In commemoration of United Nations International Youth Day
The youth of a nation are trustees of posterity – Benjamin Disreali
The above statement by the enigmatic politician and novelist who served twice as Prime Minister of Britain in the 19th Century is one of the many aphorisms underscoring the importance of young people to a society. Estimated to be approximately 18 percent of the world population at 1 billion, young people form the axle around which the world economy and society in general revolves. In Nigeria, the youth make up 31 percent of the population, providing the country with enough human resources, innovation and energy to move the country forward. However, in spite of this potential, Nigeria remains a third world country, mired in the bog of underdevelopment as it abandons its youths, leaving them to battle a myriad of problems including illiteracy, persistent poverty, a hostile investment climate, political relegation and lack of infrastructure. This has led to the prevalence of crime, political thuggery and all manner of vices among Nigerian youths.
Efforts of past leaderships to steer the country to the path of greatness has often been frustrated by the inability of Nigerian leadership to recognize that the Nigerian young is its greatest resource. According to statistics provided by the United Nations, Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050 due to the high fertility rate on the continent. It is further projected that the population of Africa’s young will grow while the youth population in other parts of the world shrinks. Nigeria as the most populous African country will likely be the largest contributor to the population boom. If properly channelled, this presents an opportunity for the country to join the ranks of first world countries.
As we celebrate another Youth Day, it has become a matter of urgency for the government to institute policies that will harness the potential in young people to checkmate the alarming migration of our human capital to the developed world. The following policies are suggested to shape the future of the Nigerian youth and the country at large:
Educational Policies – The government should expend its resources towards reforms in the educational sector. The abysmal failure of Nigerian students in WAEC, NECO and JAMB exams in turn reflect the failure of the current educational policies in force. Juxtaposed with the educational standard of the sixties and seventies, the educational standard today is nothing to write home about. Technical and vocational schools have been neglected, denying the country practical, technical education needed for technological advancement in this information age. There is a need for government to address the gaps created by the overreliance on university education by reviving technical schools. Policy makers should also consider the declining reading culture, especially as the use of mobile gadgets increase among the youths, providing them with an endless stream of meaningless entertainment. There should be a deliberate policy to encourage schools in the country to maintain physical or online libraries to encourage the reading habit among young people.
Economic Policies – To address the problem of unemployment among young people in Nigeria, economic policies which give rise to training programs that address the incompatibility between skill supply and employer needs should be introduced. Policies encouraging self-employment through the provision of microcredit and start-up capital to young entrepreneurs like the YouWin Initiative of the past administration should be considered. The abundance of labour also calls for policies that regulate the labour market and ensures healthy working conditions for young people.
Political/Social Policies – The Nigerian culture which gives priority to the elderly in social and political issues leads to inadequate opportunities for young people to express themselves politically or make meaningful contribution to politics. Such a trend has led to the recycling of old leaders with outdated, archaic worldviews which have no place in the 21st century. Policies which give room for the Nigerian youth to participate in nation building should be considered. Platforms from which youths can included in the political process should be given priority. Youth quotas can also be considered to address the problem of inadequate representation of youths in all levels of government. Developed countries have been able to advance due to the preference for young vibrant leadership brimming with energy, ideas and talents. Nigeria can benefit by toeing this line of thinking.
In conclusion, the task of protecting the future of Nigeria rests squarely on the shoulders of the young. It constitutes a burden when the necessary measures are not in place to enable them participate in nation building. It is not enough that they are transformed to mouthpieces for old tired politicians as seen in recent times. Young people deserve their place at the top of the socio-political economic order and they deserve it now.