Rethinking Youth Engagement For Development, By Femi Babatunde

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Africa’s youth population according to the 2015 United Nations population statistics is put at 226 million, which constitutes a whopping 19 per cent of the world’s total population. This figure is further projected to shore-up by 42 per cent in the next 14 years, that is, 2030. Nigeria is home to a substantial chunk of this bourgeoning youth population, owing to its already massive population which has placed her on the global pedestal as the most populous black nation on earth. The 2012 National Youth Survey by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the youth population to be about 70 per cent of the nation’s overall population.

femiTo be sure, this bulge is not without some challenges, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of the widespread unemployment rate in the country (which is currently pegged at over 24 per cent by the NBS), rising inequality among citizens and the political class and the very poor infrastructural base. However, rather than viewed with pessimism, the nation’s surging youth population holds immense value and opportunity. Of course, this is only if we do what is right with what providence has fortuitously offered to us. Doing what is right should stem from acknowledging the limitless potential opportunities in the horizon. And consequently calls for drawing up a robustly strategic plan that can accurately harness the energy, talents and creativity of our young people, while also creating an environment that is absolutely enabling for them to soar. Put together, three words should sum the approach: Vision, strategy and action – hopefully, these could help inspire a fresh perspective to youth engagement in the country and perhaps Africa by extension.

True, the country’s political trajectory is plagued by retinue of missteps and missed opportunities, allowing the country to continually wallow in abject poverty contrary to its vast blessedness in abundant natural and human resources. Nonetheless, the nation cannot afford to keep servicing a needless blame-game at the expense of creating a future that we all can be proud of.

It is particularly shameful and disturbing that 56 years on after the independence, Nigeria has no clear-cut and workable youth policy to engage her boisterous youth population. The result is the poorly coordinated efforts of successive administrations at meaningful engagement of the youth and the failure to mobilize them for the nation’s developmental pursuit. Jaye Gaskia, a columnist with Premium Times, in his article The Condition Of Youth In Nigeria And The Urgent Imperative For Political Action, could not have put it more poignantly: “The overall picture that is emerging is quite grim, not only for our youths in particular, but also for the country in general. The implication of this dire condition of existence is that we are bringing up a generation that is alienated, angry, and seeking vengeance against society and the symbols of the exploitation and repression of the condition of youth. It is why criminal gangs and all manner of rabid and insane insurgency and militancy entrepreneurs have a ready market for recruitment”.

Charting the right course going forward would require that the nation’s political leadership prioritize deliberate investment in youth empowerment in the truest sense of the word. This should be reflected in the quality of education youths are provided. We urgently need an all-inclusive strategic plan and right actions that seek to explore the potentials through focused and sustained investment in research and development. The government must ensure that every penny that goes into such venture is channeled accurately and tied to specific deliverables atypical of similar jamborees we have had in the recent past. For instance, one should be surprised that Nigeria invests so much executing scholarship programmes without a deliberate plan of ensuring that beneficiaries deploy their new-found knowledge and skills for the betterment of the nation’s economy.

The enormous strides the country is recording currently on the global scene through the various inspired tech start-ups initiated by some Nigeria youths is sufficient to trumpet possibilities and the can-do spirit of our youth in the face of crippling or even almost non-existent state supports. The recent visit by Mark Zukerberg, founder of the ubiquitous social media platform, Facebook, to the Yaba Hub, a notable tech-hub that houses the nation’s leading tech enterprises, speaks volume. That added to the $24 million funding for Iyin Aboyede’s Andela, the $1.2 million venture funding that came through for ToLet.ng, an on-line real estate market place founded by the quartet of Fikayo Ogundipe, Sulaimon Balogun, Dapo Eludiare and Seyi Ayeni, and the several other emerging start-ups putting Nigeria on the global tech radar, Nigeria youth surely deserve to be accorded more recognition by the government. Not with a one-off programme like the AsoDemo Day, but by providing the most enabling environment for them laced with supportive infrastructure and ready access to funding that will spur their latent creativity and innovation.

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Yes, there are still many unserious youth across the country, whose understanding and composure suggest unpreparedness for ‘serious tasks’. Yet that must never be taken as an excuse by neither the government nor older Nigerians not to repose trust in our youth. This is because, for every one delinquent youth you come across, there are hundreds of thousands out there silently labouring to be true models of the best the nation can offer. That goes without saying that, there are several millions of Nigeria youths scattered all over diligently serving who have refused to bow down to the gods of mammon, moral dereliction and vanities that have nipped the potentials of many of their contemporaries in the bud. A drop in the vast ocean of youths in that rank and file has over the years been nominated and rewarded by the highly-rated Future Awards and several other platforms dedicated to spotlighting great and emerging iconic Nigerian youths whose stories of sheer gut, industry, brilliance, enterprise, ingenuity and patriotism are waiting to be to be told.

Unlocking the potentials of our youth require that beyond paying mere lip service to youth development, there is deliberate efforts at mentorship. Widespread awareness culminating into cultural acceptance of mentorship as a national value must now hold sway. I like to think that this is the way to go. We don’t have to be fixated on any one approach to doing this, I suppose. What is imperative however is for us to have accomplished Nigerians seeing value in investing and making themselves available for younger Nigerians to learn from. The natural result of this will mean that across the nation – in schools, religious groups, professional groups, offices and everywhere, people are appropriately inspired that there is a need to work with our younger people with the view to preparing them for a greater future. Rather than dismissing for their often radical outlook to life, our young people must be helped and guided to asking the right questions, interrogate the diverse challenges of the nation and supported in their pursuits to coming up with useful implementable solutions, regardless of how outlandish they appear. It is also includes channeling youth energies appropriately to areas where there are opportunities within the system.

To see the Nigeria of our dream is possible. Nigerian youth on their part must do more than just complaining. But actively engage the political process. Not as willing tools in the hands of a mass of clueless politicians but as actors in provoking a political revolution. The last general election that saw the incumbent’s Peoples Democratic Party being replaced after 16 years in the saddle showed what the Nigerian youths can do when they determine to pursue a course. That the social media played a significant role in determining the outcome of that election shows what is possible. We need not over-emphasise it: This is the time Nigerian youths must equip themselves and get to work indeed.

*Please follow me on twitter: @ofemipo.

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Adeyemi is the news editor and Assistant Editor (Editorial) at GreenNews. He holds B.Sc. Ed. (Hons) from the University of Lagos. He believes that information is the source of liberty. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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