I visited my aunt some months ago and saw my 14-year-old cousin loitering around a woodwork store a few blocks away. Naturally, I assumed he was on an errand and would join me in his house shortly.

One hour after I’d settled in, he didn’t return, and I was forced to tell my aunt I’d seen him loitering around. She laughed off my concern and told me he was at his training centre. Apparently, she’d discovered his love for woodwork from some DIY projects in school and decided to enroll him with a professional. They had an arrangement that saw him spending one to two hours at the workshop after closing from school. I was tempted to protest the idea, but I’d taken a mental note of the place earlier, and it would’ve passed for an IKEA showroom. 

This reminded me of how I’d persuaded my mum to enroll me for a graphic design certification course in the second year after I’d completed secondary school without a university admission. These seven Nigerians share their own stories of how they spent life after graduating from secondary school or university. 

Onyinye*, 32

I had some outstanding fees to pay after finishing 400 level, so I couldn’t graduate. Things were tough at home, so I had to take up a teaching job at a primary school to raise the remainder of my school fees. I worked for a year and about seven months. It was one of the toughest things I had to do, but no experience taught me more about patience.

Iyanu*, 33

I graduated with a third-class degree, so I wasn’t excited to be done with school. I knew my parents would want to see my results because they had friends and relatives who’d asked for my CV to be passed along once I graduated. I couldn’t let that happen, so I sought to start making money before I was posted for NYSC. That way, I’d already have something to do and they wouldn’t need to help me look for jobs when I graduated. I went to stay with a friend who promised to “Show me the way”. I’d spend most of the day watching him type letters on his system, and whenever I asked, “What’s up?” He’d tell me to observe the way he writes and responds. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was into internet fraud. I didn’t have a problem with it after watching him get paid in dollars. Twice, I tried my hands at it but failed. He was also always reading and learning how to write many different documents. And I knew I didn’t have the head for heavy reading or writing, especially when it’s to scam. So I ended up taking a factory job, and that was where I did my NYSC PPA. These days, I’m an Uber driver. 

Tara* 17

I graduated from secondary school last year, and I’ve not started processing my admission because I didn’t pass all my WAEC subjects. I’m retaking the exam, but pending the time I’ll resume tutorial classes, my mum enrolled me at a makeup school. She doesn’t like the idea of leaving me at home doing nothing while everyone goes to work. I resume at 9 and close at 3 p.m. from Mondays to Fridays. 

Godfrey, 38*

I’m still mad at my parents for not making me learn something after I graduated from secondary school. I was at home for three years before I gained admission, and I spent all that time doing chores, watching movies and babysitting for aunties and uncles. If I’d learned something, I’d have been more buoyant in uni. I had coursemates who were hairdressers, barbers, electricians, shoemakers, and they were hardly ever dead broke because they had something bringing extra money. And then, there I was, relying on pocket money for the most part of my time in uni. 

James 30

After graduating from uni in 2016, we had to wait for some months for clearance and NYSC. There was a lot of free time, but I didn’t want to go back home to do nothing. So this close pal, who was a first-class student, looped me in on something he was doing. I didn’t know it was a ponzi scheme at the time, I just knew it was money-doubling. Pay ₦10k, and recoup ₦20k, that sort of thing. Anyway, this friend got a lightbulb moment to run our own “honest” ponzi scheme. We formed a team of six, including a pastor who was big on “honest” ponzi. I was in charge of customer support, and we managed to build a level of trust you didn’t find with other ponzi websites at the time. We’d constantly keep people in the loop about when to expect their payment and such. But things went south when someone hacked our system and diverted the funds. We also got word from the pastor that the evil eye had been cast upon the entire project. The tipping point was when neighbours called the police on us on the hunch that we were yahoo boys. Thankfully, we’d taken an out-of-state trip at the time, and they could only get hold of my friend’s cousin. I honestly thought I was going to make my first and several millions from it. But that was the end of that episode. Months later, I went for NYSC in Lagos and resumed at a small e-commerce company as a content writer. 

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 Maria*, 45

I studied History and couldn’t find a job after I completed NYSC. The school I served in was in the north. They offered to retain me, but I knew I didn’t want to live there, and I wasn’t really interested in teaching. It was stressful, and the salary wasn’t rewarding. After about three months of job hunting, I enrolled at a fashion design school, and that was how I became a tailor. I wonder why I went to university at all because I could’ve spent all that time at the fashion school. I’m always telling my kids to let me know if they want to learn anything. I don’t want them making the same mistakes I did.

Jumoke, 40

I baked snacks and cakes for friends during their birthdays in uni. I’d learned the basics from my mum and got better on my own. This made it easy for me to get something to do when I graduated. My parents were actually worried at some point because they thought I’d drop out or graduate with bad grades. To them, baking was a distraction. But I made 2:1, and three weeks after graduation, my parents gave me money to buy a professional mixer and industrial oven. I think they were so supportive because I took my business as seriously as my education. My kids are still young, but I know I’ll want them to have a clear path early on in life too. I’m always paying attention to their interests; my husband thinks I’m doing too much.

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Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.