Ofejiro Atakele, a 29-year-old university graduate from Delta State, recently caused a stir in the social media after she carried a placard appealing for a job offer. She reveals why she took the bold step.
What is your full name?
My name is Ofejiro Atakele.
How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 29 and I’m from the Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
You said you have a first degree in Mass Communication and a master’s in Marketing Communications. Can you tell us the institutions you attended and the years you obtained the qualifications?
I got a degree in Mass Communication from Babcock University in 2015 and a master’s degree from the Pan-Atlantic University in 2017. I had my national youth service in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Photos of you carrying a placard in search of a job went viral recently. Where and when did that happen?
It happened in Effurun, Warri, Delta State. I carried that placard on Monday (February 15, 2021).
What led you to do that?
I did that out of frustration from joblessness, not being financially stable to take care of myself the way I want. I just like the idea of being financially okay and not having that is frustrating because you won’t be able to take care of certain things.
Also, as a lady, some people just see us as persons who graduate from school and get married. But I long to work; I want to earn money. I want to feel the sense of giving myself the treat I deserve, to sponsor vacations on my own. It (being unemployed) is frustrating because I still depend on my mum. I feel for her, that she still has to give me money all the time. I’m supposed to be giving to her at this point and not collecting from her.
Was the idea of carrying a placard yours or were you advised to try it?
As I said earlier, the idea was conceived out of frustration and I just had this crazy thought in my head to go out to a busy roundabout like that because my helper might just be driving by and someone might just walk up to me and offer me a place in their organisation.
Can you tell us about your family background?
My mum is a meat seller in Delta State. She buys cows, gets them slaughtered at an abattoir for traders to buy from her. My dad is late. He passed away in 2001. My brother saw me through school.
How many siblings do you have?
I am from a polygamous home. From my mum, I have six siblings. Growing up, I didn’t lack. I was a little girl when my dad died but my mum tried her best for us. She is very hard-working; she is not the type that sits down and waits for people to give her alms. But we have not been lucky because we don’t have a family in which an uncle from somewhere would ask for our account numbers and send money to us. My mum was able to send me to a private secondary school and my brother took it up from there. He saw me through my education at Babcock University and Pan-Atlantic University.
Were you not concerned about how some people would look at you carrying a placard in search of a job?
At first, I was; I couldn’t see myself standing there. If anyone had suggested to me that I was going to do that (carry a placard) I wouldn’t have agreed. But that idea and action were borne out of frustration. I was frustrated. I needed a job. I took out time last year to learn a skill, sewing, because it was impossible to get a job due to the lockdown. I planned to go into the job market with full force because I had to be financially stable and help my mum. I didn’t mind the shame that came with that (carrying a placard in search of a job). I knew what I wanted. I expected some negative feedback. I saw some comments on Twitter asking me whether my mates weren’t engaged in personal business and whether I couldn’t work from home. But they fail to believe that it doesn’t always work like that with everybody. I want to work in an office environment. I want to earn and save and establish a fashion school.
What kind of response did you get from passers-by?
A guy stopped and made a video of me. Some motorists read the inscription on my placard. Some said what I was doing was what the country had turned us into. Some laughed, wondering why I had to do it. I got different reactions but I didn’t care. I knew what I wanted and knew that it was a way to get public attention.
Were there people who tried to take advantage of your situation?
For now, no.
For how long have you been searching for a job?
When I graduated (from PAU) in 2017, I worked with Chevron (Nigeria Limited) for a one-year internship. It has an agreement with my school to train five students from the university every year. It (Chevron) doesn’t retain the trainees. It was after my one year with them that I started looking for a job.
What kind of job did you search for?
I worked as a secretary and personal assistant to the manager in charge of internal and external communications at Chevron. So, I looked for roles as a secretary or personal assistant and a position in administration, human relations and corporate affairs.
What were the outcomes of the job search?
Yes. I remember that a recruitment company in Ikeja reached out to me and I attended an interview. I think they referred me to a paper company that specialised in packaging on Victoria Island. But the pay was not good because I wouldn’t have been able to take care of myself, transportation and feeding. I was offered about N60,000 but my expenses were more than that because I needed to get an apartment. Then I also went for a job interview in Dubai but the colour of my skin obviously stood out.
Were your family members aware of your plan to go to the street with a placard in search of a job?
My mum knew about it and she was against it.
What did she tell you?
She told me she believed a job would come and advised me to be patient. But I’m running out of patience. She was concerned about what people would say or how they would react. She didn’t want them to take advantage of me.
How did your friends react when they saw your viral photos?
The few that saw them told me it was a bold step for me to go that far. Some helped to retweet.
How did you feel when you became aware that your photos had gone viral?
At first, I was scared. I asked myself whether I was ready for this attention and people talking. But in the end, I did it out of the need to get a job. My intention was good and my heart was in the right place. That consoled me, so I decided to see how far I could go and the positive replies I would get.
Have you received any call or job invitation or offers since your photos went viral?
Yes. I can keep a tab on them, especially emails. I have received nothing less than 10 emails. I was overwhelmed. Some of the emails requested me to send my CV. I got one from the US but the organisation said it thought I was in the US. I got one from a travel agency in the UK and an interview was scheduled. I really didn’t expect the outcome and at this point, I’m glad I did it (carried a placard in public in search of employment). It was a risk worth taking.