By Francis Ewherido
I entered the university in November 1984. That was the 1984-1985 session when the military government of then Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) removed meal subsidy for university students.
The government said the economy was in bad shape due to the mismanagement of the civilian government it overthrew and subsidising meals for students was no longer sustainable.
Before then, my father, who studied in the University of Lagos in the late 60s and early 70s, had regaled us (my siblings and I) with stories of how two students shared a whole chicken in his time. Student meals then were scandalously subsidised by today’s standard. I cannot recall if he said it was only on Sunday afternoon or always. Their beds were made for them and their clothes laundered free of charge. Those were the stories I heard.
Now the situation I experienced: Less than two years after graduation, my father got a loan and got a car. It could have been much earlier because in his final year, a company came with an offer of a car and accommodation on graduation. But he had been a teacher all his life and wanted to go back to teaching. With a monthly salary of a little over N500, he trained his six children (then) and an equal number, if not more, of extended family members. He also met other obligations. Life was good.
In my own case, in my final year in 1988, no company came to my department to headhunt, to the best of my knowledge. We all graduated into an uncertain future. After my youth service in 1989, I came to Lagos and pounded the streets, looking for a job. There were no danfo buses or okada in inner streets of Lagos then. You either took cabs or you walked to where you could get molue or coaster buses. We (my former classmate, Kehinde Bakare and I) walked the streets of Surulere and Ikeja where many of the advertising agencies were located. Nobody wanted a fresh graduate. They wanted people with experience.
In exasperation, we would scream at ourselves: “how can we acquire experience when nobody is willing to give us a chance.” Through a family friend, I managed to get my first real job. My salary was N400, N390 after tax deduction, per month. That was much less than what they paid my father as a fresh graduate almost two decades earlier. But I was just happy to gain the elusive experience.
Of course I blamed the older generation, like the youngsters of today are doing, for my woes. But I realised early enough that the blame game was unhelpful to me, so I shifted attention to what I could do to make my life meaningful. Youngsters of today have every reason to be angry with the older generation.
Getting jobs now is more difficult than it was in my time. The truth is successive older generations have not done enough for the upcoming generations. But people of every generation cannot blame the older generations entirely for their woes. The fault is not entirely in the older generations or external forces, but partly in themselves that they are underlings and under siege. I will give you a few examples.
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, youths (people of 45 years) and below have been in government (governors, ministers, senators, legislators, commissioners, etc). What did (have) they do (done) to improve the circumstances of fellow youths and youths coming after them?
Again, in my time in the university, we practically held our breaths when we encountered professors; they were demigods. By the 90s, I heard students talking about sorting out lecturers and professors to pass exams. Who is to blame; the “sorter” or the “sortee”? I do not know, but I do know that all have sinned and come short… In my time, if you did not sit for an exam, you were marked absent; if you failed, you re-sat or repeated the exam. Now some students graduate without writing examination or re-writing courses they failed.
The chicken has come home to roost. It is not the fathers, but the children, who have eaten soured grapes and their teeth are on edge. Some graduates are unemployed today simply because their letters of application were too poorly written to warrant an invitation for an interview. Some got interviewed and made the interviewers wonder if they ever saw the four walls of a primary school classroom, not to talk of the university! You can go and ask people in recruitment and human resources department.
Notwithstanding the lack of vision of successive governments, there were some realisations that made me to abandon the blame game as far as opportunities for fresh graduates are concerned. At independence, Nigeria had no full-fledged university; just the University College, Ibadan, which was affiliated to the University of London and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where lectures commenced in October 1960, shortly after independence.
Nigeria needed to fill the positions being vacated by the British. Every graduate – the good, the bad and the ugly – got a job. Demand was more than supply. Within the decade (1960 to 1970), five universities were established. Demand for graduates still outstripped the supply, so university graduates were still Kings. Then in the 70s, the University of Benin and other second generation universities were established. Supply of graduates was gradually catching up with demand.
By the 80s, when state universities and more federal universities were established, supply started outstripping demand, especially since the economy was not growing fast enough to absorb the fresh graduates.
That was why it took some graduates of my generation years to get jobs. Some never did! From the 90s till date, glut set in. We are not creating enough jobs to absorb the graduates the universities and other higher institutions are churning out.
You might blame the older generation for their short-sightedness and mismanagement of our commonwealth, but today’s graduate must come to terms with the fact that a university degree, including first class, no longer guarantees you a job. You need something extra.
I went for a certain university convocation and heard that as many as a third of the graduating accounting students were already chartered accountants! Tell me, how can an ordinary accounting graduate compete against them in the labour market? I see graduates of information technology hustling and doing all kinds of certification programmes to enhance their chances.
I see insurance graduates spending their weekends attending classes to become chartered insurers because in the insurance sector, many of the vacancies stipulate possession of ACII (associateship of the chartered insurance institute).
Today’s graduates must realise that the cheese has moved over time. They are correct in blaming the older generation, but advancement in technology also contributed to the movement of the cheese. Youngsters, like the rest of us, must adapt, re-invent themselves, move with the times or perish. That is the way it is for all of us.
It is not all gloom. There are a lot of positives and opportunities in the new technologies – mobile phones and laptops, internet and many other new developments – that the youths are more adept at than the older generation.
A re-orientation is what many need. You cannot spend the whole day on your phone and laptops, as some of youths are doing, when it is not putting money in your pocket or adding value to your life. Young people must also appreciate the power of small beginnings. It is like a mustard seed
Finally, I want every Nigerian, especially the youths, to realise that most of us are like the anus. There is scarcely any without small sh*t (fault). So while government might be substantially guilty for our woes, we all have our little faults.
Take a critical look into your life. For instance, who are the people who act as thugs and snatch ballot boxes during elections thus perverting the will of the majority? The masters might be people of the older generations, but the foot soldiers are youths…and nobody forced them. They chose that path.