One of the easiest and surest ways to annoy me is by making sweeping, derogatory statements about ‘Nigerian Youths’ around my space. Nigerian youths are lazy, unemployable, unmotivated, unserious or whatever other adjective you want to use, keep it to yourself.
It is triply annoying when these statements are made and nothing is said about the lifeless system that makes this possible. People would sneer about graduates who cannot write their names and extrapolate their contempt on the entire youth population but would forget to ask the pertinent question – how did this person go through all these schools if they cannot write their own name correctly?
One Thursday in October when I was ten years old, I resumed at FGGC Bida and was assigned to Culverwel house by my admission letter. On the same day, another young girl arrived school for the first time, she too was posted to Culverwel. For the purpose of this post, we’ll call her Sunita.
Sunita couldn’t speak English language, she could only understand it a little. It was so bad that when she was asked her name, she said something else in Hausa, thinking she was asked what house she was posted too. Her answer became the moniker she was known by throughout her stay, even on the threat of punishment by successive house captains, the name stuck.
Sunita learned to speak English pretty well in her two years at Bida, she never forgot anything you taught her and her vocabulary of insults soon became the best in Culverwel and perhaps, the whole school. She was brilliant but had just not been exposed to the language. Sadly, she was withdrawn from school because she repeated JSS1 two times and that was grounds for withdrawal.
If she had attended a state secondary school however, she and I would have written JSCE at the same time, as well as WASSCE. I remember the first time I sat in a staff room of a Lagos state owned secondary school and the vice principal academics walked in to tell the teachers that all students were to be promoted because the government made such a directive.
“Even those who didn’t pass any subject?” I asked my father in shock after she had left.
He laughed and said nothing, I had just finished JSS1 and if I hadn’t gotten 45 marks in six subjects, I would have spent two years in JSS1.
Sunita would have been promoted if she had been in that school and her English wouldn’t necessarily get any better. She would have written WASSCE and passed it eventually and being from an Educationally Least Developed State, gaining admission to a university would be not even be a major headache- while her more qualified classmate would write UME for a few more years even with much better marks.
She would scale through this hypothetical undergraduate studies by the skin of her teeth and maybe a few horizontal tangoes with randy billy goats. She would then go on to NYSC camp and become one of the graduates who cannot write their names that we find in camps across the nation.
She and many others like her would enter into the labour market and become part of the throng of unemployable graduates and people would write thousands of posts about how the average Nigerian graduate knows nothing. But I ask, why should he know anything? What are the rewards for being employable? The thirty to seventy thousand naira monthly jobs that Nigerian graduates give testimonies about in church, when they finally land such jobs? Or the ‘plum’ jobs that no longer have merit as part of the selection process.
Why should the smart graduate who has access to small funds and opportunity to travel, stay back in Nigeria to be devalued constantly? Isn’t sad that loneliness, enduring extreme weather and facing racism are far more palatable options than staying in your country being unable to afford a basic life. Or watching a loved one die in the reception of a government hospital because the emergency unit is full.
When people talk about brain drain and people who use Nigerian funded education and refuse to contribute their quota to national development, they only think about Nigerians abroad. I find it interesting how they don’t see that the teeming number of unemployed and underutilised graduates is a greater waste of our resources than the people who go abroad and still remit money home – a higher source of forex than crude oil, according to the World Bank and Nigerian government.
Oga Joe Attueyi I know I promised to waka pass on this matter, but…
They don’t remember that our chemical engineers who sell human hair on Instagram, our lawyers who own spas at Lekki, our education graduates who begin to run catering services and bake cakes after years of job hunting – these people too were educated with government resources. They wanted to contribute their quota to nation building with the skills and knowledge they acquired from government universities.
But where are the jobs or the environment to utilize these skills and be self employed?
Instead we hold these people as shining examples of entrepreneurship. In this theatre of the absurd called Nigeria, we celebrate that our young people have to make a living by buying and selling when we have huge gaps they should be filling. And really, why should they have to go to the university/polytechnic if they were going to end up doing business. Shouldn’t that time have been invested in an apprenticeship in that business? Too many people pursuing certificates they would never use.
Imagine if we utilised half of our chemistry and chemical engineering graduates in our manufacturing industries. What if we gathered a few hundred of them and tasked them with making paint in fantastic shades and hues. This paint would be long lasting and totally compatible with tropical weather, in a few years that collective would totally overrun the paint market in Africa and the Caribbean’s. They would provide employment to thousands along the value chain as well bring in foreign exchange to Nigeria.
But this is Nigeria where one stupid government policy would make their success stillborn. People who own ‘successful’ paint industries are leaving Nigeria already. The businesses that were the hotshot, buzzworthy symbols of just five years ago have either folded up or on their last legs – except they have heavy government patronage.
That unfortunately, is the new reality of Nigeria. If your business is not a funnel for money laundry or you do not have deep roots and connections in government. All your strategy and business sense and courses at Harvard Business School or Lagos Business School might not save you. Unless you are running a school or importing clothes and accessories.
And yes, if you are running a church.
Yesterday, I saw several people share the same post on Facebook, of the publicity walk for Mercy – a housemate in the ongoing Big Brother Naija reality show. These people who shared the post were unanimous in their contempt for these people who could walk under the sun in Ikeja to mobilise votes for a housemate but would not come out to vote for the politicians who directly affect their lives or to protest against punitive policies and plans of government.
I live in almost shouting distance from Aguda and Ago Palace, a long walk or less than 100 naira keke ride would take me to either place. They were the epicentres of widespread election violence in the recent elections, I heard about the violence before it was reported in the news, saw people running on the street with blood stains on their bodies from my balcony. And all for what? Elections that the winners had already been decided.
Two years ago, in the midst of a grueling fuel crisis, Nigerian musician 2Face Idibia called for a protest and cancelled it a few hours to kickoff. While he was vilified and derided for his ‘cowardice’, the whole matter sent a chill down my soul. If an international figure like 2Face could be threatened so severely that he would rather face public humiliation than press on for his goal, then what was the hope of the anonymous youth who could get thrown into jail and forgotten forever.
Visit any prison in Nigeria and the stories of inmates awaiting trial can make you cry; people have been in jail for years for owning less than 5,000 naira. Omoyele Sowore was granted bail recently and one of the conditions was a fifty-million-naira deposit, while the bail conditions are stringent. Let us not forget that this bail is only possible due to the huge outcry over the case.
This is only because he is Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters and accomplished journalist, he is not Chinanuekpere Ezenwa-Ajaero – an unknown pharmacist who is still living with her parents.
Why are our youths more interested in entertainment? Because it gives a surer reward. I would feel more assured that my vote counts if I vote for a BBNaija house mate from the comfort of my home or office than if I go out in the sun or rain to queue for hours to vote for the member of the house of representatives for my constituency.
While I was in Abuja recently, I listened to a friend tell of how he went to different polling centres in his neighbourhood to get the results for the presidential elections, using his own money and risking his life to go from unit to unit. But when the official results for those units were announced, they were not the same. He gave up on Nigeria after that experience and I felt very sad for Nigeria, for my friend is passionate about all he holds dear.
If I had an eighteen-year-old sibling and they came to me with a dilemma, where they had to choose between holding on to university admission or going for a reality show of the caliber of BBNaija, I would tell my sibling to go for BBNaija and defer that admission for a year. He can lose the admission if it can’t be deferred, because this is a surer way to bright future in Nigeria. You know how parents tell their children to go to school, get good grades and be assured of a better tomorrow. These days it’s entertainment that offers a good reward for excellence.
I was raised on the music of the Abami Eda and in the nearly thirty years I can remember bobbing my head to his sax and drums, nothing has changed. The characters he sang about and their cronies are still in power, we are still suffering and smiling, 49 sitting and 99 standing isn’t even true anymore, we’re all trekking now.
Recently, I was talking to a young pharmacist serving in Lagos. He works in a pharmacy and he is paid 35,000 naira for working five-hour evening shifts, five days a week and he works the full weekend, on alternate basis.
The evening shift is the grueling shift in a pharmacy, it is when the most sales is done but most of all, when consultation requests come in. Because these people can mostly not afford to visit the hospital, you are left to do the job of the doctor and laboratory scientist. You must also get it right at first try or lose the customer forever.
I was incensed by his situation. When I was a corper in 2014/5 I held down the same kind of job for fifty thousand naira and I took it only because it was close to my house. I could either walk or take a fifty-naira bus, I mostly walked. He listened to me rant about the unfairness of it, at the time I was earning more a little over 200 USD for the same job he was earning just under 100USD for. Then he smiled and said, that’s just the way it is.
Last week, my friend told me what the going rate for fulltime community pharmacist jobs in Lagos was and I was shocked beyond words. Private hospitals rarely even employ pharmacists these days, preferring instead to go for pharmacy technicians who are by far cheaper even though this is actually dangerous. It is not economically viable to pay professionals in this economy, they say. We will soon have a generation of job-seeking pharmacists, an anomaly that makes one shudder. Or they can just head to Canada.
I wonder how Femi Kuti feels when he listens to Wonder Wonder which was released in 1995 or the 1998 smash hit Sorry Sorry. Isn’t it sad that twenty-odd years later – our confusion no dey break bones again as his father sang in 1990, na diamonds e dey break.
I listen to those songs and remember my childhood and how hopeful people were at the dawn of democracy. But Femi saw it, he knew that these incoming politicians and outgoing soldiers were one and the same, they were not coming to repair but to spoil things as he sang repeatedly in Sorry Sorry.
The chorus is exactly what I feel for Nigeria and indeed Africa – I feel very sorry for my homeland.
I’m listening to Wonder Wonder as I type, I remember being fascinated by the word wonderer when listened to the song as a young girl in primary school, I had a massive crush on Femi in those days – he was ridiculously handsome. Egbon Bolaji e bami ki Crush mi.
What was a wonderer? I thought. Was I already a wonderer? I was curious about the world and asked many questions, was that who a wonderer was?
Sadly, I have come to understand the word as used in the song. Nigeria has done this to me.
It has brought me to the point where I have ‘turn to wonderer’.