20th April, 2011
The greatest strength and asset of any nation is her youth. This is one universal fact government officials in Nigeria have remained indifferent to, having their gaze only on accumulating wealth, forgetting that a neglected youth of today will be an enemy to their well-being tomorrow. That Nigeria has not had a comprehensive, nationally coordinated youth empowerment programme is not an overstatement; especially given the fact that efforts at developing the youth have been superficially represented as part of broader economic development blueprints.
Youth are the most neglected group in this country, benefitting virtually nothing other than being used as thugs or tools for rigging during elections by officials of the same government that has impoverished their parents. Some institutions of higher learning in the country have been shut for months now, students who enrolled for four-year courses are currently into their sixth year on campus, yet top goverment officials and political office holders are not showing concern â€“ or even alarm. The reason is not far-fetched; they have shielded their own children abroad from the political and social uncertainty in the country.
Political ideologies that were once considered fringe beliefs are now becoming mainstream. More than ever before, a large percentage of youth is actively becoming engaged in local campaigns and other political activities. Donâ€™t get me wrong, I am not opposed to youths participating in politics, but their strength being harnessed towards thuggery and perpetration of electoral malpractices. The potentials of the youth are either ill-exploited or under-exploited. It is a pity that political office holders and a preponderance of notable people in the country are more interested in enriching themselves than making positive changes in the lives of the youths they have sworn to serve, and pledged to defend.
Parents spend their hard-earned money to raise and train their children, many who end up roaming the nooks and crannies of the nation in search of jobs. Some households canâ€™t afford even one meal a day. So many kids are roaming the streets instead of being in school. The slums are expanding. Queues at health centres are getting longer for drugs that are insufficient. What picture does all this paint? A bleak future. There is no magic wand to change the situation for the better. The only tool available to change this bleak future to a brighter one is our vote. I therefore urge Nigerian youths not to sell their voting right in exchange for naira notes or any other promised goodies, like the biblical Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Political thuggery seems to be synonymous with the Nigerian political process. Election here has become synonymous with crisis and violence; geared towards winning power by subverting the democratic electoral process. In the process, regrettably, hundreds of people, mostly youths, lose their precious lives in political wars engineered by political leaders in their bid to protect mandates that are not often genuine. Why, then, do youths need politicians to determine their lives or means of livelihood?
Elections are here again. It is worth noting that politicians who know full well that they would not be able to win elections on a level playing ground, even in their own family meetings, would resort to hiring youths as paid thugs to rig or snatch ballot boxes from polling booths, harass their political opponents or even beat up electoral officers who refuse to dance to their tune. Many of Nigeriaâ€™s â€˜â€˜electedâ€™â€™ leaders got to their their positions through this exploitation of the youth, denying millions of Nigerians any voice in selecting their political leaders. This time we should let winners emerge by the votes of people, cast at booths supervised by the electoral commission; and not in the court, as we have seen in the recent past.
Nigerian youths are imbued with innovativeness, conscientiousness and creativity pleading to be brought out. Only recently has the role of youths as viable social agents become recognised and appreciated. Corporate bodies, especially in the telecoms industry, have found it most expedient to invest in the youth by organising a variety of shows â€“ though parties and shows are not all that go with being a youth â€“ and designating them as goodwill ambassadors. Some others are sponsoring youth development programmes in diverse disciplines.
An effective way to arrest the negative trend of electoral violence and youth restiveness is to establish a specialised agency at the national, state and local government levels, particularly for the task of empowering the youth. This is imperative because in a situation where the youths are gainfully engaged, they would not be subjected to the manipulations of a parasitic political class.
The youths in South Africa played a dominant role in the dismantling of Apartheid. So great a force were they that their government found it hard to silence and disband them, or infiltrate their ranks. In the United States of America, the youth-dominated Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, of Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in initiating the civil rights movement. The youth in both countries had a vision, were committed to it, and brought it to fruition.
Nigerian youths are currently at a cross-roads. They need to forge a viable front that would bring about positive change that would secure them a better future. Since the leadership of Nigeria has failed to harness their potential, that choice lies in the hands of the youth.
â€¢Jumoke Awe wrote this article for TheNEWS magazine.