Government seems to be playing politics with bogus youth empowerment programmes, that are often structurally flawed, lacking sustainability and viability.
A vibrant youthful population is generally viewed, as the pride and future of any nation, due to its enormous social and economic potentials. In Nigeria, the scenario is different, as many young citizens, mostly between 15 and 34 years, live on the precipice.
The challenges bedevilling these youths, who constitute over 50 percent of the population, are indisputably gruesome, requiring serious introspection and urgent redress. Daily reports of anti-social behaviours and nefarious activities associated with most of them, locally and drug internationally is a national embarrassment. They are often profiled, as prime suspects in numerous international drug-related crimes, internet scams and phony relationship murders particularly in United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Italy, India and Malaysia.
This skewed image often masks modest achievements of honest nationals in foreign lands, in education, sports, entertainment among others. Government, must find the nerve to invest more in sustainable social safety nets for youths and vulnerable citizens devoid of sharp practices and partisanship. This will enhance enormous opportunities and resources associated with this demographic segment. For several decades budgetary allocations to research, technology, education, health, agriculture and manufacturing, relevant to societal welfare and youth development have remained paltry and far below the standards of United Nations (UN).
This perfidy, indicates apathy to the demand for employment opportunities for the teeming number of graduates, by investing in manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Spiralling unemployment and inflationary rates, along with infrastructural decay, have continued to plunge many young people to early graves, with increasing cases of suicides, malnutrition and epidemics.
Evidently, this nation has had the misfortune of being led largely, by characters, bereft of integrity and ideas, imperative for effective participation in a technology-driven global economy. Even in this dispensation, Nigeria fared dismally, in all development parameters, chiefly evidenced by its current status, as the nation with the highest number of poor persons globally.
The N-Power scheme and similar programmes have come under knocks from the public and parliament, for gross ineffectiveness, which also marred the immediate past administration’s Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). Government seems to be playing politics with bogus youth empowerment programmes, that are often structurally flawed, lacking sustainability and viability.
Under the guise of empowering young people, unscrupulous politicians distribute shoe-shining kits, noodles and other frivolous handouts.
Currently, some youths are allegedly, on the payroll of many desperate politicians to perpetrate electoral malpractice, violence and thuggery.
This is an aberration that is totally unacceptable and untenable in saner climes. Unarguably, Nigeria parades a heinous cesspool of young people, characterised by despair, destitution and drug-addiction, over a bleak future. Many are trapped in criminal rings, trafficking syndicates and drug cartels, due to lack of sustainable means of livelihood. Every responsible government has a social contract to ensure well-being of its citizens, particularly youths because of their significance to societal peace and progress. Failure to uphold this sacred responsibility is not only fatal but self-defeatist. It is not surprising that thousands of Nigerian youths are dying in droves across deserts and oceans in desperate search for ‘elusive greener pasture.’ Countless numbers are trapped in slavery, prostitution and exploitative labour, over despicable and unbearable circumstances.
A sundry look at millions of jobless youths parading aimlessly across most cities reflects a society in disarray. Statistics shows that majority of them are not employed or underemployed, while some are clearly unemployable, due to lack of education and skills pivotal for a modern economy, which is a dangerous curve that requires urgent redress.
This is the position of United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) and other international agencies, which categorised the country as a nation with ‘a youth bulge’ in need of special focus.
Government should find the political nerve to invest more in sustainable social safety nets for youths and vulnerable citizens devoid of political proclivities. Relevant agencies should periodically review and realign youth-related programmes, in tandem with best practices and Sustainable Development Goals( SDGs) on youth empowerment. United States (US) Ambassador, Stuart Symington and several stakeholders canvassed a similar position recently in Lagos.
He urged youths to participate actively in leadership and political activities, in order to contribute meaningfully to the nation’s progress.
The ambassador who stated this at this year’s annual seminar tagged: ‘The Youth and Transformational Leadership in Nigeria,’ by Hubert H Humphrey (HHH), Fellowship Alumni Association in Lagos, said Nigeria’s greatest asset was its youths. ‘They need critical resources and trainings to become positive change agents in the nation’s economic and political growth.’ ‘The youth of Nigeria is a powerful force for good not just in Nigeria but the whole world. But the challenge is how to take that resource and make Nigeria better than it is?’
‘Youths should actively participate in politics, be keen about reading and stay abreast of development,’ he stressed. Earlier, president of the group, Mojisola Onifade urged government to invest in youth empowerment and leadership initiatives from an early age. ‘The nation will develop faster in all areas of our democracy and political sphere, if appropriate policies are initiated to empower youths to become champions of change from a young age.’
“It is important to harness and galvanise the vitality of Nigerian youths, who constitute a critical mass of the population, in order to transform them into change agents for national progress, from the cradle,’ Onifade added. According to her, early exposure to leadership training and skills would be most beneficial to society.
Similarly, Prof. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP) said taking youths to next level, demands appropriate leadership and commitment at the level of a paradigm shift and deepening of the structural basis for a patriotic relationship between youths and the Nigerian state. Those who are in the grip of poverty and unemployment, constitute the bulk of the population.’
‘Youths should be given a voice, through a shift in youth engagement from traditional platforms to constructive intergenerational dialogue.’
Wife of Taraba State Governor, Mrs Anna Ishaku, as well as youth advocates including Dapo Oyewole, Samson Itodo and Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin made similar submissions.
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Ojukwu, a Hubert Humphrey Fellow and journalist, writes via [email protected]