Tade Oladipupo, a 24-year-old Ibadan-based job seeker looked at the receptionist for the umpteenth time, stunned by the latter’s response to his enquiry. He had just been informed that Strategic Outsourcing Limited (SOL), a recruitment company, does not require him to pay any amount for job interview. He smiled, picked his bag gently, and wobbled down the stairs of the company’s reception unit.
It was March 2021, at the Iwo Road office of Strategic Outsourcing Limited (SOL). This reporter had presented himself as a jobseeker to staff of the Ibadan office of SOL but, like Tade, was told that the company does not demand job seekers to pay money for ‘registration’. He was directed to simply return the next Tuesday with copies of his curriculum vitae and passport photographs.
Mr Oladipupo later told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that he was shocked to know that the company does not demand money from job seekers at the point of interview, unlike many other recruitment firms.
“This is a huge surprise for me,” he said, his facial expression a mélange of shock and bewilderment.
“I have attended interviews in different places and I know how much I have paid to at these places. This is really nice and I hope to get a job from this company.”
In Lagos, however, two applicants who got bank teller jobs through SOL office told PREMIUM TIMES in separate interviews that the remuneration package “was not really impressive” but the company ensured that they were employed without defrauding them of their hard-earned money.
Musiliu Akande, an Ibadan-based career coach, told PREMIUM TIMES that there are recruitment agencies providing legitimate opportunities for job seekers but their efforts have only been overshadowed by the fraudulent activities of other companies.
“Too many fraudulent companies have made a mess of the integrity of other reputable firms,” he explained. “But we still have genuine companies providing job opportunities for young people in Nigeria.”
Mr Akande explained further that the job crisis isn’t peculiar to the private sector alone, adding that the rot is equally in the public sector. He cited instances of the various job scams involving government recruitment, the mad rush to secure public sector jobs, and its attendant tragic consequences, like the immigration recruitment tragedy of 2014.
In March 2014, at least 16 people were killed in stampedes for government jobs as hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians were invited to apply for fewer than 5,000 job positions.
Applicants besieged test centres in all the 36 states and Abuja, leading to stampedes. In the Federal Capital Territory alone, more than 60,000 candidates filled the national stadium venue of the recruitment exams, and were allowed access to the venue through only a single doorway.
The then Interior Minister, Abba Moro, came under fire when he held the applicants responsible for the tragedy, saying they “lost their lives through their impatience.”
Angry Nigerians called for the minister’s resignation, alongside the comptroller of Immigration Service, after seven applicants died in stampedes in Abuja, while at least four died in Port Harcourt and two slumped and died in Minna, Niger State.
Mr Moro now represents Benue South in the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
In the wake of the 2014 tragedy, many Nigerians said that the desperation shown by job seekers is a reflection of the unemployment crisis among Nigerian youthful population.
Recession, galloping inflation
Between 2014 and 2021, Nigeria has gone through two economic recessions and unemployment rate has more than quadrupled.
In recent years, the economic situation has degenerated, especially for young unemployed people, as they struggle to survive amid pandemic-induced recession and skyrocketing food prices.
Nigeria’s inflation rate rose to 17.33 per cent in February 2021. It was the highest inflation rate recorded in four years. In January, inflation rose to 16.47 per cent amid skyrocketed food prices.
Nigeria’s food inflation rose to the highest level since 2008 in January, a sombre illustration of the crisis the nation’s food sector has faced, with millions of poor citizens struggling daily to buy food at exorbitant rates even as others have been pushed out of gainful employment by the economic effect of Covid-19.
As the economic situation bites harder, many young people have become desperate to get jobs while numerous others continue to fall victim to job-related crimes.
In the first week of May, the nation dissolved into tears when details emerged that Iniubong Umoren, a job seeker, was murdered in Akwa Ibom. She was one of hundreds of job seekers that have been swindled by fake recruitment agencies. The 26-year-old graduate of Philosophy from the University of Uyo was buried in Nung Ita Ikot Essien, Oruk Anam Local Government Area of the state.
In the wake of Iniubong’s death, many Nigerians opined that the unemployment crisis endangers millions of young Nigerians, while pushing others towards the edges of desperation and death.
Amidst the employment-related scam and criminal activities, Mr Akande told PREMIUM TIMES that there are numerous “red flags” with which young job seekers can spot dangerous or fraudulent job invitations.
“The first red flag to note is when a company has no credible online presence,” said Mr Akande. According to him, even though an organisation may be credible yet poor in digital transition, absence of digital footprints makes verification quite difficult––and many may hide under it to perpetrate evil.
“A recruitment firm without a website, blog, or social media accounts can easily defraud and harm job seekers,” he argued. “This is because it is very easy for them to avoid scrutiny, investigation, or being called out.”
Another red flag, according to him, is that such fraudulent organisations always ask for money before or during interviews. “An organisation that will give you job would most likely not be keen on extorting you in whatever guise,” he explained.
The messaging template and venue of the interview are two other red flags, he argued, noting that a message riddled with grammatical blunders would likely not come from professional recruitment agencies.
“An obscure venue could also be a pointer to a more sinister motive,” he said, adding that the concern is same with messages delivered without specific job title and random invitations from unknown entities.
Although he explained that there are exceptions to the “red flags”, Mr Akande warned job seekers to be wary of organisations with questionable identity and poor track records.
Beyond formulating enabling policies, Mr Akande said that government must create better environment for private companies to thrive and create jobs.
In May, the Lagos State Government announced that it had placed 4,000 unemployed graduates on N40,000 monthly salary for a period of 6 months. The initiative, implemented through the Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment’s Graduate Internship Placement Programme (GIPP), is intended to address the challenge of unemployment among unemployed graduates in the state.
The state’s Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Yetunde Arobieke, said the programme was meant to expose interns to a particular job, profession or industry and enhance networking.
But Mr Akande told PREMIUM TIMES that initiatives like that of the Lagos government were commendable but stakeholders across sectors must do much more for maximum impact.
According to him, such temporary initiatives can only scratch the surface of Nigeria’s unemployment crisis.
He added that government must also regulate the activities of fake recruitment agencies.
In 2017, the Lagos State House of Assembly urged former governor Akinwunmi Ambode to work with security agencies to check the spate of fake job advertisements in the state. The call followed a motion moved by Abiodun Tobun (APC-Epe I) at the Assembly on the security challenges emanating from such fake adverts that were pasted on street walls in the state.
Amaka Emmanuel, a Lagos-based job seeker, told PREMIUM TIMES that beyond media statements, genuine efforts must be made to arrest the growing wave of job-related fraud and criminality in Nigeria.
“Lagos is the biggest hub for these fraudulent companies and government must do well to address the situation and bring culprit to books,” she said.
Ese Oikhala, Consulting Associate at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based think-tank, noted that as a way of fighting unemployment, premium must equally be placed on human capacity development in Nigeria.
“Nigerian job seekers have found themselves in a situation where the government is unable to provide the needed jobs, quality education or the enabling environment to either get a good education or job, to be employable within and outside the Nigerian labour market,” she said.
“Most Nigerian job seekers do not engage with the real world until after they have completed their tertiary education. To boost employability in the Nigeria labour market, young Nigerian should consider engaging in internship opportunities in their chosen career path while in school.
“This will provide useful experience as well as insights into expectations in the job market as well as boost their competencies.”
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