I’m writing this with a heavy heart, being a young Nigerian who fully knows what young Nigerians pass through in Nigeria. The statistics are sobering. 60% of Nigeria’s population is young Nigerians and youth unemployment in Nigeria is at 60%. This gives one an insight into the terrible circumstances in which young Nigerians found themselves. Dreams are dying and young Nigerians are among frustrated groups on earth – if not the most frustrated group of people on earth. Most of these young Nigerians, save those from rich homes, cannot acquire quality tertiary education as Nigerian Universities are suffering from a reversal of fortunes. Public secondary and primary schools cannot deliver quality education the purpose for which they have been established. Students are discouraged from reading during secondary school certification exams because of question-paper leaks. They passed through Nigerian universities which are plagued with terrible facilities as a result of infrastructural knavery. ‘Sorting’ lecturers becomes the norm instead of the abnormal. Today, there are little or no scholarships anywhere for those that cannot afford to pay their way through schools unlike in the past when there were series of scholarships for the youth. A typical Nigerian youth survives in a nine-in-a-room accommodation space arrangement in university hostels while their female colleagues are being subjected to sexual assaults by lecturers to get good grades in the universities.
Upon graduation the brutality of Nigeria’s reality hit young Nigerians in the face. They have to rely on senators, political appointees and politicians to write recommendation letters for them before they can get jobs in federal government establishments. We’ve to pay hundreds of thousands of Naira to get jobs in public and private organizations – a situation that is akin to broad day light robbery. Merit no longer holds a place in the system. Galloping unemployment has reduced young Nigerians to guinea pigs in the laboratory of the labour market. Today, a typical young Nigerian writes series of tests and go for innumerable interviews just for a 50,000 Naira job. To make an already deplorable situation worse, nepotism has been introduced in to the mix, with someone making up a list of prospective employees full of relations and friends’ children. Young Nigerians are compelled by the hostile economic reality to stay for years at home because there are no jobs. They are left with decayed social services and have no choice but to pay for whatever they want. This is Nigeria at its worst of times. Merit has been defenestrated by the combined forces of corruption and tribalism.
The story is not different for those who find themselves lucky to get a job; for with the job comes the realization that the Naira has been devalued, and the cost of living so high, that the average young Nigerian finds it difficult to marry not to talk of raising a family. Most disheartening is the fact that the young people are confronted with the Nigerian Private Sector Crisis. The predominant features of this economic malady are jobs without job security, overworking the employee with a remuneration that is abysmally less than commensurate with the quantum of work assigned to the employee. The banks are the major culprit here, assigning outrageous targets to the workers with an option of being thrown out of the job for failing to meet up with the set targets. The plight of the average young Nigerian becomes all the more pathetic when one considers their virtual inability to renew their rents and to afford the other basic necessities of life. In a nutshell, the polity is mercilessly competitive and the environment extremely hostile for the average young Nigerian to start anything serious. These are the consequences which flow from a damaged and neglected society; a society which is radically different from that of our fathers when companies and Government agencies lined up to recruit graduates. Today, the Nigerian youth is advised to embrace entrepreneurship, yet, the Government has failed to create the enabling environment for such enterprise to thrive. And because nothing is done on merit, the average young person comes away with the impression that hard work and intelligence do not pay.
As if the tales of woes are not enough, there is a deliberate policy of exclusion being pursued at the highest echelon of the Government against the Nigerian youths. The focus of this policy is to ensure that the Nigerian youth is excluded from participating in Government. This is quite unlike in the 1960s and the 1970s when Nigerian leaders were in their twenties and thirties. Today, unless some of these youths are PAs to PAs to PAs to an SA of a minister, they would have no input in Nigeria’s governance. It is an impossibility to see a youth of less than 33 that is a young Minister or Governor or even a Commissioner. The Nigerian youths are being given Youth Development Ministers that are in their 60s and who have no idea what the average Nigerian youth is passing through. Entry into politics is so costly that the youths cannot even attempt it. What is more? No one believes in them anyway.
Most government interventions to tackle the challenges of the Nigerian young population have not been implemented properly. Apart from that, such interventions suffer from inadequate and effective monitoring, sustainability issues and the absence of a political will to drive these interventions. The consequence is that the impacts of these interventions are extremely minimal with the brutal reality of what Nigerian youths are passing through. The environment is not enabling enough for them to start sustainable businesses for those of them that wish to go entrepreneurial. No access to loans from banks, limited access to loans from the government, no access to meaningful skilled acquisition trainings and no serious policy to address fundamentally the issue of unemployment by the different Nigerian governments. They still have to depend on their parents for livelihood upon graduation from universities.
It is high time for the government came up with an agenda to address the challenges of the Nigerian youth. Sustainable interventions should be generated. There is the need for a robust plan from the government which should contain all the young people. Similarly, the State Governors should come up with sustainable plans for the youth at the State level. Youth participation in governance should be made a State policy. They should be made Ministers and Commissioners and be appointed in other key positions so as to be involved in governance. Industrial farms should be set up using PPP to teach them modern agricultural techniques, and, ultimately, to fund them to go into agriculture. Mentor/Mentee relationships should be developed between the old and young generation. The existing youth support initiatives like YouWin and the Graduate Internship Scheme which began under the aegis of the former President should be reviewed, with the ultimate goal of enhancing their efficiency and extending their tenure. Against the backdrop of the Boko Haram insurgency, counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation strategies among youth, especially in the North, needs to become a key element of strategic focus. There are some interesting ideas being undertaken by women’s groups in the Horn of Africa region as well as some local variants to learn from. At the other end of Nigeria, the Yar’ Adua Amnesty programme for erstwhile Niger Delta militants is up for review. There is the need to formulate a strategy which is needed to bolster the successes of that programme, plug institutional leakages in its administration and extend its tenure as well. The education sector in this country remains a subject for surgery, gradualist or radical. The Government should come up with a clear strategy on how to revamp the educational institutions. Education should be made entrepreneurial driven.
The Government should increase the incentives for Private Sector Capital Inflow, adjust policy to focus more on IT development especially by creating the enabling environment for Youth Capacity Building in that area. There is the vital need to diversify the economy, empower the fabrication and development of a local content market which should be flooded by young people especially in Aba, Lagos and Onitsha areas. Scholarship schemes for skill acquisition should be instituted and such scholarship schemes should cover the sports – and sports here is not just football. The fashion industry should be expanded. Young people have delved into this area. At least one in 20 Nigerian girls make clothes but lacks the requisite financial empowerment. Conscious efforts should be made to encourage export for Made in Nigeria wears. This initiative should be monitored strictly by SON. Nigerian clothes are summer friendly; thus there is a ready teeming market in Europe and the Middle East. Nigeria is about the only African country that consumes what it produces. This is a sad tale. If quality is injected in Nigerian wears, and heavy taxation imposed on imported clothes, Nigerian local fashion will flourish naturally. This is vital because 90% of the fashion industry is run by the youths. The Police Force and Civil Service need a lot of fresh blood. The Reorientation which is part of the NYSC programme should be introduced into the Civil Service while a policy of sanitization and involuntary retirements of the older generation especially those who have put in 20 years and above in the service should be pursued vigorously. There should be a gradual generational shift in these parastatals and ministries. The elections which were handled confidently by corps members of the National Youth Service Corps scheme is a clear pointer that the Nigerian Youth is ready to take up challenges in national service: their only snag is the absence of opportunities. It is common knowledge that the older generation has been corrupted and has proven to be not only intractable but incorrigible. Every young Nigerian craves a better society. Involving them more in governance will make change easier to attain. Young people by their nature may be radical but they are impressionable and, consequently, pliable. Though there is still the fear of the unknown in them. There is another advantage which is that dealing with young people is cost-effective. There is no doubt that such a strategy will reduce the economic waste that occurs in political offices.
Chambers Umezulike is a Nigerian Novelist, Revolutionary and Youth Advocate