NO JOBS! YES, WORK NOR DEY!! - By Philips AKPOVIRI.

This piece is essentially the texts of my address at a gathering of undergraduates and fresh graduates of tertiary institutions across the South-South and South-Eastern parts of Nigeria during a Capacity Building Workshop held over the weekend in Port Harcourt.

I thank you for finding me worthy to address you today as you gather to hold the 2011 edition of your annual Capacity Building Workshop for undergraduates and fresh graduates in the South-South and South-Eastern regions of Nigeria. I commend your foresight to create and execute this noble not-for-profit initiative for yourselves, your friends and for country.

I also praise your sagacity for the perfect timing for the event. It only occurred to me a few days ago that the event shall run through our country's 51st Independence Day anniversary. For those who are proud of theNigeria we have today, you may chorus Hip! Hip!! Hip!!! For those who are not, you are at liberty to disregard. We may veer off into this incidental discourse in the course of the event later.

I am one young man privileged to have quite a few elderly friends or mentors as it were. Sometimes, they taunt me about how much opportunity they had that we never had – and never may. They joke with the fact that in their days even before graduation, multiple job offers hopefully chased them, but today many years after graduation, graduates hopelessly chase single job openings. They keep saying that most of them were offered scholarship even without asking, but today, millions seek scholarship but get none.

They are right. Yes, my elders' claims are very true. True in their Nigeria that had their currency roughly at par with the British Pound Sterling; their Nigeria that was effectively administered by just three or four regional premiers; their Nigeria that had just four world class universities or so with only a few hundreds of graduates per year; their Nigeria that had Kano bubbling with groundnut pyramids, Ibadan exchanging Cocoa for cash, the tourist city of Jos shining with tin, and Enugu boasting of Coal; their Nigeria that had brilliant and passion-filled missionaries running schools for free. Of course, they must be right because they had the good luck to have the ‘Old School' Naija.

They never had the misfortune of having a dysfunctionalNigeriathat heavily and wholly relies on crude oil alone. They never had a Nigeria politically Balkanized into 36 states, 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies, tens of hundreds of state constituencies, 774 LGAs, countless number of government agencies expensively and unproductively superintended over by thousands of profligate leaders who care only little about the pathetic condition of the deprived masses.

My elderly friends never had the bad luck of actively facing a Nigeria with a population totalling half of the entire West Africa's; they never had to experience a Nigeria with second-rate universities and polytechnics scattered all over the place churning out hundreds of thousands of graduates majority of whom are inadequately exposed to modern learning facilities, undeservedly peppered by incessant strike actions, and embarrassingly soaked in bloody pools of secret cult clashes. They never had aNigeriawith most public schools pitiably reduced to miserable glorified play grounds; they never had aNigeriawhere academics see pedestrian political appointments as the height of professional accomplishments scheming never to return to class rooms. Indeed they never really witnessed aNigeriawhere signed high-powered complimentary cards are far more valuable to employers than good academic qualifications.

Dear friends, it's time for me to tell you the bitter but frank truth: that which many persons will never tell you; that which your pastors always pray against; that truth which you have always feared. Yes, the truth and nothing but the truth.

Be not deceived; know now that there are no much dream jobs out there! No jobs!! Work nor dey!!!

There are not enough juicy openings to conveniently accommodate and feed all you seated before me. No way! God forbid? Yes, of course, our God must forbid the fact that most of you looking at me right now would graduate only to return to your same old houses, reluctantly but helplessly relying on your parents for meals and up-keep, fervently writing applications day after day, and fraudulently altering your date of birth week after week to suit the ever changing and ever increasingly hard-to-meet demands of job recruiters. Again, God forbid! Yes, I agree God must forbid this one!!

You may disagree with the above, but don't doubt the fact that a lady – about to wed – sat for the last NNPC recruitment tests spotting her flowing beautiful white bridal apparel – it happened live!

That said, I know how you feel about this. I can feel the deep panting of your hard-working heart resonating in tandem with your tear-filled, fear-laden eyes. Oh, no, now you are making me feel so guilty for telling you what many millions of young active Nigerians face out there every day – inLagos, in Warri, inAbuja, in Bauchi, inEnugu, here inPort Harcourt– everywhere. But trust me, I am your friend and will almost certainly remain that. Wait a moment.

According to the National Universities Commission,Nigeriacurrently has thirty six (36) federal universities, thirty seven (37) State, and a whopping forty five (45) privately owned universities duly approved and operating. That figure is for the universities alone – not polytechnics!

The country still has about seventy (70) polytechnics scattered across virtually all the states of the federation. Mind you, this figure does not include certain special industry – tailored tertiary institutions like the Petroleum Training Institute,MaritimeAcademy, etc.

It was Professor Julius Okojie the Executive Secretary of the NUC who in November 2010 said,Nigeriahas an average of 1.3 million secondary school leavers who sit for the mandatory University Matriculation examination every year. Again, take note – universities alone! Of this number, over 75% will – in fact must fail – the examination because the Universities can only accommodate about 300,000 students.

Expectedly, a large percentage of these undergraduates graduate out of the universities yearly. Ditto the Polytechnics and other special tertiary institutions.

On the flip side, ask yourself how many new staff do your dream employers Shell, the high paying banks, the embassies, Globacom, Chevron, MTN and their ilk hire – as direct staff – in a year?

The implication is that an approximate 300,000 students get out of the tertiary institutions to chase a paltry 300 jobs or so! To put this in context, 1000 graduates effectively chase just one job opportunity yielding a poor ratio 1000:1. Truth be told, some of this select few will be recruited based on ‘notes' from high places, while a few will secure the juicy slots based on their high intelligence, academic performance and special abilities – and good luck too.

It is not my wish to scare you otherwise I would have told you that the blue-chip companies we all crave for seldom recruit fresh graduates from Nigerian schools these days. You may not believe this, but I tell you these dream employers of ours have highly skilled agents acrossEuropeandAmericascouting for and recruiting Nigerians in foreign lands. The implication is that, the odds are stacked even higher against you and me the local products.

If graduates could face this, I live you to honestly figure out the fate of the millions of the poor and less-privileged secondary school and university drop-outs. Now you get a feel as to why the unemployment curve will almost keep going upward unless something new is done.

But, fellow young Nigerians, believe me as I say all hope is not lost. It's not too late to escape from this dark tunnel. As they say, there's light at the end of it albeit we have to move progressively towards the end of the tunnel otherwise we may never see this light. We only need to move!

What then is the way out? Simple! I propose two solutions. Firstly, we have to enthrone a forward-thinking, people-centred leadership. We need a leadership with the skill and will to chart a new national order and ingenuity to develop an up-to-date model where literacy level rises in inverse proportion to unemployment level. But, this shall be a broad subject for another day.

Secondly, it is pertinent to develop a proactive-thinking self. By this, I mean assuming full control of self, actions, everyone and everything around one's self with the right attitude and at the right time – that right time is now! I mean a prompt and sincere realisation of the fact that the systemic design for us is poverty and despair – and death. But, that we as super machines, made in the image and likeness of God have within us the adequate wherewithal to bravely confront and victoriously overcome these challenges one after the other.

This is why we – individually and collectively – need to pause, to re-consider the notion of entrepreneurship. We need to give a thought to doing our own businesses too. We need to stretch ourselves to put our creativities and abilities into action. It no doubt, bears enormous challenges and pitfalls, but it also carries huge prospects for us and our dear country. This is a veritable pathway towards our individual financial prosperity and collective economic salvation.

I have a feeling that a brand new crop of Nigerians will leave this venue at the end – a clever crop that will see wisdom in venturing into commercial agriculture; a tech-savvy crop that will take full advantage of our highly technologized world of today; a creative crop that will show intelligence in starting small to grow big. Yes, I see a crop of young Nigerians who will be determined more than ever before to take their destinies into their own poor hard-working hands.

This is why we are here. The invited resource persons have graciously resolved to teach, guide and mentor you through this liberation avenue. I pray that your expectations will never be cut short.

Thank you for the opportunity and for your rapt attention. Have a good time.

Philips AKPOVIRI

Port Harcourt, 2011.

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