The newspaper advertisement read: “Only candidates who are 27 years and below are eligible to apply.”
Samson Udofia looked dejectedly at the advert and other job vacancies at the newspaper stand where he paid the vendor a token fee to read the employment section. Then he shook his head dismally and said, “This is not fair. All these employers are asking for candidates who are below my age. Is it my fault that I graduated at 29? I barely made it in for youth service and now I can’t even apply for the kind of job I want because of my age.”
Samson’s story is similar to that of many fresh graduates in Nigeria. Job positions open to candidates without any job experience usually come with an age tag such as, “Only candidates who are 27 years and below are eligible to apply.”
Tunde Rotimi, a 400-level student of Accounting at the University of Ilorin is already having thoughts of a bleak future.
“I wonder how I’ll get a job when I graduate. I am already 28 and if there is no strike before I graduate, I will finish my youth service when I am 29. How will I get a job when the good companies only want younger people?” he says, reading the job adverts with a deep frown.
The demand from employers for “young” fresh graduates often causes job seekers to falsify their ages and back them with false documents to get jobs in the highly competitive labour market.
Forced to lie
This holds true for Margaret Akpan (not real name), who recently secured a job at acompany in Lagos. She said she had no difficulty convincing her employers that she was four years younger because she has a youthful look.
“To say the truth, I went to swear a false affidavit to secure my present job. I am 33 years now. I searched for a job for three years to no avail. Even when I went for some interviews, they would employ the younger people and leave us older ones. So I had no choice.”
The preference of employers for younger people, especially fresh graduates without any job experience, is, according to Bunmi Akerele, a Human Resources Consultant, due to the fact that they are easier to train, relate well with customers and have less social and family responsibilities.
“When you employ a new graduate into a large organisation, the person requires adequate training and it often takes years to realise such a person’s strengths within the company,” she says.
“If you employ a lady, say, in her mid 30s, at the bottom of the organisational strata, she has a greater tendency of leaving the organisation within a few years to face family responsibilities, thereby costing the organisation more in terms of training and recruitment costs to replace her. Also, from experience, I’ve found out that younger people learn faster when faced with a new task.”
Olabanji Majekodumi, a Human Resource Manager with a commercial bank corroborates this view. “Banking is a very competitive industry, so we need people who are dynamic and energetic. To employ someone without any work experience who is well over 30 poses problems to the bank in terms of training and work delivery. Younger people are known to have more energy and are associated with less problems. As they grow older within the bank, their age becomes an advantage for more serious responsibilities, but not at the bottom.”
Speaking on the matter, a legal practitioner with Praxis Legal, Peter Adobamen, said the employer is not bound by any law to employ anyone based on age. “No law imposes any duty on the employer to hire based on age. The employer is at liberty to set any age requirement as it suits him or her; it is a contract. It is only when the employer decides to fire that it becomes imperative to look at the legal basis of his action, but regarding employment based on age, the contract is strictly between the employer and the employee,” said Mr. Adobamen. He added, however that what the law frowns at is discrimination in employment against people such as the physically challenged, and HIV/AIDS victims.
But being a fresh graduate with a NYSC certificate at the age of 27, which is preferred by most employers, is a tough feat to achieve in Nigeria. According to Mr. Rotimi, “The educational system in Nigeria makes it difficult for people to go into the university and graduate when they want. Gaining admission alone can take up to four years or even more. Then when you add all the time wasted on strikes, how won’t someone grow older while still in school.”
And so, without realising it, Samson seems to be preparing to join the bandwagon of age forgers. “What they don’t realise is that it makes no difference if I’m 27 or 37. I can still do the job well. Maybe, I would have a better chance of getting a job if I lied about my age,” he said.