By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
August 12 every year is a very important date in the global calendar. It is a day that the global community sets aside to celebrate International Youth Day. The important purpose of this annual celebration going by information from the United Nations (UN) is to among other things raise voices against any injustice or discrimination happening in the world with the youth. Again, going by available records, The International Youth Day was recognized by the United Nations when they passed a resolution towards creating it in 1999 at the United Nations General Assembly. This day came into existence with the recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers and they are Responsible that 12th August was declared as the International Youth Day. Essentially, there was a need for this day because a very large amount of youth in the world are struggling with issues related to Physical or Mental health, education and employment and thus all these issues need to be addressed. When the government or society does not focus on proper development of the youth, they tend to become rebellious and many times they can opt for the choices which are neither good for their development nor for their country.
Certainly, as the global community uses workshops, concerts, conferences, cultural events, seminars and meetings involving national and local government officials and youth organizations to celebrate the day while recognizing the contributions of young people and volunteers who are working towards betterment of the society and are raising important issues that needs more attention of the society, there are however painful signs that the situation back here in the country says instead of celebrating, the average Nigerian youth is currently in a state of frustration. From commentaries, the frustration of these young victims of our nation’s socioeconomic challenge was not only fueled by the gap between the extravagant promises made in the past by the Government without fulfillment, but predicated on the ills that flow from bad leadership which daily manifests in the ‘ tradition’ of leading without recourse to transparency and accountability. And as a consequence, ‘stifles development, siphons all scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolster education systems and strengthen public health and stack the deck against the poor masses. To explain this position, a recent report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), reveals that in second-quarter Q2:2020 unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed. For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, youth in every society, says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and our all national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel are obvious.
Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends a signal to all segments of the Nigerian Society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even at the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2%); 1980s (9.8%) and the 1990s (11.5%). Youth unemployment therefore is not a recent phenomenon. But if what happened in the 1980s/90s were a challenge of sorts, what is happening presently, going by the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and proliferation of solutions. From the above it is obvious that, ‘we are in a dire state of strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the center of its programme will take us nowhere’ From unemployment challenges to the poor education sector, it is accurately documented that many Nigerian children are out of school not because they are not willing to be educated but because the cost of education is beyond the reach of their parents. The public schools are short of teachers with dilapidated buildings. The private schools on the other hand where the environment is conducive for learning is cost intensive and out of reach of so many students and their parents. In like manner, the Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU ) has been on strike since February 14, 2022. The Group embarked on such industrial action to protest the government’s inability to implement their demands on salaries and allowances of lecturers, and improved funding for universities. The implication is that for the past six months and counting, these youths have been idling away at home and the Federal Government has not considered the damage such failures imposes to this future strength of the nation that their generation will provide the next leaders. Now, looking at the above painful account, and considering the fact that the nation Nigeria races to the 2023 general election, the question(s) may be asked; how far can the youth go in a nation where tribal loyalty is stronger than our common sense of nationhood? Can the youth effectively guard their courage? How far can the youths go as change-agents in a country where excruciating poverty and starvation continues to drive more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect? Or in a society where the majority of the youths can easily be induced to work across purpose and in political space where a high density of the youth’s population reside in various villages with no access to information or livelihood? Can they truly create any impact? Or remain united for a very long time.
While the answer(s) to these question is being awaited, the truth must be told to the effect that to make this year’s world youth day rewarding as well as change this trend, and achieve the objective of engaging youth in formal political mechanisms, increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies which have symbolic importance that can further contribute to restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth, there are inescapable actions that the youths must take, there are steps/action plans that Nigerian youths must execute. Apart from constructively and sustainably engaging the Federal Government, it will not in any way be out of place if the youths harness their population advantage and their demographic dividends to form a formidable opposition that holds the government accountable or better still seek political offices come 2023 general election.
Supporting this position is Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution adopted from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948) which gives everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The youth must also access the power of the press as Section 22 stipulates that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to upload the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter [Chapter IV: Fundamental Rights] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”, which has been emboldened by the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
It is important that Nigerian youths continue to speak up against violation of human rights, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Unlike their elders, youths must not initiate, encourage or spread false, mischievous or divisive information capable, or with outright intent, of misleading the populace and disrupting societal harmony and peace. Within the ambience of the law, they must speak up with facts against any wrongdoing or oppression by the government or fellow citizens capable of endangering sustainable democracy and the effective delivery of good governance.
They (youths) should view as evil the argument by political deconstructionists that Nigerian youths must face difficulties as there is no nation where each has his/her own job and house, and where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. This claim is not only ‘rationally inexplicable but morally unjustifiable. It is a fact that government lacks capacity to fix socioeconomic challenges alone. But any government with goodwill and sincerity to save and serve the people must develop creative and innovative channels to promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and job creation.
Also, Nigerians are in agreement that the law is the supreme instrument of the state which must be respected and no one is above the law. This particular fact, if well understood, will assist the youths to comprehend that as citizens, they are constitutionally eligible to vote and be voted for.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), A Lagos-Based Non Governmental Organization (NGO).And could be reached via [email protected] /08032725374.