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The Nigerian population consists of an overwhelming percentage of young people; while this is a good sign as it signifies the existence of a pool of active citizens who will drive development, the current state of the economy and the established trends regarding youth empowerment give genuine cause for concern. These prove that it is either the Nigerian government does not take young people seriously, or that there is a huge disconnect between the wants and needs of this most vital demography and the solutions proffered by leaders who ought to prioritise their affairs.
For a demography which is often referred to as the “Most Articulate”, Nigerian youths seem to have a great challenge in putting their needs and demands – and even solutions – forward. Why is this so?
A certain type of polarisation bedevils the Nigerian youth structure; with main youth agencies split into warring factions and advocacy being seen as a vehicle to wealth accumulation by said factions, it is, therefore, not surprising that movements like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the National Youth Council of Nigeria (although the latter has always been an appendage of government) have lost their respect and authority. NANS, especially, which once had dynamic leaders and the power to grind all meaningful activity in the country to a halt, has now “evolved” to a booze-binging, incoherent-statement issuing association with the most lacklustre leadership no one could have dared to imagine – complete with a “secretariat” permanently stationed in a drinking spot in Abuja. For a body which claims to represent Nigerian students, this is beyond shameful.
Still on NANS, the group has strayed so far from its founding aims that its leadership now deems it fit to issue statements defending despicable characters, so low has this group sunk that it’s modus operandi is to make noise on behalf of that dreg of society with the deepest pocket; a once noble association has been reduced to a choir of hungry sycophants who sing in defense of anyone at all who offers a bag filled with money.
The National Youth Council of Nigeria, in the same vein, is that YOUTH body with members so ancient, one could very well mistake them for artefacts from another era. The Youth Council is THAT coalition of youths who mostly lack a clear source of income and have voluntarily become political jobbers and, in a manner reminiscent of NANS, have no qualms defending the indefensible at the right price. The Council has become so notoriously identified with inept leadership that not only encourages but partakes in graft, that international donor agencies view any and every proposal as the rest of the world view the infamous “Nigerian scam emails”. In fact, the Council is so redundant that save for members of the associations within its fold, most other Nigerian youths – whom they erroneously claim to speak for – are totally oblivious to their existence.
It is also rather sad that many youths jump on the youth advocacy wagon because they see it as a means to enrich their pockets and/or make the necessary connections with the ultimate aim of making money. It is very unfortunate that the collective agitation for youth emancipation is being used as a vehicle to financial empowerment.
Those who bear the negative effects of this polarisation and commercialisation of youth advocacy are the millions of Nigerian youths who neither belong to any of these superficial organisations, nor have the quality of life that they deserve. The real victims are the Yinkas and Susans and Anietes and Ahmadus who have no jobs and lack the means to obtain the capital they require to establish businesses. The real victims – the “most articulate” youths whose voices ironically go unheard – are the students in our higher institutions who have to live like refugees in hostels; who cram themselves in dozens into one room and sleep across the floor, inhabiting every corner like survivors of war in a refugee camp. The victims are the Nigerian students who, although are supposedly represented by NANS, bear the brunt of a failed educational system that places emphasis on harsh methods instead of qualitative delivery.
The victims are those youths who push barrows, those graduates who drive keke NAPEP to make ends meet, those youths who fall victim to terrorists without so much as an acknowledgment from the youth bodies who claim to speak for them.
A silver lining, however, thankfully exists.
For every hungry yoot, there exists another who is conscious and has good intentions backed up with a good plan; we saw many of this other type of youth during the just concluded elections. The level of youth participation in the 2015 election is a testament to the fact that Nigerian youths – at least, a large proportion of them – are ready to be involved in the process of driving positive change and establishing that youth stake.
The victory of the All Progressive Congress at the just-concluded polls cannot be divorced from youth support and participation, and this is why this demography must not be forgotten. The APC manifesto has a section on youth empowerment, and goes on to list highlights of plans for strengthening the economy, the educational sector and providing jobs, and it is essential that these be seen to a logical conclusion; the ONLY acceptable logical conclusion is successful implementation.
Another issue which concerns young people is governance, and for the interests of young people to be duly protected, then young people must be duly represented. Youth involvement in politics and governance goes beyond superficial appointments into offices where their skills will not be fully deployed; rather, young people need to be placed in strategic positions where they can garner the necessary experience and technical know-how required to hold leadership positions. It is also essential that a two-way communication channel be established between the government and the youths; this way, the trend of embarking on youth initiatives which make little to no impact will give way for a new era of youth consultation which will result in better, more effective initiatives and programmes targeted at Nigeria’s young people.
Affirmative Action has its attendant disadvantages but it does serve as a much needed palliative in certain circumstances. This current circumstance is one of such. Young people have fresh, bold ideas and the requisite qualifications to serve the country; what this demography now needs, is that window of opportunity.
If youths truly matter, and if we really are a part of today as much as we are an indispensable component of the future, then youth issues need to be prioritised. We need a reduction in the rate of unemployment, we need enhanced security, we need a better quality of education, we need access to loans to start up businesses. We need infrastructure – power, good roads, modern trains.
Above all, we need to know that this government truly represents change and is a departure from the norm; there can be no better indicator of this than for young people to be involved in every level of governance.
– Rinsola Abiola, a PR consultant, served as PRO of the All Progressives Youth Forum (APYF) from 2013-2014, and is currently the Secretary/PRO of the APC Young Women Forum (APC-YWF).