Pains of Nigerian graduates who earn less than corps members

2020-05-16
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Jesusegun Alagbe

When she graduated from one of the universities in the South-West in 2010 after studying agricultural economics, Oyenike Ojo hoped that she would get a lucrative job immediately after undergoing the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps, a scheme set up by the Federal Government in 1973 to foster development and unity among Nigerians.

Then, after she must have got a job and worked for two years, she also hoped that she would get married – optimistically to a man who is also earning a good income.

However, as the saying goes, “Man proposes, God disposes,” since Ojo completed the NYSC in 2012, she has yet to get her dream job and a man of her dreams.

Instead, she works as a teacher in a private primary school in Ibadan and earns a salary of N15,000, which could barely take care of her personal needs, not to mention caring for her aged parents who depend on her and her two older siblings for survival.

She said, “I applied for jobs almost everywhere, sent my CV to family and friends who asked me to. But there is no job anywhere; that is why I am working temporarily as a teacher earning a meagre salary.

“If someone told me I would end up with a job like this after spending four years at the university and a year plus for a master’s degree, I would probably have cursed them. I have not quit hoping to get a good job, though. I will keep on submitting applications.”

Before she got the teaching job, Ojo, 27, said she enrolled for N-Power – an initiative of the regime of the President, Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd) – which started in 2016 to tackle youth unemployment.

According to the Federal Government, the N-Power is a job creation and empowerment programme of the National Social Investment Programme for young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35.

The programme targeted about 500,000 youths, spread across the 774 local government areas of the country, who were deployed to teach in public schools, act as health workers in primary health centres (as agricultural extension advisors to smallholder farmers in the communities and also as community tax liaison officers.)

Ojo was among the first batch of beneficiaries enrolled for the N-Agro category of the scheme in 2016, earning N30, 000 per month, until July 2019 when she was disengaged from the scheme.

She said, “After my NYSC in 2012, I looked for a job for about two years. When I did not get any, I enrolled for my master’s programme which I completed in 2014. I thought it would boost my employability but I still did not get a job until 2016 when I applied for the N-Power.

“In July 2019, I was disengaged and I looked for another job. When I did not get any, I had to look for a teaching job at a private school. Even getting a teaching job was tedious, but eventually, I got one at a primary school at Akobo (Ibadan). I have intensified my job search, though. I cannot settle for this!”

While Ojo continues to search for her dream job, her current salary can be said to be ridiculously less than half of that of a corps member, who earns N33,000. Her salary is exactly half of the new minimum wage of N30,000, which has yet to be implemented in many states of the federation.

In January, the Federal Government increased corps members’ monthly allowance from N19,800 to N33,000 – in line with the new minimum wage of N30,000.

This implies that Ojo’s salary is even less than a corps member’s initial allowance (N19,800) before the increment to N33, 000.

She said, “I apologise to my parents every month because I can’t take care of them. They sent me to school and I am supposed to be paying back now, but it is quite unfortunate I’m unable to do so now.

“Thankfully, my siblings are better paid where they are working, so my parents get some stipends from them. But as the last child and only female, I ought to also care for my parents while they are still alive. I hope to be able to do that soon.”

But Ojo is not the only graduate earning less than corps members in the country.

Another graduate, Moses Akano, who teaches at a private secondary school in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said he was earning N25,000 per month, which is N8, 000 less than a corps member’s allowance.

After being posted to one of the riverine communities in the state in 2015 for the NYSC programme and not knowing whether he would get a job if he returned to his home town in Osun State after the programme’s completion, Akano said he had to stay back in Yenagoa after he was offered a job of N25, 000.

However, the 28-year-old said he was doing private tutorials for some secondary school students and through this initiative he had been making extra income.

He said, “I was posted to Oporoma, a community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area in 2015 for the NYSC scheme. In 2016 when I completed the programme, I contemplated returning home but, of course, there was no job waiting for me. I got a teaching job here and I stayed back. The pay is low but I do some private teachings to support it.”

Twenty-seven-year old Chika Nwabuikwu, who graduated from a polytechnic in Edo State, said she had to settle for a sales attendant job in Benin City when she couldn’t get her dream job.

She said she had submitted several CVs to companies both within and outside Edo State for the past two years but she had yet to get positive feedback.

Because of this, Nwabuikwu said she had no choice but to take up the sales attendant job, where she was being paid N20, 000.

She said, “Life is difficult. Sometimes I ask myself why I went to school to end up with a job that even secondary school leavers could do. It is quite ridiculous and embarrassing. I can’t even take care of myself talk less of catering to the needs of my siblings who look up to me.

“My parents are retired and thank God they earn monthly pensions; if not, I don’t know how I would be able to take care of them at their old age. I am intensifying efforts to get a better job because I feel awkward every morning going to a job that is far below my skill.”

Graduate unemployment in Nigeria

In the Nigerian context, a graduate is someone who has successfully completed their first academic degree in a university approved by the National Universities Commission or a polytechnic approved by the National Board for Technical Education.

As of 2019, there were 170 universities (43 federal, 48 state and 79 private) in the country, according to data from the NUC.

On the other hand, there are 134 polytechnics (29 federal, 48 state and 57 private) in the country, according to data from the NBTE.

By some estimates, these tertiary institutions chunk out around 500,000 graduates every year, to join the labour market where around 25 million graduates are said to be unemployed, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

According to 2018 data from the NBS, graduate unemployment has almost tripled within three years, from 12 per cent in 2015 to 30 per cent in 2018. But the national unemployment rate is around 23 per cent.

The NBS also stated that the number of persons in the labour force had increased from 85.1 million to 90.5 million. Over 9.7 million Nigerians were said to have absolutely done no job within less than a year.

Likewise, in its 2019 report, the International Labour Organisation estimated youth unemployment rate in Nigeria to be around 20 per cent, even though the country has the largest economy in Africa, in addition to high human and natural resources.

“Unemployment in Nigeria is largely attributed to the phenomena of jobless growth, increased number of school graduates with no matching job opportunities, rise in employment in many public and private sector institutions and continued job losses in the manufacturing and oil sectors,” ILO stated.

To tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria, the organisation said emphasis must be placed on entrepreneurship, employability, employment creation and equal opportunities.

Meanwhile, while many Nigerian graduates are unemployed, many are said to be among the underemployed in the country, representing about 20 per cent of the labour force.

Labour that falls under the underemployment classification includes highly skilled workers working in low-paying or low-skill jobs. In this case, an individual is working but not working at their full capability.

‘We’re working just to stay alive’

A second class upper graduate of Biology, Margaret Ekwealor, works as an attendant at a grocery supermarket in Ikeja, Lagos, earning N30,000 per month, which is also below a corps member’s monthly allowance.

When she deducts about N10,000 from the salary which she spends on transportation, she is left with N20,000. By the time she subtracts other expenses, she is left with nothing at the end of the month.

She said, “The job is just to stay alive, nothing else. If not that I’m living with my parents, probably I would have been depressed. For now, my parents still take care of me. It’s not too good but this is what life has thrown at me now. Actually, I got a teaching job at a private secondary school which offered me N35,000 but I found out I don’t have a passion for teaching. For now, I’m managing with the sales attendant job.”

Also, Folahan Gbadebo, who graduated from one of the federal polytechnics in the country studying mechanical engineering, teaches physics and mathematics at a private secondary school in Osun State, earning a paltry salary of N15,000, an amount less than half of a corps member’s salary.

He said, “I tried so hard to get a job. I have written several application letters and submitted CVs to many companies across the country but I’ve got no response yet.

“I was jobless for almost four years before I got the teaching job. The income is ridiculously low but I have to cater to my needs. I’m into farming as a side hustle and I hope it will be my main hustle later.”

Also, a graduate of accounting, Kabiru Lawal, works as a marketer in a Lagos firm and earns N30,000 monthly, an amount he said could barely sustain him.

The father of one lamented that despite applying for several job recruitments, his application had yet to be successful in any.

He said, “To get a job in this country is not easy at all. In fact, everything seems to be hard in Nigeria. To get university admission was a struggle for me; now finishing the university and not getting a good job is another struggle.

“That was why I jumped at the marketing job I’m doing currently. It’s not easy but I’m doing it just to stay alive. Thankfully, my wife works as a teacher in a private school and supports with her income. It wouldn’t have been easy to fend for her and our three-year-old son.”

The story of a biochemistry graduate and hotel attendant in the Egbeda area of Lagos, Adedolapo Salam, was not different from others.

After graduating from one of the universities in Kwara State and completing the NYSC scheme with no job, she said she had to take up a hotel attendant job for the time being, adding that she was being paid N30, 000.

She said, “I’m doing the job not to stay idle. Sometimes I sit down and ponder what is going wrong. I mean, for the past two years, I’ve been looking for a better job but I have got none.

“Right now, hotels are shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, so no income is coming in. I have just been barely surviving. However, I thank God that I get some stipends from my elder siblings. If not for that, I would have been totally broke.”

Another graduate, Paul Ogboike, said he lost a N120,000 monthly salary job in 2016 and since then couldn’t find another one.

To make ends meet, he said he had to take up a marketing job in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in 2018, earning less than N30,000 per month.

He said, “Initially, I was not going to take up any job less than N100,000. I thought to myself, ‘How could I lose a job of N120,000 and then take up one less than N100, 000?’

“Could you imagine I once got a job of N50, 000 but I turned it down because I felt it was not up to my standard? But as time went on and no other job was forthcoming, I became desperate. I now work as a marketer with a monthly pay of N30,000. It’s ridiculous but I need to stay alive as I hope for better things to come.”

Since graduating from the polytechnic three years ago studying insurance, Aisha Madaki, who lives in Bauchi State, said she had been earning N20,000 per month working as an attendant at a restaurant.

She said, “The work is strenuous and the pay is not encouraging but where is the job? I once got employed by an insurance company and they branded me a marketing executive. I was happy as I just completed NYSC programme and I thought it was a great offer.

“I didn’t know the word ‘executive’ added no meaning to my title. I thought the pay was big and I would be chauffeur-driven like a real executive. We even did thanksgiving in my home when I was given the employment.

“But behold, when I resumed at the job, I was placed on commission. I and my colleagues walked several miles per day under the hot sun looking for clients. But I never got any. I quit after two or three months when life was taking its toll on me. Later, I got a job as a waitress at a restaurant. But the pay is low.”

Also, Vincent Nwosu couldn’t get a job with his bachelor’s degree in physics, so he took up a security job at a private firm in Enugu, earning N20,000 monthly.

“What have I got to do when I searched everywhere for a job but got none? I had to take up the N20,000 job but I know this is not my final destination. I will keep searching for a better job and I know it will come,” he said.

Boosting employment and employability skills

Although successive governments in Nigeria have always promised to create jobs, human resource experts believed it was not the job of the government alone to create the number of jobs that graduates needed, hence the need for the government to create the right policies and environment for the private sector to thrive.

An analyst with an investment firm at Victoria Island, Lagos, Mr Tope Oni, said most private companies that paid low income to graduates usually did so because of the huge running costs they incurred, hence the need for them to cut other expenses like salaries.

He said, “I know companies that spend millions of naira on fuel expenses alone for generators per month. Imagine if these expenses were not incurred if the government was providing regular electricity, the companies would be able to pay their staff better.

“For some other companies like food and haulage companies, the cost of transportation is on the high side. These are all expenses that contribute to many companies’ inability to pay graduates and other low-skill workers good salaries.

“For the story to change, most of the solutions still lie in the government’s hands. There must be improved infrastructure, especially electricity and transportation network. If only these two are well taken care of, I can assure you that many companies will be able to pay their workers better salaries.”

Meanwhile, as the job market is saturated, a Lagos-based career coach, Dr Jadesola Bamidele, said getting a dream job was no longer served on a silver platter.

She, therefore, encouraged graduates to boost their employability skills to secure their dream jobs.

She said, “It’s no longer enough to graduate with a first class or second class upper or whatever and think employers will be wooing you. If a graduate is unable to demonstrate that they have the skills and abilities employers are looking for, then they will keep complaining of not getting a good job.

“The game has changed and a graduate really needs to go the extra mile, no matter what qualification they have, to have their dream job. For instance, one will be shocked to see a graduate who can’t write in English correctly. I’ve seen this on many occasions. Could you employ such a graduate in a media company, especially print? No one would, even if the graduate studied mass communication in a reputable institution and had a good grade.

“These are the issues. There is unemployment so there is fierce competition out there. It’s only graduates who have something fantastic to bring to the table that would be employed.”

A human resource professional, Mrs Joyce Ugochukwu, also noted that employers wanted graduates with a variety of well-honed life skills, adding that getting the job done was no longer a skill.

“Employers want graduates who can take initiative and develop innovative ideas. Having a good attitude, working hard and smart and staying enthusiastic are some of the things any graduate would need to compete well in the labour market,” she said.

Similarly, HR professional and career coach, Dr Eric Babatunde, said graduates needed 21st-century skills to be successful in today’s job market.

He said, “It’s no longer just about having a good grade and graduating from a reputable school. Today, the skills needed to be successful while job-hunting include ability to think critically and creatively; collaborate, communicate and lead.

“Other required skills are information technology and media literacy. Some graduates can’t even write a good CV. Some make unprofessional mistakes on their CVs like misspelling their institutions. These are some of the areas any graduate should pay attention to, to get a good job. The job market is competitive. Only great people get the best offers.”

 

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