A friend of my dad’s, a Ph.D holder who used to lecture in Unilag, went to the United States a number of years ago for ‘greener pastures’. My dad met up with him some time after he left, and he revealed he was working as a security guard to get by. This was before the recession hit, by the way. I am sure much of Nigeria’s – and even Africa’s – aspiring middle class can relate to this story. We all know someone who knows someone who has left Nigeria to the West, and has had to do one odd job or the other to get by in the meantime. That ‘meantime’ may be a few months or several years, and the jobs are of all sorts: washing toilets, dead bodies, and the like.
This reality makes the fuss over the offer of employment to 2,000 graduates by Dangote Industries, as truck drivers, hard to fathom, on so many levels.
First of all, the sheer number of graduates that are churned out by Nigerian universities on a yearly basis, will be difficult for any economy to quickly absorb, least of all a country that has jobless growth like Nigeria. Going forward, in fact, the numbers are even scarier. High unemployment is seen as a major reason why Nigerian youths in all sorts of things, from armed robbery, to Internet fraud, to being used as election thugs and crude oil thieves. If they were busy, they would have no time for such things.
More fundamentally, there is a skills issue. Those who might think that being a truck driver is a waste of a graduate’s mind, may not be taking what graduates actually learn in school into account. Most graduates here are not fit to go into middle management straight out of school. At least, not immediately. Even if they were, the sheer numbers mean not everyone will get in. What happens to the rest?
Dangote’s operations by now are highly sophisticated, and complex operations need sophisticated people to handle them. This is not about setting a low bar. If major improvements in the supply chain are to be implemented, it may mean that first degree holders are the best people to adapt to these changes, as against the more experienced drivers who are used to a particular style. This is even more important as Africa’s richest man takes his business international.
Then of course, there is the issue of remuneration. The number being bandied around is that Dangote’s truck drivers could earn up N500,000 a month. I’m not one to speculate, but it is a figure that seems plausible, given his profits and the importance of the drivers to the success of the business. If that figure is true, then it is right up there with the best salaries in the country, and very good compensation for the long hours. So many, many workers here work equal hours for a lot less. Some will never that kind of money as basic salary. Ever.
Another objection might come: is it just about the money? Yes, it is. The simple truth is, if we didn’t feel we needed degrees to get ahead, to earn more and provide for our families, we wouldn’t bother. We would read novels, and play video games and such all day and night. The first duty of a certificate is to serve as a platform for material advancement. Further to this, working as a truck driver need not be a permanent thing. It can serve as a stepping stone to a better job, either within the company or outside it. He that is faithful in little…
…will be faithful in much. Which brings me to my next point. A troubling tendency exists in these parts, where some feel certain jobs are beneath them and there is something gravely wrong with this mentality. A lot of successful people have had to pick up menial jobs on their way to the top, jobs that were ‘beneath’ them. Any journey has a number of ‘bus stops’ on the way, some less glamorous than others, but it all comes with the territory, as they say. So many of our roles models used to be waiters, waitresses, mechanics, bus drivers, and so on.
In which we come back to the issue raised in the first paragraph. If many of us have friends, family members and acquaintances who have left Nigeria to do all those odd jobs ‘in the abroad’, where we are second class citizens, is it not a tad hypocritical to raise such dust about these vacancies?
On a final note, I just wonder how much of the fuss is because the offer is from Dangote. His growing power means that he is viewed more and more suspiciously, but this doesn’t mean every move of his is immediately wrong. He will be getting even more youths off the streets, and this is the issue here.
On a final final note, trucking is actually a cool job. Discovery Channel has a whole programme for them called ‘Ice Road Truckers’. Many of us drive our parents and girlfriends for free. Being paid well for it is not a bad idea.