By Ndubuisi Orji
The strength and weakness of any society lies in its young people. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. Young people in their prime are usually at their productive best, with abundant energy and youthful vigour. This energy, if well harnessed and channelled to productive ventures, can bring about a boom. But on the contrary, if not properly managed, could be destructive
According to the United Nations Population prospects by 2035, the number of Africans between the age of 15 and 64 “will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. By 2040, Africa will have more than 1.4 billion people of working age – far surpassing China and India”.
Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko said that this large youthful population in Africa must be well utilised if the continent must make progress. Giving a keynote address at African Business Conference, 2016 of the Pan African University, recently, the Ondo State governor, who spoke on Africa Rising: Leveraging the Power of a Younger Generation, said the growing population of youths in Africa’s present unique leadership challenge for the continent and Nigeria in particular.
According to him, “having a lot of young adults is good for any country or continent if its economy is thriving, but if jobs are in short supply, it can lead to frustration and violence.Whether Africa’s demography brings a dividend or disaster, is largely up to its leaders.
With no obvious signs of population decline, Africa can tap into the immense talent and energy of its youths to create wholesome development and prosperity.”
“In 2015, the United Nations pronounced that demographically, Africa is a continent with up to 40 per cent of its population aged between 15 and 24 and more than two thirds below 30 years (UNDESA, 2015). The United Nations stated that the youth population in Africa is large (about 200 million, which is 20 per cent of its population of more than 1 billion). According to the United Nations (2012), Africa’s 2011 population was estimated at 1.05 billion and is expected to double by 2050.
“Turning this huge demographic dividend into a development advantage for Africans is the herculean challenge facing government and policy makers in Africa,” he said.
The governor noted that “a key obstacle to Africa’s long-term prosperity, productivity and stability is the crisis facing the continent’s youth. Young people in Africa are economically, socially and politically marginalized. This failure to deliver for a growing and restless youth is the soft underbelly of the “Africa rising” narrative. He explained that broadly speaking, the lack of opportunity for many of Africa’s youth is manifested in three ways: unemployment, migration and radicalisation.
“In 2000, about 13 per cent of international migrants, 22.8 million people, originated from Africa. In 2013, the numbers had increased by more than 60 per cent to 16.2 per cent and 37.5 million people. The main reason for migrating out of Africa is the search for opportunities and a brighter future.
“Migration and radicalization in Africa, for example, have a common socio-economic and political root with marginalization of youth being the common denominator. It is, therefore, imperative for Africa’s leaders to proactively take urgent steps to address the manifestations of youth marginalization while also dealing with its root causes.
How Africa can leverage on its youthful population
Therefore, Mimiko said if Nigeria and by extension the African continent must reap maximum benefits from its growing youthful population, it must take certain key steps. These include deepening democracy, industrialisation and employment generation, among others.
According to him, it is imperative for democratic and governance institution to be strengthened, so as to safeguard democracy on the continent, adding that although most African states practise models of government that are not truly democratic in “content and character”, the future of the youths are still better safeguarded within the ambits of the ballot box. Every hand must, therefore, be on deck to ensure that transparency and accountability reign supreme in Africa. Much as we need strong institutions, we still cannot rule out intellectually strong men to drive Africa out of the woods.
Mimiko lauded Nigeria’s former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for setting the pace in the consolidation of the democracy in Nigeria and African at large by conceding defeat, after it lost the last presidential election to the All Progressives Congress ( APC), a thing that is not very common in the African continent.
The Ondo State chief executive wants other ruling parties in the continent to continue to follow the example set by the PDP in the aftermath of Nigeria’s 2015 general elections.
While advocating investment in education, cultural renaissance, education, agribusiness, ICT, health and provision of capital young African entrepreneurs etc, he said African biggest resources are not its soil, oil, diamond, etc.
Mimiko also shared his experience in leveraging on potentials of the youths in moving Ondo State forward, noting that “in Ondo State where I have been governor for seven years, we have deployed our political will by leveraging on the potentials of the younger generation.
Deliberately, we have tapped into the incredible potentials of the younger generation in an unprecedented manner.
“We know the important role of education in the life of our youths and upon assumption of office in 2009, we started to invest in education and knowledge. We deliberately intervened in the education sector so as to provide the necessary illumination for the future of our youths.
To give equal opportunity of accessing quality education to all and sundry, our government started building model primary schools, appropriately named “Caring Heart Mega Schools” to reflect the scope of learning possibilities and the sheer capacity for student’s intake.
Avant-garde in outlook but strictly proletarian in utility, the mega schools are to serve as models below which future public or private schools cannot fall.”
The governor would also want Africa to invest in the digital market and develop skills in that sector, so as to create more job opportunities for young people.
“Already, the social media has opened up a plethora of opportunities for the younger generation, who have embraced it whole- heartedly, using social media to have their voice heard and their products seen globally. We must not hinder such opportunities through bills such as the Social Media Bill, we risk alienating a significant part of our population by stifling their rights to express their views and challenge conventional wisdom. Rather, our focus should be on supporting the vibrant social media now evident in Nigeria and empower the youth to use the social media in the most effective and responsible manner,” he added.
On industrialisation, Mimiko said Africa must industrialise and avoid what is happening in some developed countries where the economy is “financialised”.
“The fact that Africa is industrially backward is incontestable. While it keeps expecting technology transfer from the North, the simple fact is that the technologically advanced countries are racing, unperturbed. Africa must invest in her youths in the realm of technology especially computer technology and communications.
“Concerted intra-African collaborative efforts must be made on Infrastructure, Power, Rail and access to capital. A clear industrial policy is long overdue for Africa. The 21st Century and beyond will definitely bring about great challenges that might transcend human comprehension. It is, therefore, imperative for African youths to be the focal point of technological and industrial investment in our own interest.
“For us in Ondo State, we have intensified efforts to catalyse industrial resurgence by completing the 30 Megawatts Ondo State Independent Power Plant. This is to substantially improve power supply to industrial and commercial initiatives and propel anticipated economic activities to unprecedented level in the next few years,” he stated.
Mimiko strongly believes that for Africa to get optimum benefits from its demographics require “a holistic structural, economic, social and political transformation approach, especially if Africa must remain sustainably competitive and if we must put a stop to the myriad of socio-economic malaises that have plagued the continent.”