The debate raged last week about Governor Ambode’s attempt to recruit 1,000 Nigerian university graduates as bus conductors in Lagos State. Ordinarily, Ambode is one of Nigeria’s ‘performing’ governors, and he has effectively and shockingly shaken off the legendary shadow of Raji Fashola, who is himself getting demystified by the problems of the three ministries which were dumped on him in Abuja. Going to Lagos these days could actually be an enjoyable experience. Lagos continues to get neater, traffic is often light, and there is generally a new, refreshing ethos that Ambode imported from his sojourns around the world. But for me, this bus conductor business is a no-no. And my reasons have nothing to do with some foolish pride which university graduates possess.
First, the policy was announced by the Chairman of the Bus Conductors’ Association of Nigeria (BCAN), Comrade Israel Adeshola. I am usually suspicious of these people who form associations so easily. Nigerians form associations for everything these days and usually in order to grab power and money. I heard this Chairman, like his colleague in the ‘okada’ business, drives an expensive SUV with a personalised plate number. These guys remind us of what happens to motorists who have any collision with the ‘okada’ bike guys. No matter who is at fault, the okada riders begin to gather and will usually lynch the motorist. In Nigeria, it is every man for himself. Unfortunately, in what is supposed to be our season of renaissance, human lives have become even cheaper, and our attitudes more combative. In Abuja, the more different associations sprung up in the Jonathan era that claimed they were in charge of cleaning the environment, the dirtier Abuja became.
So these associations are just Mafia groups. And the so-called Chairman was allowed to gloat at the famed ‘uselessness’ of Nigerian graduates. It is not enough that we daily denigrate our graduates – especially the ones from the public universities that our leaders and elites deliberately killed while using corrupt money to build private ones and forcing parents to be corrupt so that they can afford the crazy fees being charged in those places, now we throw those hapless graduates into the fangs of some fly-by-night Chairman of Bus Conductors’ Association to further denigrate them. What the Comrade did was basically to say “shebi they said we bus conductors are useless, but see us now, we are employing graduates”. For effect, the Chairman dropped the amount that his association, in conjunction with the Lagos State Ministry of Transport, were going to pay any of these lucky graduates – N50,000 per month.
And so many ‘intellectuals’ weighed behind that policy, some of them abusing and insulting any graduate who hesitates to send in an application. One guy was even very ingenious, asking that between a graduate who works for two years as a bus conductor, and one who sits at home, which one would one as an entrepreneur hire? It seems obvious that one should go for the bus conductor, who was pragmatic enough to try and earn something, but what about attributes of perseverance? Rather than jump at any work just because it pays some money, is there any value to having a vision and defining some barriers about what one will not do? Is life all about the money these days? Mind you, the commercial buses of Lagos are legendary in their craziness. Certainly, there aren’t enough BRT buses in Lagos to post 1,000 university graduate conductors to. And if the government wanted only university graduates in those BRT buses, they can be sure of a protest from the conductors’ association, whom they have given so much prominence.
Some prominent Nigerians – many of them living abroad – chipped in and regaled us with how they did menial work when they arrived in their foreign locations and were trying to find their feet. Some spoke of working as labourers, as sweepers and so on. See, it is different. Very few were able to talk of how low they sunk with their university degrees in hand here in Nigeria. And that is exactly the point. Sometimes, when you give up on yourself and decide to sink, it may be impossible to recover yourself and regain your dignity. If this project is carried through, there is every likelihood that 80 percent of the graduates will be subsumed in the rough ways of Lagos bus drivers and conductors in no time, and perhaps become permanently traumatised such that they would forever feel inferior in the corporate world. We even have evidence. All the state transport schemes in Nigeria started off with well-dressed drivers, complete with suits and ties. But today, some of them are the roughest drivers, and are usually high on whatever it is they drink.
Lack of Vision
It is this lack of vision that is our problem in Nigeria. The simple thing to do is for government to focus on creating employment for school dropouts, and secondary school leavers. By so doing, they create employment opportunities for graduates who will supervise these younger people and retain their dignity. The graduates can do some menial work, but we needn’t strip them of their self-respect. As a matter of fact, if graduates choose on their own to do these jobs, it is better than being forced, coerced, insulted, and made to look lazy, before they take up such jobs out of necessity. Running a society demands the vision of an artist. The work of governance is like painting on a blank canvass. It is that vision that those who purport to lead Nigeria painfully lack. They should try inverting the process of sticking Nigerian graduates under bus conductors and okada riders and see what happens. Mind you, Nigeria has invested on these graduates, by sending them to university and training them with intellectual capital. Why throw good money after bad? Why throw that investment into the fire?
The Children of the Rich Get the Plummest Jobs
Another argument against this brainless idea, is that in the last 15 months, Nigerians have seen scandals involving the employment of the children of the rich and connected into the best jobs in the country, with much impunity. We have seen the culture of nepotism and partiality writ large. There was no statement whatsoever from those on whom we hoped for a Nigerian reorientation. It was a case of ‘woe betide the poor’. Nigeria has changed for the worse in the past two decades. If it was impossible to employ the children of the poor in all these posh public agencies, why bring them even lower to join the vermin of the earth, while your own lucky children float to the top and become leaders over these unfortunate ones. It used to be that through the public school system, Nigerian children mixed together and benefited from one another. Now, with the deliberate destruction of that system by our elites, Nigeria is evolving into a proper class society which will culminate in serious disaster.
While all this was going on, there appeared a clip where Nigeria’s most famous senator, Dino Melaye boasted that he once hawked “Kunu” in Kano. Now, let us juxtapose that background against his present penchant for Byzantine luxury. That is what happens when people go through trauma. The very few of them that ‘make it’ never cease to want to prove a point. Many people in Nigeria’s ruling class were traumatised, hence they have become monsters devouring everything in sight. Look at Jimoh Ibrahim who is playing the spoiler in my Ondo State. He too cannot shake off the poverty of his past and the trauma he went through. We cannot keep producing dangerously traumatised people.
Let us just drop the idea and quit messing with our young people.
‘Tope Fasua is President, Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.