This is the meaning of unemployment in Nigeria, Tayo thought to himself… forget all those economic statistics. Unemployment in Nigeria means enduring the humiliation of standing in the sun, begging like a starving refugee. It means more than ten thousand people applying for one position that may not need more than a hundred people nationwide…
It was almost twelve o clock on Tuesday, 14 December 2010 when Tayo arrived at the Events Centre Hakeem Balogun Street, Agidingbi, the Lagos venue for the NBC aptitude test. At first he did not see many people, just a sprinkling of heads, several of them relaxed and taking cold mineral drinks at the roadside stands. But when he had paid the Okada man and walked up the road, he saw a swarm of fellow job-seekers jostling in front of the gate, shouting at hidden security men who refused to open the small gate.
For about five minutes, Tayo just stood observing the whole chaos, wondering how he could possibly sit for the test this hot afternoon in such a situation. He was sure they were over a thousand applicants standing on the sloping concrete driveway, spilling on to the road and sides of the fence. He joined the desperate throng and tried to ask questions. Why are they so many? Had anyone written the test today? Of course, some people were inside writing, the test had been going on since morning, but to get inside, you must struggle. Tayo shook his head, why do they have to struggle to take a test they had been invited for? NBC knew exactly how many people they sent text messages to, why couldn’t they make appropriate plans? Someone had warned him before that NBC tests were usually rowdy, chaotic affairs so he came prepared but never expected this level of disorder.
Tayo heard his name being called by someone in the crowd; it was a secondary school classmate, Richard whom he had not seen since ten years ago after their NECO exams. In places like this, old friends and classmates lurked around to make awkward reunions, he was used to seeing at least a familiar face from his past at the other aptitude test centres he had been to. Like him, Richard was also here for the twelve o clock session. But it did not matter anymore, even people who were given ten o clock invitations had not written. After sharing stories about mutual classmates they had seen during the decade and committed a few customary words to denouncing the hardship in Nigeria, Richard told Tayo he was going to fight his way inside the compound. Tayo did not know how he could make his way through this tight crowd of sweating unemployed graduates.
He thought to himself, I am not as desperate as this, I can leave now and go home instead of subjecting myself to this suffering and torture. But he remained standing, unconvinced by his thoughts, also wishing they would all be let in to write the test now. Some of the applicants echoed his feelings about the whole affair; some said there was no use remaining there because NBC would have picked those it wanted for the job. Another person asked how many people nationwide NBC wanted to employ that it was putting all of them through this ordeal? A girl tried to take pictures with her Blackberry so she could post on Facebook to show her friends how “ridiculous” the situation was, but under the sun, she could not tell if the pictures were any good. They talked and lamented in the stifling, stinking heat, stepping on each others’ shoes and sharing perspiration as their bodies rubbed together in the unmoving push, but nobody left, they waited, hoping. A black sweating young man came limping from behind, pushing everyone in his way and nobody complained, he was allowed to pass until he got to where Tayo stood. His once red shirt was now drenched in a flowing stream of sweat sticking to his bare black chest, the anger on his face was palpable and he was determined to take some serious action. He told Tayo in Yoruba that he had been there since 7:40 and yet, he had not written his test. Tayo shook his head and replied in also in Yoruba that he should not worry, maybe he would be able to write the test soon. The black fellow was not placated by Tayo’s uncertain assurances and he lunged into the crowd again until he found his way to the big black gate that was only opened for cars to drive out. All he could do was bang the gate while letting out a stream of crude curses in Yoruba and English, after about two minutes when nothing happened, he stopped, exhausted.
This is the meaning of unemployment in Nigeria, Tayo thought to himself, forget all the economic statistics. Unemployment in Nigeria means enduring the humiliation of standing in the sun, begging like starving refugees. It means more than ten thousand people applying for one position that may not need more than a hundred people nationwide. The reality of the graduate’s plight was a frustrating experience Tayo had never imagined before. Tayo withdrew to the back of the crowd to get fresh air. The stench of the gutter mixed with the smell of stale perspiration had become too choking. Besides, he was afraid someone might quietly relieve him of his wallet and phone, he could not allow that to happen for the sake of a test he may not write, because of a Sales Representative job he was not sure he would get.
Then suddenly, the big gate opened and people began to squeeze in, shouting and screaming. Tayo also joined and followed the upward flux of the human movement until he got inside the spacious compound of the Events Centre, he hurried to the big building where the test was supposed to hold and began another session of waiting. This time, they did not wait long before an official came out and said the test had been cancelled. Later a man stepped out asked them write their names in groups of hundreds, and immediately, there was a scramble to write names in different groups. Anyone who had a piece of paper was qualified to form a group. Some twenty minutes later, after they had submitted their papers, the first official came out asked them to go home, that the test was cancelled. She told them to check their emails for the notification. The irate applicants did not accept it. Some of them came all the way from Ibadan, all over the southwest. Did they waste their money to be told this nonsense? Tayo was also very angry, he wished he could sue these people who had made him waste precious money from Abeokuta to Lagos for nothing. He hung around for another twenty minutes, and then he went outside to look for Okada before the transport price would have increased because of the crowd. Later that night from Asero in Abeokuta, he called Richard to find out how it all ended. His classmate was there until 8:20pm and was given only twenty-five minutes for a hundred questions. They engaged in another bland dialogue about the unemployment situation, that they had to pay such a great price to get a job, how only God could help them in this country, until Tayo’s credit ran out.
This is a real story about real people and their ordeal in their quest to make a decent livelihood. All over the country, a lot of people are subjected to similar inhumane situations in their search for jobs. Those who bear the rule over Nigeria, those who aspire to and everyone in a position of influence should remember that there are many stories like this. Stories behind every government action and inaction; stories in every law that is enforced or unenforced; stories that begin with hope and dreams and end in despair and tragedy. And there are also stories that end with “happily ever after” but these happy stories are not yet enough in a country that prides itself as “giant of Africa”. Everyone should understand that the economic statistics make no meaning until it translates into a human solution, that until the people’s stories are positively affected by the economic numbers, the country is still suffering.
An editorial on December 13, 2010 by Daily Independent Newspaper (http://allafrica.com/stories/201012140418.html) discusses these issues clearly. It was in response to a statement by the Minister of Finance, Olusegun Aganga, that “government is worried that the economy has not positively impacted on the people” inspire of an earlier optimistic prediction that “Nigeria is projected to “grow by 7.85% in 2010” by the same Minister. The editorial reveals the glaring contradiction between such glowing economic figures and the actual standard of life of a people getting poorer in a rich country. According to the editorial, “The average Nigerian knows that there has always been something wrong with government’s postulations on the country’s phenomenal economic growth. These officials have always feigned ignorance of the difference between economic growth and economic development.”
How can a people relate to 7.85% growth when they are paying more for food, transport, healthcare and other basic necessities? How can an uneducated Mama Samuel who sells tomatoes for a living understand the progress when more than half of her tomatoes are wasted and she has to sell the rest at giveaway prices? How can a struggling salary-earner accept those figures when more than half of his income is spent on just surviving? How can a graduate hunting and hustling for scarce jobs believe in such growth? “In the self glorification by our government officials of an allegedly booming economy, we would have been more comfortable if somebody had told us for instance, how many new hospital beds have been added, how many more kids have enrolled in our schools, how the country’s life expectancy has improved, or even how they have transformed the country’s dilapidated infrastructure using the accruing revenue.”
These are real issues people face, which is beyond the figures on paper, economic growth is not the same as economic development. The former must be evident in the latter for it to be real, otherwise it remains a lie. This editorial should be read by many more people because it communicates in simple language the difference between what the country is told and what many people are actually experiencing. It shows the kind of irreconcilable facts that should be presented to aspiring officials during election debates, if they cannot provide answers, then they are not fit to rule. And incumbent government officials should be called to explain the reason for these differences, it seems like a strange expectation, but hopefully, one day, public officials will pay for irresponsible and unproductive governance.
Only when these figures reflect real changes in the economic capacity of individual Nigerians of all classes, tribes and geographical locations will their stories change into those of sustained optimism, real achievements and continuous satisfaction.
The editorial can also be found on the Daily Independent’s website: http://www.independentngonline.com/DailyIndependent/Article.aspx?id=25295