Sometimes in 2014, our own Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka attended his 80th birthday celebration organised at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and during the celebration, he was asked by a journalist what he felt about the current generation of youth in Nigeria. He responded by describing the current generation of youth as an ‘’endangered generation’’.
As a graduate student of the same university as at that time, I was shocked and confused, endangered ‘ke’. Why would he say so? Nevertheless, they say what an elder sees while sitting, a child will not see even when standing. Fast forward to 2019, with current indices and challenges confronting youth in Nigeria, one would not be wrong to describe Soyinka as a prophet of our time.
Every 12th of August, has been set aside by the United Nations as a day to celebrate the achievements and address the struggles of youth across the world. On this occasion, young people in Nigeria will join their counterparts across the world in solidarity.
However, for majority of youth in Nigeria, there is relatively nothing to celebrate. Only few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari released the list of ministerial nominees, alas, youth were not considered for these positions, despite being well equipped, well informed and qualified. In fact of all forty-three nominees, women got only seven nominations.
In a 2018 consultation, commissioned by the United Nations Secretary General titled ‘The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security’, one key recommendation was that for any nation to experience peace and prosperity, it is very essential to address the perception of injustices and marginalisation faced by young people.
In Nigeria, young people are confronted with several structural injustices and maginalisation, which may also be responsible for the high rate of youth restiveness, insecurity, youth participation in violent extremist acts and other criminal activities. While it is not new to label youth as engineers and perpetrators of violence, this would not have been possible if the socioeconomic and political triggers are taken care of. Nonetheless, majority of young people are overcoming the structural barriers and contributing meaningfully to national growth and development.
One significant concern of every household in Nigeria now is the rate and effects of (youth) unemployment. Nigeria currently boasts of an unemployment rate of about 27 percent, with strong indications this may skyrocket to 30 percent by 2020. With this statistics, it is obvious whatever effort or initiative of the current administration is just insignificant when compared to the unemployed population in Nigeria. A lot more needs to be done.
In addition, the inability of youth to cater for themselves is becoming worrisome and embarrassing for a nation that prides herself as the giant of Africa and this should be a wake up call for any sensitive administration. Many youth who are above the age of 30 years still go to and rely on their retired parents for financial subsistence. The gap between the rich and the poor has become unexplainable with less than 1% of the nation’s population who are political office holders enjoying the commonwealth.
The theme for this year’s youth day ‘Transforming Education’ could not have come at a better time when Nigeria’s education system is totally deformed. The kind of education received is obsolete and not relevant for human survival and sustenance. Majority of youth lack the skill and capacity to fit into 21st century industries across the world. No wonder hundreds of youth storm Walter Carrington everyday in an attempt to depart Nigeria to access better education and better life in countries where leaders are sensitive to the welfare of their citizens and residents. The state of primary and secondary schools across Nigeria are nothing to write home about. Even our university professors and lecturers, who are supposed to be profferring solutions to the myriad of challenges confronting the nation, are now renowned for ‘catching them young’.
Nigerian youth also lack the needed support and protection. Only recently, it was brought to the notice of the world that the humanitarian crisis in the northeastern part of Nigeria has hit its tenth anniversary. Thousands of young men and young women have been sacrificed on the alter of violence, yet there is no peace in sight. Those who are fortunate to escape the daily sacrifices of souls in Borno and Yobe States are elsewhere been killed, harrassed and victimised by the officers of the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad and the Department of State Services. We remember the reckless killing of Kolade Johnson and Francis Eni in Lagos. Nigerian youth abroad are also not immuned. The mere presentation of the green passport at any of the entry points abroad is followed with extreme security checks and stigmatisation. The Nigeria youth is truly endangered.
As requested by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, which Nigeria co-sponsored, government must ensure the protection of civilians especially youth at all times. It must end the gross violations of fundamental human rights and other injustices committed against youth and humanity. Youth in Nigeria constitute over 65 percent of the nation’s population, hence, government must increase their participation and inclusion at key decision-making institutions at local, state and national levels and in mechanism for preventing and resolving conflicts. Government must adopt 20 percent quota to allow more youth participation in formal government structures. Our politicians and political parties must let go of our youth councils and student bodies. These organisations must be allowed to represent the interest of those it was established for. The political economy of Nigeria needs to be restructured to cater for the generality of Nigerians and not a privilege few.
As we commemorate 2019 International Youth Day, it is important for our leaders to rethink the conditions of the Nigerian youth. Countries that invest in their youth experience peace and development. If deliberate and concrete efforts are not made in Nigeria to harness her youthful population, youth self-help and social instability is inevitable.
Rafiu Adeniran Lawal
Building Blocks for Peace Foundation
Ibadan, Oyo State.