Why other west coast artisans are preferred to local boys
The rate of unemployment in Nigeria is increasing. It rose to 9.90 per cent in the third quarter of 2015 from 8.20 per cent in the second quarter of 2015. A lot of construction work, especially housing, is going on in the country, particularly in Lagos and Abuja, yet the jobs being created as a result of this is not helping to drive down Nigeria’s unemployment rate. This is because many artisans drawn from the west coast of Africa have found Nigeria as a striving ground to ply their trade. This is in the same country, artisans of Nigerian extraction often complain of low patronage. Findings revealed that many Nigerians prefer to engage artisans from the west coast of Africa for construction activities, especially Benin Republic and Togo artisans.
This position was alluded to and re-echoed recently, when the chairman of First Bank, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, noted that at present, a lot of the jobs being created in Nigeria are not being taking up by Nigerians. According to her, the country’s construction industry is the most active in the region due to the housing deficit but the best tillers Nigerians are looking for are from the west coast of Africa.
Awosika observed that while the country creates the jobs, the system is not designed to take the jobs being created.It is however pathetic that many Nigeria are roaming the streets of the country, not because there are no jobs, but just that they do not have the competence to do the jobs, thereby, allowing artisans from neighbouring countries to take the jobs being created in the country.
The issue is even more challenging now, considering the country’s dwindling revenue and lull in the oil sector. So why are Nigerian artisans not a better option?
A veteran bricklayer, Tajudeen Adisa, said that the culture of apprenticeship, whether formal and informal has been corrupted in the country. He disclosed that in their own time, they were trained by organisations who provided them with all the basic technical training and teaching. He said the process then was very thorough reason some of those who were trained then after sometimes pulled out to set up shops and were evening training more young people.
According to him, very few organisations train technicians now and the informal apprenticeship process has been bastardised. He also noted that many young Nigerians who get enrolled in the apprenticeship programmes usually do not complete their training before pulling out, so they are not well groomed.
He also argued that the technical schools that were set up to provide more training opportunities were not living up to expectation as graduates from those schools had limited practical training so on graduation they could not fit in into the workplace as technicians or artisans.
He also noted that in their days, while they were paid to learn, now those who are being trained paid to learn, which tend to limit the commitment. He claimed this is why some of the young boys do not complete their training as they often wants to start making money or get distracted by job opportunities that provided them some monetary reward.
It was gathered that in Benin Republic, the state certifies artisans through an examination it conducts in Benin Republic. It was also learnt that aside going to school, the students are made to go through apprenticeship before writing exams. And a student artisan, who failed the final certification exam, will have to return for more apprenticeship until he or she passes the exam.
An artisan from Benin Republic, John, said that there is usually both formal and informal training. He said those who combine formal and informal training spend on the average six years, while those who learn through the informal process train for at least seven years. He said that until the master certifies such an apprentice, he or she would not be allowed to practice, while those who combine informal and formal training get certified after passing an exam set by government.
A lecturer at the Department of Educational Management, Lagos State University, (LASU), Dr Grace Oshun, noted that one of the reasons that have grown the preference for artisans from west coast ahead of those from Nigeria is, having satisfied clients recommending them to other persons. “And words would have gone round that they are very good.”
The lady, who is a specialist in vocational and technical education, noted that aside from being properly trained and good at what they do, artisans from neighbouring countries do not play truancy after collecting mobilisation. “Some Nigerian artisans would collect money for materials and disappear.”
She, however, said technical colleges in Nigeria are challenged, due mainly to lack of planning. “If you look at Nigeria’s National Policy on Education, it is one of the best in the world, very well created. One of the goals of the policy is that Nigeria is going to be an egalitarian society, but Nigeria is not. There is class consciousness in the country.
“In planning for technical education, we have to consider the curriculum, fashioned after the needs of the society, which would shape what the programme should entail and how the graduates could be useful to their immediate environment. And that is what other countries are getting right, that we are not.”
She also noted that aside from the policy, the 6-3-3-4 System of Education would have helped build the right artisans for the country in terms of quality and quantity, because when it started, Nigeria went all out to procure the equipment.
According to her, while some of them were installed, others were left at the mercy of the climate, abandoned to rot away. Unfortunately, even some of the machines installed when they became faulty, had no spare parts for their repairs.
“Also, technicians were not trained to understand the machine to be able to repair them when faulty, which means flying in people from the country the machine was manufactured. This was quite expensive. At the end of the day, technical education seemed to have been doomed.”
The university don also stated that another challenge was manpower, as the drive for better technical education was kicked started without training the teachers first, as those to train the students were not readily available, so the supply was below the need.
She further noted that the idea of second rated notion of technical education contributes to why many do not want to acquire technical education. “No intellectual will allow his child to leave Junior Secondary (JSS 3) to go to a technical college. It is for the child to go to a Senior Secondary School en-route university. Even now, there is disparity between polytechnic and university education. The Bsc is seen as superior to the HND and there is that inferiority label attached to technical education.”
She, however, said that despite this inferiority label, a graduate of mechanical engineering would still take his car to the roadside mechanic for repairs.
She provided a personal scenario, disclosing that her son wanted to learn from a roadside mechanic after completing his junior secondary school education, but was stopped, because it was feared he could pick up a vices while learning.
“I was very happy to have him do it, but when I told his father, he said it was fine, though was worried he could learn other things like, stealing or lying because mechanic boys usually have bolts and some materials to sell, with no concrete source of where the materials came from.
“And when I could not guarantee he will not pick up any of the vices, the father tactically rejected him going to be an apprentice with a mechanic.”
She noted that it is a good thing that the National Universities Commission (NUC) has directed all universities to launch entrepreneurship education programme and her institution, the Lagos State University keyed into the idea a few years ago, resulting in over 300 students across faculties sent out last session to fashion designers to understudy the art of fashion designing. “Some of them told me they would want to go back to learn more after the time allotted them elapsed,” she disclosed.
She also revealed that some artisans had been contacted to come teach some of the students the art of adire and moulding of interlocking blocks.
Oshun argued that if the country had got the idea behind 6-3-3-4 education system right, then the challenge of having qualified and professional artisans would not have been an issue.
“Implementation is a big problem in this country. You have very good ideas and policies, but implementation is the big problem.” She however noted that the cost of running a technical education is high, the equipment and consumables, which was one constraint that plagued the country’s drive for a sound technical education.
“One of the problems is indiscipline, some of the apprentice will learn half way without completing period of training. They have a problem with the master, they move away not to complete the training, but to begin their own trade, at the end of the day, they cause more havoc. A mechanic will not tell you I do not know how to fix this thing, he will tell you, he knows, collect money and not fix the problem well, because he has not been well trained. Indiscipline is at the root cause of our problem.”
A contractor, Benjamin Adesokan, said the reason artisans from the west coast countries are seen as better options to those from Nigeria are the quality of the job they often execute at a lower fee compared to what Nigerian artisans often demand.
A builder, Mr Emeka Ulasi, said he had been engaging artisans from the west coast, because of their finishing, which is neat and cheap, and that they are usually professional in conduct. He said that artisans from Benin Republic and Togo usually would not abscond after collecting down payment or resume work late.
He said that there are good artisans of Nigeria extraction, but their fees are usually higher, compared with artisans from the west coast. According to him, his bricklayer travelled to Benin Republic on Sunday and promised to be back on Tuesdays by 10am and when he got to the site by 8 am, he met the bricklayer, yet there is a Nigerian artisan he engaged for plasterwork, for two weeks, he had not shown up after initial payment.
A visit to the workshops at the Federal Technical/Science College, Yaba, revealed that workshop equipment is either obsolete or not functioning. Although, there were signs that the workshops were still being used, relics and minimal practical works were on display.
At the block laying and concrete workshop, the practical assignments of the students were displayed, but they were pedestrian, students with no training at all could put such together.
Some of the students, who spoke to The Guardian, disclosed that though they have practical sessions, it is usually preliminary practical classes. One of the students said that their teachers are also very cautious in engaging them for intensive practical. This, to him, limits what they learn and what they could do practically.
According to him, though he would be graduating in a matter of weeks, as he was already writing his final exams, he cannot boast of the needed expertise, after three years of senior technical education. He said it was because his parents wanted him to acquire technical skills that they transferred him from his former school in Ejigbo area of Lagos to come to the Federal Technical College for his senior secondary education.
The students also said that their teachers do not inculcate in them the need to practice after graduating from the technical school, but often with the mindset to seek higher qualification in polytechnics and universities; this, to him, is probably why the focus is more on theory. He maintained that the quantum of practical sessions they have as technical students is very, very low.
Chief Technical Instructor, Federal Technical College, Yaba, Olapegba Samsom Ayorinde, said that many of those who claim to be artisans and technicians in Nigeria are not properly trained as many only got in because of poverty and the need to make quick money.
According to him, some artisans were never trained, they just go to site to work as labourers and within months, they want to operate as artisans, while those who go through one form of training and apprenticeship usually never complete it before opting out to practice, abandoning the trade or going to practice without really learning the rudiments of the job adequately.
He therefore said that if government wants those who get enrolled into technical programmes or apprenticeship to really acquire the needed skills, there should be incentive from government, either through paying half of their tuition or apprenticeship fees, as well as, industries absorbing them after completing their programmes.
He said that once they know that they would be employed after completing their programme, the commitment would be higher in their task. He is of the opinion that this would encourage parents to want their children to go through technical education programme.
Ayorinde agreed that the practical session the students go through are not adequate, because the syllabus is not practical oriented, insisting that technical colleges should be purely practical sessions. He said that after passing through technical school about two decades back, he started practicing and making money, but that cannot happen now, as the practical training is not adequate.
He also said that every five years, there should be modification of the syllabus and curriculum to meet new demands. He disclosed that aside from the equipment being obsolete, there are usually no materials for practical sessions, which limits the practical aspect students could work on. He also advocates for collaboration between industries and the technical schools so that students are made to go for industrial attachment during holidays, throughout their training programme.