How Nige­ri­ans deal with un­der­em­ploy­ment

Finweek English Edition - - IN BRIEF -

This week, while I was walk­ing down the street, a woman I had never met be­fore came up t o me a nd a s ked me a ques­tion.

“Do you know where I can get work?” she asked.

She was very neat, smartly dressed in a busi­ness suit, black shoes and a match­ing bag. I was any­thing but, be­ing gym-ready in ex­er­cise gear, so it’s a won­der that she chose me to talk to, but also a mark of the des­per­a­tion of many Nige­ri­ans for jobs that they’ll walk up to strangers on the street on the off chance they’ll find work as well as a new friend.

“I am not sure,” I said. “What are your qual­i­fi­ca­tions?”

“I have a de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion. I am a teacher.”

I told her I was sorry, but that I don’t have any abil­ity to re­cruit teach­ers and I don’t know any­thing she could do other than ask­ing around the schools in Abuja about any va­can­cies.

“I don’t mind, any­thing is fine. I will do any­thing,” she replied.

Nige­ri­ans are any­thing but lazy. If you asked me to de­scribe the Nige­rian mind­set in five words, per­haps the first word would be in­dus­tri­ous. It man­i­fests in the ram­pant op­por­tunism of hawk­ers in La­gos go-slows, in the way that no Nige­rian ever has just one busi­ness if he or she could have four or f ive (no mat­ter how com­ple­men­tary), in the way that ev­ery friend is a po­ten­tial busi­ness part­ner. I have friends whose busi­nesses started at board­ing school with an ex­change for for­bid­den foods; I have friends who are oil con­sul­tants, frozen shell­fish sales­men and fer­tiliser traders all in one. But for all this, there’s a prob­lem: there aren’t enough jobs to ac­count for the enor­mous will to work.

This is how Nige­ri­ans who have qual­i­fi­ca­tions and col­lege de­grees end up hand­ing out ré­sumés in traf­fic jams. This is how Nige­ri­ans who could be com­puter en­gi­neers are se­cu­rity guards on com­pounds, and child psy­chol­ogy grad­u­ates be­come maids. This is how, at the sharpest and grimmest end of de­pri­va­tion, dis­en­chanted youths see life in Boko Haram as prefer­able to a life that can’t of­fer the op­por­tu­ni­ties your brain and work ethic de­serve.

At the end of the fourth quar­ter of 2014, un­em­ploy­ment was 6.4%. Un­der­em­ploy­ment, how­ever, was around 18%. To dis­tin­guish: a man sit­ting com­pil­ing stats for the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment in an off ice would be con­sid­ered em­ployed; a man sit­ting sell­ing man­goes by the road­side a few days a week is un­der­em­ployed; a man sit­ting not sell­ing man­goes by the road­side ev­ery day of the week is un­em­ployed.

They may not be un­der­em­ployed right this minute given the chronic fuel scarcity in the Nige­rian cap­i­tal, but Abuja’s black mar­ket fuel sell­ers are a per­fect ex­am­ple of this. When fuel tankers re­turn to the city, they’ll re­turn to their vil­lages, jerry cans in hand, and wait for some other hus­tle.

A new gov­ern­ment i s com­ing, but with dwin­dling cash re­serves, a widen­ing bud­get deficit and low oil prices, job cre­ation will be a strug­gle. Nige­ria’s un­der­em­ployed are al­ways hope­ful, a l ways have an eye on the next naira and yet are so of­ten dis­ap­pointed.

A man car­ries jerry cans to search for fuel to sell in La­gos on 21 May.

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