#ThoughtivityOpinion: Dear Nigerian Youth… Get that University Degree

There is a particular group of people I have a beef with, and those people have a special place in hell prepared for them. It is those motivational speakers/life coaches who write books/ go to events to talk about how they did not graduate from University and yet they are successful. Those ones use Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to actively or tacitly suggest to their readers/audience that University is useless and it makes no difference whether you go to University or not. Personally I think that opinion is bullshit and this here piece is a long expose to prove it so.

At first glance you might want to argue that the life coaches are correct. There is no doubt that University education, especially in Nigeria, is currently in the dumpster. In the years since I began to follow worldwide University rankings, a Nigerian University has not entered the top one thousand. At the moment, a Nigerian University degree certificate is barely worth the paper it is written on. Even graduates with First Class degrees, who used to be the envy of the rest of the population, now find themselves on the unemployment heap. What makes the situation even more disheartening is that the problem shows no sign of abating, in fact it seems to be getting worse. These days, because of the nature of the country, you find engineers working as tellers in banks, or people with pharmacy degrees working as fashion designers to mention but a few.

I was chatting with a group of NYSC members the other day and they kept going on about how after years of studying for a university degree and one year of wearing the green khaki and white t-shirt, most of them will still end up with no job, no money and no prospects. One of them even went as far to cite the example of 2baba, Olamide, Wizkid, Small Doctor and others like them, acclaimed “dropouts” who are earning the kind of money even PhD graduates can only dream of. Of course as a Nigerian graduate myself, I get where they are coming from. It is really hard to believe in the Nigerian educational system, or even in yourself as the product of that system, when everywhere you turn, you are constantly being reminded that your university degree is only fit for little more than the trash bin.

However, in the course of my reading I made a startling discovery. I found out that If Banky W (who is not a dropout) had not put EME together, there would be no Wizkid. If Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye had not put a structure together in form of Kennis Music, there would be no 2baba. If I.D Cabasa had not put together Coded Tunes, well you know the rest of the story. A lot of people think going to the University is just to acquire knowledge, so that when they graduate and they find that they didn’t acquire as much knowledge as they would have desired, they dismiss the whole process as crap and declare that: “I didn’t learn anything of value, and the certificate I got is worthless.” What a lot of people don’t realize is that when you are in the university (whether public or private is immaterial) for a sustained period of time, you are plugging into a community of elites, an exclusive community where a large number of people have an idea of what they want to achieve. Because of the “iron sharpening iron” effect, you find that you have begun to think like the members of that community. For somebody living in Nigeria for example you might never be able to exactly define how University has changed you, but you will find that it has changed you regardless. The certificate is proof that you were in the community of the elite and it is your ticket to sit at the table of the elite.

A lot graduates tend to think that because they don’t have an oil company job or they are not related to some politician, then they are not among the elite. They don’t know that no matter the class of degree or the university said degree was acquired from, a university degree already puts them at the elite table. Whether you gained any real knowledge from said University or not, the fact that you earned the certificate has already opened a lot of possibilities for you that is not available for everybody else who doesn’t have the ticket. I follow some young professionals who have made it a form of obligation to share career and academic development opportunities on Twitter, and through them I have come to realize that whether you have a First Class or a 2.1 or even a Pass, you still have opportunities open to you that someone without that degree does not have. Your university degree might feel like useless crap because you cannot use it to find a job that you like, but it opens so many options to you that many people who do have that ticket do not have. If things get to their worst, you know you can always give the middle finger to Nigeria and travel abroad. What gives you the extra edge in whichever country you travel to is that ticket, that University degree that you have acquired. Even if you don’t have the requisite knowledge that your degree is supposed to confer on you, you will still find that the paper certificate alone gives you plenty of avenues to improve yourself without having to endure the stress that not having said certificate brings.

Coming back to what I said about the “dropouts” relying on the platforms created by non-dropouts, the truth is that by and large, you will find that the avenues to success are controlled by people who earned University degrees. For you to make any headway in life, you must sit at their table. For you to get a seat at the table, you must have the ticket. It is either you have that ticket yourself, or you know someone who is willing to use theirs to help you, or you pay someone to use theirs to help you. That is why you will see that Wizkid himself might be a “dropout”, Starboy’s management team full of University degree holders. Olamide might call himself a “street boy”, but YBNL’s management is composed of PR and Marketing gurus. The difference between talent and “superstardom” is structure, and the kind of structure that births superstars is not a subject that dropouts can understand, no matter how insanely talented they are. It is why I feel nothing but amusement when a life coach says something like: “So and So didn’t go to University, but he has MBAs working under him”, or “So and so did not graduate from school but he is consulting for Banks and companies…”. The question I want to ask that life coach is: “Why does the aforementioned dropout not employ dropouts like him to run his company? or why is the dropout not consulting for business managed by dropouts like him.” So when a musician comes on stage to say “when I was in school, my lecturers said I was too dumb to make it, but look at me, I am richer than them all.” I always think: ” Your lecturers are correct. If your record label boss/management team leader had been as stupid as you and not listened to his own lecturers’ advice/ earned the required certificate/interacted with the right community, to build the structure you are mugging off, you won’t be here talking nonsense.”

The question is you might want to ask then is “Why should I spend four or more years studying for a seat at the table, when I can simply drop out, do something else and then pay someone else to use their own ticket for me?” The simple answer is this: For every Wizkid or Olamide (An insanely talented musician who didn’t go to school in the technical sense but got picked up by a label and became a millionaire superstar), there are thousands more who are as insanely talented as he is but never got the lucky break he got (and are mired in poverty because they are dropouts who have no skills and connections). So dear Nigerian graduate, the choice is yours. you can hang on and finish that University degree (even if you hate the course and the lecturers), which helps you to secure a place at the table of the elite. From there you can make any further moves you want. On the other hand you can drop out and find yourself hoping to get someone who worked hard to earn their own place and who will be able to give you a lucky break, which means you are no longer in possession of your destiny

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