by Senator Ihenyen
For the past one week, the issue of the Nigerian youth and the future of this country have been seriously agitating my mind. It is not the first time. And it is very doubtful this will be the last.
If the 2010 statistics from the Manpower Board and the Federal Bureau of Statistics is anything to go by, the future of this country is under great threat! The youth population in Nigeria is reported to be about 80 million representing 60 per cent of the total Nigerian population. And I stated in my last post that a huge 64 million youths are unemployed, while 1.6 million are underemployed! Now I think that’s absolutely mind-boggling!
To say that a nation can only afford to neglect the growth and development of its youth at its own peril is not an overstatement. This is the more reason I keep wondering if with the realities on ground, the Nigerian government with its National Youth Policy is not messing with a time bomb.
Indeed, over the years, the Nigerian government has been making efforts to ensure an effective National Youth Policy. The need to evolve a sound youth policy brought about the creation of the National Youth Policy in 1983 and its rebirth in 2001. Of course, they have not been without some shortcomings, mainly a lack of effective implementation and innovation.
Any National Youth Policy that fails to comprehensively address major problems such as unemployment and under-employment will further create problems for the country.
Has our National Youth Policy created the conditions and opportunities for creativity to flourish towards the stimulation of a massive social transformation? I don’t think so!
In the present Boko Haram Nigeria, it is simply a failure of leadership where years of bad governance and corruption breed an energetic army of violence and crimes. An army of largely hungry, angry, uneducated and hopeless youth fed by myopic opportunists in a failing society with religion as weapon of uncontrolled and uncontrollable violence on the innocent. Many youths on national service have also been made victims of the killings, just as millions of others roam the street helplessly, or “help themselves”. Indeed, it appears this is the worst time to be a Nigerian youth.
It is my opinion that the Nigerian government is yet to adequately equip the youths with the resources, skills and tools needed to cause a positive change across sectors of the economy.
Instructively, we have been witnessing how the centrality of youth in issues that affect them is causing great changes across the world today – the recent “Arab Spring” that represented a youth-led revolution against decades of dictatorship; the U.S. Presidential elections that brought in Obama not once but twice; and even in Nigeria, we witnessed the immense power of the youths during the subsidy removal protest nationwide in 2012.
From a public policy perspective, no doubt, youths are the engine of economic growth since they represent the workforce in an economy. A highly skilled and resourceful youth population is bound to enhance the global competitiveness of the national economy by boosting our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Both the Federal and State governments need to know the various challenges and opportunities being faced by the youths today, and formulate policies and programs that address them squarely. In every Nigerian youth is a great potential. With a sound National Youth Policy, such potentials can be maximised towards improving themselves and the society they find themselves.
At this juncture, it is important to point out that no National Youth Policy will work in a country without sound social, political, economic, educational and cultural objectives. The government must be prepared and determined to harness our national resources and promote an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy for every citizen on the basis of social justice, equality of status and opportunity.
In a modern economy, government at all levels should reward value creation in the private sector as a way of helping the sector generate jobs across sectors. Rather than just creating skills acquisition centres without structural financial support through micro-finance banking, the government can also provide tax incentives by way of tax relief and tax holidays to job-creating companies. Bodies that also provide vibrant opportunities for the development of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) through youth entrepreneurship and mentoring programmes should also be included.
The government should be prepared to bridge the wide and risky gap between entrepreneurial ideas and the commercialisation of such ideas. Through resources, technologies, tools and funding packages, such entrepreneurial ideas can grow into small businesses that soon bring about the multiplier effect in terms of job creation in the country. India and China have indeed mastered the art of transforming business ideas into SME empires that in turn create massive jobs for their huge population.
If our future must be secured, the President Goodluck Jonathan administration must begin to turn things around for good. Sure-P and You-Win are steps in the right direction but mere drops. Holistically, we must reform our educational sector, revive our manufacturing industries and greatly leverage on technological innovation for rapid advancement across sectors. This is no time to play 2015 elections politics. It is time to deliver on 2011 promises. The time bomb is ticking.