Vanguard (Lagos)

29 November 2012

Nigeria: Drivers Wanted - Minimum Qualification, PhD

ONE of the greatest philosophers that ever lived, Aristotle, opined centuries ago: "Men come together in cities in order to live; but they remain together in order to live the good life".

It is, however, becoming increasingly harder to live the good life in Nigerian cities today.

As if we are engaged in a deliberate race to seek appropriate answers to the poser left behind by Ralph Emerson (1803-1882): "Can anyone remember when times were not hard and money not scarce?" We seem impelled to force an answer.

We must admit that although times have remained hard over the ages, we are drifting so fast to the point of no return, to the extent that so soon, PhD holders are now begging to be employed as chauffeurs.

This used to be the exclusive preserve for those who did not see the four walls of any classroom or those who dropped out of primary school.

Times were not this hard. This writer recollects, with nostalgia, the late 1960s, when he worked in an insurance company inLagosIslandas an underwriting clerk. One Monday morning, I had a serious disagreement with the company's Chief Accountant. I merely tolerated the man till break time. As soon as it was 12.30p.m., I hopped into the ferry and crossed over to Apapa. I started another job that same afternoon.

Talking of the uses of adversity, whereas the insurance job brought in a salary of 28 pounds at the end of the month, at the new paper company, they started me off with 42 pounds per month. At the Norwegian Company, they gave me one nebulous name, Assistant Cost Accountant.

My qualification then was School Certificate, with some commercial bias. Today, we have drifted to such low level, where a PhD holder has a choice between working as a driver and starving to death, and he chooses the latter, no thanks to his government's rudderlessness.

The PhD has hitherto been a morale booster and a source of pride to its holders and all those associated with such holders. I still remember the year 1979, when I returned to this country after some years in the winter region. This cousin of mine who came to visit me could be seen in a hurry to inform me: "Brother, you know say me I no too go school but my secretary today is a Doctor". To my cousin, this was an ego trip. Yes, he had enrolled into politics early in life via thuggery (I mean the youth wing!) and the UPN administration had made him chairman of one committee.

This type of ego booster could have been largely operational in the minds of the designers of the Graduate Executive Truck Driver scheme of Dangote Group of Companies. This programme, no doubt, taps heavily on the precarious unemployment situation in this country. It was, therefore, not surprising that at the close of the application: "Of the 13,000 applications received, six were PhD, 704 Masters and over 8,460 Bachelor degree holders." We hear that most of the applicants are products of very reputable universities in the land.

Attempts have been made to paint the programme in very attractive colours but no amount of washing can ever change the pig's nose from black to white. By any name, a driver is a driver - in just the same way that our late sage, Archbishop John Edokpolor, believed that a rogue is a rogue,whether he is an armed robber or a pen robber.

In the particular case of Dangote's Graduate Executive Truck Drivers programme, we hear that the drivers will get allowances on each trip plus salaries and the trucks will eventually become theirs after they have run some 300,000 kilometres (about 140 trips fromLagostoKano) within two to four years.

Again, there are quacks in every profession. Fella Anikulapo Kuti would have summarized the situation most succinctly, "Any PhD holder wey dey do driver work na swegbe." This programme will further aggravate the already bad unemployment situation inNigeria: The PhD holders will not be good drivers and meanwhile, the professional drivers are pushed deeper into the unemployment market.

In any organogram, a PhD holder who is supposed to be a subject-specialist is on top while the driver is at the lowest rung of the ladder. No matter how hard times get, a good PhD holder cannot take the menial job of a driver. The situation before us calls for immediate evaluation of the PhD programmes. What is the quality of the PhD and how are the post-graduate programmes organised? Are we producing graduates that will meet the need of the nation?

What is the synergy between our educational institutions and our industrial sector? When are we going to start the target production of manpower in which there must be constant interaction between the educational institutions and the industries?

Essentially, the situation where a PhD holder becomes a driver destroys initiative and it is certainly a bad influence on our youths. If it is true that it is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss, it is also unwise to be going to school when you know you are going to graduate into unemployment or into menial jobs for which no education is required in the first place.

See what we have done to ourselves? We watched helplessly as oil boom gradually became oil doom in this country. We relegated agriculture to the remote background.

Whichever way we look, we see a failed nation that could rise again but there must be serious belt-tightening on the part of us all - the professional drivers must drive the trucks; we must have an educational system that grows in size as it grows in excellence and relevance; and we must be prepared to return to the land.

By the time we till the ground, food and jobs will emerge while hunger and unemployment will disappear.

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