For Navigating Nigeria this week, I spoke to Morenike*, a University of Lagos (UNILAG) student. She’s 26 years old and makes footwear. She shared her experience of being exhausted by the struggles of life in Nigeria. Like so many other young Nigerians, she’s heard the phrase “Education is the key” so often that it’s lost all meaning for her.
Editorial Note: Navigating Nigeria is a platform for Nigerians to passionately discuss the Nigerian experience with little interference to individual opinions. While our editorial standards emphasise the truth and we endeavour to fact-check claims and allegations, we do not bear any responsibility for allegations made about other people founded in half-truths.
“I’ve never liked school. I don’t like reading”, Morenike tells me matter-of-factly. “I finished secondary school in 2013, then wrote JAMB, which I took six times.”
I’m listening to her, partly bewildered, as she recounts her struggles getting into school. She appears to have lost count of how many entrance exams she did as she ponders whether she applied six or eight times.
“I eventually got admitted into the Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech). When I finished there, I went to UNILAG in 2017.” She rationalises this decision by explaining the uncertain prospects of a person with a polytechnic degree.
“I didn’t have a business at the time. Imagine not having a business and relying on my National Diploma (ND) certificate to survive. It can’t work in Nigeria.” Her fears are valid. In December 2022, the federal government stopped polytechnics from awarding degrees and restricted them to only focusing on technical courses.
I asked her why she opted for UNILAG. “It’s because I live in Lagos. I can quickly dash home to get stuff and return to campus.” She tells me she wanted to study mass communication but didn’t have a credit in literature as was required. She’d failed to ace the course on multiple WAEC attempts. Morenike chuckles as she relays this to me. She considered political science because of her love for politics. But friends advised that a career path there would, at best, make her a political analyst.
Her options were limited because, as she admits, “I hate calculations.” This effectively ruled her out of taking a management science course. Her options were narrowed down to the faculty of social sciences, and she settled for social work. “I went for fieldwork occasionally and fell in love with the course. I’d found something I felt I could do.”
But things haven’t been rosy as she laments that she has been through various strike actions since her first year.
“Before I officially got admitted, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) went on strike. We couldn’t do our clearance. The lecturers had to step in to do that. By the second year, we had gone on another strike.
“Then, in 2020, COVID-19 happened. I was in 300 level. We stayed at home from March 2020 till January 2021. There was yet another strike in February 2022. We only resumed in October.” As a result, Morenike feels left behind compared to her peers.
“My cousin, whom I wrote JAMB with, is done with NYSC. My peers who went to private schools have all graduated. Even some that went to state schools. I think about how ASUU can wake up on a whim to embark on an indefinite strike.”
Morenike is upset by her situation and explains that lecturers often vent their frustrations on students.
“Last semester, we wrote a test in the evening. The lecturer, a lady, just kept screaming at us and told us she’d pour her annoyance on us for not receiving salaries for seven months. How’s that our fault or business in any way? We’re also affected as well. We can’t get jobs.”
“Being at the same level for almost three years has traumatised me. I got a job offer that paid ₦250k per month, which was later rescinded because I was a student. I cried for days. Employers don’t want to take risks on people who might disrupt their goals due to ASUU’s unpredictability. Some place age restrictions on job openings. At 26 now, my options are getting limited”.
A momentary pause follows before she continues her narration. Morenike isn’t alone. Many young Nigerians are caught in limbo because, on the one hand, they want to start making money quickly in an economy where the unemployment rate is projected to soar to a historic high of 41 per cent. And yet, they can’t commit to work fully and abandon schooling. A university degree still serves as a fallback for all the deserved flack that the Nigerian educational system gets.
“The zeal to read is no more there”, Morenike says with a hint of sadness. “I entered the university at 20, I’m 26 now. I don’t like attending school anymore, but I must try. When we resumed after the last strike, which was depressing, we faced numerous tests and exams. The lecturers didn’t care about our readiness for them. When ASUU and the FG go to war, we’re the ones who suffer while they go scot-free. How’s it my fault I’m not finished with school at 26?”
There’s an air of resignation as Morenike brings her story to a close. She has a few regrets. She tells me about her secondary school group chat on Whatsapp, where she frequently sees news of her friends either going for their master’s degrees or graduating. “I see them and feel envious, asking God why I’m still here struggling to earn a BSc.”
Would she do things differently if she could afford tuition at a private university?
“I wouldn’t go to a private university even if I had the money because I’m not that smart”. Morenike feels she needs to clarify her statement. “Not that I’m not smart I’m sure if I read, I’d pass. But the truth is, I don’t like reading. Reading depresses me, I’m never happy reading a book. I just want to do my business.
“For me, school is plan Z for if all else fails — which I doubt. I won’t say school is a scam because it’s through school I’ve met people I sell my products to. School has helped my business, and I’ve been able to build a network.”
Regarding her education, the journey ahead remains unclear, and Morenike can’t say when she’ll graduate. Still, she remains grateful for her business which helps her get by. For a country designed to stifle the dreams of young people, she’ll take what little wins she can get.
*Name changed to protect their identity