The Challenge Of And Opportunity For Nation Building: An Agenda For Youth Engagement; By Jaye Gaskia
Let us begin with a necessary clarification, one that qualifies for a disclaimer on behalf of youth! I am not a youth, or better put; I am no longer a youth! By no stretch of the imagination, however fertile and virile; nor by any measure however self delusional can I be classified a youth! I am in my forties, closer to fifty than I am to 40.
Youth for the purpose of this piece will be all those 35 years and under; or allowing for a more generous definition all those given birth to post the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war, that is all those born from 1970 onwards! Unfortunately even this generous definition will exclude me, although it will include three of my four younger siblings; and will very definitely include my daughter, who just turned 11.
Anyway let us get back to our discourse; the challenge, as well as the opportunity, presented by our precarious journey to nationhood. The historic leadership failure of Nigeria’s ruling elite from independence which has brought us to this cul-de-sac; and which has repeatedly all through our history brought us precipitously to the edge of the abyss! And each time this congenitally, administratively, managerially, economically, and politically incompetent and inept ruling class has brought us to the edge of darkness, the nation, our country, and her victimized citizens have been visited with inhuman carnage, unprecedented violence, and soul wrenching poverty!
As a country, more than 60% of our population is under 35 years of age, and when you increase the age to 40, the percentage jumps to nearly 70%; this type of population structure anywhere else in the world would have represented an opportunity, not a problem, a potential resource to be harnessed, not a den for breeding criminals, kidnappers, armed robbers and political thugs!
The problem is that a nation blessed with a youthful population [70% of its population]; is also the nation where 70% of the population lives in relative poverty, and 46% of its population lives in abject poverty! It is the same nation where 50% of youths; that is one in two of youths of employable age are not in employment; meaning they are jobless, dependent, and poor! It is the same nation where 10% of her top citizens own and control more than 40% of the nation’s wealth, whereas the bottom 50% own only 20% of national wealth, with the bottom 20% in fact owning a mere 4.1% of national wealth. It is the in this same nation where 11 million children of school going age [of the global total of 57 million] are out of school!
Yet in spite of the idiosyncrasies of the independence elite, their successors, the current generation [in their late 50s to their late 80s] of Nigeria [ruining] ruling elites, did inherit a welfare nation; it may be broken, it may have been forged in the furnace of a brutal civil war, nevertheless, it was a welfare state, relatively more humane than the one they have now fashioned out, and over which they are now presiding with light fingered glee!
The Nigeria that they inherited was one that gave all of them educational and health opportunities. It was one that competed to deliver the best possible public education, public healthcare, public housing, as well as basic infrastructures. All of them went to state funded public schools, and were treated as youngsters in state funded public healthcare system. When they needed to go abroad for advance education, they did this on public scholarship!
Now see what these ingrates have turned our nation and her illustrious hard working but impoverished citizens into! A nation of beggars; a nation of mercenary militants, kidnappers, armed robbers and religious fundamentalists!
Nevertheless, enough of the lamentations! The point of this piece is to highlight the inherent potential in youthfulness! The resourcefulness, the innovativeness, the creativity, and the open mindedness that comes with youth.
Let us pause to put things in perspective; how old were the Ahmadu Bellos, The Awolowos, the Azikiwes, The Okotie Ebohs, The Alfred Rewanes, The Enahoros, The founders and leaders of the Zikist movement, the leaders of the nation’s nascent labour movement during the anti-colonial struggle? In their time and in their prime, they were the youths of this country!
Those who led Nigeria into a fratricidal civil war on both sides; how old were they on the eve of the civil war? During the fratricide? And in the immediate aftermath of the fratricide? All those who have turned the guns procured by our collective wealth against the nation, and usurped our sovereignty in the name of saving us from monsters; how old were they when they each embarked on their gluttonous sojourn?
And on a more positive note; how old were the JFKs, the Obamas, the Blairs, the Camerons, etc when they sought and took over leadership of their respective countries, at decisive moments in their respective national histories?
The most successful global corporations of the modern era, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, etc, how old were those who pioneered the dreams at their inception?
This is why it simply beats the imagination when Nigerian youths recognizing the historic failure of our current [septuagenarian and octogenarian] leaders; realising the historic scale of treasury looting, governance ineptitude, and managerial incompetence of our current ruling class; and understanding the grave danger possed to our collective existence and survival by their continued [mis]rule; continue to place misguided hope in elements of that same ruling class, who appear to be relatively less of a thief than the others!
What is it in the psychology of the present day Nigerian youth that makes them seek salvation outside of their own effort that makes them lack the self confidence so sourly needed to give our nation the necessary gravity escaping boost into greatness?
If 70% of Nigerians are 40 years and under, and if 70% of Nigerians live in poverty, it stands to reason that the majority of youths are living in poverty; but it also stands to reason that the bulk of the electorates are youths! Here in lies the potential power to reshape our country, and take it back from the death grip of pillagers and treasury looters; from the vice grip of those who are content to superintend over the grand monthly theft of more than N220bn monthly from our treasury; in addition to the audacious theft of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, at a cumulative annual loss to the treasury of more than $14bn!
We still have time, and history is on our side. We can, and must capitalize on the historic scale of internal crisis within the ruling class; we have a duty to organise ourselves, to mobilise on a scale much grander than the January Uprising of 2012; and to take our destiny into our hands. We have the numbers, we have the energy, we should enhance these with the ideas to transform our nation, achieve our collective national liberation, and our collective self emancipation.
2015 is just around the corner, we can transform ourselves from victims of their collective misrule and pillage, into active agents for our own social transformation. To achieve this historic feat, we must take over the political space of our nation, and organise and mobilise only in our own, and our nation’s interests.
What we do with the future of our nation, which is our own present, is up to us! What is very obvious is that this generation of Nigeria’s leaders are a historic failure; succeeding only in the historic nature of their rape of our collective wealth. As rapists and pirates; they have no historical equals! As managers of human and natural resources, they similarly have no equals as grand failures!
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