By Jaye Gaskia
As the world marks the International Youth Day [IYD], it is important that we pause, and take a deep reflective look at the condition of youth in Nigeria, in order for us to be able not only to track the likely trajectories into the future, but also to be able to set appropriate parameters to chart a new course to the future through the present for our nation, and its youth and youthful population.
Why is this important? It is important because the quality of life and scope and scale of the future greatness of a nation can be determined by the quality of investment in the condition of its youth today. A nation that trivializes the current condition of its youth is merely laying the foundation for the decline and irrelevance of the nation in the global community of the future.
Without highly educated, highly literate, highly skilled, intellectually brilliant and self-confident youth, a nation is toying with its future, and undermining its existential capacity.
So what is the condition of youth in Nigeria today? The place to begin is to underscore the significance of the youth population. Youths 35 years and under are estimated to constitute about 70% of the population of the country. This is huge; it should be an advantage for a nation that is seriously and furiously pursuing national development, one that is determined not only to build an advanced human civilization, but that is also ambitious of leading the way in the march towards further humanizing the human condition globally.
But alas, the level, scale and scope of the crass incompetence, managerial ineptitude, and congenital second fiddle mentality, inordinate unscrupulous ambition, and criminal disposition towards treasury looting, displayed by Nigeria’s ruling elite has combined to devastate the general condition of youth in our country.
Except for a few youths, either those scions of the corruptly enriched ruling class, or scions of the precarious and dwindling middle class, or the minute fraction who through exceptional courage or brigandage have managed to pull themselves up by the straps; except for this small category of youths; the condition of the overwhelming majority of youths is dismal and abysmal.
So what is the condition of the Nigerian youth, the overwhelming majority, not of the few who by share courage or because of the circumstance of birth?
Of the about 57 million out of school children globally, 10.5 million of them are Nigerian children, making Nigeria the country with the second highest concentration of out of school children globally.
The quality of education in public schools, where the majority of children attend is appalling, and keeps declining, and this is right across primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. The derelict condition of facilities, the inadequate or sometimes complete absence of necessary basic infrastructures in educational institutions, as well as the declining quality of teaching and non-teaching staff have all combined to create the monumental existential crisis and challenge facing the education sector in the country today, and therefore affecting the overall development and preparation of our youth for a purposeful and productive life.
To further compound the issue, less than 15% of youths seeking admission into tertiary institutions ever get admitted annually. And yet there are no viable alternative structured vocational and skills acquisition institutions of a tertiary status to accommodate these teeming population of youths excluded from all rounded education.
The situation with health is similar to the context with education. Health care delivery is witnessing a deep crisis; a combined crisis of both quantity and quality, as well as of access and availability. Our infant mortality rate, as well as the proportion of malnourished children under 5 years of age, though declining is still one of the highest in the world, so much so that Nigeria has remained one of the worst countries to be born for a child globally for some years now.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report; youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years are nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; of these youths 54% are unemployed. The CBN on the other hand has more recently put the rate of youth unemployment at nearly 80%.
Now let us analyse a few more significant indices; with youths 35 years and under constituting 70% of the population, with more than 60% of them unemployed, and with a national poverty rate of 70%, it is only logical to draw the conclusion that the majority of the poor are also youths.
It is the same situation with housing; according to the FGN, the country has an 18 million housing deficit; that is nearly 90 million people, assuming average family size of 6, either homeless, or living in sub human and inhabitable conditions across the country.
Again taking the average family size of 6, with two parents and four children, then we can also draw the logical conclusion that nearly two-thirds of those impacted by the housing deficit are youths.
The overall picture that is emerging is quite grim, not only for our youths in particular, but also for the country in general. The implication of this dire condition of existence is that we are bringing up a generation that is alienated, angry, and seeking vengeance against society and the symbols of the exploitation and repression of the condition of youth. It is why criminal gangs, and all manner of rabid and insane insurgency and militancy entrepreneurs have a ready market for recruitment.
So where do we go from here/ If this is the appalling condition of youth 100 years after amalgamation, and 54 years after flag independence; how can we undertake a radical break and rupture from this historical trajectory? How can we ensure that we set different parameters, that can set us on a new course, that will ensure a different, and qualitatively more humane outcome for the condition of youth over the next 100 years?
The answer it seems to me lie in the political arena in the first instance rather than in the economic arena. Those who control political power not only shape economic policies, but also own and control the levers of the economy and consequently also, the wealth of the nation.
The Historical task facing this generation of Nigerian youths is to become politically active, in their own interest not in the interest of Godfathers, and other icons of the degenerate ruling class. The duty and obligation we owe to ourselves is to immediately set about building a Mass, Popular National Political Youth Platform.
It will be counterproductive to establish a Youth Party, it will not be representative of all age groups in society; but it will be far more potent to seek to put together a National Political Youth Platform, that will articulate the political and economic demands of youths, that will articulate the generalized condition of youths, and that will actively engage with the political processes, including political parties and electoral processes promoting the interests of youths, and supporting the aspiration of youths in the political process who subscribe to the program and manifesto of the movement.
Such a National Political Youth Platform must be built as a united front of youth organisations for a political purpose, including for pursuing youth participation in politics, and in the processes of governance.
It must mobilise and organise non partisanly across the country; and it must use the strength of its supporter base, the scale and scope of its organizing and mobilization to negotiate and engage with all the political parties, ensuring that the concerns of youths are forced unto these parties; and even making strategic decisions for example to support particular parties or candidates in particular elections, if such parties or candidates adopt the platform and program of the youth movement.
This task is a daunting task, infinitely more strenuous than simply seeking accommodation within the existing parties and their structures. This National Political Youth Platform should seek not only to gain decisive influence within the youth wings of political parties, and seek to be a beacon of hope and direction to all politically active youths regardless of their current party affiliation, or their current nonparty member status.
This will be a far more effective and powerful transformative weapon than simply acquiescing to the economic empowerment mantra that seeks to depoliticize and in practical terms, disempower youth.
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