On Parents and Career choices in Nigeria


In a 2017 survey on the State of Code in Nigeria carried out by DevCenter, a company that matches remote teams to software projects, it was revealed that 84% of Nigerian Software developers are self-taught. Quite interesting when we consider the fact that about 91% have some form of tertiary-level education, so how come they did not just study Software Development as a course?

The average Nigerian Youth does not have the liberty to choose a course like Software development in the University

There is one thing a lot of Nigerians and Africans tend to agree on; that if you do not study a “professional service” degree like Medicine (for Science students), core Engineering (for Technical students), Accounting (for the commercial students), Law & international relations (for students in the arts) you are perceived to be a “disgrace” to your African parents. Or a waste of investment.

And do we blame them?

Before now (say 70’s, 80’s, 90’s), people from the above-listed disciplines were consistently in the top earners of the society. And that’s the era many of our parents grew up in but circa 2000’s with the proliferation of the internet in Nigeria, IT-related skills gained increased relevance and ultimately paid well. Yet, many of our parents are still stuck in that old way of thinking “Medicine or nothing”.

In 2012, there was a passionate discussion by members of Nigeria’s number 1 online forum, Nairaland (the 10th most visited site in Nigeria according to Alexa) about how African parents impose curses courses on their wards.

Here is a cross-section of tweets that relay people’s experiences with African parents:

It’s 2017, and a lot is changing. We expect them (African parents) to catch up.

We are forced to ask. Do they really still insist on the likes of Medicine or Engineering?

What is sadder is the fact that, sometimes, their choice of degree for their wards is regardless of what the child has a clear passion for:

Things like these have led many to ask: “Why do African Parents superimpose their career choices on their children?”

Why African Parents are adamant about their wards Career choices

While speaking with a Generation X working mother, I inquired, “Why do you think parents want their children to study either Medicine, Law or the likes?”

Her response, which she gave in her local dialect (Yoruba) has been translated to:

“The length of time it takes to study those courses”, she said

I was shook and then thought to myself, “Since when did the length of a course become a thing?”. Her next statement was more revealing “Youths who study those programs are referred to as ‘skilled workers’”, immediately, I sensed the residue of colonialism talking. Where we want to be like the white man, do the job they do, dress the way they do and even eat, walk and talk the way they did.

She added, “Won fe ki won ma sa won (the parents) pe ‘Iya Dokita, The Law’ ” [Yoruba language]. English Translation:

The parent wants to be hailed as “Mother of a Doctor, Mother of a Lawyer…

At this stage, it was quite clear to me that the image of the Parent (or Family Name)  is always in the mix when it comes to making course-of-study decisions.

This Twitter user, Bombshell, really dropped a bombshell in the early parts of the year, that has now amassed a record 11,000 RTs, which signifies some level of acceptance of his tweet. He tweeted:

In another chat, I reached out to a father in his mid-50s, as he sat holding his smartphone, I asked him the same question I asked the woman earlier and he responded:

I believe this is as a result of the parents’ myopia, they don’t know it is always good to allow the child to discuss his passion and be encouraged to follow that path.

He went on to narrate experiences of his colleague’s children who ended up studying what their Parent wanted and afterward went back to follow their passion.

There is more than what meets the eye…

While we might be able to infer that a lot of Parents make career choices for their wards because they are myopic and are trying to protect their family name, there is more.

Earning Potential

As I continued my chat with the Gen X woman, she confirmed some of the things we already mentioned in the 4th paragraph of this text. That potential earning capacity is a key factor when Nigerian Parents are making (By the way, they should not be making, they should be guiding!) career decisions for their wards.

Parents need for Self-Actualisation


On the surface, Nigerian Parents might seem selfish and many times, rightfully so. However, many of them are just trying to live out their desires, what Maslow describes as Self-actualization in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review.

At the age at which many people become Parents of young adults, they have successfully climbed the ladder of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are either at the Sel-actualisation / Self- Transcendence stage.

For instance, in my continued chat with the father in this story, a middle-class man who had struggled to send all his children to private school via loans from his office. I asked, “So, why didn’t you just send your children to Government schools which are multiple times cheaper.”

His answer was long and heart-touching. He explained that his parents died when he was 13-years old and he had to go live with his Aunty where he became a failing academic student and ended up being wayward. All of which has led to where he his now in life. He believes if he had stayed with his Parents, he will have had more affection/guidance from his biological parents and then maintain his leading position in school (where he claims he was 26th position out of 300 students in his class, then in his hometown).

For him, the formula is simple Good Education –> Good life.

He said, even before he met his wife he had sworn to send his children to the best schools in town. And that was the reason he kept changing his Children’s schools at the slightest hint of a decline in academic quality.

He adds;

“In public schools, people spend 7 years for a 4 year course, so why don’t I just drink garri and my children’s 4 years will be four years”

Hence, for such a man, self-actualisation could include ensuring his children studied a particular course because when he wanted to study it, he couldn’t afford it. Or like others have said, “There is no Medical doctor in our family” and they hoped their child will be the first. Therefore, they wrongly coarse their children to pursue such courses.

In other cases, because the parent is an Engineer and owns a business, they might want someone to take their Engineering business and what better candidate than their biological children?

In conclusion, Quality Education is a Luxury in Africa and the only way they best know how to calculate ROI (Return-on-Investment) is by their child working in a certain lucrative field, which historically was the professional services field listed above. Education is costly, because of the opportnunity cost. The average African household forgoes alternatives such as buying landed property (that will appreciate in value), flashy cars for reputation, an increasing spend on recurrent expenditure like the internet, fuel, and foodstuff. Add to that list, throwing ostentatious parties.

However, someone needs to send all African parents a WhatsApp Broadcast (aka a Whatsapp BC) that if they don’t allow their Children follow their passion, they’ll go to hellfire, LOL. Just kidding.

But African parents need to be woken up to the reality that of the top 10 highest paid jobs in 2017, a new discipline – Data Science was number 8, alongside Medical and Engineering Disciplines.

In the future, there will be more IT-related jobs in the ranks of “Highest paid jobs” like Ethical Hacking and Front-End Engineering which they probably never saw coming.

So, what’s the solution? For them to force all their children to study IT? NO!

But to let adults do whatever they want to do! Money is not the only route to happiness. Fulfillment and job satisfaction is one. If you really care about your children, guide them, sponsor their dreams and let them live!


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