Friday, May 15, 2009

In Search Of Agenda For Youth Empowerment

Nigeria born world-acclaimed computer guru, Philip Emegwali, once gave a lead on the danger of not laying a solid foundation for the nation’s teeming population of youths. In his famous speech on brain drain he raised a poser: “How do we reverse the brain drain?”

Giving the background to the issue, he observed: “We came to the United States on student visa and then changed our status to become permanent citizens. Our new citizenship status helped us sponsor relatives and inspired our friends to immigrate here. What few realise is that Africans who immigrate to the United States contribute 40 times more wealth to the American than to the African economy. Furthermore, because a significant percentage of African doctors and nurses practice in the US hospitals, we can reasonably conclude that African medical schools are de facto serving the American people not Africans”.

He made a suggestion: “I believe those with skills should be encouraged and rewarded to stay, work and raise their families in Africa. The best African musicians live in France. The top African writers live in the United States or Britain. The soccer superstars live in Europe. It will be impossible to achieve a renaissance without the contributions of the talented”.

The dilemma facing the Nigerian youths in an attempt to heed Emegwali’s advice formed the fulcrum of a discussion at a recent programme in Kaduna, Kaduna State, Nigeria. Participants at the national youth parley organised by the British Council examined this issue and took government to task on the need for a sustainable action plan for this critical sector of the nation’s population.

Steven Kidds, one of the forum participants and the national chairperson of the Scottish Youth Parliament, for instance, could not see the reason why Nigerian cannot usefully tap the potentials of its teeming and resourceful youths.

“This is the first time am coming to Nigeria. When I was coming, I heard a lot of horrible things about Nigeria which are supposed to dissuade one from coming. But here I am today. In fact, Nigeria is blessed with a good number of talented youths. But I think the problem is that Nigeria as a nation has no blueprint on youth empowerment and inclusion in governance”, he said as a matter of fact.

His view was re-enacted by Dr. Osisioma Nwolisa a professor in the Political Science Department of the University of Ibadan. He reeled off: “He who wishes to walk on a cold ground must first pour water on the ground. The youth (of a nation) are regarded as the leaders of tomorrow. Leadership is a sacred function, which is quite different from rulership, headship or command; and therefore requires proper and adequate education, training and orientation. In serious societies that plan their lives and progress far ahead of time, the youths are given proper, adequate and functional socialisation, training, education and orientation to equip them.

“Unfortunately in Nigeria, nobody cares about the youths and the tomorrow they are to lead. Since independence in 1960, youths when gathered for a function are told that they are the leaders of tomorrow but that tomorrow has never been allowed to come and they are not being prepared for that leadership”.

Flustered by what they see as a truism in Nwolisa’s assertion, the participants in a twelve-point communiqué demanded that: “there should be a considerable and consistent youth representation in the decision-making bodies in the country. Policies should be geared towards building the capacity of youths to participate in government through the acquisition of information and communication technology skills, conflict management and cultural exchange programme to enhance the quality of their participation in decision-making processes”.

They also said, “That the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently in use needs to be amended with specific reference to the reduction of the age limit of qualification for election and appointment into political offices to correspond with the voting age. Also copies of the constitution should be simplified and translated into various indigenous languages and made readily available to all youths both in formal educational institutions and in the informal sector”.

As they put it, there is nothing wrong in empowering the youths and including them in the helms of affairs of a nation which will eventually fall on them tomorrow. It is because of this that any serious minded nation does not joke with the interest and future of its youth. This is with due respect to the often-repeated cliché that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow. The orientation they receive today is exactly what will help them tomorrow to pilot the affairs of the nation as elders for if the youths fail then tomorrow is not assured.

Kidds said the 300 member Scottish Youth Parliament is a body of youth representatives from the provinces of Scotland recognised by the law and the government with the task of developing and enhancing the welfare of the youths. They also look into issues that affect them and how best to solve them in order to give them a bright future. A case of young people talking to young people.

According to Kidds, “we want to be different. We want to make the views of young people heard by those people who should be listening to us, but we want to do it in a thoroughly innovative way. We recognised that traditional models don’t always work and it is our belief that young people should be able to make a difference in a way that suits them. We think it is possible to make the whole process interesting and exciting”.

The idea of a youth parliament is still very foreign to African nations and Nigeria in particular. They can do this by taking their future into their hands. The need for them to form a very strong national pressure group cannot be overemphasised. Our future is in our hands. Nigerian youths thrive in thuggery, violence and the likes apparently because of their poverty, unemployment and selfish motives of some unscrupulous politicians.

In the words of Osisioma: “In Nigeria, the youths are not just neglected but are also being wasted in several ways despite the presence of the National Youth Service Corps programme and several ministries of youth and culture. The most outstanding way of youth’s wastage in Nigeria is the absence of a programme to generate millions of jobs annually. As a result, millions of youths are not productively engaged to increase national wealth and thus are forced to become parasites on the society”.

This has a negative effect on the thinking of present day youths and even on the nation. One of the effects is the problem of brain drain among young talents who leave the shores of Nigeria to look for the Golden Fleece in America and Europe.

Against this background one of the young participants, Yemi Asaju, raised a poser: “What is the need for me to stay in Nigeria to contribute towards it when the nation is not ready to appreciate my contributions. Moreover if the government cannot make a sacrifice to train me, why would I make a sacrifice to contribute to the government?”
But the simple truth is that even as these youths have a head flowing with dreams, visions and ambitions, the Nigerian government in particular has got no blueprint to tap them, the forum stated.

Yusuf Pam, Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice in Plateau State of Nigeria while addressing the forum said, “As young people, a comprehensive knowledge of your rights is vital to your development and positive contribution to the improvement of our societal norms and values in future. You are the future of Nigeria and its hope for stability and prosperity. You must educate yourselves in these matters and take full advantage of the benefits of a forum such as this. Sharpen your leadership skills, dedicate yourselves to the service of your country and strive to serve to the best of your ability”.

On the contributions youths can make towards national growth and development, Dr. Imman Abdulrahman of the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies of the University of Jos opined that the youths have a formidable role to play in the area of ensuring an everlasting peace in the nation. In his words, “when we talk of peace and national development, youths assume a central position along this continuum. This explains the axiom ‘youths are the leaders of tomorrow’ because it is to them that the baton of governance, administration and leadership shall be released tomorrow. The onus of leadership and continuity in any society rests squarely on the youth. They possess the agility and the intellect that can be tapped to make a positive development and a remarkable change in the different sectors of the national life.

“But for them to become a responsible entity in the society will require their maximum utilisation via gainful employment. This in the long run will prevent youth restiveness and youth engagement in violent conflicts, armed conflicts and unnecessary soldiering that have now become the vogue of our time. Let it be made clear that Nigeria has no secured tomorrow without well prepared youths to lead that tomorrow in global competition in this era of globalisation”.

Is there a solution in sight? “We must stop the wastage of our youths and come out at levels of government with well-prepared programmes for our youth development based on a well-articulated national youths development and empowerment policy. This should be backed up with a well planned and adequately funded educational system. Finally for this country to know, feel and enjoy domestic security, the Federal Government should call a meeting of all states and local governments along with itself and the private sector on how to generate two million jobs annually for the next five years”, advised Osisioma.

Talk of acknowledgement of the fact that something drastic needs to be done to appropriately shape Nigerian youths for meaningful adulthood and everyone concurs. But what exactly needs to be done and how to do it remains the Herculean task.

1 comment:

  1. The original of this article with same title was first published by the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria on Wednesday February 4, 2004.