by Idris Bello
And I also think the habit of thinking some jobs or professions are beneath a graduate is the same pride that does not allow a lot of graduates to become entrepreneurs because they think they are too educated to run a restaurant or a food delivery service, or worse even, a sanitation business!
Several years ago in Nigeria, I came across a job application, and in true Naija lingo, the guy had begun the application with those exact words “I beg to apply for the job of…” I am sure some of you have also come across similar applications, and it is from that perspective that I choose to comment on the brouhaha concerning the plan by the Dangote Group to hire graduates into the Dangote Academy to become professional heavy vehicle drivers.
“What was he thinking of? The indignity! The shame! After 4 or more years within the walls of a University, Dangote expects me to work as a driver? Aha, he has no degree, which is why he can even think of such!”
The responses I have seen on this seemingly simple issue have ranged from the sensible to the ludicrous. As I am otherwise occupied with other things, I had refrained from commenting on the topic. However, after reading Lagos Hunter’s article on YNaija declaring it an insult, I knew I had to respond.
I will not attempt to reel out all the reasons why I think the idea is a welcome one. Yes, I believe there is nothing wrong with it. My Great Ife friend and blogger, Suraj Oyewale has already done an excellent job analysing all the issues logically on his blog. You should read it. But permit me to quote him, “lack of analytical review of policies and events, is at the root of the pervasive bolekaja criticism that has made public debate an exercise in waste of time and resources in Nigeria.”
Hence I choose to write from a perspective most of us rarely consider. From the viewpoint of empathy. Putting oneself in the shoes of the people affected. Trying to understand what it is that will make a graduate ‘stoop’ to the level of applying for the job of a driver.
Let me share with you a personal story.
A few years back, I had left a comfortable job in Nigeria for what I had imagined would be a fully-funded Masters program in the US, but surprisingly all my expected sources of funding suddenly dried up.
Armed with a 1st Class degree in Computer Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University, I had quickly begun looking for a temporary job during the summer to hold body and soul together. However, my job search was encumbered by two things; first, I was on a student visa, which meant I could only work for 20 hours weekly, and I did not have permission to work outside campus. Second, I had not managed to shake off even the tiniest bit of my Nigerian accent in the six months I had been in the US. But those two facts did not stop me from trying.
Interview after interview, one written test followed another. I did not discriminate in the kinds of jobs I applied for. It ranged from applications to teach in Kaplan GRE classes, to jobs as a delivery guy for parcels on the university campus. I interviewed for the position of an administrative clerk on the same day as I applied to work at a day-care. I even considered that exclusive preserve of Nigerians in the USA; cab driving, but without a commercial driving license, even that was off-limits. If my culinary expertise had not been limited to boiling eggs and making eba (the kind that bounces back when you throw it at the wall), I would have applied for a job in a restaurant.
Just as I was about giving up, and few days after I had run out of the last five dollars I needed to buy a calling card to call my folks back in Nigeria, I managed to secure a job.
It was a job with a landscaping company. No, not as a manager. I was to join the other members of staff, mostly undocumented immigrants from across the Mexican border in mowing lawns. But at this point, I had gone past caring.
I remembered mowing large patches of grass growing up in Nigeria. Not the kind of manicured lawns that abound in Houston. Rather it was the kind of grass we called ‘stubborn’ grass or ‘elephant’ grass; tall wicked patches of grass. I had no fear of wielding the cutlass again if that was what it required to make some money legally while I waited for school to start again in Fall.
However, there were some problems I did not think off. First, no one used cutlasses here. I had to learn how to trim grass using string trimmers. Being the most junior and inexperienced member of staff, I was also responsible for using the forced air from the blowers to blow leaves or debris into piles after the day’s work , before packing them into large black refuse bags we always carried for that purpose.
After some weeks on the job, and with the addition of some new employees, I was to move up the lawn-mowing food chain. I started using the gasoline-powered mower to cut the lawn, and also became responsible for giving the flowers a nice manicure. I no longer had to blow refuse, or use the string trimmer.
However, what made this even more difficult was that it was summer. In Houston.
Temperatures above a hundred degrees Fahrenheit (close to forty degrees Celsius) were normal. And day in, day out, I was out there each day, in the hot sun, from sunrise till sunset. All for a paltry daily salary of $40!
Why? Because I needed a job.
And that is what a lot of folks who have cried themselves hoarse on this Dangote issue do not understand. When you are at that point, it is no longer about a ‘befitting’ job. The so called ‘dignity’ that makes you think you are above the job of a truck driver because you have spent five years moving from one university lecture hall to another (sometimes without absorbing anything) will not pay your transport fare from Oshodi to Ojota. Neither will it buy a recharge card for your fiancée.
A few years ago, a friend of mine in Nigeria could not find a job despite having a Masters degree from the University of Ibadan. She had to resort to teaching at a ‘private’ secondary school in Lagos for a paltry salary of N6000 which barely covered her transport fare. Today, she is a lecturer in a Federal institution. But at that point, she did what she had to do!
I am a big advocate for people creating their own opportunities and not waiting to seek employment, but I am also realistic that not everyone is cut out for that. And I also think the habit of thinking some jobs or professions are beneath a graduate is the same pride that does not allow a lot of graduates to become entrepreneurs because they think they are too educated to run a restaurant or a food delivery service, or worse even, a sanitation business! Several of my colleagues in graduate school in the US worked in stores and shopping malls during their undergraduate years doing jobs that Nigerians would have considered ‘below’ them, learning skills that proved to be useful later in life!
Now, I also believe most of the people arguing against the Dangote decision have not read the vacancy notice from the company. He has not made being a university graduate a condition for hiring. All he has done is to include BSc holders along with NCE, OND, HND, holders in the list of those who can apply. Do you wish he had excluded the millions of jobless university graduates from applying for a job that will pay a N500,000 a month salary? How many other jobs in Nigeria pay that kind of salary without the requirement that you must not be older than 23 years old, have a 2’1, and have five years of experience?
I know of many people who hide their degrees when applying for jobs meant for school leavers and OND holders. Why? Because it is simply a matter of demand and supply! Where you have a country with millions of graduates and very few jobs, even Ph.D. holders would write aptitude tests to drive trucks! Let Dangote be!
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.