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Ivie Omoregie: Someone is Abusing their Powers! Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!!!

Ivie Omoregie

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Ivie Omoregie An abuse of one’s power occurs where someone in a position of authority uses this position in an abusive way –  manipulating others because they have the ability to punish for disobedience.

This abuse can take several forms, and in many instances may not even be a quantifiable act. It could be a tone of voice or a choice of words. In some severe cases, it could be someone being openly aggressive and verbally abusive; it could also be derogatory treatment, like being asked to do things which are intended to belittle and ridicule.

Seniors and Juniors
When I first moved back to Nigeria, it amazed me the way seniors spoke to and treated juniors; from inside people’s homes, to schools, to the office. We even see this in the church. Abuse of power can be seen in all societies. It is not something that is new in any capacity, but the extent to which it was being openly displayed in the Nigerian setting intrigued me.

A friend of mine recently became a worker in the church, he had been going through some personal difficulties which he came through unscathed. He wanted to re-dedicate himself to God by sacrificing his time to work as an usher. This guy is a well-known “Phoneh” speaking, Champagne popping, G-Wagon driving, Lagos boy. I thought it was really deep of him to take the step to recommit his life to God, and he seemed very dedicated. He did both services on Sundays, was there for mid-week service and seemed to really enjoy being in Church. One day I saw him and had noticed that he was no longer ushering, so I asked him, “Guy, how far na?”.
When he explained what the most senior pastor had said to him, and how he had been treated generally by that Pastor, I understood why he had decided to jeje keep himself to himself. One thing he stressed was that “over familiarity breeds disrespect, God knows my love and dedication for him is unshakable”. He was simply not used to being spoken to in a particular way and could not tolerate it from anyone. He felt that rather than having an emotional outburst (which was definitely imminent), it would be best for him to attend the church as a regular and dedicated member of the congregation.

The Zimbardo Experiment
Having studied psychology to a high level (well I have a keen interest and did Psychology at A-levels, I am not saying I am a psychologist ooh), I have always known about the “Zimbardo Experiment”. This ties in with my understanding that a lot of our character traits are natural to us as mammals, as opposed to learned behaviour imposed by the society in which we were nurtured.

The Zimbardo Experiment took place in Stanford Prison in 1971. A group of average young men were randomly selected and divided into the roles of Prisoner and Guards, and put into a prison-like environment in the basement of the Psychology Department at Stanford University. Initially the study was intended to last two weeks. But due to the brutality exhibited by the guards and the suffering being administered on the prisoners, the experiment was terminated after only 6 days.

I have always been intrigued by this experiment, as it has provided a striking illustration of how certain roles shape an individual’s behaviour. Zimbardo argued that the reason why the guards acted that way was because they conformed blindly to their assigned role.

“Guard aggression … was emitted simply as a ‘natural’ consequence of being in the uniform of a ‘guard’ and asserting the power inherent in that role”

Zimbardo argued that the guards could not help themselves and could not be blamed for their actions, as it was a natural result of being put into a position of authority. As humans, the instinctive action would be to conform to the authoritative role, and thus show aggression as a means of controlling a group – which is deemed as needing the controlling presence of an authoritative character. It is for this reason we see abuse of power being exhibited worldwide and not isolated to any particular jurisdiction. It is simply human nature.

Interestingly the Zimbardo experiment has been repeated several times over the last 4 decades with exactly the same results; it has now become a tired and tested hypothesis that where you put someone in a position of authority, the natural reaction is to subordinate a group viewed as being lower you.

Nature vs Humanity
Seeing as the natural reaction is to subordinate when put in a position of authority, the distinction between a nice senior and a mean senior is personal choice and the legal ramifications of their actions. People who are nice seniors simply choose to be nice seniors. Maybe it is a personal character trait, maybe it is shaped by their nurturing or maybe it is a conscious choice not to act in a way which goes against what they know to be right. Unfortunately these nice seniors tend to be a minority in our peculiar jurisdiction, with mean seniors taking center stage.

I believe one of the main reasons why we see these mean personalities exhibited in extreme portions in our society is the fact that there are little to no legal implications for the senior’s actions. Even in the more organised environments, bullying in itself is not illegal. However, harassment is illegal, and to this end has been classified into several different subsections. Unfortunately, proving harassment or unfair and abusive treatment is very difficult. Unless the senior physically assaults you, or you are able to capture the abuse in some capacity, you will find yourself with a weak case.

To make this dim situation worse, in Nigeria, even where you are able to capture the abuse, and you have a valid claim, instituting an action in any court is extremely difficult and somewhat unheard of. There are some abuses where the evidence is glaring and thus the claim stronger.
Unfortunately there seems to be no legal precedent for the seemingly minor abuses, especially where the senior never at any point lays a finger on the junior, but merely resorts to minor indiscretions, subtly turning the knife so to speak.

Shuffering and Shmiling
A song by the late Fela Kuti comes to mind, titled “shuffering and shmiling”. Most people on the receiving end of this abuse are suffering and smiling – they get offended and yet they smile, ignore and almost act like nothing ever happened. The employee regards the boss as a god and would not want to do anything to upset the god; the boss starts to believe he is a god and begins to act unquestionably because “Who you gonna call…Ghost Busters……”. As the feeling of being above caution begins to sink in, these characters begin to step on toes as they wish, without apologies and without any real ramifications. And the worst part is they know that the person whose toes are being continually stepped on will never dare to say anything, as so not to be labelled as rebellious or insubordinate. We see this endlessly in the average office setting.

Conclusion
A good friend of mine is the European HR Manager for a leading cosmetics company; one day I asked her what was the most absurd reason she had heard for someone taking time off work, and she replied a man once claimed depression for 6 months (full pay) as he was mourning the death of his cat.

In England depression is a valid reason to take 3 months off work, and no employer dare sack you for it, otherwise they would be liable for unfair dismissal. Unfortunately for us, in Nigeria depression is not regarded by many as a “real illness” and very few bosses would grant months of paid leave for it. Imagine being able to claim depression because of unfair treatment in the office. Seems like a distant dream.

It’s funny, in Nigeria,  I find that subordination of one’s juniors has become a norm and somewhat entrenched in our culture. Because of not wanting to be seen as disobedient we don’t say anything.  We just grit our teeth and get on with things, knowing what is being done is not right but not saying anything. This has created a vicious cycle, which has left us wondering if the abuser came before abused.

Where you find yourself as the abuser, just because no one might call you to question, does not mean that what you are doing is right.

Where you find yourself suffering abuse, I would suggest you try by all means to capture the abuse. Even where it is not significant enough to warrant a criminal investigation, concrete evidence of malpractice presented to a more senior senior may affect the actions of the abuser, be it in the home, office or school.

Ivie Omoregie is the Founding Consultant at Skye Advisory. Skye Advisory is a boutique business advisory firm with locations in London, England, as well as Lagos, Nigeria. Skye Advisory offers bespoke Legal, Financial and General Business advisory services to small and micro businesses. Ivie is a duly qualified lawyer with years of cross border experience in the areas of Corporate Advisory, Energy and Projects, Finance and Litigation.  Ivie is also an active member of the Nigerian Bar Association as well as an avid woman's and children's rights promoter. View more details about her at www.IvieOmoregie.com. Follow her on Twitter @Ivie_Omoregie and Instagram @Ivie.Omoregie "

27 Comments

  1. Ola

    February 5, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    This is soo spot on. Fantastic read.

  2. Toyosi

    February 5, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Hahahahaha @ mourning the death of his cat. If he tried that in Nigeria they would call it witchcraft.

    • Mireille

      February 5, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      My colleague was seek for a whole week as she was mourning the end of her relationship with the boo. Our boss agreed that a leave was required for her to be able to do her work efficiently in the future. I found it scandalous!

  3. always happy

    February 5, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Just pose this question to HR : How do you propose i mourn the death of my sanity? #everymallam and his kettle #mentalhealth #wellbeing

  4. Honeycrown

    February 5, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Unfortunately, abuse is a norm in Nigeria. Nigerians suffer abuse daily by the government regardless of wealth, education, status etc. This is why the abusive mentality ain’t stopping soon. It’s a bad cycle. So yeah, who are those without a voice gonna call? Donald Trump?

  5. selena

    February 5, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    I absolutely hate the way my sister-in-law treats the house helps. Shes had like 5 helps in 2 years. ridiculous…..

  6. Hawt Talk With Tosan

    February 5, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    Add the ‘I better pas my neighbour” mentality of some Nigerians and the abuse doubles.

  7. Abby

    February 5, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I don’t get the church boy’s story..I mean you started serving in the church because of what God has done for you,then u start complaining abt how the pastor spoke to you,I think he should have focused on his aim there and achieve it. I am sure he wouldnt have backed out if there was a monetary prize attached to it. You cant make a vow to God and back out cos of a mere mortal.
    He should just have approached the pastor, stating his grievances,and continue with his act of gratefulness towards God.

    • SMH

      February 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      the guy was simply put off, and in order to prevent himself from making an unsavory utterance to the pastor, he simply reduced his interaction with him..I would have done the same thing.

    • molarah

      February 6, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      I agree with you, but I think I kinda get why the guy backed down. Just like the article says, this thing is a culture, and because of the “Man-turned-God” culture in many churches, it is going to be hard to stand up to that kind of oppression. But again, I agree with you. Everyone should be determined to do their best for God, no matter the circumstances they are facing. If it were me I would have looked for another congregation where I can serve God without the oppressive (can I even say ungodly, because we were not called to worship man) air.

  8. Charlene

    February 6, 2016 at 12:07 am

    Interesting read and enjoyed it. You stated a lot of points that I’ve never looked into depth about but are very valuable. I think many can related to it whether you are an abuser or at the receiving end of the abuse. It is quite often leaders do abuse their power and it is the fact that those under their leadership sometimes give them the power and confidence to feel they have the right to. Hopefully one day this will be able to change.

  9. Abi

    February 6, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Love love love it and so poignant. Even the way people speak to hotel and waiting staff in Nigeria shocks me. We all deserve respect whether you are A Gateman or a General Manager

  10. KB Davies

    February 6, 2016 at 1:54 am

    Great article Ivie! However, a lot of our character traits are certainly not “natural” to us as mammals or even as Primates. Whilst most higher animals do have a system of order and hierarchy, abuse is not present in their societies. Abuse in human societies is learnt and conditioned behaviour. The uniform is associated with authority; and authority is ALWAYS abused by those whom do not understand the responsibility is carries. This is irrespective of experiments or real life scenarios.

    Erich Fromm, prominent German psychologist, psychoanalyst and humanistic philosopher argued that the personality of an individual does affect behavior when imprisoned, or when in the position of a Guard; and as such, the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment were unrepresentative.

  11. Le coco

    February 6, 2016 at 6:19 am

    amazing read.
    A lot of nigerians complain about the abuse of power in government.. but the fact of the matter is what these power hungry officials are doing is not different frm that of the average nigerians.. jst take a look at our churches… hell.. even our secondary schools .. students itching to pass the jss1 mark just so they can come to school clutching onto their koboko that they have brought to terrorise their juniors.. because tht is exactly what happened to them in their time.. It is a sad reality….

  12. Dizzy

    February 6, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Guys! Use your phones!! We all have phones that can record.
    In ANY confrontation, just slyly press the record button on your phone that is always in your hand.

    I was able to prove sexual harassment by a school official this way.

    • Scott wills

      February 6, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Fantastic idea. We need to start trapping these abusers and making sure they pay.

    • Baba

      February 6, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Recorded conversation without consent can not be presented in an employee tribunal.It is infact against the law!!!!

    • Goodie

      February 6, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      Against the law in England…….. Completely legal in Nigeria

  13. Diamond ink events

    February 6, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Well done my girl. I’m so proud of you and I love all your constructive articles. Hopefully these truths can shape our society someday. Bless up?❤️

  14. Ewa

    February 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Come to the Nigerian workplace to see abuse at all levels. From the team leads, to HODs, to Business Heads. It’s a crazy cycle..

  15. Baba

    February 6, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Hi Abbey,read again.If you grow up in an environment where even as kids your right are respected….and you ask WHY for whatever you don’t understand. You do not grow up to abused by pastors or bosses.The economic climate in Nigeria does not help.I was once a typical Nigerian manager in the U.K.I got into lots of troubles with HR.I assumed that as a manager that employees should automatically respect me,but alas i was very wrong.
    My pastor tried this with me.He would generally greet people around me including my partner but ignore me.
    I paid him back big time and he learnt how to respect even the smallest of men in church.

  16. Swizzey

    February 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    these so=called bosses have no idea that what they have is an illusion of power,likewise everyone else. What stops an employee that has been enduring abuse from taking matters into his/her own hands and begin dishing out abuse/terror in return. If only these bosses knew the people they were really employing.. its not only superiors that can make phone calls and things will happen. there are employees(believe you me,there are) that if they feel they have been wronged and they make one phone call…the boss,team lead,head, etc will be running from one tree to another asking his/her self whether he has offended anybody.

  17. cinderella

    February 6, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I started a new job three months ago and one of the compelling reasons for me taking the job was because I wanted to escape the abusive supervisor in my previous job. The woman would start swearing in her language the minute she laid eyes on me and was generally toxic. If we both happen to be walking into our work building at the same time she would ignore me and only come and speak to me later in the day when she needed my help. I vowed never to be in a situation like that again so imagine my surprise when at my new job the guy appointed to be my supervisor started belittling me and asking me foolish questions about where I was educated and doubting why I was employed in the first place (despite having over 5 years experience in my field) I took action and reported him not to his manager but the most senior person in our department. To say the guy’s entire attitude has changed because I spoke up and he has been confronted by senior staff members to explain himself is an understatement. He speaks to me like an actual human being (not something stuck to the bottom of his shoe) and I don’t have any qualms about reporting him again if he steps out of line.

    Bottom line is abusers continue their crap if their victim lets it happen. Stand up for yourself and decide how you want to be addressed. Good luck y’all.

  18. Regina

    February 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you so much Ivie for this article,the Nigerian system is very bad,from primary school to secondary school you see everyday abuse, from the headmaster to teacher using cane to flog human being like you. Soldiers beating civilians, oga or madam beating or maltreating a gate man,house help, in the office and in every settor there is abuse and people dont talk instead we are suffering and smiling because there are no law against such.
    There is still mental slavary in Nigeria and in many Nigerians its very sad, we still have a long way to go. The Western stare and laugh at Nigeria and Nigerians infact they laugh at Africa and at Africans for maltreating one another its shocking and very sad.

  19. molarah

    February 6, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Great points. For me, I think beyond standing up to abuse and confronting abusers, another step we can take as individuals is to establish a culture of respect, starting from ourselves. Say a respectful ‘hello/good morning’ to those abokis, housemaids, drivers, gatemen, etc. that interact with you in your environment. As a business owner, make it unacceptable for any of your staff to speak disrespectfully to their subordinates, and model this example yourself. Sometimes, all a blue-collared citizen or subordinate undergoing abuse needs to experience is one act of respect from someone much senior to them, for them to realize that abuse is not normal and should not be normalized. It could give them the courage to speak up and explain to their attackers that that’s not the proper way to do things.

  20. Jimi

    February 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Well done Ivie. Great command of the English language in conveying your message. Abuse of power is Sooo prevelant in the Nigieran setting yet not adaquately addressed.

    Stand up against the abuse, it should not be the norm.

  21. Rita

    February 13, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Ivie, well done and keep writing! Abuse is a big deal in Nigeria as it pervades all levels of interaction. I have a friend who literally slaps and slams the door in the faces of her househelps. When I see this, I feel frustrated by this country and the fact there’s not much this fellow human can do.

    Can I just say though that Ivie also mentioned that overfamiliarity breeds disrespect. Someone mentioned above that it’s nice to say morning etc to drivers and so on. While this is of course the decent thing to do, let’s not forget that some of these people, because you have said hello or don’t simply bark orders at them, then think that they can go too far. You give some people a mile and they try to take 10. So sometimes you make sure you’re good to your employees and subordinates, but you also keep your distance.

    I’m surprised no-one has really talked out sexual abuse in its various forms here, which is rampant in Nigeria. The kind of things that happen where I work on a daily basis would have got me thousands, if not millions of dollars in the west.

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