World, Africa

Nigeria's college graduates beat unemployment

Varsity graduates venturing into entrepreneurship, farming and handicrafts amid tough job market

Rafiu Ajakaye   | 18.04.2019
Nigeria's college graduates beat unemployment file photo

LAGOS, Nigeria

Faced with a shrinking number of government jobs and a struggling economy with fewer private sector vacancies, Nigeria’s college graduates are increasingly becoming their own bosses. 

Learning handicrafts, trading in consumer goods and networking have become the “in” thing as everyone struggles to beat the economic downturn.

At least 1.6 million secondary school leavers sat for the 2018 exam for admission into colleges, universities and polytechnics, largely underscoring the strong desire for a college education and jobs in government offices or private firms.

But official statistics put youth unemployment at 52.65%. With the population between 15 and 35 years old totaling roughly 22.64 million and an estimated 500,000 college graduates entering the labor market annually, analysts say it is clear that the country needs a paradigm shift to cut poverty and halt a drift towards anarchy resulting from youth restiveness.

The good news, however, is that young people are seeing opportunities in the current situation to chart a new course for themselves.

Allison Okikiola Jemeenat, a postgraduate student at Lagos State University (LASU), is one of them.

Jemeenat opted to learn fashion designing while she was still studying for her undergraduate degree because of the bitter experience of her elder sister, who couldn't land a decent job after school.

"When I was in 100 level, my immediate elder sister had just graduated from LASU [Lagos State University] with a 2.1 [degree classification]. We all believed her life had just begun because she is really brilliant," Jemeenat told Anadolu Agency.

"At the end of [national] service, she went for a whole lot of interviews but didn't get any job...and had to enroll at a fashion school after working for a weasel of a man who insisted on paying her 30,000 naira, or $83, for over a year since she's been working for him."

Not wanting to suffer a similar fate prompted Jemeenat to learn fashion designing, with which she now earns some money.

"I don't regret taking that decision," she said.

Bagging a second class upper, or upper second class honors, in history and international studies, her own efforts to land a job had also proven futile.

Although she still looks forward to finishing her master's program and getting a good job, she currently works as a fashion designer to augment whatever she gets from her parents and older siblings.

"I earn roughly $56 a month with my job; I do not have a shop/outlet, so my customers are restricted to friends, family members and some referrals I get," she added, explaining her low income at the moment.

Odeyemi Tope, a high-end mobile phone retailer, had a similar experience.

Although a university graduate, Tope opted for business on account of high unemployment and poor remunerations by many employers.

Nigeria currently has a minimum wage of 18,000 naira (around $50) a month, although a fresh university graduate earns something slightly higher. It was recently revised to $83, although it has not been implemented.

"I never imagined doing this, but I just couldn't stand the amount they are paying most graduates at the moment," he told Anadolu Agency.

"I imagined how much of, say, $138 monthly pay I would have left after eating and deducting the weekly transport fare. Besides, I do not even have the connections to land a job at government ministries. So I decided to...be my own boss."

Tope makes an average monthly profit of $300 from selling mobile phones.

The government, meanwhile, is now investing a lot to wean people off clerical jobs. The last few years have seen heavy public spending on the Government Enterprises Entrepreneurship Programme (GEEP), an initiative of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, also made significant efforts to get young people to learn a trade, handicrafts or agribusiness.

This newfound love for entrepreneurship is aided by the social media revolution, which enables them to showcase what they do to a wider audience through multiple shares, retweets and broadcasts of products or services.

"Most of my sales -- which are quite appreciable -- come from online or virtual customers who I have never met in real life," said Segun Adetunji, a shoe dealer and 2008 biochemistry graduate from Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro in southwest Ogun state.

But while some ventured into other things to survive the economic realities, others simply chose to do things outside the certificate they earned from college.

Saheed Aisha -- a financial analyst and professional baker -- is one.

The graduate from Olabisi Onabanjo University in southwest Ogun state said she prefers being an entrepreneur and creator of wealth to being someone's employee.

"I opted for this to express creativity, create wealth. I am also into this for personal fulfillment," Aisha, who bakes cakes and makes desserts, told Anadolu Agency.

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