Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Honey! what do you want to be when you grow up, Prostitute, Armed Robber or Corrupt Politician?

That’s what many parents and guardians in Nigeria are asking their children and wards without realizing it. I am in no way trying to bash Nigeria, but I get so frustrated with the way our "elders" reason that I am not surprised that our value system has gone to hell.

The constant cry that our educational system is falling apart is compounded by high unemployment, and a crippling economy, and in the middle of this are teenagers and young adults caught in the mess. While arm chair politicians rant and rave and pastors prophesy invisible prosperity, the blind lead the blind, in this seemingly hopeless race for self actualization.

Self actualization is even a long shot, just basic needs like clothing, feeding, school fees, transport fare, and accommodation is enough to bury any Nigerian youth in misery. Undoubtedly Nigeria is not the poorest country in the world, ……………but therein lies the issue. Though we are raking in the big bucks in crude oil income, on ground there are no significant improvements, the roads are still bad, electricity is still erratic and as far as the youths are concerned there are very limited opportunities to do "odd jobs" while attending school. And worse of all, most of them have to contend with siblings who depend on them for their own needs. Does anyone still wonder why many of the undergrads end up in cults or become prostitutes?

Dignity in labor seems to be limited to "white" collar jobs, other essential services like teaching, hair dressing, nursing, gardening, waste disposal, tailoring, technicians etc are so unappealing to the majority of Nigerian youngsters that suggesting it to even the most impoverished lot will get one a look of utter disdain. Take my word for it, I’ve come across quite a few young people who are penniless but aspire to such "great heights" that they are forced to compromise their integrity and morality, convincing themselves that the end justifies the means.

It’s not uncommon for grownups in developing countries to insist their children be, lawyers, engineers, doctors e.t.c, however when the average family here has between four to six children (not mention other extended family responsibilities), its incredibly difficult for parents to educate their children. Here were student loans are none existent, fees and other expenses are so overbearing, children and young adults go to school with the barest minimum. It becomes unavoidable that the undergrad looks for other means of supplemental income.

Another utterly ridiculous concept is rewriting "O" levels and the university entrance exams, many teenagers, and young adults spend years in this phase, I wonder where it is written that
‘thou must go to university before thou can be respected in Nigerian society’
Here unless you have a degree you are considered an under achiever, even if you are financially solvent. There seems to be an intellectual stigma attached to non university graduates, this to me is one of the most ludicrous ideals, because in the desperation to meet this invisible standard, young people, bribe, cheat, exchange sexual favors and practically do whatever it takes to go through the precious ivory towers. And of course when they graduate jobs will be lined up waiting for them right? ……NO! They still have to hover around for years, except if they have godfathers who can use favoritism to fix them in "lucrative" positions. While others have to pray and wish that their take home pay (salary) actually takes them home.

I quite appreciate that Nigeria’s young democracy is crawling to political and economic development, but in the mean time, while we are going from here to there, the mentality that everyone must be a graduate while skill acquisition and vocational training is looked down upon has to change. As long as ones occupation is honest and honorable they must be respected and treated well. It can start by treating people who work below us such as nannies, house girls, drivers, gardeners etc with deep respect, and most importantly pay them fairly. Instead of exploiting their desperation we must consider that no one aspires to do "menial jobs", but as we say here "na condition dey make crayfish bend" so we should honor the fact that they are engaged in honest work instead of treating them like crap. Besides most of these "menial" jobs are proper proffessions if handled intelligently

Secondly, our youths have to be encouraged to humble themselves and begin at the bottom, structures must be put in place to enable young people to complement their professional aspirations with the economic realities on ground; no job is menial as long as it is honest. As long as our culture glorifies the rich, irrespective of their source of wealth, we are sending a message to the youths that they should
"Get rich...or die trying"

The challenge in a globalized world like ours is that while we are tinkering away trying to fix our failing economy, our markets are bombarded with products from other industrialized countries, making its ever so difficult for a young entrepreneur to compete. Anyone with a young person entering the university must consider some sort of vocational training that will empower them, imagine millions of Nigerian youths well trained in a wide variety of technical and non technical vocations. It’s not going to fix the morality problem of the youths, but it will give many of them a choice. Hopefully empowering them to escape the lure to prostitution, armed robbery, yahoo yahoo robbery or waiting to take apiece of the "national cake" in corrupt political careers

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