The Devil Wears Prada: The Rise of the Entrepreneur

So, turns out there’s an employment problem in Naij. Surprise!

Especially during the current recession brought on by over-reliance on oil, times are hard in Nigeria and salaried employment opportunities are hard to come by. Between these conditions, the lack of welfare state and already entrenched intuitional and industry exploitation such as NYSC and chronic underpayments mean that workers are prepared to accept abysmal working conditions to earn enough to support their families and attempt social mobility.

The first hurdle to enter the job market is completing your year of service with the National Youth Service Corps. In case you don’t know, NYSC is a mandatory programme (it’s in the constitution [sad emoji]) introduced to promote national unity. Now, with many institutions in Nigeria, it has browned slightly around the edges into an easily influenceable system comprising of a military-style camp followed by eleven months of poorly paid work. (Although some would argue that poor pay is far superior to the years of no pay that awaits.) And it involves a tear-prone khaki outfit with orange jungle boots… Long story short (you can find the long story elsewhere on this blog), life for an otondo is tough. After three bittersweet weeks in orientation camp, you emerge with new battle-forged friends and few expectations. Since you signed up you have been warned that the employment landscape is bleak and that you should work on acquiring skills to create work for yourself. #entrpeneurtings

Depending on how well lodged the silver spoon is in your mouth, your work placement (or Primary Place of Assignment) could be anything from a cushy lawyer’s gig to teaching under a tree. As with all things, work ethic is a personal choice but many choose to toe the line in the hopes of being retained. Sadly, and intentionally, many corpers are not. For a lot of companies, corpers represent a cheap and plentiful labor supply. I knew more than a few people who were paid as little as N2,000 (£Peanuts) a month on top of the government-paid N19,800. And even then sometimes they were not paid and often had to pay office expenses out of their own pocket. The smaller the company the worse, it seemed. The year is essentially one big, wretched money drain unless you’ve got Richard Branson swag.

Certificate in hand, you’re ready for your first job. Even at ages ranging from twenty-one to thirty, many corpers have yet to get their employment cherry popped. But jobs are scarce and nepotism is a way of life in Nigeria. These days it takes connections to get you in the door for an interview, and in the waiting room you will still see cousins, nieces and children of childhood friends of company executives lining up for the same job. But, God will win. Hopefully you won’t have to wait years before you get a yes.

Next comes the arduous, up-hill journey from corper to full member of staff. So you got a job. At a decent company. The commute is painful (Lagos traffic is something else) but doable. You look at some of your friends who are still looking for jobs, those who have jobs and are paid in jokes and you feel pretty blessed. But you start off as a graduate intern. You’re earning more than the pittance you made as a corper but you were still hoping to be paid six figures (naira not pounds, calm down.) After a year you get promoted to entry level then after another year, up to officer. You are working your butt off, working standardly twelve hours a day, no overtime pay, weekends and evenings are not sacred. You’re fetching your boss’ amala and ewedu and doing his kids’ homework. You are bloody tired.

But what gets you the most is the seeming class divide in the office. The executives live like kings with perks they don’t even need considering their fat salaries; but you, now on N300,000 before tax have little to no perks. The company provides the basic medical plan available to your pay grade and it helps to look after your family but it has so many holes it looks like Swiss cheese.  On top of all the headache and snippy co-workers, higher ups demand the reverence normally reserved for minor deities. You want to make one smart remark and deliver one skilful side eye but you can never forget that the employer is king. They expect you to be grateful, and you are, but you’re still pissed off anyway. Pay is late and you’re out of diesel.

Luckily, you kept in mind the advice given to you all those years back. Alongside your long, gruelling days you have had no less than two side hustles generating extra income. With your work experience and start-up capital, you launch a new, larger venture that could one day let you hire employees of your own. There are challenges but your business has potential, building towards the glorious dream of financial independence.

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