By Olabisi Deji-Folutile
Whenever I hear people describe Nigerian graduates as unemployable, I shiver. I quiver because many a time, such sweeping assertion is made by people who themselves are also products of Nigerian universities, thus wondering if such people realise the implication of their weighty indictment of the system that produced them. I may not be able to give specific statistics on the number of graduates from Nigerian universities working in both indigenous and multinational companies in the country, a casual observation of happenings around shows that many of these companies are filled with Nigerian graduates. Personally, almost everyone I have worked with or supervised has been a product of Nigerian universities – and none of them could be shoved aside anywhere in the world. We may also need to find out where the likes of Dangote Group, MTN, Glo, Shell, Mobil and other multinational companies operating in Nigeria are getting their graduates from to know the population of foreigners compared to Nigerians in these thriving organisations.
Apparently, the blanket generalisation of Nigerian graduates being unemployable informed President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent charge to university administrators to ensure that their graduates are employable. The President had said he could not be comfortable “when products of Nigeria’s citadels of learning are being described as ‘unemployable’, exhibiting lack of job-readiness and so on.”
I think from the outset, it is important to make a distinction between what constitutes a university and what does not. Universities are not universities because they are so named, universities are universities because they satisfy the thirst for knowledge and their scholarly expertise impacts positively on the society. There are many institutions described as citadels of learning in Nigeria today that cannot even pass for a secondary school. Products of such universities can’t be blamed for being unemployable because such universities cannot possibly give what they do not have. Thankfully, products of these mushroom universities are insignificant compared with the critical mass that forms the real products of Nigerian universities. There are some Federal Government owned universities in Nigeria that are highly undersubscribed. Some of them may not have up to 50 students in a whole department. Even when the cut-off mark for admission to such universities is lowered to the barest minimum, they still don’t get candidates. The problems being that many of them are wrongly located and poorly funded.
As a way of clarification, the Nigerian graduates being referred to here are those that genuinely scaled the difficult hurdles of gaining admission into institutions that can manage to pass for universities in spite of their glaring inadequacies and succeed in graduating. The truth is Nigerian universities are some of the most difficult to gain admission into in many parts of the world. First, a student must have five credits which must include English and Mathematics. It doesn’t end there. The Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, which the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof Ishaq Oloyede, has described as a ranking test, is another difficult hurdle that they must scale through. Any candidate that is able to get a space in a recognised Nigerian university without compromising integrity must be a good material. While I admit that many candidates get in through compromises here and there, majority enter through the normal, tough process. A report by Stutern on the employment status of Nigerian graduates between 2010 and 2016 shows that only 36.26 per cent of recent graduates are currently unemployed. About 50.09 per cent of them are working either as self-employed/freelance, voluntary or other unpaid work. Another 8.6 per cent is said to be engaged in full time and part-time further study, training or research while the remaining 5.05 per cent represents those preparing for further study or professional exams.
This brings me to the real question. Is it that Nigerian graduates are unemployable or Nigerian environment is not employment friendly? In other words, are there jobs in Nigeria? Rather than shifting blame of unemployment on Nigerian graduates, it is high time we started interrogating the reasons for the poor state of the nation’s economy. Why is the economy not expanding? Why are factories closing down and churches taking over warehouses? Who are the people saddled with the responsibilities of making policies that should make the economy expand for business to thrive? For me, whoever is paid to do these things and failed to deliver as expected, are the ones that are neither qualified to be in government nor leadership positions. And such people should not be comfortable in the midst of a shrinking economy, mass unemployment, poverty, lack and want prevalent in the country now. According to the World Bank, the economies of African countries despite the decade long average annual GDP growth of 4-5 per cent has not expanded rapidly enough to absorb the between 9-10 million youths that enter the labour market. The real problem here is that Nigerian universities are producing more graduates than the economy can absorb, so getting a job has become the survival of the fittest.
And if I may ask, was there ever a time that Nigerian graduates were entering into the job market and performing magic? If there was, why were multinationals employing graduates as management trainees in the 70s and 80s? Up until today, companies such as Nigeria Breweries still take in fresh graduates as trainees. How many companies in Nigeria have such models in place now? Almost every firm wants a ready-made, well baked graduate that would not require any form of further training because they are trying to cut cost. I am not in any way trying to discountenance the relevance of self-development for every graduate, however, it is good to clarify that university education is not meant to mould graduates into specific job placements. The job of a university is to shape raw materials into a form that could be easily adapted for various purposes. This is one of the reasons why companies employ graduates as trainees and put them through other forms of trainings to mould them appropriately for the responsibilities expected of them.
There are many fantastic Nigerian graduates. Certainly, there are some who don’t know their left from their right, even at that, if we bother to probe deeply, we may realise that the admission process of these ones were probably compromised one way or the other. A recent online article featured top Nigerian women in technology, majority of the people on that list are products of Nigerian universities. Those who think Nigerian graduates, especially the younger generation, are not employable, could check the brains behind startups such as Rubies, Piggyvest, Softcom, Paystack, Stutern and Thrive Agric to mention but just a few. This, to me, is the true verdict-Nigerian graduates are employable but most Nigerian leaders today are unemployable! Nigerian government has consistently failed to leverage on the power of its talented, intelligent citizens to grow the economy due to its bad policies, irresponsibility and poor thinking. This country is wasting its army of talented youth. There are many brilliant graduates that have ended up confused, frustrated and devastated. It is no longer news that Nigerian youth perform exceptionally well when offered opportunities in saner climes where things are working. For example, a Nigerian lady, Osarieme Anita Omonuwa, was the first to win the Reading University Chancellor’s Award in the history of the 121-year-old institution.Yet, she had her secondary school education in Nigeria. In the same vein, a Nigerian, Dr Victor Olalusi, scored a 5.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average as a medical student for seven consecutive years at the Russian National Research Medical University, Moscow.
It is heartwarming that JAMB has leveraged on technology to reduce cases of exam malpractice. It has also introduced the Central Admissions Processing Systems to give higher ranking candidates preference above lower ranking ones; this is a welcome development as it will ensure that the most qualified candidates get the opportunity to go to university. This will further improve the quality of graduates coming out from Nigerian universities. Nigerian policy makers should be more concerned in the New Year about how to transform and grow Nigeria’s economy to enable it to offer more opportunities to the young graduates that automatically enter the labour market instead of lamenting about graduates being unemployable.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email email@example.com