Should Nigerian Public Employees (Government Workers) also accept TIPS?


Whether you are cashing a cheque over the counter, going through immigration at the airports, making a complaint to a police officer, renewing your driver’s license, receiving a title from a royal father, ordering a drink in a bar, obtaining your transcripts from your college, arranging for a funeral with a clergy or even being rushed into the emergency room in Nigeria, be prepared to TIP.

Technically, tip means “a sum of money given to someone as a reward for their services”.  It is not to be confused with wage or salary, which is a sum of money due to someone for their services.  Generally, tip is often optional and the amount determined by the tipper. However, in some countries such as the US, some States by law require customers to tip certain workers even up to 20% of the cost of the services they received. I am not sure whether the tipped can call the police should the customer fail to do so, but I know that the tipped can deduct it from customer’s money card if customer happens to pay with one.

Tip, however, is not for anyone rendering any type of service to anyone. In most countries, only private sector employees such as bartenders, restaurant waiters and waitresses, hotel maids, taxi drivers, those that help move our luggages around at the airports, parking lot vigilantes, janitors and cleaners, amongst others can be tipped.  A common reason while these class of workers are allowed to receive tips is because they are often paid very low wages, often far below minimum wage. For instance, in the US, Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, but for tipped employees, it is $2.15. It is expected that tips will make up the difference.

However, in some of these countries, it is a serious offense that can lead to dismissal for any public employee (government worker) such as a police officer or public school teacher to accept a tip. Most employers in the private sector have also prohibited their employees from accepting tips. The prime justification for allowing a bartender to accept tip and denying a public school teacher that privilege is that of fairness because the teacher’s service is already adequately paid for with our tax money.

Besides the fairness reason, tipping public employees in particular may also lead to unintended consequences detrimental to the rest of us. Think of a situation where Mr. Jojo has become a ‘darling’ of the police officers in his city for his generous tips to them even when they are off-duty. Suddenly, one of those officers he has been tipping gets a call to arrest him for an offense. As one of the police officers that have received generous tips from Mr. Jojo, how would you respond to this call?

Think of another situation where Mrs. Dodo has become a ‘darling’ of the passport and security officers at the airport for her generous tips to them on her frequent business trips. One day, Mrs. Dodo decides to bring in a banned good. As one of the security agents that have received generous tips from Mrs. Dodo, what would you do if you happen to be the one to discover that your generous tipper is bringing in a banned good? Or, as a public university professor that has often received generous tips from the parents of one of your students, what will you do should you realize that this student has failed your class?

Needless to say that one needs to be a saint to discharge his or her duties honourably in these situations. However, the failure to discharge these duties honourably often comes with severe consequences for the rest of us, directly or indirectly. Imagine you are a relative to Mr. Jojo’s victim; would you not be offended by the police officers’ inability to bring him to justice? Or, if you are one of the students of the tipped professor, would you not feel bad that the professor has to pass this other lazy student because of tips. What if this lazy student is a medical student? How can the rest of us be sure that we would not be the next guinea pigs in his operating room?

To serve others at any level is a serious business, but especially to serve in the public sector, because public servants often deal with the things that matter most to us, some of which we cannot get elsewhere except from them. For example, if the bartender at Ibari Ogwa refuses to serve me a drink because I did not tip him, I can switch over to Ishageri. If a teller at UBA refuses to accept my cash because I did not tip her, I can switch over to Diamond Bank. However, if the police refuse my call to arrest Mr. Jojo because I did not give him a tip, who else do I call? If the passport officer refuses to accept my passport at the airport because I did not give her a tip, who else do I go to?

Take it or leave; this is what is going on in the Nigerian public sector even as I write this essay. It is not that our drivers’ licenses have not been processed, not that our birth certificates are not ready, not that our complaints to the police officers are not legitimate as they often tell us. They are waiting for our TIPS. Should we TIP them, anyway?


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