Decades ago during the colonial era, young people with the support of some elderly ones fought and gained independence for Nigeria. The expectations were high and Nigerians looked forward to rapid development. However, this was not to be. The first republic had myriad of crises that resulted in coup d’état, counter coup and civil war; the rest is now history. A major group that is still suffering the consequences of our beleaguered experience is the youth. But the challenge of rebuilding the country also lies on the youth. As major stakeholders in our national development, are Nigerian youth doing enough?
In the foregoing, who is a youth? “Youth” is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community. The age range that defines “youth” differs from country to country and is often considered to be between the age when one leaves compulsory education, and the age at which one finds first employment. The latter age limit has been increasing particularly in Nigeria, as higher levels of unemployment and the cost of setting up an independent household puts many young people into a prolonged period of dependency. Meanwhile, the African Youth Charter defined “youth” as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years”. This is the definition used by most African countries including Nigeria.
Youth are one of the greatest assets that any nation can have and undoubtedly, the greatest investment for a country’s development. Whether Nigeria is investing properly in her youth is debatable but there is no gainsaying the fact that a lot of young Nigerians had made and continues to make sacrifices for national development. I am privileged to have met, interacted and on many occasions worked closely with young people from many parts of the world. I have also for most part of my adult life played active roles in many youth led initiatives within and outside Nigeria. At all times, I see reasons to be proud of the Nigerian youth. I’m very proud of our contribution to national development.
I had my undergraduate studies in the University of Ibadan where I met some of the most intelligent and patriotic young Nigerians. We wanted change in Nigeria, but we felt we had to start from campus. But one platform that brought some of these great minds together was campus journalism. The likes of Tolu Ogunlesi, ‘Bimbo Ojenike, Ohimai Amaize, ‘Buchi Akpeh, ‘Fisayo Soyombo, Olaiya Templer among many others were veteran campus journalists who have continued to make meaningful contributions towards nation building. Despite the harsh investment climate and near absent support system, the Nigerian youth have built and sustained a flourishing entertainment industry. The youth have repeatedly brought honours to the country through sports. My friend, Olukayode Ajayi-Smith has mentored hundreds of teenagers through his organization, Joint Initiative for Development. Agwu Uchenna Duke and his team have been promoting academic excellence in his home town using the Okposi Education Initiative. There are a numerous youth-led initiatives in every part of Nigeria and the impact of their activities on national development cannot be overemphasized.
More so, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is the biggest single platform that actively engages the youth on nation building. Although the scheme’s unsatisfactory performance in recent past has triggered calls for its disbandment, it is heartwarming to know that some youth have continued to use the platform to improve lives. An exciting case is that of Kanayo Okeke-Eweni, a physician and corps member serving in Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory. Unlike many who would have seen their posting to a very remote part of Abuja as punishment, Kanayo considered it an opportunity to make positive impact. He was stunned by the number of residents who lacked access to healthcare in their communities and then developed a comprehensive health development plan which he has executed within the past ten months. Kanayo planned to carry out health outreach, give health talks, train primary health workers, and most importantly build a clinic in Fuka, a village in Kwali. There is no access road to Fuka; during rainy season, residents walk or swim through a river (depending on the water level) to get there. Also, there is no health facility in the area and the closest one is hundreds of miles away. With the support of HAPPYNigeria (an NGO that mobilizes youth for health development) which he now heads and a couple of other NGOs, Kanayo was able to implement the entire content of his Kwali Health Project. Within this week, the N3.9million five-room clinic in Fuka will be officially commissioned. This young man is worthy of celebration.
Regardless of the remarkable impacts made, there still remains a minute segment of the youth population that engages in devious and nefarious activities. Some even think the only way they can contribute is to do nothing but spend all their time to malign and castigate every public office holder using social media without coming up with alternative ideas. The question now becomes, are the youth doing enough? The answer will depend on what one considers as “enough”. But there is one thing I’m convinced about, we will surely do more than enough when the government strengthens the economy and jobs are available for the teeming youth population. It’s time for expedient action to institute transformational leadership at all levels of governance within the polity. Let us do more to make this happen. May God bless the Nigerian youth!
Tweet me @donlaz4u.
(Published on my column on The Newsnest on January 21, 2013)