Tuesday, 30 October 2012

(30): Nigerian youth, education and entrepreneurship

Ten years ago during the National Youth service Corp in Shagamu, Ogun State; we were visited in the camp by the representatives of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE). During the visit they gave us a lecture on the importance of entrepreneurship, self reliance and employment opportunities.
It was a beautiful presentation that is needed to help the Nigerian youth. Then came the questions and answer session. I got an opportunity to ask a question. On receiving the microphone, I thanked the representatives, but also made the following observations. First of all, it is too late for this effort to be made at the NYSC camp, because the values they were trying to inculcate in us should have been done the moment we stepped into the university. Equally important, it seems, there is little understanding of the psychology of the Nigerian graduate.

I recalled that when you go to the hostel, a lot of students discuss how to become ambassadors, or work in such places like the Central Bank, NNPC, Ports Authority and other lucrative areas. In fact during our final year in the university, our then head of department was teaching a course on newspaper production, he told us that the department was considering recruiting Graduate Assistants, and he asked how many of us would be interested. To the shock of our teacher, only two people raised their hands. A typical Nigerian youth, lives in an elusive and imaginary world. Sometimes the nature of our upbringing does not help matters, because we have been raised to simply collect money from our parents and spend, without contributing anything in the management of the house or engaging in any useful activity outside the household. 

Many do not understand the real world, until they graduate, distribute their one page CV to friends, families and other associates, and yet nothing comes up. And with the 'Nigerian factor' or ‘long leg’, they realise that getting to NNPC or Central Bank is not an easy task, then they begin to scale down their ambition.

The population of unemployed youths is alarming, but to curtail this problem, parents, teachers and community leaders need to seriously think of how to transform the thinking of our youth into self reliance and entrepreneurship. Waiting for government to provide employment will simply compound our problems particularly looking at the state of the economy.

But today let us concentrate on university graduates who usually think of white-collar jobs. It is important to target this group once they set their foot into the university. Courses like General Studies that universities offer should focus on entrepreneurship and help students to think of how they can use the knowledge they have acquired to provide employment for themselves. And in this age where information and communication technology make things easy, innovation and skill will not be too difficult to develop. The second strategy that can work is to use the undergraduate projects that students write, by motivating them to come up with topics that they can develop as life time projects, which they can then transform into a business after graduation.

The third option that can help is for the Corporate Affairs Commission to have a scheme that subsidises the registration of companies that can be developed into successful businesses by Nigerian graduates. This will help motivate young professionals to think of developing business ideas, whose beauty is not only about self reliance, but also providing employment to others.

Two years ago, I met a young Nigerian who studied a master’s degree in network engineering at Sheffield University. On return to Nigeria he immediately established a company, identified unemployed graduates in computer science and engaged them in the company. They developed a software that can be used to help doctors and hospital staff in handling patients, particularly queue management, record keeping etc. When we met earlier this year, he said “I left the UK unemployed, went to Nigeria and established a company, employed some graduates, now I have a job and a car, my sister has travelled to Dubai to do some shopping for my marriage, and I am here in the UK to purchase some materials needed for my business”. I saluted him and told him that he is my hero.
Our youth should understand that knowledge should not make us dependents on someone’s shoulders; rather it should make us independent such that we can serve as beacons of hope.


Newcastle upon Tyne


1 comment:

  1. This is a good piece, honest and wise. The Nigerian elitist mindset starts from day one in Primary school. Asked why he should study hard and complete school my then seven year old son replied, "so I will get a good job, a big car and plenty of money." I knew we had to deal with that value and attitude. Our children should learn among other things a sense of contribution to their families and communities. American and European youth appreciate the value of work, from get go. Chores at home and a part time job to earn money for spending and saving. I was in school with the daughter of a famous film star. I was shocked to find her right after settling in our room, looking in the situations vacant in the local news paper. These are stupendously rich folks. She found a job as a receptionist in a laundry. I learned that the deal with her parents was they'll pay her tuition but she'd have to earn her keep. An eighteen year old. I was a master's student on Scholarship and always whining about how small my stipend was and how late it arrived and pestering my family for hand outs. She wondered why I was not working. I knew then that something is seriously wrong with our system. Mark you, in addition she volunteers on several community programs as a matter of course. As parents we ought to help our kids to unlearn the entitlement mindset that is so prevalent. That would be a start. Then open their eyes to the reality of becoming employees versus being the employer. I see quite a few youth in the universities have got the message and earning their keeps. Soon it should be the pervasive culture and ideal behaviour. God help us though with the children of politicians with their money miss road values creating discontent and false expectations.