Ten years ago, during the National Youth service Corp in Shagamu, Ogun State; representatives of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) visited us in camp. 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 transferred to us 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 such as the Central Bank, NNPC, Nigeria Ports Authority and other lucrative areas. In fact during our final year in the university, our then head of department taught a course on newspaper production. He told us the department was considering recruiting graduate assistants, and asked how many of us were 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 bringing does not help matters, because we were raised to simply collect money from our parents and spend, without contributing anything to the management of the house or engage 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 even with the Nigerian factor or ‘long leg’, they soon realise that getting into the NNPC or the central bank is not an easy task. They then begin to scale down their ambitions.
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 acquire to provide employments 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 lifetime projects they can grow into viable businesses 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 for a master’s 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 useful for doctors and other 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 congratulated him and told him he is my hero.
Our youth should understand that knowledge should not make us depend on someone else’s shoulders; rather it should make us independent such that we can serve as beacons of hope for others.