Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The depths of unemployment

The National Youth Service Scheme did not enjoy much popularity when it was introduced in the 70s. The young university graduates then were impatient to get to work, considering that they were intensely wooed by both corporate and government organizations.

Most of them saw the mandatory service year as a waste of career time, and impatiently blazed through it. Some went as far as devising ingenious means to avoid it and jump into the jobs that were beckoning.

Today, the reverse is the case. The jobs are no longer available, and the graduates gladly embrace the scheme. They do so, not because of any sense of patriotism, but because those 12months provide a relief from idleness and boredom. They do so because the scheme provides the first (and for some, only) time they will receive paychecks at the end of every month.

And because the scheme has adorned such an attractive toga, thousands of Nigerian university graduates go to absurd lengths to secure a berth in the service year. Those of them older than the age cap of 30 doctor their birth documents; pregnant ladies take ridiculous, and dangerous, steps to conceal it; and some even forge call-up letters when the NYSC has not invited them.

However, the icing on the cake is the revelation that some graduates, who have undergone the one-year scheme, connive with dubious NYSC officials to get re invited for another service year. Indeed, it stretches the bounds of credulity to receive reports of people who have served thrice. What kind of graduate would sink so low?

Agreed, the unemployment situation has approached crisis dimensions, but people still get jobs. Are these graduates sure that they earned their certificates? Does taking the coward's option solve the problem? While these questions boggle the mind, it is also instructive to remind ourselves that the country's unemployment rate has reached alarming statistics. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youth enter the labour market annually; less than 20% of them get jobs.

The country's abysmal business environment smoother the entrepreneurial spirit among this lot. Left with little or no choice, some of these youth are lured into a life of crime. Millions of university graduates are currently engaged in cyber fraud, both within and outside the country.

The situation has approached dire proportions in that most of these youth labor under the disillusionment that cyber fraud is no crime. A vast majority of Nigerian youth is therefore disinterested in Nation Building; and this is the most dangerous calamity that can befall a country. Our present crop of leaders should therefore, as a matter of utmost urgency, tackle the rising unemployment rate.

Lofty ideas of building an enviable economy by 2020 can never be achieved if the youth are left to continue like this. Nigeria's outrageous unemployment rate has placed the nation at the edge of an abyss. Until we remove ourselves from that precarious precipice, we will not be able to make any progress.

The time to act is now; before the bloated NYSC scheme bursts at its seams.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Intellectual ganja

Attired in designer suit, George Ironuma (not real names) looked startlingly out of place amidst the scruffy looking characters that lurked around the entrance to an uncompleted building located on Itire Road, Surulere. The building has served as a hang-out for marijuana dealers and smokers since 2005.
The middle-aged banker said he has been addicted to marijuana for over 10 years, and is unsuccessfully struggling to quit.

“I started the whole thing in my second year in the university, and it has been hell for me since then,” he said as he took off his jacket, loosened his tie, and sat on one of the concrete blocks lying around the floor of the building. “The stuff helps me relax. If I don’t smoke before going home, I won’t eat, and can’t sleep.”
“Then I buy the one that I need in the morning before taking my shower, because it helps me start the day in the right mood, and also keeps my senses alert through the day’s work at the office.”

Intellectual ganja?
In a side street off Pako-Aguda, in Surulere, a ramshackle wooden bar sits in front of the filthy canal that runs through the middle of the street. The bar also serves as a joint for hundreds of youth in the area who congregate regularly to smoke marijuana. The proprietor is a gaunt old woman known as Iya Raufu.

A dreadlock-wearing gangling young man of about 25 sat in a corner; bare-chested and swaying to the music from his headphones. He seemed to distance himself from the rough looking men and women that lounged about smoking or drinking. He gave his name as Encrypt.

“I smoke ganja because na im dey give me inspiration,” he said while he delicately licked the tips of the soft paper he used in wrapping the marijuana. “I don already release two singles (music tracks) and very soon Eko go hear my album.”
“This,” he said as he lit up and took a deep drag, “na wetin (popular hip-hop musician) Terry G call ‘intellectual ganja.’”

Mr. Ironuma also believes this view, but is battling his addiction. “God knows I have tried to stop, but my brother the pull is too much,” he said. “I even told my pastor about it, and he has been on my neck since then. But, I am afraid that is I stop it, I will lose the creativity that it has helped me impact on my job.”

Marijuana as aid to creativity: Fact or myth.

The two men are examples of a substantial number of Lagos youth who are addicted to marijuana use, and have remained under the illusion that the drug enhances creativity. These youth are regular patrons of joints were the sale of marijuana thrives in the metropolis.

Uncompleted buildings, brothels, motor parks, and seedy bars in suspect neighbourhoods are some of the favourite haunts of dope dealers in the metropolis.

Niran Okewole, a Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, reveals that marijuana usage induces an illusion of enhanced imagination, but points out that the negative consequences can be dangerous.

“Marijuana is known to heighten the user's sensitivity to external stimuli, make colours seem brighter and sounds seem richer, and more details become vivid,” he said. “Appreciation of time is also subjectively slowed. All these could make an individual 'feel' artistic concepts more.”

“There is a culture especially in the entertainment industry which encourages impressionable, identity-seeking youth to indulge in marijuana and other psychoactive substances; think of the impact of lyrics like 'Nothin do me becos I dey shayo.’ (However), Cannabis use could lead to intoxication, manifesting as impairment of memory, motor skills, and level of consciousness. Anxiety, behavioural disturbances and frank psychosis could also be consequences of cannabis use.”

Any refuge?
House of Refuge is a rehabilitation centre run by Freedom Foundation, a nongovernmental organization. The centre, located on Alpha Beach, Lekki, was established in 2001 and has succeeded in rehabilitating 1000 former drug addicts since then.

“We have a group of men who go out to the streets and identify addicts that really need help, and we also partner with NGOs and doctors who refer people to us, and then we profile to see if the person is qualified for admittance,” said Ayo Awoyemi, the Programme Officer of the centre.

One of such is Piriye Kalaiwe, a 42-year-old database administrator who got hooked on drugs while studying in the United Kingdom, but is now weaned of his addition. “It takes you to decide that ‘look I am tired of it’, and I needed somewhere like a sanctuary to go and chill out,” he said. “A place like House of Refuge only contributes mentally and spiritually, but it is always your decision to stop it.”

Mr. Okewole shares this view, and advices repentant addicts to be committed to quitting the habit. “A lot has to do with the level of motivation of the individual,” he said. “Rehabilitation programmes like we have at Yaba and Aro are excellent. (And) there are also some private rehab facilities.”

For addicts like Mr. Ironuma, who are desirous of quitting the habit, and are finding it difficult to make the decision to seek professional help, something needs to trigger them into taking the leap.

“Maybe when I get married, hopefully before the end of the year, I will now be forced to stop this stupid habit,” he said.

This piece was previously published in NextonSunday.