DANIEL AYANTOYE examines how age requirement during recruitment increases unemployment in the country amid the high rate of poverty
Omotoso Ajiboye, a Higher National Diploma holder in Accounting from the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, is one of many graduates who have given up on their dreams and settled for menial jobs to make ends meet.
While scampering under the hot sun and covered in sweat, the 43-year-old motorcyclist struggled for passengers alongside other Okada riders at the Alakia Junction in Ibadan, Oyo State.
“This was not what I planned for myself,” he wiggled his head in sadness while describing to our correspondent the hurdles he passes through daily in his desire to live a meaningful life.
According to him, he settled for Okada to get busy after several attempts to get a job failed after completing the National Youth Service Corps at age 30.
He said, “My aspiration was to become an accountant and that was why I did my National Diploma and Higher National Diploma in Accounting, but as you can see, this is what I found myself doing.
“I was already 30 years old when I graduated and many of the companies I applied to were looking for graduates between 25 and 28 years old. After some time, I got tired of looking for a job. A few years ago, my elder brother bought me this Okada; that’s how I joined this business.”
When asked if he had other skills to support himself, the Oyo State indigene said he acquired skills in aluminium construction some years ago.
However, he claimed he could not do anything with the craft due to lack of equipment.
He expressed worry that he was becoming too old for certain employment.
Similarly, 38-year-old Temitope Aladesanwa, a 2014 graduate of political science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who applied to work with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and Nigeria Immigration Service on different occasions, failed as a result of the age requirement.
Aladesanwa, 38, who is married with two kids, also settled for Okada in order to make ends meet for his family.
He said, “The first problem I had after my youth service was that companies were requesting five to 10 years of job experience. Over the years, it became the issue of age because I was around 30 when I completed my youth service but now, I am 38. Most of the jobs out there now are requesting a lower age.
“In the past, I applied to the NSCDC, immigration and the police. In fact, I wanted to apply for the immigration recruitment that was done last year, but having seen the age limit, I couldn’t because it would just be another wasted effort. It is painful that I spent a lot of money schooling and ended up doing this work; this was not the reason I went to school to obtain my degree.”
On his part, a degree holder in Education Management from the University of Ado-Ekiti (now Ekiti State University), Oluwaseyi Osuntoye, said after failing the recruitment of the Federal Road Safety Corps, he lost hope.
The 40-year-old is now a tricycle (keke) rider.
He said, “I have a responsibility to take care of my family, so I have stopped thinking of applying for any job because the first thing you will see in their requirement is the age, most of which are even below 30 years. Why should I bother then?
“When I graduated, I went to several companies. I always went through newspapers then and most times, I visited cyber cafes to see if there was any job notice, but when I couldn’t secure a job, I just settled for this one I’m doing now. I also attended an FRSC interview and applied to immigration as well, but nothing came out of it because of this age issue. So, for me not to be idle, I had to settle for tricycle riding.”
Osuntoye lamented that his time at the university was a waste, saying the country had frustrated him.
“What is the essence of going to the university, spending four years or seven years and you cannot get a good job?” he queried.
He recalled with sadness how some of his friends ridiculed and insulted him over his unemployment condition, adding that some called him, ‘graduate for nothing’.
“My ambition after I graduated was to get a good job especially to join the Nigeria Customs but all my effort failed and now my age is more than what those agencies are asking for,” he stated.
Federal agencies age requirements
During recruitment, several federal agencies request specific age ranges and reject applicants above the age requirement.
Recently, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, in its requirement for the 2023 recruitment exercise, stated that applicants must not be less than 20 years and not more than 35 years of age for the first category (Assistant Superintendent of Narcotics I and Assistant Superintendent of Narcotics II,).
The age limit for the second and third categories (Narcotic Agent Cadre) was set at 30 years and not less than 18 years at the point of entry.
However, 40 years was considered for medical doctors and articulated drivers.
Similarly, the requirement for the 2022 recruitment into the NSCDC stated that applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 years.
For recruitment into the Nigeria Customs Service in 2019, it was stated that applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 25 years for Customs Assistant cadres and Superintendent cadres must not be above 30 years of age.
Also, for recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service, the age requirement was put between 18 and 30 years with an exception for doctors and pharmacists, who must not be more than 35 years.
In the same vein, the age requirement for the 2022 recruitment of constables into the Nigeria Police Force was put at a minimum of 18 years and not more than 25 years old.
Private sector age restriction
A check by Saturday PUNCH showed that many private establishments are also following the same path in recruiting their members of staff.
A recruitment notice of the University Press for the position of English Language Editor, obtained from its Facebook handle, stated that applicants should “not be more than 35 years of age” as of the time of application.
A graduate of Mass Communication from the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State, Mrs Olafisoye Grace, said some organisations rejected her job applications due to her age.
Grace, who is currently a teacher in a private secondary school, disclosed that after graduation, she applied to a commercial bank but she was rejected because she was 27 years old.
She said, “It is applicable in private firms, especially in the banking sector. When you are 25 years of age, they won’t employ you. I applied to a bank when I was around 27 years old, but I wasn’t given the job because of my age.”
Also, 39-year-old David Babatola, an HND holder in Banking and Finance, who graduated in 2016, settled for a commercial tricycle business as a result of his inability to secure a job after his NYSC.
He said he made efforts to secure jobs in private firms but was rejected.
Another commercial tricycle rider, Adebayo Bukola, who has an HND in Accounting, said, “I graduated in 2006 and served in Zamfara State. As of the time I completed my service, I was already 30 years old. Some of the private companies I applied to rejected me that they needed someone of lesser age. But this tricycle work does not require any age, so I had to just do it to keep life going.”
Rising unemployment rate
Unemployment rate, particularly among the youth, is on the rise.
An online data company, Statista, stated that as of 2021, the total number of unemployed Nigerians was 6.3 million.
Compared to the previous year, there is an increase of 300,000, as 6 million people were estimated to be unemployed in 2020.
The company further disclosed that the unemployment rate in the country hit 33 per cent in 2022.
The International Labour Organisation, in its report in February 2023, projected that the global unemployment rate would rise this year.
It warned that millions in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries would face the risk of high unemployment in 2023.
An online recruitment platform, Jobberman, in collaboration with Young Africa Works and Mastercard Foundation, in a report in August 2022, stated that 23 million of the 122 million active Nigerians were unemployed.
According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, the labour force population covers all persons aged between 15 and 64, who are willing and able to work.
The number of Nigerians said to be gainfully employed was fixed at 46 million – 20 million women and 26 million men.
Those in informal employment were estimated at 43 million – 18 million women and 25 million men.
The number of people in formal employment is a meagre 3 million; with less than 1 million women and about 2.3 million men, which leaves the number of unemployed Nigerians at 23 million – 12 million women and 11 million men.
One of the major effects of unemployment is the increase in the level of poverty in the country.
The NBS in November 2022 said 133 million Nigerians were multi-dimensionally poor.
Also, in January 2023, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group projected that the unemployment rate would rise to 37 per cent in 2023, higher than the 2022 Statista data of 33.3 per cent.
National Assembly failed move
In a bid to provide a solution to the issues of age discrimination, the House of Representatives in May 2019 approved banning age discrimination against jobseekers in Federal Government ministries, agencies and departments.
The bill, titled, ‘A bill for an act to prohibit discrimination against jobseekers in federal government agencies (eradication) and allied matters act,’ was sponsored by two lawmakers, Sergius Ogun (APC, Edo) and Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos).
Ogun said during the presentation of the bill that it would ensure that the fundamental rights of jobseekers are safeguarded while significantly reducing the spiralling number of unemployed graduates and school leavers on the streets.
The bill pegged the maximum age for recruitment into the federal civil service at 45 years.
According to Section 3 (1) and (2) of the bill, “no citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be deprived of employment in any of the agencies of the Federal Government on grounds that he /she is above 30 years of age.
“Any citizen of Nigeria that is 30 years and above but not above 45 years shall be entitled to gainful employment within any of the agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Section 3 (3) provides that the provisions of the above subsections shall be subject to the provisions of the laws establishing security agencies, including the armed forces and other paramilitary agencies with regard to age for enlistment in the relevant security agencies.
Section 3 (4) provides that where a person to be employed into any of the Federal Government’s agencies is found to be qualified but of an age that is above the age limit specified for such employment, the abilities and/or qualification of such person shall have recourse to and his age shall not operate as a disqualification.
However, despite the bill being passed by the House, and the Senate, it is yet to become law.
On July 15, 2020, the current 9th Senate asked the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to direct the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity to set up a committee to review the age limit for jobseekers in the country to allow competent applicants to be employed by ministries, departments, and agencies of government.
Senator Ibrahim Gobir of Sokoto East Senatorial District who moved the motion on the bill at the floor of the Senate cited order 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules, and noted that recruitment requirements of MDAs and other private bodies which set age barriers, “inadvertently excludes and marginalises skillful and competent prospective applicants from participating in such exercises.
“Many individuals resort to falsifying their age all in a bid to fall within the required age limit for them to be gainfully employed.
“This development, where a person believes he is unemployable, can lead them to embracing criminal activities and further increase the growing crime rate and insecurity in the country.”
According to a public analyst, Azuka Onwuka, in Canada, it is against the law for an organisation to put any age restriction on any vacancy.
Unlike in Nigeria, where applicants are required to state their dates of birth, such a requirement is not needed in Canada.
In Canada, it is also against the law to ask applicants their age, gender, marital status, religion, race or sexual orientation.
Canada’s provisions prohibiting age discrimination are in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which applies to all jurisdictions and governmental entities.
Section 15 (1) of the charter contains an equality clause, which states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
“What is the relevance of their age to the work they will do? If the job requires physical strength, give them a physical test and those who cannot do it will eliminate themselves,” Onwuka said.
Experts fault age limits
Speaking on the rationale behind the age limitation in job requirements, the Secretary of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Kwara/Kogi chapter, an organisation under the Organised Private Sectors in the country, Gbenga Johnson, said the policy was aimed at employing more active workers.
According to him, age limits are also to reduce the number of applicants.
He said, “They (companies) use the age limit to get active workers to ensure long service at the workplace and to also get good delivery at service. The age limit serves as a form of screening to limit the number of applicants.”
Reviewing the implications, an economic expert and Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, said the policy would deprive the economy of productive talents.
He noted that the Nigerian educational structure and age limit were deliberate attempts to deny certain persons employment opportunities.
He said, “I believe it is discriminatory to be using such age limits, especially when we look at the kind of disruption in academic programmes, like lecturers’ strikes and other issues.
“There are some people whose families are not financially buoyant that sometimes they are not able to move with the kind of speed that some of their contemporaries do and they end up graduating at a later age.
“The implication is that it denies such people opportunities to contribute to the growth of the economy. For instance, if a job is said to require an applicant of age 20 or 27, who says an older person cannot contribute better than the younger one? The second is that it would continue to increase the rate of unemployment in the country.”
Speaking further, Yusuf said denying people jobs because of their age could demoralise some age groups in society.
“If people cannot get jobs and they don’t have the capital to start a business, what should they do? I am not saying employers should go to the extreme of employing very old people, but let them look beyond age where necessary,” he added.
A human rights lawyer, Tolu Babaleye, vowed to sue the Federal Government if the age limitation was not scraped.
He said the government should direct its agencies, as well as the private sector, to abolish the policy.
According to him, if the policy is not abolished, it will continue to keep energetic youths out of jobs, thereby denying them their fundamental rights.
He said, “We are not supposed to have such a policy in Nigeria because the government does not make available enabling environment where students can go to university and graduate as and when due.”
Giving an analysis of the education system, Babaleye said, “If a youth is offered admission at 21 and during the period of studying, you have ASUU strikes and other issues, which are not the fault of the student, he is delayed and eventually graduates at 28 or 29, then he goes for the compulsory one year NYSC.
“All the process then leaves him at 30 years. He then tries to look for a job, then you say he or she is old, saying you are looking for someone at 22 or 25 years. How does that sound to you as a government? What do they want such a person to do, when federal jobs and the privates are looking for younger people? This is wrong.”
In support of Babaleye’s view on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afam Osigwe, said the age restriction was against the provision of the constitution, which provided that no one should be discriminated against.
He explained that age limit would encourage age falsification by those desperate to secure jobs.
He advised employers to look for capacity and availability during recruitment process rather than age, stressing that an applicant’s performance on the job could not be determined by age.
He said, “The constitution provides that nobody should be discriminated against especially when it has to do with jobs, so I think a policy of age limit as a requirement for employment should be struck out and people should be employed based on their capability and availability to do the job rather than their age. You may not employ somebody that is very old and incapable of doing the job, but people who can deliver because the goal of every establishment is performance driven.”
On his part, a professor of law at the University of Jos, Nnamdi Aduba, advised graduates to develop skills outside their courses of study in order to favourably compete in the labour market.
He said higher institutions should also be designed to prepare students to acquire knowledge and create wealth.
Aduba said, “This concept of employment is always about white-collar jobs. Graduates should stop depending solely on white-collar jobs.
“My advice to the youth is to gather as many skills as possible and become flexible. That you are reading law should not stop you from learning photography if you have the opportunity. You need to diversify; don’t get stuck in one particular thing. Self-development in different areas is very important.
“Even on the Internet, you will get a lot from online programmes. Improve your skills so that you will be marketable. People should get themselves mentally alert and improve their skills. And don’t always think that you will learn everything at the higher institution. The institution is a stepping stone; you should further develop yourselves.”
Speaking further, the law professor said what most jobs required were mental capacity and good health.
“What the employers are doing now is pure capitalist exploitation. They employ the younger ones to exploit and dump them. So, you join the bank at 20 and by the time you are 40, you are thrown out.
“This age aspect is important but we should also know that in a third-world country and with a weak economy, we cannot operate with it,” he added.
Speaking on the effort of the Federal Government in the provision of employment, the Head of Department, Information and Public Relations, National Directorate of Employment, Isaac Adekitan, said the directorate had trained several youths, including graduates, to effectively compete in the labour market.
Adekitan said, “What the NDE does is to train people, including graduates. We have one hundred skills in various fields for anyone that is interested. We train, recruit and attach them to companies to work for a certain period in order to have experience.
“We don’t provide white-collar jobs but blue-collar jobs. While for those who want white-collar jobs, the experience they gather through our process will help them to secure the jobs.”