Issues in Dangote’s Graduate Drivers Scheme

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Suraj Oyewale
Lagos, Nigeria
August 07, 2012

When I picked up a recent edition of Guardian newspaper and saw a full page advert by Dangote Group seeking to employ and train 2000 graduates for its newly established Drivers Academy, a number of thoughts raced through my mind. Expectedly, the initiative has started generating heated debate in Nigeria’s highly critical cyberspace.

On the surface, one will be tempted to crash the roof on the Group for such a ‘demeaning’ offer to Nigeria’s legion of respected graduates. But a deeper look at the issues surrounding the idea is necessary no matter the opinion one forms on it, ab initio; after all, lack of analytical review of policies and events, are at the roots of the pervasive bolekaja criticism that has made public debate an exercise in waste of time and resources in Nigeria.

The billionaire founder of the conglomerate, Aliko Dangote, is a man that is liked and loathed in Nigeria in equal proportion. To some people, he is a business shark that doesn’t tolerate competition and use his connection with political powers-that-be to tilt policies in his favour and reap billions in the process. To others, he is a diligent businessman in a capitalist economy that is passionate about his country, nay his continent, establishing factories across all regions and employing people. Dangote is the largest single employer of labour in Nigeria today and if the 2000 drivers join his payroll, he will widen the gap as Nigeria’s numero uno employer. But what ordinarily looks like a noble idea is laden with a number of questions.

According to Dangote Group, the initiative will ‘assist to uplift the operating standards in road transport industry’, amongst other merits. When one looks at the manner haulage drivers operate on our roads, one will easily agree that the industry needs serious reforms. Some of us still have phobia for long distance highway driving because of how these ‘Kings of the roads’ lord over the highways, without regard to other road users. Not a few road accidents happen on daily basis due to the activities of these barely literate drivers. But for the grace of God almighty, this writer could have been consumed by their activities last year when on my way to my Kwara hometown for sallah, two heavy truck drivers were carelessly competing for space on a double-way road, at a sharp bend for that matter. The commercial bus that had overtaken me earlier was not as lucky. Virtually every Nigerian road user has had unpalatable experience, even if of near-miss, with these ‘lions of the highway’. So I will be the first to agree that Dangote group’s attempt at overhauling its road transport function is a welcome idea. Other road transport business owners, especially petroleum products marketing and transporting companies, should follow suit. Indeed, the reforms should be nationally coordinated with the Federal Ministry of Transport developing the framework under which these operators operate.

But a big question: is illiteracy and lack of tertiary education the cause of this inhuman behavior of these truck drivers? If the answer to that is no, I’m afraid shoving the illiterates aside for the graduates in the business is not the magic wand to this monstrous attitude. It can be easily argued that one that passed through the four walls of a tertiary institution is expected to be more refined in attitude, but this is only partially true. After all, we will not look too far before we see OND holders, at least, in the current crop of highway drivers. But this flaw notwithstanding, I believe formal training like Dangote Drivers Academy is expected to give its 2000 drivers will go a long way in instilling the needed expertise, and equally importantly, attitude, which can make a difference.

A bigger question –and the point of the controversy – is: is it not an insult to the sensibilities of Nigerian graduates for a ‘capitalist’ Dangote to throw such a lowly job at them? This is a tough question for me, as I am not sure my answer will not be different if I were in the other side – the side of the unemployed army of graduates. Frankly, I don’t see this as an insult. I will explain.

Driving is a job long SEEN as meant for the uneducated class. I emphasized ‘seen’ because it is only a matter of perception, it is never a rule or fact that is cast in stone. Here is someone trying to revolutionize the job and give it a better public perception. If we look round we should see that many of the jobs associated with the illiterate, lowly class in the society in the past are now being revolutionized. Years back, we all saw farming as the preserve of the illiterate poor. Now, ex-presidents, retired Generals, and many well educated elite are into farming. Young graduates and upwardly mobile executives are also moving into the sector. I have a friend, a young guy in his early 30’s, that resigned his investment banking job for farming. I have another friend, my room mate in the university, who, not waiting for any paid job after his youth service, went into small scale fish farming. So what are we talking about? It is all a matter of perception, driving job is seen as a lowly one because we all made it look it so, giving it a better perception is a matter of mental outlook too. If farming is no longer for the poor illiterate only, driving too is long overdue to be absorbed into the societally acceptable jobs, at least for anyone that couldn’t find a better job.

I do not expect Dangote Group to pay its 2000 drivers less than N70,000 per month. If I guessed right, this is not an entirely bad idea. A lot of the formal sector jobs graduates die to get do not pay up to N50,000 per month. I know banks that pay less than N50,000 for its HND staff.

Now, questions for the Dangote group too: what is the career progression plan for these graduate drivers? Can a well-polished graduate driver ever become a Manager or Supervisor? Or will he remain a steering manipulator throughout his entire career in the organization? What are the incentives to make these drivers abide by the rules you teach them in the academy? I have some advice: The drivers, upon completion of their course, should be absorbed into the company’s organizational structure like any other entry level graduate. There should be yearly appraisals and promotion for performing drivers like it would do to any other staff. Performance may be tied to number of accident-free journeys a driver makes, in addition to other measures. The company may also consider as incentives hire purchase schemes for its drivers. Right of first refusal may also be given to drivers ahead of other staff when the company deems it fit to dispose a truck after a number of years of use. For a job that requires high level of energy and mental alertness like driving, adequate holidays should be part of these drivers working condition. Of course, I am not unaware of the fact that, Dangote being a private organization, has the sole prerogative of drawing its internal policies, including driving policy, but this advisory from an outsider is not totally out of order, especially when we look at the fact that we are all ultimate stakeholders as co-users of the roads Dangote drivers will ply.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, Albert Einstein said many years ago, is insanity. Dangote group’s initiative is a welcome idea if all the potential loopholes are addressed, and other heavy truck owners consider similar initiative (not necessarily employing graduates only) it may go a long way in bringing the needed sanity to our roads. Rather than descend heavily on the Forbes Billionaire, we should look at the bigger picture and encourage him. I fully endorse the scheme.