10 November 2012

Nigeria: One-On-One With Graduate Truck Drivers

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/PlusNews
Nigeria: Graduates some of them are even MSC holders and others including PhD holders applied to beccome truck drivers (File Photo)

Kaduna — They are young. They are graduates. Some of them are even MSC holders, but, unlike many in their class, they are not looking for white collar jobs in air-conditioned offices. Rather, they applied, along with several others including PhD holders, and got the chance to become truck drivers for the Dangote Group. Weekly Trust traced them to their training centre to hear their stories.

To differentiate the graduate truck drivers from the conventional trailer drivers, instructors at the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), Zaria call them logistics assistants. Most of the graduates who applied to work as truck drivers with the Dangote Group of Companies qualified as engineers, architects, chemists, mathematicians, just but to mention a few. This is why, perhaps, the NITT instructors quickly attempted to professionalise the Graduate Truck Driving Scheme with the alias of Logistics Assistants.

Out of the about 13,000 graduates reported to have applied to be employed as truck drivers, some of them hold Ph.D degrees. Others had obtained masters degrees in different fields while thousands are graduates of different universities, polytechnics, federal colleges of education and other tertiary institutions with qualifications that cut across engineering, sciences, social sciences and arts.

The lucky graduates among the army of the applicants were only 2,000. These 2,000 graduates are scheduled to undergo a training programme in batches at the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), Zaria, which would be run in four years. The about 100 pioneer batch of the graduate-drivers have already commenced a three-month training at the NITT.

Although all the trainees interviewed by Weekly Trust said they were attracted by the reputation that the Dangote Group had earned for itself internationally, other reasons like spending many years without viable job, passion and lust for high pay contributed to the large turn up of graduates to apply to work as truck drivers.

Observers said for the young graduates to accept to work as truck drivers is indeed commendable.

Henry Pender is a graduate of Political Science from the University of Ibadan. Pender graduated in 2000 and has worked as a banker, yet he is among the about 100 graduates undergoing training to become truck drivers; or rather logistics assistants. Pender is also the class governor of this first batch of trainees.

"After my service, I had the privilege of being retained at the Rivers State Primary Education Board where I did my primary assignment. I was with them for about a year before I joined the All States Trust Bank, which is now defunct. I worked with them for three years before I joined the Ecobank, from there I moved to the Oceanic Bank before joining Ecobank again after the acquisition of Oceanic Bank by Ecobank.

"I had to leave the banking industry when I married my colleague, because the human resource policy then did not allow spouses to work in the same office. I felt that my wife should stay behind while I as a man would look around for something to do. It wasn't easy, because the job was not forthcoming as I thought. I attended a couple of interviews at different places, but I didn't get what I was looking for.

"When this opportunity of becoming truck driver with Dangote presented itself, I applied with open mind. I felt that this is an opportunity for a new beginning to move into a new paradigm that is not explored. We have just begun the journey in the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT). I was pleasantly surprised when I came here to see people from different backgrounds and professions.

"We are all getting along very well. I am looking forward for an experience that would improve our larger society. Dangote has put something in place that would turn out to be a revolution in the transport industry in this country. I think this programme would eventually become a model that all organisations of international standard would adopt in no distance future.

"From personal point of view, I like driving. I have driven a lot since when I became a professional driver and I like travelling. But by coming here, I have been exposed to the academic side of driving. I feel that whatever I do as a graduate, there should be a level of expected difference from what a layman would do. I think the objective of employing graduates as drivers is for sanity to be restored on our highways. Most of us are victims of the recklessness of heavy truck drivers and this is what this initiative wants to address. We are being trained here to become complete gentlemen as drivers," Pender said.

He explained that he has, essentially, decided to join the truck driving profession out of interest not for material reward.

"As at the time we had our interview, there was no mention of any material reward. It is now that we are hearing that after a successful driving for a certain period, or covering of certain mileage that one would own a truck or things like that. No such thing was mentioned; there was no mention of special incentives rather than we would be employed and paid salaries.

"What I would say lured me into joining the truck driving profession is the name Dangote that is known locally and internationally. I bet you that if it were some other companies that came up with this initiative, some of us may not be here but the mention of the name Dangote, one would know that there is quality; there is a personality behind it; there is international recognition; that is what lured most of us here beyond any other material gain.

"We only discovered the entrepreneurial incentive of this programme when we came here; when most of us have completed their registration. Being somebody who had the experience of the banking sector, I would quickly join Dangote, because I know I would have job security and we are enjoying ourselves here in the NITT as the pioneer batch of this training programme. I never knew there is an institute like the NITT in Nigeria. We are grateful to them for the knowledge they are impacting in us.

"I want to also use this medium to urge the youth of Nigeria to work hard. We have to make names for ourselves by working hard as it is not all of us who are children of the privileged, therefore we are here as part of our dignity of labour. I would rather stay here and do this work than apply for visa to go abroad and face all kinds of humiliation by washing toilets or driving taxi while I have a similar option here, which I would do with dignity and leave a good example for the upcoming ones," Pender explained.

Olowokere Oladele Yakub is from Osun State. He attended University of Lagos where he read Mathematics (Education) with Geophysics as his area of specialisation and graduated in 2008. He is also in the NITT, Zaria undergoing the Dangote Truck Driving Training Scheme.

"I am passionate about this programme, because of the need to develop this kind of entrepreneurship in this country. I am into this programme, because I also have passion for farming. I feel that to be able to handle my farming activities effectively, I need to learn how to drive a truck. Nothing comes easy in this life. One has to work before becoming successful.

"I know that drivers drive the economy of this country, therefore, by becoming a driver, I feel I am contributing my quota to the development of the country. There is no free lunch anywhere," Yakub said.

For Okafor Martins from Anambra State, he is expecting a monthly salary of between N250,000 and N300,000 when he begins to steer the wheels of his truck on the highway.

"I attended the Federal University of Technology (FUTO), Owerri where I read Electronic and Electrical Engineering and graduated in 2008.

"I have never been a driver, but when I saw the advert, I developed interest. Honestly, the name Dangote attracted me to this place, because I know he must have good package for us. This is my passion for it. I just don't want to be a common driver, but I want to make a difference between graduate-driver and a layman driver. I am sure when we start plying the highways; Nigerians would begin to see the difference because we would be trained drivers.

"I want to appreciate Dangote and we are looking forward to N250,000 to N300,000 monthly salary," enthusiastic Martins said.

Dahiru Hassan from Jigawa State said if Ph.D holders in the United States of America, United Kingdom, among other top world countries can become truck drivers, he has no reason to look down on the job of truck driving.

Hassan is a chemist, from the Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and graduated in the year 2010.

"I am looking at this development as a passion, because in developed countries, you can find a Ph.D holder driving heavy duty vehicle. Why not in Nigeria? The truck drivers we have in Nigeria do not have the types of qualifications we have. Therefore, we feel we would do better, because our driving would be knowledge-based.

"Honestly, I never knew of the NITT before this programme. The lecturers or instructors are really knowledgeable and with their tutorship, I feel that we would have promising future," Hassan said.

It is real that the Dangote Truck Driving Scheme is parading people with higher degrees. Adebayo Fadewon holds a masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) obtained from Ladoke Akintola University, Oyo State in 2007. He is presently at the NITT, Zaria and is among the 100 first batch trainees of the truck driving scheme.

"I worked at the First City Emolument Bank for three years before joining this Dangote Truck Driving programme. During the flagging off ceremony of this programme, the principal of the Federal Government Girls' College, Zaria said one of our major problems in Nigeria is lack of respect for dignity of labour. If you are doing a certain type of job, some people may tend to look down on you, but with respect for dignity of labour, we would imbibe the habit of respecting every profession.

"Personally, I love driving. I have been driving for the past 12 years and I love travelling. Therefore, joining this programme is joining something that I am used to. When I left the banking sector, I started doing something like this. I engaged in hire service with my car and I did that under my registered company. For me, this programme is just like home coming. I think what Dangote is trying to do is to bring up people like him, because good leaders always groom their successors. Dangote wants to help people to be on their own, therefore we must salute this sound initiative.

"The issue is not being called driver, because even if you are not driving truck, you would drive yourself and by that you are a driver. The issue is the passion we have for the job. I think through this job, we would get exposure. For now, we have been exposed to the NITT, which many of us were not aware of before. I am so surprise to see an institute like this, which can play a significant role in the development of the transport sector in Nigeria.

"Honestly, I am very optimistic about this programme because I think Dangote wants to make it to be of international standard. For that I am looking forward to a salary of the range of N300,000. The salary may not be all that important anyway, but it is one of the motivations. The knowledge we are acquiring now is far above other material gains," Fadewon said.

The lecturers, instructors and coaches of the trainees at the NITT are also excited just as the graduate-drivers are. They feel that they are making history as those who would pioneer the training of graduates to become truck drivers.

Joseph Nashakya is one of the instructors grooming the graduate-drivers at NITT and he said professionally, the graduates are supposed to be addressed as Logistic Assistants and not drivers.

"Here in the NITT we don't really call them drivers. Nowadays people who assist in logistics are called logistics assistants. The training they are receiving here is to enable them perform anywhere in the world. Dangote Group of Companies is expanding in the West African sub-region and other parts of African continent. I want to believe that somebody can be called upon to assist outside Nigeria. These people should be world class reformers after their training so that wherever they are called to serve, they should be able to do that with excellence.

"Programmes of this nature are meant to give the participants the requisite knowledge they require to effectively discharge their duties. Driving heavy truck vehicles used to be a muscular profession before, but now it only requires the use of brain with little energy.

This is why women have taken up this profession. With what we are giving them here, I have the conviction that nobody would be lost at the end of the training unless if the person doesn't have the will to succeed. However, all the participants are responding very well. You can see the excitement and I am very happy for that," Mr Nashakya said.

Femi Jemirin, Head, Training Department, NITT, Zaria said the training programme is the first of its kind in Nigeria.

"A private company decided to improve safety, efficiency, operations and management of road transport. Dangote decided to bring on board graduates from different walks of life and it is a laudable development.

"The training is categorised into three parts. There would be the theoretical training that would cover transport operation, safety, defensive driving, understanding of highway codes and interpretation, first aid administration, among others.

The second part of the training is simulation. The participants would be drafted to our transport technology centre. Therein, each one of them would be exposed to simulation driving. From there we would move to practical trailer driving. We would start with our test track driving, which is within the NITT. After that they would graduate to highway driving. We would use four trailers to do this training that is 25 participants per trailer since we are having 100 as the first batch.

"The practical aspect of driving trailer would start within Zaria and from there it would be extended to nearby towns and finally to embark on long journey on the highway. After the three month intensive training, they would be awarded drivers' license and certificate from NITT. We are doing this training in collaboration with other agencies. The Federal Road Safety Corps are to cover some modules of the training while the Vehicle Inspection Unit (VIO) would cover some modules, as well.

"What we want to achieve after this training is improvement of safety on our highways. The programme would also reduce graduates' unemployment in the country, which is very high. Dangote decided to introduce something that is obtain in other parts of the world. In New York and UK, some of their drivers are graduates. It would also improve transport management in the country.

"It is a thing of joy that the NITT is the only institute in Nigeria and West African that has the capacity to host this kind of programme that has a large number of participants. Kudos also has to be given to Dangote for this initiative and the recurrent training of his own staff in his different factories across the country and the African continent," Mr Jemirin said.

During the flagging off ceremony of the Dangote Driving Training Scheme, the representative of the company, Bala Bashir, said the determination of the company to reduce unemployment in the country and the need for the company to replace its drivers with more exposed and competent hands informed the idea of recruiting the graduates as drivers.

On the other hand, the Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, who performed the flagging off ceremony through his representative, said the scheme is not only apt, but timely in view of the rate of unemployment in this time of Nigeria's national history.

Director General of the NITT, Alhaji Aminu Musa Yusuf, expressed optimism that the scheme would reducie unemployment in the country by augmenting Federal Government's efforts at providing employment opportunities for Nigeria's teeming youths, particularly those graduating from the country's tertiary institutions.

As commendations continue to pour for the initiative of the graduate-drivers scheme and the acceptance of many youths to enrol into the scheme, observers said the programme may not fully achieve its main objective of enhancing sanity on the highways if the country's roads are not fixed.

It is also time that would tell whether the graduate-drivers would behave differently on the highways or they would continue with the feeling of an aura of a king on the highways, as heavy trucks' drivers.

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