Artisans and Our Skills Gap

I frequently refer to artisans as the third leg of Nigeria’s axis of evil, after politicians and civil servants. I believe that if, or whenever, politics and the civil service are eventually fixed, artisans will still be the one thing holding us back.

In a sense, I exaggerate but we all use tailors, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc and have the scars to show their skills deficiencies. Plumbing simply never ends in most houses. In spite of the “German foundation” damp rises in in almost everyone’s walls in Lagos. Your electrician will fry your switchboard and vanish. Then, the tailors and carpenters – do I really need to justify their inclusion in this horror show?

And in this instance, we know it’s just a Nigeria thing. Growing up, the best basket-weavers were Ghanaians (but we drove them out, didn’t we?) and the best-tailors were francophone (les Togolaises et les Senegalaises). Right now, in masonry, that brick/stone effect that people do on their walls, the best people to do it are the Beninois and the Togolese. Why is it only in football that our non-skilled labour trumps that of our neighbours along the West-African coast? What is that they do differently? I actually do not have an answer to that question but I know, from short spells in Abidjan and Porto Novo that the lifestyle is very different from ours. Attitudes also seem to be different, with the Porto Novo experience particularly underscoring this.

For a period of about three months, during the ASUU-enforced two-year break between secondary school and university (circa 1995), my uncle and aunty dumped my cousin and I at the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo. The Songhai Centre is an agricultural skills acquisition “school” where students from all over the Benin Republic come to train before moving on to large-scale, commercial farms. The food was not to my liking and we (my cousin and I) spent more time watering the crops than anything else (arosser!) but I recall one of the students saying how he needed to complete 24 months at Songhai to become employable at a larger farm. At the time I thought, 24 months to learn how to plant, weed and water crops? Who has time for that? These days, especially after an artisan has come to do remedial work, for the 5th time, on work he did shoddily, I wonder whether he had any structured training at all.

More recently, I have met two Togolese masons who are both frequently contracted to come and work in Nigeria. One of them came to our meeting in an LR3 (so he’s done okay for himself). He also spoke about attending a training school for a few years and then working as an apprentice under a master-builder. I doubt very many of our masons are crossing the borders in the other other direction.

Perhaps it’s the easy-going life that they live that reduces the pressure we have in Nigeria to achieve more over less time. Maybe it’s therefore easier for them to contented. Perhaps their societies are more accepting of people who don’t have university degrees. We need to find out whatever it is that makes them stay long enough in skills schools to properly learn trades and just copy.

The reality is that we don’t have enough corporate jobs to employ everyone who has undergone higher education in Nigeria. There is also a stark hierarchy, where employers are concerned, of graduates from tertiary institutions: Federal Universities (there’s even an elite sub-class in there) > State Universities > Polytechnics > Colleges of Education.

Finally, employers generally pay higher salaries to people with foreign degrees, a premium for the better education they’ve ostensibly received. Clients generally pay more for lawyers renowned to be more highly skilled in an area of law than others.

Would we as consumers be willing to pay thrice as much for properly trained and qualified technicians and artisans?

5 Reasons Why The New Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge Should be Left Alone


Yesterday, I went on the newly-opened Lekki-Ikoyi bridge for the very first time. Yes, the N250 toll was more than double what I would have paid on the Lekki-Epe toll road but my journey time was more than halved. Many have kicked against tolling infrastructure that was built with taxpayers’ money and there may well be some merit in that argument. A suit has been filed against the Lagos State Government in this regard and we will have a judicial pronouncement on the matter soon enough. In the meantime, here are 5 reasons why I think the road should be tolled.

1.    The Location

Apart from revenue, tolling also serves to control drivers’ behavior. Take the Congestion Charge in Central London, for instance. More than anything else, the toll was introduced to reduce the number of people driving themselves into London’s central business district. Call this elitist if you like, but we can’t have the whole world driving through the primest of the prime real estate in South-Western Nigeria. The toll is low enough to be practical for the residents of the newly connected vicinities yet high enough to prevent it from becoming the world’s thoroughfare.

2.    The Lekki-Epe Concession

The Government of Lagos State is led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Now, yes, this is an ad hominem but the chances are that pacta sunt servanda will mean a whole lot more to them than the Federal Government. Unlike the unlearned Federal Government, which has failed to honour most of its obligations under the BiCourtney airport concession (e.g. closing down the general terminal and moving all domestic operators to the Concessionaire-operated wing), Lagos State will be keen not to create another alternative route to the Admiralty Toll Plaza. I haven’t seen the Lekki-Epe Concession Agreement but any lawyer worth their money (and intent on protect his client’s money) would have protected his client by restricting the creation of more than one alternative route.

3.    Journey Time

If you live in Lekki, you can now get to the Third Mainland Bridge in less than 10 minutes. Even Vin Diesel would struggle to do that with a souped up car on the Ozumba route, given the toll plaza, the traffic lights, the numerous intersections etc. And that’s even on a Sunday morning with little or no traffic. Time is still money in 2013, right?

4.    Have You Been on the Bridge at Night?

No really, have you? The bridge is a work of art. I overheard someone describe the drive at night as “almost sexual”.  Now I don’t know anything about that, but I guarantee that a few marriage proposals (as well as many ulterior ones) will be sealed with a walk or a drive on that bridge.

5.    Property Rates

This is more wishful thinking than anything else, but if Lekki is now only 3 minutes away from Ikoyi, should Ikoyi rentals still have a 50% (or more) markup on similar housing units in Lekki? I think not. Then again, with all the empty houses in Lekki, should there be a 40% (or more markup) on Agungi downwards? No? So what was my fifth point again?