Dangote’s PhD drivers – Abimbola Adelakun
The news that six PhD holders applied for positions of truck drivers in one of Dangote Group’s companies is shocking because it is Nigeria. We are a people who make a big deal out of a PhD no matter how empty-headed the carrier might be and so we think the title infuses one with anything special. A PhD is not special in any way and the fact somebody applied to be a driver with it is an indication that it is more hype than substance. Nigeria is a place where we premise the flash of title over substance.
Ours is a society and culture of people who love titles. I have met Nigerians who get offended when one addresses them as “Mr.” when they are “Chief”. You find people in Nigeria who combine titles like “Alhaji Chief Dr.” and God help you if you do not pronounce the string of their titles fully. Yet, I have met highly decorated professors in the United States who insist you call them by their first name. They don’t even want to be addressed as “professor”. But an average Nigerian professor will go ballistic if you don’t recognise his title. In fact, there is a well-known businessman in Lagos who has an honorary doctorate from a third-rate university in the US who, his staff say, could sack you if you don’t address him as “Dr”.
But the reality is, the PhD is not so special. The US produces an average of 50,000 PhD holders every year. Even when their economy was not down, it is difficult for most of them to get a job and so you could get to a bar and find that the barman has a PhD. You could find that the strip dancer, titillating all the males in the club, is a PhD student and would soon be defending her thesis. I have been in taxis a few times, struck a conversation with taxi drivers and found they have a PhD. It is not all due to a bad economy; a friend and colleague told me that his after-school plan is to open a food truck downtown as soon as he gets his PhD. In fact, in certain countries, a PhD is a disadvantage. Some employers would view you as overqualified and that your intelligence and creativity will be stifled by too many theoretical assumptions. There are many first degree holders abroad who earn more than PhD holders. Their own system does not pay for certificates, it pays for the market demand and relevance of your knowledge. If a PhD holder cannot find a relevant market, too bad for him/her. How many people in the world who are billionaires actually have a college degree, let alone a PhD? No offence meant, but how many degrees does Aliko Dangote himself have? Yet, he’s the richest black man. He probably enjoys watching them pore over textbooks searching for one Keynesian theory or the other to understand and conceptualise an idea while he takes his business decision on instinct.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not merely badmouthing the degree. If it were not worthwhile, I would not have devoted my life to getting one. For one, I acknowledge that it is the highest certificated academic degree. It is the highest intellectual attainment and anyone who needs proof of this only needs to witness a PhD graduation. It is a big deal in many respects. It is a worthwhile achievement for those who are so inclined. A PhD means a lot and means, sincerely, nothing. If you are a fool, a PhD will neither erase that or improve you. In fact, you could get a PhD for your folly and wear the title with pride. The idea of a PhD is to be able to generate original knowledge and if someone goes through the process, manages to get the degree and his knowledge is so irrelevant and cannot guarantee him a place within the society, then let’s not rush to blame the system; blame the individual (after listening to his story, anyway). With the way universities are springing up here and there in the country, it is shocking that the system has not lapped them up. Beyond the shock value of such reporting, we should probe the sociology behind the figures. How come so many Master’s degree and MBA holders are applying as truck drivers? And if things are this bad for certificate-wielding graduates, then what will happen to those who cannot get an education in the first place?
While we are rightly scandalised by the fact that PhD holders are applying to be truck drivers, I think the bigger scandal is the number of first degree holders in the mix. If more than 8,000 people with first degree are applying to be drivers, then Nigeria is in a terrible mess. By any standards, that is a high figure to apply for a job that needs only 100 places. It is pretty scary and worrying. Was it not this time last year that the Ministry of Science and Technology was swearing it would create two million jobs through its “cluster concept”? Where are those jobs? Some five months ago, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, said his ministry had created 1.4 million jobs in 12 months? Who are those taking up these jobs? I believe this Dangote case is just one of the many stories of the angst and frustration of unemployment and underemployment in Nigeria and which get progressively worse, with concomitant effects all over the place.
Today, we have politicians who lie that they are employing so and so thousands of graduates through various schemes that neither pays living wages nor promises a future for these youths. They have simply turned poor young men into glorified thugs who do their bidding. How long will that last? Nigeria’s unemployment problem is real and who best should articulate it than a man who sits on the president’s economic team and who’s been adorned with medals about how much jobs he has provided for Nigerians. But then, that should tell him that the road ahead is long.
Abimbola Adelakun (firstname.lastname@example.org)