Surviving Nigeria as a Graduate Today
By: Deji Yesufu
Kunle Ojeleye told the story of how he left the shores of Nigeria as a young graduate back in 1989. He had sought the help of a number of people; people he felt would ordinarily help him. These people were friends to his parent but he was horribly disappointed. None of them came to his rescue. He eventually took the offer an uncle was providing him to leave the shores of Nigeria. Ojeleye’s story, which he relayed on his timeline on Facebook, is similar to what most Nigerian graduates experience from the mid-1980s, when Nigeria began to experience a downturn in her economic situation, to this moment. When I left school in 2003 and had completed my NYSC, I spoke with one of my father’s friends on the matter of getting a job. He said: “Jobs are scarce in Nigeria… but if you will be patient, it will come. These things take time. The only thing is that no one knows how long…” I learnt of one man who graduated from the University of Ibadan and until his death, sometime in his early 50s, he was never gainfully employed. Those are the kinds of stories we hear about graduates and job hunt in Nigeria. In this article, I want to suggest a few ways Nigerian graduates can survive the harsh economic reality all around us today in this country.
The first admonition I want to give is that young Nigerians should have, develop and increase in their sense of responsibility – generally. A retired civil servant, who lives close to my house and sells provision, asked me to help his son get a job where I work. The first thing I asked him was this: “Baba, your son is looking for job but I have never seen him in this provision store selling for you.” If I had opportunity to recommend that boy for a job, I would not because he has clearly failed in my observation of him.
Our young people need to realize that the work that anyone will pay for must be a job that will add value to a system. Gone are the days in this country when free money roamed the streets of Lagos. Today, if you will earn a Naira, not steal, you would have to work for it. And since there are no jobs, the people who will earn these monies are people who have enough sense of responsibility to recognize needs in people’s lives and offer themselves to fill that need. But they must also realize that people grow in their sense of responsibility. A child that does not know how to offer a hand of help to his or her parent, under whose roof he lives, is not likely to know what to do when he or she is in the outside world. The first thing our young people must do is to quit social media, abandon the television and develop an attitude for work that is etched in a sense of responsibility. Today, first class or second class upper will not save anyone from unemployment. It is what you can do that will give you a job and you will not be able to do anything except you have built a work ethic etched in a thorough sense of responsibility.
The second thing that our young graduates must realize is that they are almost too late to the Nigerian labor market if the first time they ever worked was when they left the university. This is what happened to some of us and we paid dearly for it. I have promised myself that it will not happen to my children. I look back now and wonder what I did with those few months between primary and secondary school; what did I do with my long vacations in secondary school; what did I do with the almost 18 months strike between 1994/1995 in the university. I remember what I did with the latter of these situations: I learnt how to play chess and spent long hours playing the game. A game that add nothing to me today except recreation.
There is no reason why children, leaving primary school, and with a few months on their hands before proceeding to secondary school, cannot use such a period to learn a trade, or skill, or follow Daddy or Mummy to the office and learn the work of a personal assistant. The long vacations during secondary school can be used to learn some skill. The mechanic, Tunde Onokanya, here in Ibadan, offers to train secondary school children in auto-mechanic during their long vacations. I am thankful to my Dad who took my brothers and I to learn typing sometimes after my secondary school. All my essays today come from that skill. Our young people do not have to spend all their time with season movies or on the phone; those things are sure ways to poverty. They must begin to work with their hands the moment they are out of primary school and are old enough to do some responsibilities. All of these things will key into a curriculum vitae and make them stand out from others in the future. Some others may never even write a CV because in the process of working, they would have discovered their niche and must have begun to produce something for the community they live in that will earn them a lot of money such that they might have even begun to make money long before they leave the university. Again, if the first time you are working is when you left the campus, you are already too late to the Nigerian labor market. Others would have gained a head-start that could take you years to catch up on.
Third: VOLUNTEER! I cannot say this enough and thus the reason why I must bold it at this point. Our young people must learn to volunteer; they must learn to work for free and while doing this, opportunities for jobs will open up to them. A heart for volunteer jobs exhumes from a mind that has a sense of responsibility. A lot of people are too suspicious of others and they think that everybody is out to use them. The truth of the matter is that in the early days of our work life, we would be used. In fact I think the way the world works is that you do most of the hard labor of life in your younger days and earn little; and then you do less work in your older days and earn more. If a person despises work and does not have a sense of responsibility, that shows forth in volunteer jobs, that person will suffer for it in his older days – when he would need to work more and earn money to cater for the large responsibilities that adult life shores up.
Most things about this life are anchored on volunteering. Most of those who are earning big on a certain job today, first of all volunteered their time and effort to do those things for free once. Also, our parents must encourage our young people to volunteer themselves for work. During my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in Yola, Adamawa State, I worked briefly for the Deeper Life Headquarters Church in that town. Then I moved on to work for a construction company, while at the same time I lived in the Deeper Life Church apartment given to me. The State Overseer, Pastor James Akpofure, and the person who was my first boss, has a son who had learnt computer hardware repairs as of the time he was just in his early secondary school. His father told him that he could repair people’s computers for them but he forbade him from collecting money for those services. The time will come for him to collect money but for not now, he was to volunteer his skills.
Everything that I am today came about by volunteering to serve other people. I remember working for a Church and publishing their quarterly magazine. I suffered doing that job; I could write a book about my experience there. It was a thankless work and I was often criticized for it. But I left that church with a reward; a reward that no man could give but only God. Even the whole blogging thing that I do today is volunteering to give people information – free of charge – and not getting anything in return. Most times what I get are insults; but we press on, knowing that one’s reward remains ahead. So, young man and woman, volunteer to work. Don’t complain. Just work and trust God for his own time to pay back.
Lastly, on this note of volunteering: I would implore parents to support their young people as they volunteer. Volunteering to work may not earn them a living wage but it would give the young person a lot of experience that could prove rewarding for another job. Parents would have to do what parents do while your child or ward does the volunteer work: you would have to support them and hopefully you would not have to do that for too long before they get a proper job.
Fourth: While waiting for that dream job, you could spend your time doing what you love doing. Now, loving to eat or watch TV or talk or keeping a girlfriend is not the kind of thing I have in mind here. There are hundreds of things people love doing that can prove rewarding in the days to come. I used to love writing and when there was no Facebook, I would write into notebooks and just store them away. What you love doing may be cooking or singing or writing or driving or helping others. God created every human being with something they can do and do without stress. You must discover yours and learn to do that thing and do it well. It is something you will ordinarily do without pay; so hone that skill and someday it may become the means with which you can earn some extra cash for yourself. Again, this is premised on a sound sense of responsibility. With time you can take what you love doing very well, hone it into a workable skill and use it to produce something that people are ready to pay a lot of money for. Thus, I enjoin our young graduates to have useful hobbies and look out for making them into something that can bring money their way.
Fifth: I want to implore our young people to learn to do the right thing, always. This might sound moralistic in a way but the truth of the matter is that our worlds is not so depraved that people cannot recognize good and reward it. At each junction life, we would be tempted to cut corners and follow a short cut; our young people must desist from engaging in such acts. I finished with NYSC when I was 26. My name still appeared in the NYSC call-up system twice every year until I was 30. Throughout this period I had no job but I chose not to go for another NYSC because it was not the right thing to do. There are hundreds of other examples. Somebody told me that his company received 6 Sure-P enrolments from the Federal Government recently. All of them called in and said they do not wish to work for him and are ready to part with ten thousand naira each, every month, if he would accept them and just sign their documents and pretend to government that they are working on his company. My friend wondered at the kind of youths our country was producing.
One would think that the rising religious fervor in our universities should instill some fear of God in our young people but this is not the case. Recently, I shared a two-apartment building with a young man for three years and I just wondered at how his mind worked. He did not work but was living in a three bedroom house. After a while, he could not pay for basic amenities like power. He was eventually evicted. One could never tell what he was doing to survive. Some people alleged it was yahoo-yahoo but since I never saw him in the act, I could not say so for sure. The earth is based on some laws and I think that those laws are premised on what we do in life. If we do good, we will reap good; if we do evil, we will reap that equally. Our young people should commit to doing what is right, no matter what and trust God for rewards.
As you do this, it is not wrong to apply to companies for jobs. You can also seek the favor of family members and friends. You should do everything and anything your friends and colleagues are doing, within the law, to get a job. But I am positive that the job that would come to you and be yours without your having to know anyone, or beg anyone for it, are the ones that come as a result of practicing and perfecting the five aforementioned qualities in this essay. I believe there are many other such qualities. While you endeavor to work and live responsibly, those qualities will come forth and you should increase more and more in them. It is possible that one can so develop oneself in these qualities that you end up not working for anybody at all and you would be earning good money at the same time.
One last thing: having done all and even as you do these things, our young people must learn to wait for their own rewards. They must eschew greed and the temptation for quick riches. While you volunteer, you must be patient for the job to come. While you serve a master, you must be content with a little pay. You should wait, wait and wait. Let me chip in a little religious admonition here: the Bible talks about God being the Father of all creation and as parents provide for their children, God provides for all his creation. There is a provision for every man. You would however come into it as you endeavor to do the right things. These will lead ultimately to your own good in life; such good that will bring fulfilment, joy and peace. There is no short cut to success; but there is a sure way to it. I believe this is the way Providence apportions good to all creation. And this is the way I believe that young graduates in Nigeria can survive the harsh economic climate that Nigeria has found itself in.