Opinion

‘Being Unemployed’ In Nigeria, [MUST READ] Prose By Okwuanya Pius-Vincent

The dining table is now scattered, bits of bread and some mess of liquid are strewn all over and the shiny cutleries and ceramic plates litter the often neat brown varnished table. It was the breakfast of tea and bread. I turned up my nose in mock disgust as my mother, entered the room. I was part dreading and part-bracing myself for the inevitable and it came as certain as cracked lips on a cold dry harmattan morning.

“Ikechukwu, you will help with the dishes this morning” She said offhandedly making it appear as if the request was an isolated event and not a consistent chore ekked out for the one who always stayed at home while the rest are at work. I have had a series of “this mornings” since I finished my national service three years ago.

I opened my mouth to argue but like many other occassions, I could not form the words. My mother, a slightly round woman with age-related wrinkles on her face and evident crinkles around the eyes dabbed at her face with a powder with an assuredness of a woman who had just had the last word. She often does. The years have fed me my own words with a bitter pill and I have become wordless, almost dumb. She sat down on the sofa and rummaged through her bag in search for something.

“Ehe!” She exclaimed. She seemed to have found what she was looking for. She found a neat spot in the littered table and dropped it. I stole a glance. It was a 200 naira note. She did not talk and I pretended not to know that she had dropped it. I was becoming uncomfortable with her donations but conversely regrets that the donations were not as regular as the chores.

“Lock my doors and windows when you want to stroll out.” The emphasis is on “my”. My Mother has not failed to remind me that I am still staying with her and “her husband” who happens to be my father too. She is a good woman but has a caustic way of motivating her children. She had once spoken to our elder brother one evening and he left home the next day. He called us a week later from Wammako, a town in Sokoto. He is currently in Gibraltar, a country I had to google to ensure that it was not just rocky. The only thing I heard of Gibraltar was biblical. Her barbs have had similar effects on me but I have not been able to employ myself or indeed find myself in any of the obscure countries.

“Mummy, don’t worry. Your house is safe.” She had started sweating despite her makeups. She extracted a handkerchief from the pocket of her black jacket and cleaned her face as she left.

“Start sleeping again this morning, inugo?” She implored sarcastically as she banged the door after her. The sarcasm was not lost on me but I pretended not to hear what she had said. My father had told me that the quickest way to death is to be a Nigerian but the next quickest way to the great beyond is to listen to women. I consider my father a sage.

I do not sleep much, contrary to my mothers allusion. It is preposterous to think that any man that lies down and closes his eyes is sleeping. Most times men like myself lie down because of our heavy hearts which our weary bodies can only carry with a great deal of stress. I close my eyes often to avoid seeing myself sleeping away! I often wake up exhausted because I fight my demons all through my slumber.

My mother had left and I thought about doing the dishes then but decided against it. My situation has left me with a lot of time on my hands. Its better I went back to sleep and attend to my singular task with the luxury it deserves, I decided as I went back towards my newfound love, my bed, the fluffy understanding darling who does not ever ask me to get up and do some real work. I lay down on the soft, cool bed and my thoughts unwittingly went back to my past, my recent past.

I had graduated from one of the top Universities with a result which was quite good but failed to capture my capacity. Most of us graduate from school that way. Disatisfied. However, my result was not bad. It was the kind of result that puts one in the frame for some top opportunities but cannot deliver the opportunities to him. I did my national service and came out with high hopes believing that the system would find some space for thinkers whose proficiencies and core competencies may never be found on a sheet of paper or a certificate. Three suits and five black leather shoes later, I discovered that the truth of the Nigerian struggle is stranger than its fiction.

Many a times, I was told by employers that I needed more experience. I often left with bigger confusion. How was I to get these jobs if I do not have the experiences and how was I to get the experiences if I do not have a job? It was a conundrum.

The apex of frustration was my meeting with a prospective employer in Abuja. It was an interview which meant that I had to travel from Awka in Anambra State to the Federal Capital Territory. I had gotten the call from their HR three days before the time and had prepared myself for a whole lot of questions. I bought a new navy blue suit and polished my black leather shoes to a gloss. I was detailed down to the socks. I learnt how to tie a tie, a friend had told me that another jobseeker lost an opportunity because he could not redo his tie when his interviewers asked him to do so. I went online and predisposed myself for everything. I braced myself for hostility in which case I learnt that I must not succumb to the pressures which oftentimes is a test. I learnt how to smile; the confident, assured smile that is as plastic as the conviviality of the interviewer or the panel of interviewers whose sweet smiles veil a ruthlessness that may seem sardonic to the unlucky jobseekers.

I entered the office, to meet a tall, clean-shaven, dark man with a full smile behind an upholstered table. The table was littered with plaques and behind him were his pictures. In one of them, he was shaking the Senate President, David Mark and in another, He was talking with a woman whose signature head-tie gave away as The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He stood up and shook my hands. His grip was firm and brisk, almost perfunctory. He may not have my time, I surmised.

I was right. He asked me to tell him who I was. No sooner had I began to deliver my well-prepared and rehearsed answers than he started looking at his watch. His fascination with the watch made me to look at it. It was a Diamond-encrusted gold Hublot watch and I was sure that I got the time before he could, it was 3:40pm. He caught me looking at him and apologised profusely. Clicking the watch with his thumb as if to tell me that my time had started then. It was not even a digital watch.

“Sorry, I have an engagement in twenty minutes, I would not want to miss that.” He told me with a practiced smile. I know the smile, I had rehearsed mine too.

“You went to the University of Benin?”

“Yes Sir” I answered with my palms clasped in front of me. It is the best position apparently. That or placing the hands on your knees. It was a taboo to touch the tables. You see? I know all the rules and then some.

“What class of degree did you graduate with?” He stole a glance at his watch again.

“2.1 Sir.”

“Why not first class?”

I started forming an answer but my interviewer had started talking again.

“I finished with first class from Macquarie University in Scotland and currently had three masters degree and two Phds” I watched as he went on about him, pointing at several plaques in his office and telling me how he had won them and when he did. He told me of the numerous calls he gets to enter politics and use his intelligence to steady the “shaky ship that is the Nigerian state who is constantly sailing troubled waters.”

I tried to look interested but I was not. I was worried. I had not gotten any time to demonstrate my capacity and had started sweating in the well-conditioned room.

“Sorry” He said “I must leave now.” He started packing some files. He was really leaving. I stood up, tears welled up around my eyes. I removed my glasses from my eyes and pretended to clean it. I needed to be doing something.

“You will hear from us soon.” He said as he ushered me out of his office.

I was in a bus to Onitsha the next day when I got the inevitable mail. They regretted to inform me that I will no longer be considered for a role with their firm. They did really regret it?

“You have already started sleeping?”

My Mother’s voice jarred me from my reverie. I sighed as I opened my eyes. Would she believe me if I had told her that I was not really sleeping? She probably would not.

“Your father paid my bride price when he was 25 and had built a house in his village even then.” She said as she closed the door to my room and entered the dining room. The clatter of cutleries, stainless on ceramics suggested that she was looking for something on the messy dining table. It could be her mobile phone. You can count on my mum forgetting her phone as often as you can count on Nigerian politicians to steal money.

“You did not even remind me to take my phone.” She opened the door to my room.

“Sorry ma, I was preoccupied.”

“What are you thinking of? Your wife? Your three kids? You don’t even have a job.” She was venting her anger on me while I was not even the person that forgot her phone. Parents have that uncanny ability to shift responsibility. My Mum had once called me from outside to enter the sitting room and hand her the TV remote.

“I will soon get this job.” I said lightheartedly.

“Amen o. But nobody gets a job while sleeping?” Her tone had mellowed.

Some people do. African politicians do that all the time. Some people were paid huge sums of money to sleep at the CONFAB, The Sovereign National Conference. However, I did not want to tell My Mother that.

“Ok Ma.”

“Remember to do your temporary job before you doze off again. Do the dishes and clean the house.”

“I will Ma.” Joblessness does make one loyal.

My mother rushed off, she is a career civil servant and does not want to be late.

I sluggishly rose from the bed and started towards the dining. It would be good to get the chores out of the way. My junior sister is preparing for her WAEC exams and consequently avoids chores as if they were ebola. I ended up doing most of the chores because she has a job. Schooling is her full-time job.

I had picked a broom from the edge of the dining room when my phone rang. I was apprehensive at first. I was not disposed to pick the calls from friends and extended families whose questions of “Kedu ihe I na-eme kita?” (What are you doing now) often leaves me more disturbed. It was CJ, a fellow jobseeker who I ran into at Lagos during a graduate recruitment drive. I picked the phone, CJ certainly would not ask the forbidden question.

“O boy you still dey with your CV?” CJ, an Ibo boy who was brought up in Warri asked me. He loves pidgin English.

“CJ. You dey mad? Which kind question be that?” Asking a jobseeker if he still has his or her Curriculum Vitae or Resume is like asking the sun if it shines.

“E get one opportunity like that wey I for like make you reason”

“Wetin be that?” I asked, my interest peaking.

“E get one company wey dey recruit now. Na better company and them they pay better money. You know say you sabi book pass me so if I no make am, I go like make u get am.”

“Thank you CJ.”

“You go scan red background passport send am join your CV to [email protected]

He disconnected the call. I dropped the broom and went to the untidy dining table where I picked the 200 naira my mother had dropped for me earlier. It may go a long way in getting my passport scanned. I threw on my tshirts on top of the singlet I wore and shrugged into my black wool trousers. On the door, I stepped into my sneakers.

I left the house, locking just the door and leaving the windows. I will be back soon.

On my way, I said a short prayer asking The Almighty God to make this link my opportunity. However, I wondered if the prayers will ever be answered since I am fully aware that God will have to answer not just me but over twenty million Nigerian youths.

My hope only comes from God not the government that specializes in providing invisible jobs.

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