Samuel Oluwole Ogundele
Nigeria is endowed with robust human capital and natural resources of world-class status. But despite these opportunities, the geo-polity has recently acquired an ugly chieftaincy title-the world’s capital of material poverty. Indeed, more than 80percent of the total population of about 200million have been thoroughly impoverished as the leaders find it difficult to use the country’s natural-resource wealth as a basis to make economic progress. Nigerian governments at different times, have failed to pay sufficient attention to the youths.
This is with respect to good quality education and health. Education has the capacity to push back the frontiers of knowledge and skills needed to drive economic growth and development. Poorly trained and unskilled youths with a number of debilitating diseases, will have low levels of productivity. Therefore, a healthy, highly skilled youth population is a great asset to any country.
Defining ‘youth’ is notoriously difficult, understandably because it is a crossroads of subjects, ideas and/or concepts such as gerontology, sociology, politics, law and culture. It is a fluid human phenomenon that varies with the exigencies of time and space. For instance, the African Youth Chapter claims that youths, are people between 18 and 35years of age. But in Nigeria, citizens in their early forties are still considered as youths. More than 42 percent of the total population of this country belongs to this category.
With the passing into law recently, of the ‘Not too Young to run’ Bill, a Nigerian citizen of 25 years of age is qualified to run for a position in the Federal House of Representatives or State House of Assembly. Similarly, a 30-year old person can contest for a governorship, senate or presidential position. This was in sharp contrast to the earlier arrangement or benchmark of 45 and 50 years or thereabouts. It is thumbs up, for the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), the brains behind the Bill.
In most parts of our contemporary global village, youths are becoming more determined than hitherto to occupy leadership positions. Thus, for example, in today’s Finland, young women under the age of 35years hold sway as far as politics is concerned. In this regard, Sanna Marin, a 35- year old lady became Prime Minister when she was 34 years of age. Similarly, Kim Jong-un, the powerful leader of North Korea since 2011, is just 40 years old now.
Most political leaders of Nigeria in the past, were in their thirties when they started their political career. For instance, General Yakubu Gowon was born in October 1934 and became Head of State in July 1966. General Murtala Mohammed became the leader of this country at the age of 37 years.
Chiefs Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo and Victor RemilekunFani-Kayode, premier and deputy premier of the Western Region respectively (during the 1st Republic) were relatively young men when they started occupying leadership positions in Nigeria. In the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara became the premier at the age of 39 years in 1959.
These charismatic, young Nigerians among others played some critical roles culminating in the political independence of the country from Britain in 1960. Unfortunately, both federal and state governments have crippled the youths especially during the 33 years of military oligarchy in the country. This assault continued in1999 when another round of parliamentary democracy began. Although the government at various times in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to pay some limited attention to the issue of youth development, not much success was recorded. The Ministry of Youths and Sports failed to pay attention to education, training or skill acquisition and radiant health. In the 1990s, youth development was consigned to the sphere of sporting activities.
In 1978, the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) founded in 1956 was banned by the government for protesting against an obnoxious increase in school fees. Consequently, radicalism including critical thinking among higher institution students and graduates came to an end. Several radical/leftist lecturers were sacked. This was a ploy by the military leaders to pave the way for authoritarianism. Youths who were largely uncritical began to occupy the Nigerian social, academic space to the detriment of national progress. Without mincing words, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) that replaced NUNS, remains up to now, a pale shadow of the latter. High ideals were thoughtlessly, shamelessly sacrificed on the altar of greed or unfettered materialism by the new Nigerian society.
Most youths today, may not be able to reach the height of their creativity and technical prowess as a result of material poverty inflicted on them by our reactionary, uncaring political leadership. Education has never been one of the priority cases of the Nigerian government. The government is like a drama of unbridled lies and deception. The on-going shameless display of untrustworthiness by certain top government officials in relation to the presence of the 15 Chinese nationals in Nigeria under controversial circumstances, is a bad example to our youths.
How can the youth as a national resource, be developed for fine-grained humanity, given this pollutedmilieu? Who are the role modelsfor these youths? The thieving and lying leaders across the board? These are youths always hearing storiesabout pythons swallowing local and foreign currencies kept in government offices. This is in addition, to high-ranking government officials claiming that they never knew that our health sector was in a deplorable state.
What of the traditional style of the federal government that involves not respecting agreements freely reached between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), thus leading to unstable academic calendar almost yearly? Youths in a social environment where the law is a respecter of persons, contrary to what obtains in saner climes and cultures. The future looks bleak for Nigeria except there is a revolution by education.
Prof. OGUNDELE writes from Dept. of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Ibadan,Ibadan via [email protected]