(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.