11 November 2012

Nigeria: Hello, Dr Truck Driver

Photo: Vanguard
Unemployed youths at Alausa, Ikeja (File Photo)


Alhaji Aliko Dangote has highlighted the shame of a nation. Nigeria's first billionaire and chairman of the Dangote Group recently confirmed that more than 13, 000 applicants responded to his company's advertisement of vacancies for the post of truck driver.

Among them were six PhDs (doctors of philosophy), 704 master's degree holders and 8, 460 first degree holders all of whom graduated from reputable universities. The PhD and master's holders have been invited for interview, but there is space for only 100 drivers.

Dangote couldn't have been gloating at a World Bank forum for the youth. After all, he has employed many "learned" people in his vast business empire - he is perhaps the largest employer of labour in the country after the federal government. "Our plan is to eventually make them self-dependent," he was quoted to have said.

While making a fruitless effort to read the famous ad, I felt it would betray the motive of the advertisers. Did the company really ask for graduate drivers? Did it specify that an MBA or PhD would be an added advantage? Did it state the salary and other conditions of service attached to the job? The answers would reveal why so many "over-qualified" people applied.

It's a sign of the times: some PhDs no longer aspire to be like President Goodluck Jonathan (another PhD) or Dangote, GCON, who studied Business Studies at Al-Azhar University, Cairo. A colleague doubted the authenticity of the Dangote story because he believed that every PhD could easily get a job as a lecturer, especially since the National Universities Commission has revealed that 60 per cent of lecturers in Nigerian varsities lacked the prestigious degree. How wrong he was! I know that even those who obtained their doctorates abroad are pounding the streets.

Getting hired in a Nigerian university is not a matter of qualification; it depends on who you know, where you come from and how patient you could be. A PhD who doesn't have a godfather could be asked to wait until vacancies are advertised.

And when the great day comes, maybe after three or four years, he would be asked to make 48 copies of each credential, and get a written endorsement from a serving senator or a former headmaster.

After these, he might be invited for an interview during which personal egos would have great influence. In the end, the successful candidates could be people who were never interviewed but who received notes from a vice chancellor, a chancellor, a pro-chancellor or a minister.

Obviously, those who applied for the Dangote job were after the money they would earn. The group is not known to pay well, but I've read articles suggesting that each of the truck drivers would get N300, 000 per month and own his truck after covering 300, 000km or 140 trips from Lagos to Kano. That's generous enough.

So, good luck Dr Dangote Truck Driver. But it would be a mistake to assume that a PhD or an MBA would make one a better driver. I don't know of any Nigerian university where driving lessons are taught. Therefore, the PhD applicants are not even qualified! They may know how to drive but, likely, they have not driven trucks on dilapidated highways. I hope the road safety marshals are listening.

Would anyone, after listening to Alhaji Dangote, still pursue a bachelor's, master's or PhD degree? Yes, of course. For many youngsters, the alternative is to join Boko Haram.

Do we have leaders? Are there patriots left in the country? US president Barack Obama, on Friday, declared "action" to put Americans back to work. Less than 10 per cent of Americans are unemployed, but each gets unemployment allowance (the dough).

Nigerians get nothing, though more than 80 per cent of them are either unemployed or underemployed. Good luck, Nigeria.

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