Finding work in Nigeria – Part 1

(Or, Working in Nigeria if you don’t have connections and aren’t from a wealthy family)

Two days ago I tweeted

and I was struck by how thankful I am that I had the option of working officially part time, from the age of 14 onwards, to earn some spending money. I say “officially” because from the age of 11 or 12 I was working “under the table” so to speak: babysitting for neighbours and getting paid a few dollars per hour (and before that I was babysitting my siblings but we all know my parents weren’t paying clients!).

In high school and beyond, some of my peers looked down on working in the fast food industry or in retail but as long as I was getting paid at least the minimum wage and the hours were compatible with my school and extra curricular interests, I didn’t have a problem working and I relished the freedom of being able to do what I wanted with my earnings. Contrast that to the average Nigerian university graduate who has difficulty finding a job, talk less finding a part time work as a secondary school student! My friend in Ondo state told me the opening of a new Mr. Biggs resulted in over three thousand applicants, many of them university degree holders, and it’s not uncommon to see well-educated people pumping gas. You see that in North America too, but many places here don’t want to invest time and money to hire somebody who is “overqualified”, who will constantly be looking for a more appropriate job. If you are a university graduate here, and you’re willing to do any job, even those that don’t require your level of education, you will be able to find two or three such jobs in North America that you can be doing. From my observations, this does not seem to be the case in Nigeria.

When my grandmother came to visit in 2004, she was surprised that all of her grandchildren, from my youngest brother who was 16 years old at the time to me, were going to school and working; she had thought that we’d be free to hang out with her all day, the way that some of our cousins do in Nigeria. We took time off from work of course, but it wasn’t like having us around every day during the six months that she stayed with us. But when we could bring home little treats for her, I know she appreciated it.

But back to jobs for university graduates: I know a few people in Nigeria in their 20s and 30s who come from very modest homes (example: the mother of one of them sells plastics and other housewares in a roadside job while the father is a retired teacher who is having difficulty collecting his pension; another’s mother is widowed and sell yams in the market). My friends are bright people who for lack of connections or opportunity may not get into the area of work they studied in university, where they can shine and make a difference to their family’s economic situation. In one particular case my friend’s foray into entrepreneurship plateaued when he and his business partner were unable to move things to the next level because they didn’t have enough money to buy any of their equipment and were instead renting them (and losing most of their profits because of that).

I learned last year that when it comes to getting an entry level job in a bank in Nigeria, it is in your best interest to be no older than 25, or you will not be hired. As a result people are lying about their age, and everyone knows this is part of the game (contrast that to Canada, where people in their teens lie about their age so they can get into bars and clubs with an age restriction, so they can enjoy themselves). People are shaving five or more years off their biological age so they can earn what is in fact a very modest wage.

It’s sad, and I wish I had the right connections to be of assistance. My family tree on my mom’s side has a wealthy abi healthy branch, but these are not the kind of people who would help out a blood relative, talk less the friend of a relative. So instead I intend to reach out to friends in Nigeria who seem to be doing well, find out their secrets of success and see if they can share it with me so that I can pass them on. Maybe some can help my other friends and family. It’s a bad situation when you live somewhere that you can’t even find work that you’re “overqualified” for, and even if you find such a job, you have to hope your employer will pay you wages: one of my cousins and one of my friends were in a situation where they were showing up for work, week after week and their employer wasn’t paying them. My cousin started operating a buying and selling (of shoes and clothing) business from the accounting firm where she worked, and her employer, knowing he wasn’t paying her, didn’t bother complaining that she was doing other work at his business because he was just glad that she was still coming in. She eventually left and thankfully found other work. My friend eventually had to leave his employer who wasn’t paying him.

And what about secondary school kids in Nigeria? It would be great if they had something to do to earn some spending money. One of my cousins and his pals are extremely talented dancers and they are getting very small gigs earning small naira, enough to buy credit for their phones when divided up. If they had part time jobs where they were earning a fair wage and they didn’t see their older siblings struggling to find jobs as college and university graduates, I bet they’d feel more excited about their future and be more encouraged to consider striving to get the marks needed for higher education. As it is now, getting my cousin to attend school is a family issue. You can tell that he is bored with life and not really so hopeful about the future. I’m not saying that having a part time job will magically make him want to attend school or even excel, but I think feeling like your efforts are paying off, and feeling that if you had even more education, your efforts would pay off in an even bigger way, could work.

I’m not at all conversant on the political situation, so maybe a lot of my complaints are in the midst of being addressed by the government. But then again, I’m pretty naive.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would welcome hearing them. Let’s see how we can help one another.

22 thoughts on “Finding work in Nigeria – Part 1

  1. It's really devastating to know that you come from a Country where people are almost forced to tell lies just to get a good job. It shouldn't be extremely difficult for a hard-working person to get one. Hope this changes soon.

    PS: You've been awarded the Stylish & Versatile Blogger award. Check the Lamp Blog for more details: :)

  2. This your post is very real, it really is a big deal for people to get jobs. Everyday government says one thing or the other but all the money budgeted for such interventions end up going elsewhere but where they're meant for. The prayer is that things keep improving, with time, maybe the banks will begin to lend money to small entrepreneurs.

  3. 1. This is the first blog post I've read of yours, and I can already say that I love your blog 2. I can relate to this post as many of my cousins live in Cameroon, and cannot find work. It's sad. My eldest cousin there is pretty dejected. He wants things like any 19 year-old would, yet does not have the means to purchase them. I really wish there were more opportunities. What can our youth over there do? I'm quite pessimistic about African politicians; do they really care about the people? I guess that can be said everywhere, but in Africa, generally speaking, the disinterest and selfishness seems more flagrant.

  4. I think the base problem is there aren't a lot of jobs to start with, and where there is a scarcity, people are wont to find ways to improve their chances. As I understand it, it used to be that banks mopped up quite a few graduates from the unemployed pool – but even that has tailed off thanks to the recent reforms that showed a lot of them for what they really were. I hear the National Stadium was used for staging recruitment tests during the latest NDLEA exercise. There is also the 'small' matter of a preference for people with foreign degrees in quite a few of the oil multi-nationals..

    The younger chaps I talk to these days seem to use getting a foreign graduate degree and getting a job outside Nigeria as their strategy. Even that is both expensive and increasingly becoming difficult to pull off as many countries try to protect jobs… Bleak situation all round.. Sadly..

  5. No, the government is not in the midst of trying to find solutions to these problems, rather they are plotting how to further enslave us!
    This topic is something I'm passionate about because it affects me directly. I'm a recent university graduate and before I can get a decent job, I need to undergo the mandatory NYSC and this WICKED people(govt) hasnt sent my graduating ste on this programme and this is the 4th month of graduation.
    In order to combat the boredom and listlessness associated with waiting for the rubbish NYSC, I have tried getting a job. All I have been able to find are 2-3week jobs, and I am back to staying home. It's sooo frustrating.
    The only thing I can do, I think, is to vote, work extremely hard ('cos there are a FEW great jobs availabe post-NYSC) and pray for the favour of God and maybe even an American Visa Lottery :-)

  6. This is a very real problem indeed and I am glad you brought it up. This is one of the many problems Nigeria are facing that unfortunately seems to cause ripple effects in the country, long lasting effects that can be very damaging. One of the biggest downsides Im thinking about is the fact that it's discouraging people from getting an education. This is also reminding me about all the curriculum I've had in school on corruption and economics..there's a profound root problem in Nigeria; many places, jobs that aren't NEEDED are created..and where there are jobs, I imagine (correct me if I'm wrong) many people get it "under the table" meaning, through connections, whether they are qualitifed or not. This thoroughly cripples the entire work market and makes the economy extremely inefficient. Most of the work in Nigeria is in the informal market, which also keeps people in poverty and prevents them from having the rights and benefits they would have had if they were formally employed. It's very saddening because there are so many smart, qualified people, who suffer and cannot find work to provide for their families.

    So, needless to say, I think this problem is hard so solve and needs to be combatted on the ground level..most especially the corruption must be fought and there should be stricter restrictions when it comes to hiring…and also more monitoring. But this is far ahead. How can this be expected to happen, when there are also so many other problems to be tackled…And the problem is also when the system IS like that, people have no other choice than to emerge themselvse in the same way of handling things, trying to get jobs through connections etc.

    All that being said, GNG, Ive missed YOU and your blog loads. I heard about you from Enkay recently…And I am glad to be back. Thank you so much for your warm comments on my blog. lotsa love!

  7. You've said it all ……am a product of not having connection! ..sorry can't help here…even small businesses are collapsing…..our govt?…smh…see what happened in Tunisia!…

  8. Wait a minute, you said you began baby sitting btw the ages of 11-12?…..interesting….becox SOME people argued with me when i said something similar in one of my older post' IF NAH YOUR PICKIN NKO?'….some thought i was being wicked or harsh & child abuse, when my friend chima got a gal of 11 to look after her kids at weekend only when she goes for her master part-time programme……& i asked if the gal was her daughter nko? wouldn't she had looked after her younger ones?…tnxx.

  9. You cannot begin to understand how frustrating it is. University degrees here are more or less worthless. You have lawyers, engineers and architects working as part time staff in a call center. The truth is not everybody can be an entrepreneur, some would rather just do 9to 5 but for where…in 9ja the choice is not yours to make.

  10. I read this and felt really unhappy.

    It is sad that this is the reality in Nigeria…I forgot for a second but you brought it right back to mind…this is why we need to create jobs in Nigeria.

    The few jobs are not enough to go round.

    I'm off to think about this:(

  11. This another example of the immense waste of resources, in this case, human, goin on in NIgeria. I know several people whom I went to sch with, n now hold Master's degrees in various fields and most are unemployed and others serve as food service waiters/waitresses. Sad. Americans complain about Obama (me too, I confess) but everytime I think of the situation in Nigeria …. well…..

    it's funny, dat U mention working when you where young. I tried to get a PT job when I was 15. My dad who just moved to d states from NIgeria when absolutely horrified that his 'kids' would be working. seemed to think it implied he oculdn't care for his family. I kinda thot it was some kinda cultural thing.

  12. Ehm, you can like to give us a "long post" warning next time. LOL.

    Per the job situation, honestly, it beats the heck outta me! Being here, it doesn't allow me to "feel" what exactly is going on over there. I can only read with my eyes or hear with my ears. I only know one person who got a job in Nigeria without any connections. And that was God's favor.

  13. Hi GNG, first of all I love your blog, I started reading all your post from December last year and I just finished every thing yay!!!
    The job thing in Naija is crazy, graduates can't get good jobs just a handfull of people without connections are lucky enough. Imagine you study for 4-7 years (insert time wasted due to ASUU strike if u went to a State or Federal uni), you graduate and get posted for mandatory N.Y.S.C that pays 8k "allowee" monthly.. TBH its so sad that young people can't get jobs in retail stores, fast food joint et al.. Students hardly get internships either, its unfair what the politicians are doing to our youths but I can only pray it gets better..

  14. As a double Masters degree holder currently seeking work, I totally get this post! absolutely frustrating.

  15. This is a big problem in Nigeria. Many of my college educated cousins are jobless, not because of laziness but because of lack or work. My dad started a business in Nigeria a while back and hired several of them. Unfortunately his sister's eldest son was stealing much of the profit from the business, but that's a whole 'nother story…

  16. I had a recent talk with someone about jobs and I can say I am going to approach this from a different angle…I think we are trained to be lazy in Nigeria!!! The norm of living with your folks till you re settled in your job or married makes a lot of us Naija kids lazy, dependent and umm choosy. 18 yr olds here have work experience no matter how minor while a 28 yr olds from Naija with 2 degrees to boot moan about not having a job cause they keep looking for something 'befitting' their status. They should all wake up. Its all about learning how to be responsible and choosing to be independent.
    And what happened to self employment? it still works in Naija. I remember one of the best Plumbing services we used. the guy was a graduate. But he approached his job with such professionalism that my neighbours and I were recommending him right and left all over Lagos. That guy is taking care of his business and getting respect and growing.
    I grew up like the typical naija kid but i sure know my kids are going to be raised different….. to be independent.

  17. I had a recent talk with someone about jobs and I can say I am going to approach this from a different angle…I think we are trained to be lazy in Nigeria!!! The norm of living with your folks till you re settled in your job or married makes a lot of us Naija kids lazy, dependent and umm choosy. 18 yr olds here have work experience no matter how minor while a 28 yr olds from Naija with 2 degrees to boot moan about not having a job cause they keep looking for something 'befitting' their status. They should all wake up. Its all about learning how to be responsible and choosing to be independent.

  18. Hi Ginger!! Yeah, that's totally right. We are quiet lazy in that we depend on our parents a lot. But families in Nigeria tend to depend on each other cause they have so little. Part time job? is there even such a thing in Naija?? The only part time job you can get is something you're doing with your own hands- like the dancing, and such.

    It's sad, especially as we haven't even skimmed the top of Nigeria's economic potential!

  19. Wow…..*just took my hands off my phone’s keypad to give you a serious round of different sounds of applausesss*
    dis post totally got to me and before you even landed i already knew where you were coming from.its painful to see energetic,vibrant and brilliant youths waste away or end up in the wrong profession due to their inability to get a real good job.
    Some employers now take advantage of the fact that the population of unemployed graduate is high and so turn their employees to slave since they know they have a large basket of desperate job seekers to pick from.MAY ALMIGHTY GOD HELP US.
    My sis i love what you are trying to do here and i did b glad if u trully did it….
    Btw u no i hv alwaz liked ur style of shows how connected u r 2 ur roots cos im tired of reading blogs written by nigerian ladies who doug grew up abroad hv decided to be white, vain,classy n plain boring…..good job.:-*

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