Among the applicants for truck driver positions advertised recently by a Nigerian-owned transnational company were holders of degrees, MBAs, masters and some PhDs, from reputable universities at home and abroad.
The rush by graduates for jobs meant for less educated Nigerians raises questions about the usefulness and relevance of university education, and many stakeholders are clamouring for a total overhaul of higher education to meet the needs of the 21st century knowledge society.
Dangote Industrial Ltd, one of the biggest conglomerates in Nigeria, advertised for 2,000 university graduates to work as truck drivers at its cement manufacturing subsidiary.
The choice of graduate drivers was deliberate. It was aimed at gradually phasing out less educated drivers who cannot manipulate digitally programmed trucks and are, therefore, responsible for reckless driving and multiple road accidents.
The policy was personally articulated by Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian business mogul who is rated by Forbes Magazine as the richest man in Africa and the richest black man in the world, with a personal fortune estimated at US$11.2 billion.
At a well-organised press conference, Dangote announced that 13,000 Nigerians with PhDs, MBAs, masters or bachelor degrees in various disciplines had applied for truck driver positions in his company.
Many graduates are unemployed and are in desperate search of jobs.
It has become a common trend for graduates to apply for jobs meant for Nigerians with only a primary or secondary education. Graduates are now to be found working as taxi drivers, receptionists, petrol attendants and recharge-card sellers on the streets.
Professor Fry Ndubuisi, head of philosophy at the University of Lagos, believes that the more than a million graduates produced annually by over 300 universities, polytechnics and colleges of education cannot be absorbed by the Nigerian economy.
“This is a dangerous trend. A situation where the country continues to experience a high unemployment rate despite being seen as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies is not acceptable,” Ndubuisi declared.
Recently the National Directorate of Employment revealed that over 200,000 Nigerian graduates who completed their compulsory national service programme for graduates (NYSC), in the past five years are still in search of jobs.
And in separate reports, the World Bank and the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research indicated that 55% of Nigerians of working age, including graduates, are unemployed.
Universities not preparing graduates
One of the fundamental reasons for graduate unemployment in Nigeria is that university curricula do not prepare the vast majority of graduates to face the dynamics and challenges of the 21st century knowledge society and knowledge economy.
Given that computers have permeated all strands of the Nigerian economy, basically only the few graduates who are able to use computers are employable. This is one of the reasons Dangote is looking for computer-literate drivers.
Virtually all universities in Africa, including in Nigeria, were very slow to embrace the use of computers and information networks as part of their programmes.
In Nigeria, conservative university teachers and administrators initially rejected the introduction of computers. But employers, especially in the private sector, integrated computers as production tools, and thus graduates became gradually unemployable.
“University teachers and administrators are to be blamed for the misfortune confronting graduates,” lamented Christiana Ibrahim, a computer engineer working in a multinational company in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital.
Ibrahim said in their obsessive bid to prevent the introduction of computers to campuses, teachers and administrators had “prevented graduates from acquiring computer knowledge needed in their workplace”.
And the vast majority of university teachers still do not realise that the world economy is changing very fast and that for graduates to be ‘relevant’ there is the urgent need to integrate skills acquisition into university curricula.
The Nigerian economy has an acute shortage of electricians, barbers, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and bricklayers. Most of the existing artisans are on the verge of retirement, and their successors are not trained to handle the digitised and computerised instruments used, which requires a minimum knowledge of basic mathematics.
“It is only graduates from tertiary institutions who can handle such equipments and tools. Unfortunately, these graduates look down, with disdain and contempt, on such jobs. They consider them very degrading,” declared Ismaila Karim, a labour relations expert in Lagos.
“Nigeria’s growing economy is in search of well-educated artisans.”
In order to tackle the growing unemployment of graduates, the Nigerian government has put various schemes in place. One of these, Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development, is integrated into the NYSC, the compulsory national service agency.
“The aim of this project is to make graduates self-reliant. Workshops on various skills are organised in the orientation camps of NYSC for graduates, in partnership with employers,” said NYSC Director General Nnamdi Okore-Affa.
Another project aimed at tackling graduate employment is Youth Enterprise and Innovation (You-Win), estimated to be worth US$64 million. Under the leadership of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, the scheme has two objectives: to train young entrepreneurs and to create 80,000 to 110,000 jobs.
But an editorial titled “Nigeria’s dangerous job crisis”, in the daily tabloid Punch, described the schemes as mere “palliatives” and called for “bold moves”, including studying and implementing the recommendations of the Nigerian economic summit group and the International Monetary Fund.
These two bodies separately advocated that “the private sector be encouraged to invest in and run power plants, railways, downstream oil and gas facilities, steel plants, airports and [Nigeria’s] 11 under-utilised river basin development authorities”.
The Punch editorial concluded: “These activities will naturally create millions of jobs.”
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