean. You realised while doing this, that it was not hygienic even though you’d washed your hands. The cream mixed with the sweat on your hands, and a drop or two from your forehead found their way in too.

There was a section where you could wash your hands, but it was very, very dirty. You’d almost close your eyes while washing your hands because everywhere was just too filthy. Even when you asked for permission to go drink water outside, it was denied, and you were directed to a tap planted on a thoroughly dirty drainage. You would not even get water for your bath from there no matter how clean you were told it was. The environment was just not healthy. You wondered whether NAFDAC officials ever visited the premises. A colleague confided in you that the firm had an informant in NAFDAC office, who would pre-inform your employers of an imminent visit by the agency – so the whole environment would be scraped clean and perfumed any time before inspection officials arrived.

Meanwhile, in all of these – for staying on your feet for 8 long hours if you were on morning shift; and 10 hours if you were on night shift – your pay was 750 naira per day. You would be paid nine thousand naira every fortnight – if you worked all through.

You would not work for two weeks, so you decided to leave, having confirmed the stories you heard. You looked around you, at all the people working there. They had no choice. One told you he had worked there for seven years. He was getting old, and you could see that he would probably die on the job. You looked at them, first as humans, then as fellow Nigerians, and finally as numbers that translated to distant capitalist fortunes. For that was the chain of their reduction to labour objects.

As you left the premises, you were deeply sad about their situation but there was really nothing you could do. (You were still planning to petition relevant government agencies before now). Outside the premises, you looked at the woman who sold Mama-put to the workers. She was their live-saver. She sold them food on credit, kept records and workers would pay her every two weeks. Many had no savings, and their salaries were often exhausted before arrival. They worked to eat and nothing more. Some seemed happy, having accepted their fates; many others were not. Many had no dreams, did not understand the job creation statistics brandished about by the Federal Government. They knew nothing about the transformation agenda, about Nigeria being touted as a future El-Dorado by foreign agencies who print economic indices. Even if you called for a protest, they would not come out, fearing they would lose their yeye jobs if they should absent.

So we are stuck to this cycle of fear.

And you as you read reports of new obituaries from the immigration job tournaments, you shook your head. Because you understood it all. And you hereby ask your fellow youths: when is a revolution?

Written by Immanuel James

Immanuel James is the author of the latest novel, Under Bridge, a book you just must read. (Read the review HERE). To get the digital copy on Amazon, simply click HERE, and by April 11, the hard copies will be made available. Do endeavour to get a copy. 🙂

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About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. a grime n sordid situation we found ourselves in. treated as slaves by foreigners in our fatherland, also by our fellow Nigerians n also by the mighty government. its a shame.

  2. I love this

  3. It’s a pity really. And as you write, more are still trooping in, into hotter ‘shelters’

  4. I once worked in this so called slave factories. The writer did a wonderful Job of describing in detail how these industries are run. My brother it wasn’t easy working there, when will it end I ask myself, when will it end?

  5. Oh Lordy! Immanuel James, you did an absolutely beautiful job of capturing the modern day slavery that youths and Nigerians are constantly being subjected to in this jungle we call the Nigerian State. No functional labour laws cos the government do not give a hoot, they’re too busy looting our treasury to care ’bout what the ordinary citizen is going through. So many youths have been reduced to ‘handless’ or ‘fingerless’, having become victims of unsafe practices in an equally unsafe working environment with no safety rules and provisions. And those expatriates, especially Indians, Chinese and Lebanese, slave and task masters; are given the full go ahead by our government to do as they like and walk free like they own the land. A revolution, as you pointed out seems to be the only way out of this dark maze we find ourselves. God bless Nigeria!

  6. It’s sad, the children of the land are being enslaved in their own land by rifraffs, nonentities in their own lands who become ‘expatriates’ here.
    Reminds me of a story ‘the expatriate’ i read in a collection of short stories ‘fresh air’ by reward nsirim.

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