By ANIEBO NWAMU —
I have much interest in the unemployment problem in Nigeria. That’s why many of my opinion pieces have dwelt on entrepreneurship and how young people could embrace it. Several times, I’ve wondered why nothing is being done to create jobs in our country even as schools keep producing graduates that everyone now agrees are unemployable. I’ve wondered why more universities are being created when the existing ones are not what they should be. Perhaps the policymakers have been ignoring my advice. Yet, I’m in love with everyone that feels concerned about the problem or has the answers to my questions.
My latest hero is Professor Julius Okogie, executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) of Nigeria, who said he was planning to make every PhD in the country land a job. The NUC, he said, would be facilitating their employment. Likely, Prof. Okogie is banking on vacancies for PhD holders that universities advertise or the obvious shortfall in the number of PhDs the universities need for teaching jobs. “We will create a portal that will serve as a pool from which the universities can engage such people,” said the NUC boss.
By so doing, the don and his NUC seem to be keeping to the fifth goal of the commission as declared on its website: “To match university graduate output with national manpower needs.” I was excited to learn that the NUC now has a full department devoted to entrepreneurship, all in an effort to make the universities comply with what they ought to be doing from Day 1.
The NUC would do well to also pursue its sixth goal: “To foster partnership between the Nigerian university system and the private sector.” As he seeks jobs for PhD holders, I’m sure Okogie’s eye is focused mainly on private universities. For government-owned universities are over-bloated already and would not sack non-PhD holders in their employ. And few other establishments in the private sector that I know would be willing to recruit PhDs. A few years ago, the Dangote Group received applications from scores of them, but the company did not solicit for PhDs when it wanted people to drive its DAF trucks. It advertised vacancies for the position of truck driver only to be overwhelmed by applications from all manner of certificate holders including PhDs.
My advice for the NUC boss: At this stage, he should seek PhD holders that have the aptitude and discipline for teaching. Possession of a PhD is not enough. I’m sure many of those he said have been approaching him for jobs did not study education or possess any other teaching qualification. In my student days (25-35 years ago), most brilliant students did not apply to attend teachers’ training colleges or colleges of education or seek to obtain B.Ed from universities. They studied Medicine, Engineering, Pharmacy, Architecture or Law.
Some of us that chose to follow our dreams and studied courses we felt would prepare us for jobs we would love to do later in life were considered stubborn. Had I not been “stubborn”, I would have stayed back in the university 25 years ago, and could have since become a professor without practising my trade or profession for one day. We left the university well before the invention of the Internet, and I felt I had no new knowledge to give the younger ones. [I read Bill Gates saying that universities were no longer important with the coming of the Internet.] Would I be quoting the same books I had read? I wondered.
There are many young people now that feel the way I did. A younger person from my area, who made seven or eight A1’s in his WASCE, withdrew from Medicine after two years – though he was still the best student – and opted for Astronomy. When I saw him last, about 10 years ago, he was completing his PhD and, of course, was teaching first-degree students in the same department. I learned that he was asked to set the questions he was to answer for his master’s degree!
I don’t know the level of independence the NUC has. But I know that, like almost all government departments and agencies in Nigeria, it is not financially independent. I would therefore plead with the authorities to grant it total independence so it could do something on the mismatch between the schools system and industry. A radical approach to solving this hydra-headed problem is needed urgently.
Prof. Okogie really means well. The universities should oblige him whenever he sends a list of qualified PhDs to be employed as lecturers or non-academic staff. Nevertheless, I advise the NUC to continue to seek new ways of realising its vision to act “as a catalyst for positive change and innovation for the delivery of quality university education in Nigeria”.
I’m writing a book that, I hope, will be useful in this respect. [Lack of funding for research has been stalling my progress.] I believe we Africans have to be original. Were we original, what we call departments now would be universities. There would be a university of cassava farming and a university of automobile manufacturing. The people we call “roadside” mechanics today would be senior lecturers in reputable universities. There would be professors of publishing and professors of palm wine-making. Herbal healers in our communities would rightly be called doctors and pharmacists. And the NUC would not accredit any programme that failed to produce job creators.
Western education has failed already even in western countries. Are we the ones to prop it up? In any case, the day of reckoning is near. The younger generation is likely to witness the denouement, but I’m not so sure Okogie’s generation will be around then.