Failing Economy: How Nigerian Graduates, Undergraduates Now Take Up Vocations | Independent Newspapers Nigeria

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    <p class="p1"><span class="s1"><b>Hazeez Balogun and Tomi Falade</b></span></p>

LAGOS – There was a time when vocations are for those that were not lucky enough to go to school. Those that took them as a profession, are rated are second class while many parents strive to get their children ‘proper’ education in order for them not to become tailors or barbers. Today, things are changing, thanks to the poor economy and lack of jobs.

When renowned Nigerian filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan posted a video of his young son, tinkering with a motor part in what appeared to be a mechanic workshop, many were appalled. Why would a man of Kunle Afolayan’s status, with the means to provide for his family, allow his child to perform such menial tasks like a common ‘mokalik’ (the Yoruba inflection of the word mechanic)? The actor tagged the post ‘Keep them busy so they can be useful to themselves and the society at large. Darimisire doing holiday internship as an automobile mechanic.

This was something you probably would never have seen a few years ago. Even as at the new millennium, the year 2000, many who were involved in vocations were considered less privileged and members of the lower class in Nigeria. The elites were those who went to higher institutions of learning to study ‘bookish’ courses. Those who even studied courses like Mechanical Engineering and Arts and Design, were expected not to linger in the ‘dregs’ of their professions, but to rise and bask in the comfort of cushioned offices while all others did the real work in the sun.

That psyche was perhaps the reason Nigeria became more of a consumer nation that a producing nation.

We had learned people too excellent to reproduce what had been learnt. Items as small as toothpicks were imported because for the learned elites ‘unpackaged’ items just wouldn’t cut it. We all could only use the best, but we just couldn’t do the work to produce it.

Hunger and poverty however is a leveller like no other.

A time came when there were just no jobs anymore for the supposedly learned. Higher institutions of learning are churning out graduates ‘everyday’ and there are simply not enough jobs to go around. This is coupled with the fact that Nigeria’s economy is not robust and there are few surviving production companies around.

It seemed like the end of white collared employments for many students, and those who were even said to be unlearned but skilled seemed to be prospering.

Carpenters, hairdressers, fashion designers, plumbers, mechanics, were becoming the elites because in Nigeria, money is the ticket to a better life and no longer education as was thought. The tables had turned and certificates were not equal to skill.

Fast-forward to the mid 2000s, slowly and gradually, commerce began among students in higher institutions of learning. Many of them had realised that an extra income could go a long way in bettering their lives, so it became the norm for students to buy goods and sell to their fellow students. Little things like recharge cards, drinks, pure water. Gradually, clothing items and other accessories began to enter into the mix and by the year 2010, many students had graduated to the point of acquiring basic skills for labour outside the classroom. Skills like hairdressing, fashion designing, carpentry, catering, painting, generator repairing, phone and laptop repairing, photography were the rave. It was like a wave and many students while in school lapped up these skills; whether with the approval of their parents or not.

Of course, many people thought it was merely a trend that would end. It seemed like it was not a sustainable development in a nation that prided itself on education like Nigeria. Instead of waning though, the trend spread like wildfire.

Today, it is not uncommon to see a young girl in the university sent to an artisan’s shop during the holidays, on weekends or after school hours to learn hair making, bead making, tailoring, catering, manicure and pedicure or shoe making.

The young girl is treated like every other apprentice. She is sent to the market to buy things; she is assigned chores like all the others, irrespective of the fact that she is a student and may be from a upper-class home. This trend is quite common both in households of means and low-class homes.

A young girl, Omosewa Jide-Fadiya, aged 17 shared with Saturday INDEPENDENT her vocational experience. “There is no job anywhere, and my parents knew early that I had to have some other skill asides school to compete. I started to learn tailoring when I was 15, and it was because we keep getting these long breaks from school where we just sit at home doing nothing. It was really boring for me. One day, my mum and dad suggested that why don’t we (my siblings and I) keep ourselves active with a vocation that would add to our knowledge even if it is just something small. So Iyebiye, my older brother went to a cybercafé to brush up on his computer skills and also learn other IT related things. I decided to go for tailoring while my younger sister learnt bead making.

“My experience with my first teacher was not very nice though, but it exposed me to some basics of life. It made me realise how working class people feel. I understood how difficult it is to wake up early in the morning to go to work and have things to do and people counting on you. I learnt about how to make money, what to use the money for, things like that. It was actually a very good experience and it added to my knowledge. Whenever I went back to school after the holidays with something I had made, a lot of people would say ‘Wow! Sewa, this is really nice, it is creative’. They would tell me they didn’t do anything during the holidays that they just sat at home doing nothing. So I felt privileged to have had that experience because it is not something you can just read in a book, it is something you must have learnt yourself.”

Asked how she felt being in such an environment for the first time, and if there were parts of it that could have been considered too menial, Sewa explained, “Yes o. My first teacher was like that. She wasn’t really updated on styles and latest trends in fashion, so we didn’t get too many jobs. Most times I would sit in the shop not actually learning to sew. Most of my days there, I was left to baby sit her kids, feed them, change their diapers, pick them from school and other things like that. I thought it was weird, but overtime I realised it was all part of the experiences I was meant to get. But when I changed to a new place, there was a whole lot of difference. I still had to run errands, but I was taught so many things and that made it a wholesome experience for me.

“Though I am yet to complete my training, I already sew for other people and make little money from it. I also do arts and craft where I make little accessories to go with the attires that I make. I’m starting my university education soon, and I intend to continue making clothes for people because it is a very lucrative business. Most importantly though, it keeps me busy.”

For most parents though, the usual hang up is that they believe it takes away the children’s focus from their studies and interferes with the learning process. But Omosewa says, “It is actually an opportunity for you to learn to balance things. To be honest, in a way, learning a skill may interfere with your studies, but if you are a very organised person, you can actually learn to plan your time well to be effective. Eventually it even makes you a better student.”

Mr. Adelani, a former Vice Principal in a government owned school in Ibadan believes that learning a vocation for a child is key. He said, “How can a human being that is growing not explore all the opportunities that are made available to them? God put us on this earth to live, survive, grow and explore. Limiting your experiences by only learning through books is short changing yourself. You should try everything because you never know which skill will come in handy. As a teacher, I was also farming, and that is because I knew how to farm.

“Most of the things my family was eating were grown from the farm the school gave me. I never forced any of my children to do anything, but today two are lecturers and one is a lawyer. The only condition I gave each of them when they got to secondary school is that they must learn to play a musical instrument, whether drums, piano or guitar, for entertainment; they must take a business or accounting course, even if it is a one-month course, because I want them to be able to apply business sense in whatever they do, and to know how to manage money. The last condition was that they must learn a skill, something to fall back on if the day ever comes that their certificate becomes worthless.”

Saturday INDEPENDENT also reached out to Abiye, CEO of Mikaby World, a hair and wig-making outfit who had her own story to tell.

“I order my hairs from Vietnam. Some I make into wigs to sell, some I sell normally. In fact, if I knew better while I was still in school, I would have learnt more skills. Though I was doing business as a student, it was nothing close to this. I knew how to do pedicure and manicure so I did that and I still sold Kampala. My parents weren’t bothered because they knew I liked being busy. The reason I started the business was because my income was just not enough for me, I needed more, a back up, more like a side hustle. If I am able to make four wigs in a day it is something. But because I also have a job, I can’t make more than two in a day.”

On whether people view her as desperate or needy, she said, “well, not really, but recently, the company I work for started facing hard times, and a colleague, speaking to others made a comment ‘you better join Abiye and start making hair.’ I just ignored it since it’s my hustle and I am making money from it. It did not seem right at the point where it happened, but I wasn’t bothered.”

Mrs. Blessing Emma, a mother of two said. “Both of my sons are in one vocational training or the other every opportunity they get. Even my maid is not left out. After school, she goes to learn catering and she practices her skills in the house since she does most of the cooking. I have twin boys and they are already in the university. One of them runs a salon in his school. He is very skilled and most times when he is in Lagos from school, he fixes my hair. The other one makes shoes. He calls himself mobile cobbler. Initially, he used to model for people and then one summer holiday, he spent the entire three months with a cobbler that lives in our house. That was how he picked the skill. Now, he sells his shoes for as high as N15,000 a pair.

“Their father did not like it initially, he said they are from good homes and we should not expose them to riff-raffs. In fact, he forbade my son from touching any woman’s hair and it caused a lot of fights. But when I insisted, he grudgingly agreed. Now, when they send us money even though they are still in school, he is proud.”

Mairo, an SS2 student of a Lagos private secondary said, “Every weekend I watch our aunty make my sisters’ hair. Now, I make my two sisters’ hair, and when I am done, one of them makes my hair since we all know how to make hair. We even do braids for my mum sometimes. My dad has promised to build a salon for us in a section of our compound so that we can make more money from it.

These stories all point to one thing, Nigerian youths at all levels are moving away from white-collar jobs. Not because it has lost its appeal and allure, but because it is a means for the youths to earn legitimate money doing legitimate business.

Now, all sorts of professions and vocations spring up based on need. Presently, we have professional shoppers who help busy people shop and stock their homes. We have caterers who cook and deliver months’ supply of food to people who have no time to cook. Laundry is not left out, as there are youths who do these too.

Female party goers have equally found their niche as there are youths who are into professional make-up and gele tying. Lota, a newly wedded bride shared her experience with one of these skilled youths. “It was a day to my introduction, I think that was last year, and my make-up artiste lost her dad. It was raining heavily and so I couldn’t make it to the salon. One of my neighbours just calmed me down that her younger sister would fix all my problems.

“Within one hour, her younger was in my house. She fixed my human hair and did a trail-run make up for me. She spent the night in my house and the following morning, she fixed my nails, did my make up and tied my gele. It was like a dream. This was a girl I knew when she was in secondary school, we all used to send her on errands like a maid. Now she is making her money. At the time she helped me for my introduction ceremony, she was just a 100level student of UNILAG. I was amazed because she saved my day. My husband and I gave her N20,000 even when she insisted on not taking any money.”

Perhaps the most heart-lifting part of it all is that this trend has helped grow the economy. Just last week, Saturday INDEPENDENT published a story on how the Nigerian fashion industry has grown Nigeria’s economy and it is all thanks to young designers. Most people can wear Nigerian attires and designs because skilled tailors and fashion designers are everywhere.

With just N3000 you can do light party make-up with your flatmate who is a 300 level student in the university.

Despite the zeal to succeed and the great talents Nigeria youth are exhibiting, it is however not a good story to tell when our youth are taking up menial jobs. Vocations were jobs taken by foreigners from other West African countries at a  time in our history while our own youth were attending universities and getting plump jobs on graduation.

We have now sunk so low that even our graduates now go back to learn vocations to survive.

“It is a sad story. I envy our youth for their resilience, but things should not be like this. It is like we are going backward. As a graduate in Nigeria, we were proud and very sought after. But the government kept building schools without creating jobs, this is the end result of putting the cart before the horse. Our graduates are now surviving on crafts, tying gele, applying make-up for others. Its a big shame,” says John Ugbe, a lawyer in Lagos.

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