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Offline Mature

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I uninterruptedly spent my first 27 years in Onitsha. After graduating as a Mechanical Engineer for over a decade, I still try out something new to make ends meet. I am not alone: most graduates in Nigeria share in my fate.

In Nigeria, concerning our education in the 80s/90s, our parents were more interested in giving us a better financial future than developing our inner self. Even as a primary school boy: talkative and careless, my father always reminded me that Doctors made a lot of money and the lawyers make money also. He never forced me to choose either but his body language said more than words could.

Last year, in the office of Road Safety in Abuja, I ran into a lady that happened to be my cousin’s classmate in the University of Benin. My surname struck a chord and led to our introduction. I wasted no time in calling my cousin and, after the pleasantries, my cousin told me that she was the best graduating student in Economics. But there she was, trying so hard to sell her home-made insecticide. Don’t get me wrong, she is putting in an appreciable effort but her course in life is tangential to her initial dream when she studied so hard and made it to the top of her Economics class.

In Onitsha Main Market - unlike the fairy reflection from the University system - things are quite different. Have you heard the saying that Anambra people are rich? The reason is not because of the Arthur Ezes, Innosons, and Ibetos - every state in Nigeria has wealthy individuals; however, there is hardly an extended family in Anambra that is stricken with abject poverty – educated or not, Main Market is there to rescue you.

The flock of 5 stories in Onitsha, Awada and Nkpor were planted with a slang known in Onitsha Main Market as ‘Come I Get Am’. This slang is the first language every apprentice must learn.

Permit me to add that the Onitsha Market system is not totally risk-free but the entry level is low and the yield is huge. Like every system, there are substantial risks. Some Onitsha traders lose their capital after years of settlement, some fall into the hands of fraudsters, and most of them were heavily sabotaged by government policies: the ban of goods; the extortion by governmental agencies like custom and state government irregular taxes. The fluctuation of dollars is another factor that affects them since their wares are mainly imported. Nevertheless, the chances of these guys in the main market buying their first car after their first two years of their ‘settlement’ to a young graduate doing the same after 4 years with the certificate is far higher.
And after a decade, some of these traders would be thinking of building their first house while most graduates would still be gambling with their future. No matter how you view it, using the yardstick of our parents that believed that education (in Nigeria) is the fastest escape-route from poverty, they were wrong.

As a graduate, check the Whatsapp group of your classmate, write down the economic stability status of every member of that group. How many of them are practicing the course of study? It will reveal the overestimation of University education in pari passu with financial liberation.

I remember a joke my nephew Hillary shared some years ago when I was an undergraduate of Mechanical Engineering. It went somehow like this:
Tunde was an apprentice with a Mechanic workshop in Isolo for 5 years, and Michael studied Mechanical Engineering at the University for 5 years. Presently, Tunde WORKS in his own garage in Ikeja and Michael WALKS in the same Ikeja hunting for a job.

This submission is not in any way to trivialize the importance of University education or making a mockery of University degree; but to showcase more the rot in the society and how we could tackle it with something that works. And if I could prove that (in the present day Nigeria) buying-and-selling stewardship creates more stable jobs than buying a JAMB form, I could also link the opportunity in that field that could be exploited by the system.

What actually is wrong with the traditional trading system practised in Onitsha? They behave somehow, and do not know how to speak English: most of us will say. We have carved a structured decorum for all men to fit into, and as for Queen’s English, most of us University graduate still struggle to stitch a complete sentence.

The question now is:
Is there a way to communicate decorum to these guys in Onitsha market without interrupting their daily routine of trade-flow? And since Queen’s English has become the measure of intelligence, can we inculcate it into their scheme? Aside these, there is nothing so spectacular you can teach them about financial management – they live it, that is why their businesses survived for decades. If the government and the people are not mentally docile, we would have turned this great pedestal of learning into an enviable institution. Introduce digitalization to make their works easier. Period. These and nothing more would change the prejudice.

In conclusion: I believe – and I still await a strong criticism to challenge my conviction – that the Main Market is the greatest Technical School of Business in the Whole Africa.

(I will continue this series for a few days and your comments and contributions will be resourceful in assembling a report I will forward to Anambra State Governor. I also know that some of his aides are here and I totally permit them to take advantage of this series – they can take it, own it and better it. They should not forget to present it to their principal. Who knows, this series may bring the needed change.)

Written by Ozii Baba Anieto


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