13th May, 2015
By Michael Oputeh
Any nation that denies its youth the necessary enabling environment to participate in nation building process does so at its own risk. This is because youth are the foundation of any society. Their energies, resourcefulness, character and orientation define the pace of development and security of a nation. Through their creative talents and labour power, a nation makes giant strides in economic development and socio-political attainments. In their dreams and hopes, a nation finds her motivation; on their energies, she builds her strength and purpose.
And as a result of their dreams and aspirations, the future of a nation is assured. Without doubt, the youth represents the most vibrant and adventurous group in any society. According to the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, “If you want to know the future of any nation, take a look at what the youths are doing presently.”
Usually, if the prevailing condition in a given society does not offer the youth the needed platform to channel their bursting energy into positive use, they readily embrace rebellious predisposition. It is a well known fact that nature abhors vacuum. Statistics have revealed that the youth constitutes the largest chunk of every society. In Nigeria, for instance, recent statistics show that 60 per cent of the country’s population is youth. It is, therefore, only logical, especially when viewed from the perspective of its busting energy as aforementioned, that such a group would be useful in nation building.
In Nigeria, the youth have been playing prominent role in nation building from time immemorial. They were, for instance, active during the anti-colonial struggle. Some of them formed the famous Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the Zikist Youth Movement and were prominent in trade unions and other nationalist political parties of the period. Others were active journalists and writers in the patriotic newspapers during the anti-colonial agitation. This patriotic tradition of Nigerian youth continued in the independence period on several occasions. For example, in 1962, it was Nigerian university students who prevented the Nigerian government from signing a secret and unjust agreement with the British. This dangerous agreement, called the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, would have allowed the British to leave their soldiers permanently on Nigerian soil despite our independence.
In the 60s and up to the 70s, the youth were at the very centre of governance in the country. At age 19 or so, the late Ambassador M.T. Mbu was Nigeria’s High Commissioner to UK and he was Minister of Navy at 20 plus. In his early 30s, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was already in his bloom in the Western Region and he was leader of Government in the West before 40: ditto the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ladoke Akintola. The likes of Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, were Heads of State in their 30s. Their likes populated the civil service as super permanent secretaries while the Military Governors ranged between 20 plus to early 30s.
The deduction from the foregoing is that the importance of the youth in nation building cannot be overemphasised as countries that develop and positively make use of their youth are usually more developed. The liveliness and intensity of the minds of youth act as torch-bearer for a nation. There is a definite link between the prosperity of a nation and its youth development systems. However, in Nigeria, certain issues stand as clogs in the wheel of progress of the youth; thereby making it difficult for them to maximize their relevance in the society. The prevailing unemployment situation among the youth is one of such.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, recently brought to the front burner the issue of youth unemployment in the country as it claimed that 80 per cent of Nigerian youths are without jobs. 70 per cent of the 80 million youths in Nigeria are either unemployed or underemployed. Last year’s immigration recruitment exercise which ended up in tragedy is a rude pointer to the terrible unemployment situation among the youth in the country. The declining fortune of the country’s economy is not in any way helping matters.
Despite the repeated figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicating that the Nigerian economy had been creating millions of jobs in the past years, the unemployment situation is actually gloomy. In order to really maximize the nation building potentials of the Nigerian youth, a lot need to be done by relevant stakeholders to create the enabling environment for the youth. Much need to be done in the area of reduction of unemployment, empowerment of the youth and enhancement of the capacity of unemployed graduates.
As a nation we need to put in place policies and programmes that can put our youth on the right lane. The three tiers of government need to establish youth vocational and empowerment to develop the skills of youth in various fields of human endeavours. Also, we need to modify the curriculum of our tertiary institutions in order to do away with courses that no longer fit into present day’s reality. Emphasis must be laid on technical education as well as courses that de-emphasise the craze for non-existing white collar jobs.
Similarly, we need to promote social entrepreneurship among the youths. This could be done through the establishment of internship programmes aimed at giving youths the opportunity to learn valuable skills in contemporary fields such as information communication technology, fund development, public relations, programme development, management and much more. Equally, corporate organisations, NGOs, individuals and government institutions should be committed to mentoring of the youth. However, the youth equally need to work on themselves if they must actually be the change catalysts for our nation.
Today, it is quite pathetic that many of our youth and youth associations could not take initiative, not even those with first class after leaving school. The youth that would be relevant in nation building must be the one that is ready to take responsibility and live responsibly. The present trend where youth act irresponsibly would not augur well for our nation. For our nation to actually draw useful inspiration from the bursting strength and vigour of the youth, the youth need to reposition themselves as agents of positive change.
•Oputeh is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.