Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our Broken Souls

By Moses Obroku
We have come home
From the bloodless wars
With sunken hearts
Our boots full of pride-
From the true massacre of the soul
When we have asked
‘What does it cost
To be loved and left alone’ "
-- Lenrie Peters
It would appear that Lenrie Peters, that great Gambian poet who only passed away on May 27th 2009, had the situation of today’s Nigerian graduate in mind when he wrote the above poem very many years ago. Indeed the situation of the Nigerian graduate is pathetic, very pathetic. For a while now, I have had nothing but deep respect for the majority of youths in this country. They are peaceable, strong and hardworking; with uncanny determination to succeed no matter what it takes.

President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, during                                      an African Union (AU)  conference in Uganda (2010)

Many of Nigeria’s youths attempt external examinations even while they are still in high school, just to get a head start on the journey to success. No one will forget in a hurry the experiences at WAEC and JAMB offices nationwide!
Undaunted, the Nigerian youth proceeds to the university where he has to contend with heavy fees, lack of facilities, sometimes incompetent lecturers and the frequent disruption of academic activities by strike actions, where of course he is the grass between the lecturers and the federal government.
After being severely battered by the academic system and a year or two of his life forever wasted by bureaucracies, the Nigerian youth  finally graduates and the same insensitive  government still demands another year of compulsory National Service from him. Peaceable and cooperative, these graduates wear the NYSC uniforms with pride and are dispatched to the far flung corners of this nation.

Graduating Students at the University of Lagos
Some of them to places they ordinarily may never step into in this lifetime. But seeing victory in sight, these brave youths soldier on in service to fatherland. Many of them the hopes of their families that have been shackled by poverty, and have endured no small pain in ensuring such youths get what it takes to make a difference in their collective lives.
A few will meet violent deaths in National Service, caught in the cross fire of ethnic, religious, or political disturbances. The recent killing of some corps members in the northern part of the country during the last election in April 2011 is still fresh in our memories.
Armed with, their first degrees and  NYSC discharge certificates, these graduates quickly construct their CVs, and eagerly circulate them online and in hard copies to as many friends, family members and associates; as well as going from door to door of offices. They are that determined!
A few of these graduates manage to secure placement with some companies, but for the vast majority of Nigerian graduates, the harsh realities begin to set in. what they had thought would only take a couple of months before getting jobs soon start dragging on endlessly.
The jobless situation in the country has become so pathetic that the very insulting commission sales jobs for mostly needless products are now being brandished everywhere by budding entrepreneurs. Have you ever noticed those small squares in the pages of various newspapers advertising these commission based jobs?
Since the government has shied away from the responsibility of job creation, all manner of people who have highly exploitative capitalist tendencies, some of whom do not have any business being entrepreneurs are daily humiliating Nigerian graduates. With the way we are going, before long refuse collectors and septic tank evacuators would soon be recruiting graduates to do sales and marketing for them (God forbid!).

Nigerian Graduates during the one year compulsory
 National Service (NYSC
The proliferation of all manner of reality TV shows, talent hunts and pageants in Nigeria is a reflection of a careful target at the vulnerable unemployed graduates in Nigeria. Often time, applicants are required to register with substantial sums to become contestants.
There is no control whatsoever on the activities of these showbiz people. Sometimes, after collecting registration fees from unsuspecting candidates, the organizers simply vanish!
It is here that graduates of a discipline end up working in unrelated fields. I had joked with a friend who studied civil engineering but now works in a bank that, I think he is doing ‘financial engineering’ (maybe this practice is acceptable to the government that is why it is reflected in the ministerial appointments. Or what logical explanation can anyone proffer about the very lopsided portfolios given to our ministers?)
The Nigerian government has a striking resemblance to an uncaring father in respect of its policies towards its graduates. It has never shown any realistic interest in the welfare of the myriads of graduates churned out annually.
Not employing, it has not made the necessary enabling environment possible to bring about the much needed industrialization to cater for the millions of unemployed people milling about the country.

Queuing for non-existent jobs
Regime after regime has instead shown an uncanny proclivity for bleeding government funds white for personal gains. There don’t seem to be any hope in sight for the unemployed Nigerian graduate. It is simply a fait accompli as he seems to stand a better chance of escaping an apparition in a house of mirrors than relying on the government for jobs.
Disillusioned, these individuals are thrown out in the cold by the State that they have loved and served with diligence. They are mocked and humiliated by the state, stripped of any dignity and consigned among the heap of those who live below the poverty line in the country.
I once stopped a commercial bike operator at Victoria Island in Lagos, sometime in 2006 to take a ride to some other part of the vicinity. To my surprise, the fellow told me that he was a HND holder who had come to the Island to drop his unsolicited credentials in expectation for a job with companies around, and that he does the bike business to survive in the interim. While self help is encouraged, this fellow’s situation is a reflection of the experiences of many graduates of this country.

Any reward for this effort?

Surely, the Nigerian graduate deserves a better deal than these bone crushing experiences he is getting from successive governments of Nigeria. Whether it is clear to the powers that be or not, beyond the physical impoverishment these people face daily, is the mental degeneration that comes with not being able to put to use knowledge so painstakingly acquired in tertiary institutions.
For each working day they remain unemployed, they get further devalued and diminished, and ironically the nation gets diminished too. For as long as nothing is done to improve the situation of the unemployed, there is a systemic breakdown of the souls of these individuals who are supposed to be tomorrow’s leaders.
And the government should be more wary because most scary is the fact that there is no prosthetic for the broken soul.
Mr. Obroku, a legal practitioner, contributed this piece to this blog from Abuja.

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