Getting an extra skill never kills – Emeka Oparah



I was reading a piece about a young lawyer that earns N25,000 monthly. I initially thought it was a joke but as I read along, I realized it was a true story. My immediate intention as soon as I was done reading was to ask the author to ask the lawyer to come to Ethelberts and learn how to be a tailor. I already told myself I would train the lawyer for free and provide start-up capital including two machines, other tools and one-year rent for a shop.

On a second thought, however, I said to myself “wait a minute, but why would someone with a law degree from the university and another from the Law School allow him or herself to be subjected to the humiliation of being paid N25,000 monthly?” Doesn’t it smack of cluelessness and low self-esteem to settle for such a pittance, three years post-graduation, as the story said, with the educational qualifications and years of studies?

Two weeks ago during the premier of Season 4 of Airtel Touching Lives, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the music band that entertained had a saxophonist I recognized or I thought I recognized. I looked closed and he was the one! This guy is an accomplished young businessman with a broad footprint in Government MDAs and the private sector. Yet, he was jamming with this band, whom we have paid a tidy sum to for entertainment.

I need not dilate on the excellencies of seeing this successful man playing with a musical band. No doubt he was having fun, enjoying his passion for the sax in particular and music in general, but he surely made some extra bucks that night. As a matter of fact, he’s agreed to teach me and he’s assured me that once we got started, with my zeal to learn and passion for music, I would be able to perform on stage in 3-6 months. So, watch this space.

Last week, I read and proudly shared the Facebook post of my brother and friend Otunba Segun Ogunbunmi, on his poultry. What struck me was not that Otunba set up a poultry, but that he didn’t have to set up a poultry. Inspired, I have told him to come and help me set up one in my village, which I will hand over to the youths of my community. I’d rather we ran the poultry together and shared the proceeds than sending them recharge cards and small, small money every time. I pray they agree.

Perhaps, one of the things which have brought me the most joy in the last two years is Ethelberts Clothing, which started out of my passion for good clothes. We are going to be 2 years in August but I can tell you that the brand Ethelberts is currently worth over $2m (my personal evaluation)! In the next 3 years, we will sell 70% of the brand for $5m and still maintain our small factory and our modest customer base and extremely happy clientele!

Going to Aba to learn tailoring was humbling. It was equally enlightening. The extent a man can go to learn and to give. The 9 young people who make those great outfits and earn a living from doing so are surely off the begging line, forever, if they manage their success well. The N1000 we keep per outfit sold to help the needy wipes off some tears and makes me shed tears of joy-every now and then.

Let I digress, if you’ve been to the university and got a good degree, there’s nothing wrong with acquiring an extra skill, just in case. Imagine someone with a degree in Civil Engineering who’s gone to learn plumbing! With time, he or she will be doing the plumbing works in every new house in the neighborhood just because he understands the theory as well as the practice. Same with someone who’s got a degree and can do carpentry or tailoring or electrical/electronics repairs, etc.

The educational system in Nigeria, unfortunately, does not prepare people adequately for life after graduation except that of seeking paid employment in Airtel, Chevron, Shell, Cadbury, banks and other institutions. And to say these organizations do not have sufficient places to accommodate the deluge of young graduates! I met a young woman, who saved up on her pocket money to register for ICAN while in school. By the time she completed NYSC, she had become a Chartered Accountant with a degree in Economics and she was spoilt for choice of jobs afterwards! Her story is inspiring and her behavior worthy of emulation.

What I’m saying, Ladies and gentlemen, is please encourage your children or wards to pick up an extra skill or two or more, if they can. Those skills can come in very handy in an economy that’s slow in the creation of employments. They can latch on to opportunities. Studying philosophy, public administration, linguistics and such like is good, but in an environment like ours people must focus on courses that can lead them somewhere. I didn’t say those courses are not good, please, but check out how many are gainfully employed or truly happy!

By end of this year, I would have personally added saxophonist and poultry farmer to my curriculum vitae which currently shows I’m a journalist, Public Relations and Advertising practitioner, Crisis Management Expert, Tailor and Cardinal Emeritus.

– Emeka Oparah

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