Like the sound of reggae and hip hop tunes, traders filled my ear with noises, wooing passersby to buy their gadgets and electronics products as we walked through the electrical section of Alaba International market in Lagos on a Saturday afternoon.
“Oga come, come check here, I get confirm products", the traders say almost in unison as they jostle in multitudes with one another snarl up customers. Even under the heat of the scorching sun, they remain determined as though their lives depend on the sales they make.
After about a 10 -minute walk inside the market, this reporter finally settled in a small-sized shop owned by 29 years Abdulgafar Toheeb. The inscription at the entrance reads “Toheeb Computers and Gadgets”. Posing as a buyer, Toheeb gently adjusted to a plastic chair to accommodate this reporter on a stool belonging to his customers.
“Oga, which one you wan follow me buy na”, he persuaded the reluctant reporter while presenting different varieties of products. “You see, I am graduate. I own this shop, which I use to feed my family. So be rest assured that I won’t sell fake products to you” he continued.
Asked why he opted to do business in the market instead of getting a job after graduation, he responded saying:
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“I applied for several jobs after my graduation, but I didn’t get them. And as the government didn’t provide us jobs, we get to provide one for ourselves. I have dreams and family to cater for,” he said.
Unemployed but self-employed graduates
Toheeb's appearance and composure is an eye-catcher for this reporter to assume his sense of literacy and responsiveness. A 2020 graduate of Mass Communication from The Esae University in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, he told Legit.ng that his dream was to practice as a journalist but was inspired to set up his computer business a year ago after failing to get on several jobs he applied for.
“I had wanted to practice as a journalist, reason I studied mass communication at the university. Fast forward after my degree, I couldn’t get feedback from jobs I applied for. Things were hard, and I was staying idle in the house, that’s why I thought of starting some business”.
Even though his business still seems to be on a small scale, Toheeb said it was an easy decision for him to venture into it, considering that he learned how to repair computers during his undergraduate studies.
“Venturing into this business was not a problem, I had learnt about computer repairs during my undergraduate holidays. The only problem I could consider having is capital, but I have been able manage through with the little fund I raised myself,” he said.
Toheeb's experience is a wholesome representation of the entrepreneurship drive of many young graduates in the Alaba International market.
Like Toheeb, Hussein Abdulwasiu is a graduate of physics education from the Federal University of Technology, Minna, but he engages in the scrap business. He buys smartphones, iPhones, television dead scraps and panels from technicians in Alaba International markets and resells them for a higher price to Waste to Wealth Inc- a scrap company in Ikeja, Lagos.
“Scraps business is what I do to sustain myself. I buy dead telephone and electronic panels from technicians in Alaba International Market to sell to companies like Waste to Wealth inc. in Ikeja. Some time, I do travel to markets in other states to buy when I don’t find them in Alaba,” he said.
Sharing his experience with this reporter at his residence in Ilemba Awori community of Lagos state, he said he’d wanted to engage in entrepreneurship but not too soon as he is doing now. Hussein noted that his unemployed status forced him into the present business.
“My short-term goal immediately after my graduation from Federal University of Technology, Minna, is to work in a public or private institution where I will be able to garner enough experience, resources and time to plan my long-term entrepreneurship goal. But in this country, you just have to resort to self-help.”
“Now that I started this business, my biggest dream is to grow it to be an employer of labor and provide business opportunities for young graduates,” he added confidently.
Nigeria’s alarming rate of unemployment
In Nigeria, the expectation of the average graduate is to secure a good-paying job after graduation. However, the rising unemployment and underemployment is making it a harsh reality.
“No fewer than 1.8 million graduates in the country complete their degrees and move into the labour market every year,” says Okonjo Iweala, a former Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, but completion of a degree now serves not a guarantee for a space in the country's labour sphere.
According to the 2018 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. The NBS said that of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as of the third quarter of 2018, 90.1 % of them or 8.77 million were first-time job seekers and had never worked before.
Fast forward to 2022, it keeps increasing, as Statista revealed that the total unemployed population in Nigeria was estimated at a peak of around 33%, a figure that was projected to be at 32.5 per cent in the preceding year.
Graduates trade blames
Even though Toheeb has turned his unemployment into self-employment, he told Legit. ng that the increasing unemployment rate in Nigeria is a result of the government's negligence. He said the government has been negligent in giving effective attention to policies and initiatives directed at addressing unemployment.
“It is true that the government has been introducing policies to solve unemployment in Nigeria, but It is difficult to refer to policies with a reasonable amount of success. Governments are just dishing out this solution without giving it needed financial and administrative attention,”
Unlike Toheeb, Hussein Abdulwasiu believes the government has little or no fault. While he blames the unemployment problem on non- employability of Nigerian university graduates, Hussein noted that present-day Nigerian graduates place a high premium on university degrees with less emphasis on gaining technical and vocational skills.
“An undergraduate is supposed to explore practical opportunities and experimental aspects of his field during his course. There are many graduates that spent ninety nine percent on reading, our present-day society has gone past that stage. It won’t in any way make them employable to employers after their graduation,” he said
Entrepreneurship, self-employment as beacon of hope
Amid the rising unemployment, the entrepreneurship drive of graduates like Toheeb and Hussein represents a beacon of hope to Nigeria’s unemployment problem, according to Wasiu Moshood, an Economist and founder of the WAM foundation
Mr Wasiu explained that entrepreneurship, particularly SMEs, has an active role to play in job creation and that a high unemployment rate is associated with a poor level of entrepreneurial activities. By virtue of creating a new venture, the rate of unemployment reduces.
“Small Medium Enterprise Business (SMEB) is very important when it comes to creating jobs and growing a country’s economy. With the growth of a business, entrepreneurs engage more hands to help them. They engage in more business transactions with more business owners alike. By doing so, they share wealth, and people working for them and in related businesses also grow,” he said.
Mr Wasiu noted that young graduates who started their business after graduation might face several challenges considering Nigeria’s business ecosystem but having a strong determination to battle them out will birth their success in the long run.
“Considering the regular challenges attached to starting a business and Nigeria’s unfavourable business ecosystem. Graduates willing to start a business or venture into entrepreneurship may encounter discouraging difficulties such as debts and poor cash inflow. But making concerted efforts to challenge them will inspire and help prepare their businesses for greater success,” he added.