Opinion

Employment and career challenges in Nigeria

By Jadesola Tai Babatola PhD

I was going through my library and saw some letters of solicitation for employment and the responses that came with it in the 1990s and it rekindled the need for me to write this piece, due to my frequent encounters with job seekers who sees it as a very simple thing to give jobs that are not even there and which I do not have the almighty and arbitrary powers to offer in my working place.

The current trend which I also witnessed as evidenced in my attached letters of responses and offers of employment that I experienced in a space of time when I left the University and was in the labour market, going from one place to the other to seek for assistance or opportunity.

I discovered that in the last 26 years that the national economy is not well structured, and developed with innovative, strong, dynamic, and bouyant template adequate enough to accommodate the high level of white collar job seekers that the nation continue to produce. It is also evident that even professional skills and competencies of fresh graduates is not an open door for a good career and job opportunities in the current day Nigeria.

The goals of tertiary education has been to develop and create the required manpower for national development. However, the level of highly educated public regardless, if those who constitute the half baked categories is beyond the available space that either the existing private sector or the public sector can accommodate and utilizes.

Let me share my personal experience with the job seekers and friends who feel I had it so good and got to where I am by privileges and not by hard-work just because I had a good pedigree. Getting here is not an easy task and it was not just because of where I am coming from but the mercies of God that crowned my exposure and competence over a long period of time.

I didn’t have the job opportunities that I wanted except for the brief period of my youth service when a God sent angel – an old boy and school mate of my elder brother – Mr. Ayo Ajayi-Obe accommodated me without knowing me from Adam, just because we attended the same school – Christ’s School and he knew some of my siblings and that I came from a big family like himself.

I remembered going into an office to look for job at Maryland, Lagos and the kinsman I went to meet said that all job seekers are leaches and scams and he doesn’t help people who are from his town because they will give him bad name in the end. He walked me out immediately.

I remembered attending an interview at a publishing firm and I was walked out of the place because the owner felt that I don’t have the experience or skill and type of educational discipline and concentration that he prefers. I attempted to convince him that I can do what a salesman can do but in a fit of an outburst, he cursed me for attempting to sell myself to him and convince him of my competencies. The next thing was the security guards walking me out of the interview session. It was a sorrowful moment for me.

Another similar experience took place at the premises of a prominent figure from my town who was then gunning for a top position in government. He literally chased me out of his office because he was high on cocaine and said that I am a bastard just because I came to seek for his assistance being close to Aso Rock at the time. He begged me years later and I decided to let bygones be bygones.

There were instances that I encountered different stance while in the labour market looking for job. At a time, I was employed in a Business Service outfit at Ebute Metta owned by Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi and later at a Finance Company in Ikeja owned by Dipo Ayeni through the efforts of Mr. Kunle Oladele and Chief Bimbo Roberts Folayan before the system collapsed.

I started making friends with molue bus conductors to enter bus from one location to the other hanging by the door when I couldn’t afford to pay for transport as a job seeker in Lagos. I remember writing unsolicited letters to different organizations or offices within and outside the country and I wish to share some of the replies in this short piece.

At a point, I was living with some group of young men inside one bedroom at Egbeda Akowonjo and at other locations. I don’t need to mention names except late Bisi Fajuyi who invited me to join the people who were mostly from Ekiti. At another time, I wanted to join the boys offloading goods at Tin Can Island and Apapa ports just to earn a living. I later drove cabbies and did manual labour but I couldn’t cope and I was back on my legs looking for a good office job.

A brother in law offered me a job as insurance salesman and I walked round a big city on foot, marketing insurance products such as fire and motor insurance policy, goods in Transit, personal life and children endowment assurance. My proposed clients were mainly the market women, offices, private business owners but alas, I couldn’t bring in five clients in two months when I was expected to live on commission after the initial stipends that cannot even pay house rent and feed me simultaneously.

It was just very rough times, though I appreciated the roles of those who helped and never dispersed them. I remember several times that I trekked more than 15 kilometres daily to work and offices and back home and still hit the road the next morning. Man must eat. Leaving home as earlier as 5am to get to office by 8am was the target by going through corners of different streets at Ibadan. Lol

It was common for me to trek entire Lagos Island and even got to the American Embassy looking for job as well as many high offices like Mobil, Unilever, Chevron and major five star hotels. I finished the second stage of the interview successfully at Chevron Facility off Gbagada before I was no longer invited because I couldn’t mention an highly placed guarantor to confirm our relationship, my daily conduct and his readiness to stand for me and more so that I didn’t have international traveling experience. I eventually traveled to some countries later to increase my visibility, just in case such opportunities arose in the future.

I moved to Abuja where I lived with a friend for sometime at Lugbe and later got job offer from a friend and school mate which I couldn’t do in the end. I was looking for jobs in Military, Road Safety, Immigration, Airport and other places but they never came at the time I needed it most.

I wasn’t taken at Road Safety but when I was invited to the National Guard and DSS, it coincided with my final papers for M.Sc programme and I traded one for the other. There are uncountable correspondences between me and UN, UNDP, UNESCO, OAU (AU) and ECOWAS while looking for job prospects. I was thinking big.

In one of my journeys back to Lagos, I found myself in the midst of some fraudsters and scammers who wanted to lure me into their business, but knowing my pedigree and training, I rejected the offers. I was very uncomfortable to engage in JIBITI (scam) and i quickly avoided further relationship with the guys to avoid stigma and tarnishing my family’s name due to bad association or peer group influence.

It was my background and mentality that made it difficult for me to embrace such path or to see Yahoo or Yahoo plus as option or simple way to survive and earn a living. There are no short cut to greater success than to do what is right.

I was in many places as a job seeker and was at Marina in the office of two banker friends. One was my father’s student and the other a kinsman. However, both of them were his beneficiary in getting job at one time or the other. One became a Deputy Governor and the other, a Director in Central Bank. They felt that they couldn’t help me because my degree certificate was worthless to them in the investment banking sector though they had B.A degree holding workers to the best of my knowledge.

They suggested that I should do a Master’s degree in Administration or obtain professional qualification in addition to my first degree.
It was indeed their comments that I should go and get a teaching job and embrace farming that first made me to realize how naked and weak my qualifications were and how my life could turn downward contrary to what we learnt in the undergraduate years.

They were my last hope that I thought could help, knowing that they both got jobs at one time or the other through my father. They however helped me to think in right direction of going for further studies that led to obtaining a Master’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration and to become member of eight professional and learned bodies today.

With the letters from an iconic Ado-Ekiti legend and Uncle, Aare Afe Babalola OFR CON SAN, I visited many banks and multinationals including the Coca-cola (Otunba Kalejaiye), but it was just the same story everywhere. It is either there is no job or that I didn’t have the type of educational discipline they require.

I had a friend whose degree is not even close to mine in terms of training and exposure but he was in the same bank where I was rejected. He told me that they only do it for their own people and I decided to go through an highly placed person but it didn’t work. In all these companies, I had school mates and persons who had similar certificates but I was never employed on one pretext or the other.

Job seeking could be frustrating and perplexing particularly when you’re turned down without any hope elsewhere. However, it toughened me and with occasional support from loyal friends and family members, I keep going on in my vissicitudes of life.

I attempted newspaper and broadcasting too though I never beyond the doorsteps of some organization because they prefer English Language experts or there are no vacancy. I thought at a point that the heaven may fall down on me in the labour market.

In another instance, an elderly man in Ibadan that I met in a taxi offered me the opportunity to join a gang of armed robbers because of my joblessness but I declined his invitation and quickly picked race from the joint we met. I was so afraid to be invited to robbery ring and even more afraid that I can be eliminated for rejecting the offer.

God actually made the man to be impotent and unable to harm me that day. I never wrote this before now nor discussed it anywhere because of the fear that came on me. I thank God for my early life and family background that helped me to hold to some dear values and helped me in those hours if dire need. One could have been tempted out of poverty or joblessness.

I remember visiting an Archbishop in Lagos who told me that even his own son that is also a friend is still in the labour market. He later got a job with a Federal Institution though he wanted the father to get him into Chevron. Our father in the Lord advised me to also go into teaching but how could have copped or survived with the meagre amount paid to teachers.

I was with another Bishop who is a father’s sibling and I suggested to him, my desire to go and attend Theological School since I have encountered Christ in the mid 90s, but he jokingly said that the clergy work is not an alternative to lack of job opportunities in the market but out of devotion and commitment to follow Christ. Even when I said I wanted to follow Christ since there are no alternative, he wasn’t not willing to help because he felt I am not cut for the Anglican faith priesthood but for a full career work as an administrator, going by our interactions and his personal conviction. So the story end there.

I remembered going to another Uncle who was a big person in the oil and gas industry. I lived with him on an on and off basis for about 9 months hopeful that I will get a job opportunity through him, but it never came. I left the place in the end to face my destiny. It was like there is no place to go and set no hiding place. Attempts to travel abroad never yielded positive results too. It is a story for another day. Bata mi, je riko leko meaning my shoes took a bending shape in Lagos Waka.

At Ibadan, I worked with a Church Ministry as the Personal Assistant to the President. We began to have issues when I decided to enrol for a Master’s degree because he felt that I was short changing the system and that I would leave him once I obtain another degree. I eventually left when the terms and conditions introduced for my stay were beyond my expectations.

I thank God for people like Ven. Layi Bolodeoku of blessed memories, who engaged me at Evans Publishers and for the love shown to my family by Mrs. Oba Otudeko (nee Oduntan) for remembering who my mother use to be and for making personal effort on one or two occasions to make me comfortable at work.

When I remembered the stories of our fathers and how my senior ones got ready made jobs after University education, it was a mirage for me in the 90s after graduation. The experience of the past where those who graduated in the 50s easily become Vice Principals and Principals of Schools and Colleges within 2-3 years of graduation and those who left school in the 70s got goods in their place of choice was not my experience after graduation in 90.

It was quite clear that university graduation is just a license to help you look for job and not a license to get job instantly. This is where I began to look for ways and means to become a better person and to look for opportunities to improve on myself and beat the competitive margins that can stand between me and other competitors in the labour market.

Like I said at the beginning towards sharing my personal experience, the nation does not have the template and structure to create the environment for sustainable and guaranteed job opportunities, looking at the large number of educated youth population that are shun out of the tertiary education system on annual basis regardless of their poor skills, limited exposure and level of competencies.

Getting a job in Nigeria of today, if your parents do not have the resources and if you didn’t obtain a required qualification and skills would be by miracle or by competence and sheer favour. So a degree would not bring bread to your tables unless you seek for better opportunity and knowledge.

Every job seeker should begin to add value to their work by learning skills. The most important skill to be learnt in the labour market would surround how you can make yourself a spotlight in terms of your mobility, adaptability and dynamism at work and work environment. Every graduate needs a strong computing skills and certification if need be.

Graduates also need a well improved communication skills in terms of writing, good presentation, speaking and diction levels, exposure and continuous training. There is no better candidate if there is no space for further studies, reading and capacity building. The edge over others is what you possess and what you can bring to bear on the table. We cannot shy away from these fact.

Other factors that will be important and necessary to make a difference in the labour market is your pessimism in the face of competence and optimism. This comes from going to any interview without any high hopes or consideration that you have it so as not to be disappointed if you don’t get it. Nonetheless, you need to be well dressed and have a good mindset to assure every employer of labour of your competence and expertise or at least your readiness to learn and grow with the firm or the organization.

The situation that works for one person may not totally work for another person. However, it is certain that everyone who is able to possess additional skills and who can drive towards improving his cv and unrelenting in seeking for a job space where his or her qualification is required, may eventually get there without compromise or paying any unnecessary price that I paid before I had a breakthrough.

I am not yet there, but I wish to encourage those coming behind that there is no amount of frustrations or challenge that should discourage people from the pursuit of their career or dreams and getting it eventually. Keep hope alive and walk to your hidden but unfolding destiny. May it never be aborted.

Dr Babatola is the Registrar and Secretary of Council, Federal Polytechnic, Ekowe, Bayelsa State.

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