Private security guards beg to survive …say ‘we’re paid peanuts’
He wakes up every morning from a wooden bed in his one-room apartment in Ikorodu, Lagos with a sigh of worry of what the day may hold for him. Briskly removing his uniform from where he hangs it after each day’s use, he heads for his duty post at a new generation bank in the Ketu area of the metropolis. He later disclosed to Saturday PUNCH he had been doing this for five years.
Forty-year-old Olawale is facing hard times, he divulged. For the five years that the father of three had been on the job as a security guard, he said he barely had enough to feed and survive on with his family. Living on a salary of N15,000 per month, he said he was afraid the future looked so bleak for him and his children.
“We private security guards are passing through tough times, but we don’t always feel safe to complain about our challenges to our employers because we are afraid of losing our jobs. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” he said.
And true to his words, it took some persuasion before Olawale could narrate what he described as an “unfair treatment” by his employer, one of the private security firms in Lagos.
He said, “Companies that need the services of security men do not employ us directly, and that is where the problem lies. There are middlemen — our direct employers — which are the private security firms. Companies get in touch with them and they in turn get in touch with us to provide for their security needs. The private security companies we work for are our direct employers, but the companies we render services to are our indirect employers.
“The major challenge we have been facing all these years is that our indirect employers pay our direct employers a huge sum of money for our services, but they in turn give us peanuts. Banks and some other companies give contracts to our companies. They pay our direct employers good money, but we receive peanuts. Though I don’t know the exact amount our indirect employers pay our firms, I guess it’s around N40,000. Meanwhile, what we get each month is N15,000.”
Olawale described the over 60 per cent pay cut as unfair. He said, “We get less than 40 per cent of the deal, which is very small. The lion share goes to our companies. This is what we have been facing over the years. I can barely feed on N15,000 a month with three children. Jobs are scare. I am about 40 years old now and these companies only employ twenty-something-year olds.
“There is nothing I can do, so I manage what I get. From N40,000 per head, all we get is N15,000. We know they are cheating us, but there is nothing we can do. Any amount I collect, my family has to manage. There is nothing I can do about it for now.”
He also lamented that the exclusion of allowances in the “peanuts” being paid to them had always been mentally disturbing.
He said, “How can somebody be doing a job with no allowance of whatsoever kind? We don’t get leave allowance, no other bonus of any kind. Our own salary is basic. In the civil service where people like us work, they get housing allowance, transport allowance, and others.
“It is a risky job; God forbid it, but if I lose my life now in the course of this job, there are no benefits. If it were to be someone who had spent a long time with the company, what they could just do is commiserate with the family and maybe give them a token, which is all. Surely, fingers are not equal.”
To make ends meet, findings have shown that security personnel like Olawale resort to ‘begging’; some of them are also not usually timid to demand for money from some of the people that use the facilities that they guard.
For instance, when our correspondent entered the premises of a bank in the Ketu area of the city on a Saturday to make use of the Automated Teller Machine, one of the guards attached to the facility openly demanded for N200 to “enjoy the weekend.” He was not even concerned about the implication of leaving his duty post at that moment to look for change out of the N1,000 our correspondent had given him.
With unusual greetings like “Happy weekend, sir,” “Anything for your person?” “Your people dey here,” “Good morning, sir,” and “I greet you very much, sir,” even a miser would be tempted to dole out a few naira notes.
On occasional visits to the Ikeja City Mall, a popular shopping mall in the Alausa area of Lagos, the same scenario always plays out. The signs are always obvious: when a security man ‘unusually’ welcomes a visitor and tells them not to forget them before leaving the premises, he is asking for a ‘tip.’
Another guard, who works with a fast food restaurant in the city, shared almost a similar experience with Olawale’s. Since he is still single, Oluwaseyi told Saturday PUNCH that he intends to go back to school to further his education because “this is not the kind of job to do forever.”
The National Diploma holder said he had already started saving out of “my peanut salary” since two years ago and that he would quit when the “right time comes.
Oluwaseyi said, “It is almost the same tale everywhere. What else can I say? I can barely manage what I am being paid. Coming to Lagos has not all been rosy but one has to keep struggling. Only the hustlers survive in this city. When I first got here, I knew no one in this city, and I had to find some survival means.
“Luckily, a friend told me about the opportunity of working as a security guard and I applied. I was posted here. Of course, this is not the kind of job I will do forever, it is not possible. I have my aim, which is to go back to school. I cannot live on a job where you are paid just N15,000.
“As for me, I do not beg, but some customers do give me money anytime they are leaving. I don’t need to ask them before they give me. I am always polite to everyone and I respect them, maybe that is why. It is not easy to survive on N15,000 in this part of the world, I tell you the truth, especially in Lagos.”
For some other security guards who do not have the same aspiration as Oluwaseyi, begging may continue to be the means to meet up with their daily needs based on the excuse that they are usually paid “peanuts” as salary.
As for Emeka, a bank security guard in Ojota, Lagos, the high expectation from his family in Anambra State usually drives him to ‘seeking favour’ from bank customers. He told Saturday PUNCH he was unhappy with the lifestyle, though.
One thing that, however, cautions him sometimes is what he described as “lack of respect” by some bank customers.
He said, “There are high expectations from my people. Everyone thinks I am working in a bank because I told them so, but they don’t know the kind of work that I do here. They just assume. Now that December is coming, they have been calling me for ‘this’ and ‘that.’
“It is not that I am proud of what I am doing right now, but when you don’t have an alternative, that is the problem. In short, the challenges we face are enormous. The customers of these companies that we work for treat us as nobodies. They could even slap someone in the face if one is not careful. It is a challenging issue. Customers shout at us as if we are kids. We are not accorded respect, which is very bad. I have a National Diploma degree, but because there was no job, I had to settle for this one.
“But the funny thing is that when Nigerians who are living abroad come here, they treat us with a lot of respect. Anytime they see us in uniform, they salute us. When they are leaving the premises, they even give us money. But Nigerians at home make the job look disrespectful.”
A security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, said it was disgusting for private security men to solicit for money like the beggars in the streets. He stated that the action was unethical and did not-conform with the general principles of the profession.
“It is against the ethics and best practices of the private security industry for guards to resort to begging based on any reason because when they do that, they will only continue to look for what they can get from people and forget about their real service. It is a dangerous thing to do and totally unacceptable from the industry view. We caution people seriously who engage in this,” he said.
However, he said there were a number of reasons that were responsible for the unethical behaviour.
First, there are many unprofessional private security companies out there who he referred to as quacks. He said it would not be therefore surprising for the employees of such to engage in such ‘dirty’ behaviour.
He said, “The causes are many. For instance, there are a lot of quack practitioners in the industry because of their low level of training and unwholesome behaviour. Therefore, the onus lies on the companies that need the services of private security guards to look for those who really know what they are doing.
“Likewise, some security companies don’t employ well-mannered people at times, which could be the fault of the Human Resources Managers. They just recruit unqualified people and start paying them peanuts. Some of the managers even help their relatives to be enrolled in the name of helping them. It is good to help, but they should be careful so as not to tarnish the image of the industry.”
Apart from that, Ekhomu also blamed the indirect employers of private security men for their ‘begging behaviour.’ He said that many companies that outsource because they do not want to spend a large amount of money to train in-house security personnel, usually pay meagre amounts of money to the security firms, who in turn give their employees ‘a much meagre salary.’
He said, “That is the situation in the industry right now: outsourcing. The buyer of security service is the problem here. They don’t want to spend good money on security. Most of these big companies are to be blamed many times.
“I know a popular telecommunication company in Nigeria that sources for guards from private security firms for as low as N10,000, and then the company pays N7,500 to their employees. Can you imagine that?
“The last time I checked, the minimum wage wage was N17,500, but they are paying well below the minimum. And even now, some guys from countries like China have also become security guards here, thereby competing with Nigerians, which is wrong. It is because they are desperate and are willing to collect even less. Some of them are paid N5,000 and when the Nigerians see this, they also accept their fate. Now tell me, how will they not beg with that kind of salary?
“Some of them live at far distances from their points of duty. If you pay a guard well, they have no business begging money from anybody. I know there are companies that pay their guards well, even up to N70,000. You see them work with pride, they go to work on time; they put their lives on line at times if it demands so. That is how it should be.”
The security expert therefore advised private security companies to take the welfare of their employees seriously and train them professionally so that unethical practices among them could be eradicated.
He said, “When you pay peanuts, then you will get a monkey to do the job for you. For companies who pay their guards N10,000 monthly, what do you expect? Some banks also pay N11,000 for guards to secure their property, what sort of stuff is that?
“These companies declare billions of naira in profit, so why would a guard not steal or resort to begging to make ends meet? Of course, I am not promoting this. But the truth is they have families to feed. It is very unfortunate this is happening in our country.
“Also, in our industry, when you hire a guard, you should do what is called an Employee Honesty Test for them. Some of the private security firms don’t know what I am saying. The test is aimed at checking the consistency of the employee. If the companies do not do what is proper, some criminals and thugs could also get recruited and they are the ones that will give the industry a bad image.”
A spokesperson for one of the private security firms in Lagos, Proton Security Limited, Yaba, who simply identified himself as Mr. Temitope, demanded that Saturday PUNCH forward a mail to the company in respect of the matter. The mail has yet to be responded to as of the time of publishing this report.
However, an official who spoke for another private security firm, Technocrime Security, located on the Victoria Island, Lagos on the condition of anonymity, said she was not aware that such habit was being practised among its employees.
She said, “We detest such habit in our company. I don’t think it is because they are not well paid. I know that our guards are well paid. Even if our clients are yet to pay us, we pay them and we pay them well. I just think it can be compared with what goes on among some policemen. It has become a habit for some of them naturally, whether they are well paid or not.
“I am sure they must have copied this behaviour from some policemen who indulge in the practice of soliciting for alms and get away with it because of our weak system. It is not a good habit. It is like asking me why some men cheat, why they leave their matrimonial homes and go to pay for a service they could actually enjoy for free in their homes.
“It is not an issue to be generalised. Some private guards are self-disciplined, and that is what this is about: self-discipline. It is an individual thing. Not all of them do it. We have very disciplined and well-trained people that even when customers at their points of duty want to give them money, they reject outright and tell them they are not allowed to accept gifts. And I want to believe that some of our guards at their various locations have this orientation.”
Though she did not state the amount of money the company pays its employees, she said there were grave consequences for any of them who indulge in the habit. “If we discover anyone who indulges in the habit, we discipline and disengage them immediately. We blacklist them, they have been told,” she said.