The importance of youth in the development of any nation cannot be overemphasized. The youth constitutes the backbone and future of any nation. Unfortunately, in most countries of the world, the youth are marginalized and excluded from governance and the development process. This is why it is necessary to focus on youth development so that they become productive and contribute to the development of society.
The Youth have great roles to play in the development of nations. In Nigeria, young people have been relegated to the background. In the first republic and during the first phase of military rule, young people played active role in the governance of Nigeria. Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri became Federal Ministers in their 20s. Matthew Mbu became an ambassador in his early 20s. Col Yakubu Gowon became head of state at the age of 28. In 1976, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became the head of state. I was in primary six. In 1999, he became the President of Nigeria. I had left the university for thirteen years. Nigerian Youth must reject the cliché of being the leaders of tomorrow. That tomorrow may never come.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the students under the platform of National Association of Nigerian Students and the Youth under the platform of the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN) were the conscience of the Nation. They fought against the Anglo-Nigeria defence pact that would have mortgaged the independence of Nigeria. They fought against unpopular anti-people and anti-youth policies such as increase of school fees (Ali must Go in 1978); structural adjustment programme and increase in the price of petroleum products. But today, student and youth bodies have become specialists in giving awards to politicians especially those with bad public image for a fee.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Student Christian Movement (SCM) was one of the major organisations that deepened the spiritual life of Christian Students, inculcated Christian values and built Christian leadership. Indeed, many of the Christian leaders today in several denominations are products of the Student Christian Movement.
In the last few decades, youth in Nigeria have been neglected and relegated to the background. All facets of life including family, schools, religious organisations and government have neglected youth development. In this paper, we examine the challenges of youth in Nigeria and how to make the Nigerian youth become productive. But first, we explicate the concepts of Youth, youth development and Productivity.
- CONCEPTUAL CLARIFICATIONS
- THE YOUTH
The Youth constitutes the backbone and the future of any nation. The progress and future development of any nation depends to a large extent on the youth. This is why most nations have concrete development programmes for their youth.
The place and importance of the Youth in society cannot be overemphasized. This was adequately captured in Nigeria Youth Policy which stated that:
Youth are one of the greatest assets that any nation can have. Not only are they legitimately regarded as the future leaders, they are potentially and actually the greatest investment for a country’s development. They serve as a good measure of the extent to which a country can reproduce as well as sustain itself. The extent of their vitality, responsible conduct, and roles in society is positively correlated with the development of their country.[i]
There are certain unique characteristics of the Youth which include:
- They are the future of any nation and serve as the bridge that link the present to future generations.
- They constitute the most active and productive part of any nation.
- They constitute the largest part of the population of most nations especially the developing nations.
- They are relatively inexperienced and impatient but their spontaneity, adventure and daring disposition can be put to productive use.
- They are very dynamic and can serve as agents of social change especially is societies experiencing moral degeneration.
The persons that fall within the age bracket of Youth is defined differently by different institutions and nations. The United Nations defines the Youth as those within the ages of 15-24 years. The NYSC puts its age bracket as from 18-30 years. But the youth policy defines the youth as all young persons of the ages 18-35 years. It identified the problems confronting the youth in Nigeria to include:
- Inadequate parental care
- Non-availability of suitable sports and recreational facilities
- Moral decadence in the society
- Lack of appropriate role models
- Religious fanaticism
- Cult activities
- Political manipulation of youth organizations
- Unemployment and underemployment
- Poor education
- Breakdown of family values; and
- YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
Youth development is the on-going growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, valued, useful and spiritually grounded to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.[ii] Youth development is a process and requires the support of the family, community and the government. It requires support (motivational, emotional and strategic); creation of opportunities and provision of services (education, health, employment, information etc).
Unfortunately, in the last three decades, youth development has been neglected in Nigeria leading to increase in youth restiveness and crime. The youth has become a reserve army of the unemployed used by irresponsible politicians and religious bigots to perpetuate violence and thuggery. Many of the young people have lost confidence on the elders and institutions of government. For Nigeria to progress, there must be change among the youth to develop themselves and become agents of social action and change. It has been shown that people can develop themselves by continually learning, growing and becoming more capable and competent over the years.[iii]
The National Productivity Centre defines productivity as a measure of the efficiency with which inputs are used to produce outputs of goods and services. Productivity involves efficiency and effectiveness as well as the production of quality goods and services at the right quantity at the right price that will satisfy the people. Productivity is about doing the right things and doing things right at the least possible cost, in the least possible time with the highest possible quality and to the maximum level of satisfaction of the people (consumers). For a person to be productive requires one to possess the right attitude and frame of mind (productivity mindset). Productivity can be increased by producing more with the use of the same or less resources or producing the same output with less cost (input). Productivity improvement is a continuous process.
The productivity of the youth can be improved by youth development, productivity awareness campaign, access to information, entrepreneurial development training, capacity building on innovation and mentoring.
- THE NIGERIAN YOUTH
In most societies especially in the developing world, young people constitute the majority of the population. In Guatemala, the youth represent 70 percent of the population.[iv] In Morocco, in 2008 with an estimated population of 31 million, about 36 percent are of the ages between 15 and 34. [v] In the Russian federation, the youth population is over 20 percent of the estimated 142.5 million in 2006.
In Nigeria, young people account for over 70 percent of the population.[vi] Those between 10-24 years constitute 33.6 percent. Ninety percent of Nigerians are below 65 years and the average age of Nigerian is 19.2 for male and 19.3 for female. The youth constitute 62.4 percent of the 73.5 million Nigerians registered to vote in the 2011 general elections. According to the former Minister of Youth Development, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi, 42.2 percent of Nigeria’s youth population are out of job and 80 percent of them do not have more than secondary school certificate which is very high compared to 21 percent in the middle east and 16 percent in the UK.
Despite the large percentage of young population, they are excluded from social, economic and political positions.
- BUILDING THE YOUTH TO BECOME PRODUCTIVE
There is the need for urgent refocus on youth development by the family, community, religious organisations and government.
- Need for Value Re-orientation
We know that values are deep seated beliefs that influence people’s actions and the rules by which they make decisions within their society. Values determine attitudes which in turn influence behaviour. Every society defines its values and engages in activities that will sustain those set of values. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides for the motto, social order and national ethics which underpin the values of Nigeria. The Constitution provides that the motto of the country shall be unity and faith, peace and progress. The Constitution also provides that the state social order is founded on the ideals of freedom, equality and justice. Section 23 provides that the national ethics shall be discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance and patriotism. Section 24 further prescribes duties for citizens of Nigeria to abide by the constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the national flag, the national anthem and legitimate authorities; help to ensure the good name of Nigeria, defend the country and render national service and respect the dignity of other citizens.
However, the lived experience of Nigerians is quite different from the constitutional provisions on ethics and values for the country. There is a lot of indiscipline in every facet of life in the country. Integrity is no longer cherished by many people. The get rich quick syndrome and pursuit of easy money has reduced the dignity of labour. There is high level of religious intolerance and the love for the country is waning. Many Nigerians have no respect for our institutions and national symbols. There is therefore the need for a comprehensive re-orientation through well thought out research; the creation of new compelling stories of Nigeria, the Nigerian dream and with publications, documentaries and slogans that resonate with the Nigerian people while building institutions based on values.
- Youth Specific Projects for development
The specific youth projects should address the following issues:
- Youth training programmes especially leadership training, character development and value re-orientation, conflict transformation and peace building, civic education, Reproductive health/HIV & AIDs.
- Entrepreneurship Development programmes which will include training and access to credit to set up small scale businesses.
- Skills acquisition programmes including fabrication, farming, fisheries, poultry, tailoring, electricians, plumbers, welding etc
- Provision of basic ICT infrastructure and services to enable re-orientation, good governance, enhanced business activities, improved commercial activities and accelerated economic development. This will include access to internet and training on ICT. It will also include creation of computer villages and provision of opportunity for young people to explore and utilise the potentials of ICT.
- Establishment of functional digital libraries with relevant information for youth development.
- Provision of recreation and Sports: Building of recreation centres and introduction of several competitions.
- Provision of Social Security measures for Youth especially those that are living with disability, HIV/AIDs and from very poor backgrounds
- Leadership Training for Youth
It is well known the leadership is one of the major problems militating against the development of Nigeria. Meanwhile, it is possible to train leaders. It has been documented that everyone has the potential, at least to some degree, to become a visionary leader that can help to create a desired future.[vii] It has been proven that leaders can be trained to become top strategists who will be able to envision the future and help to map out strategies on how to get there.[viii] Additionally, leaders can be trained to manage for success through people, policies, programmes and principles. Unfortunately, there are not many organizations, institutions and governments doing any serious leadership development. It is in recognition of this gap that the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development initiated three leadership development programmes namely Leadership School, Leadership Institute and Executive Leadership Course. The purpose is to train leaders by attempting to unravel the complexity of leadership and offering a framework that will help people to become great leaders.[ix] The programmes focus on both leader development (expanding the capacity of individuals for effective leadership roles and processes) and leadership development (expansion of organisations’ capacity to enact basic leadership tasks including setting direction, creating alignment and maintaining commitment).[x] At the end, we can then produce leaders who will know how to mobilise others to get extra-ordinary things done in organisations and nations. They should now be able to transform values into actions; visions into realities; obstacles into innovations; separateness into solidarity and risks into rewards.[xi]Producing young dynamic, strategic and visionary leaders is the surest way to accelerate the development and transformation of our country.
- Building the Leadership for the Next Century
It cannot be overemphasized that leadership is one of the most important variables that determine the progress and development of any country.[xii] Nigeria came into being by the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914. By 2014, Nigeria was one hundred years old. There is consensus that Nigeria has not utilized its potentials to the fullest. Indeed, the pervading poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment and poor development indices has been blamed squarely on leadership. For the past one hundred years, Nigeria has not witnessed the kind of dynamic, strategic and visionary leadership that can turn the potentials of the country into real opportunities for the people. This is why it is necessary to build the kind of leadership to accelerate the development of the country in the next one hundred years.
It is very clear that the context of the past one hundred years will be quite different from the context of the next one hundred years. For instance, the amount of information available to leaders is going to continually increase in the next one hundred years. Future leaders will therefore have to develop the ability to access the most relevant information and differentiate them from irrelevant information. Similarly, the market has affected every facet of life in very fundamental ways in the last one hundred years. Future leaders will need to understand clearly the market and how the ideology of free market and deregulation has affected politics, the economy and every facet of life. The world is undergoing rapid changes in every facet. At the beginning of the 21st century, more than half of the workforce in industrial world are self employed or in temporary or part time jobs requiring management in different ways.[xiii] In Nigeria today, there is a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurial training and the workforce will change in the next one hundred years. It is therefore necessary that future leaders need to find new ways to align people around national agenda and interests especially as it has been shown that laws, rulebooks, training programmes and compliance systems have not worked in all cases.[xiv]
- Youth Inclusion in Governance and Development
Participation is a crucial element of democracy. Deepening of democracy requires participation of all social groups and categories. The Youth constitute a majority of the population of most countries and it is a necessity that they participate in the democratic process. It has been argued that youth inclusion should be geared to achieve youth representation; improve policy outcomes for young people; enhance the capacity of political institutions to substantively engage with young people; provide opportunities for young people not merely to be included within consultative and participative structures but for them to be able to change the ‘rules of the game’; and develop young people’s sense of competency to engage as public actors.[xv]
Unfortunately, all over the world, the participation of citizens in the political process is decreasing. For instance, whereas in the 1960s roughly 13 percent of the electorate paid their dues as members of political parties, in the 1980s, this proportion shrank to 9 percent and in the 1990s only 6 percent called themselves party members.[xvi] It has been argued that the decline is more among the younger age cohorts.
The tenets of democracy will be completely destroyed if majority of citizens are left out. This is why efforts must be made to include youth in the political process. Since political parties are the major organs through which political activities for the capture of political power is organized, it is imperative that young people are included in party structures.
It is important that young people are trained so that inclusion in later life is easy. Student politics should be encouraged. Prefects should be elected in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Student Unions should be given an enabling environment to practice democratic politics. In addition, youth organizations should be more interested in politics. Above all, effective steps should be taken by government to ensure youth development.
The development of nations require the crystallization of new ideas. Old people are known to be resistant to new ideas. The young people are the hope of the society because of their capacity to imbibe new ideas and run with them.
Unfortunately, the old people in Nigeria have refused to give young people a chance. In 2012, the youth leader in one of the major parties was reported to be sixty years old. It is clear that the old people in Nigeria will not create avenues for the young people. The young people must therefore improve their knowledge, organize and mobilize for social action and change. Young people should advocate for quota in political party structures and elective and appointive positions for the youth and women. The definition of youth in Nigeria must be in line with the national youth policy of 18-35 years.
In recognition of the importance of youth inclusion, many countries are implementing programmes to include the youth in the economy and political process. In Guatemala in 2008, youth from different political parties presented plans to strengthen and safeguard the inclusion of young people within the structures of party politics. In Morocco, researchers, surveyors, experts and ministerial departments are working on how to include youth in economy and politics. In the Russian federation, efforts are being made by the Youth department to include youth in the economy and in decision making.
- Spiritual Revival led by the Youth
There is the need for spiritual revival across the world. The world is increasingly becoming skeptical about anything related to God. People are grappling with new issues such as evolution. Many are doubting the efficacy of prayers. The old are refusing to give space to the Young. Meanwhile, young people face enormous peer pressure. Pre-teen, teenage and early adulthood years is a period of strong crave for affirmation from peers. The standards of the world is confronting young people every minute through the promotion of sinful practices, negative impact of the media, fashion, tastes and depraved songs. There is the need to build the character of young persons in the formative years so that they can overcome the challenges confronting young people.
Historically, young persons have led revival in the scriptures. Jeremiah was about 17 years old when God called him to minister to the people of Judah (Jer 1:4-8). Samuel would have been around 12 or 13 years when God called him into ministry (Samuel 3:3, 10). David was anointed by Samuel when he was in his teenage years though estimates range from 10 years old to as old as 25. David was probably about 17 years old when he confronted Goliath (1 sam 17).
The world is degenerating. Values are down. Leadership with character and vision is lacking and God is looking for young people who will be faithful to be called to lead the revival in this end time. The Student Christian Movement will have a lot of role to play to actualize this.
- CONCLUSION AND THE WAY FORWARD
From the above, it is clear that young people are the greatest asset of any nation. They are the future of any nation and serve as the bridge that link the present to future generations. They are active, dynamic, and adventurous and can serve as agents of social action and social change.
Any serious country should devote a lot of energy and resources to building the youth to be productive. Any country that refuses to develop its youth will endanger its future. When the leadership potentials of young people are not developed, the seeds of failure are being sown. We cannot really talk about democracy and development without the participation of citizens including young people.
The development of the youth requires the active participation of the family, community, schools, religious organisations and government. The training of children starts from the family. The Bible makes it clear that when you train a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6). There is the need to return to the basics and prioritise family values. God requires parents to rear their children in a God centred way. The primary objective must be that your children know, believe in, love, reverence and serve the Lord. Deut 6: 6-7; John 17:3; Eph 6:4. It is interesting that the father is primarily responsible for child training (Eph 6:4B And Ye Fathers….bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). But we have many absentee fathers in the family. In addition, parents must set godly examples for their children to learn and follow (Deut 6:4-6).
The community has roles to play in youth development. One of the things that make the African society unique is the community spirit which is being eroded by rapacious capitalism, invading western culture and market fundamentalism. There is the need to return to the positive aspects of African society especially those that do not conflict with the scriptures.
The schools have great roles to play in moulding the character of the youth. I personally owe my world outlook today to my university days when I was trained by the progressive movement on commitment, discipline, selflessness, sacrifice and struggle for the common good. There is a great need of reform of the school system.
Government has a great role to play in youth development. It is not enough to formulate a youth policy and do virtually nothing about its systematic implementation at all levels of government.
Finally, the religious organisations have great roles to play. Historically Christianity has contributed to moulding youth of character and discipline for leadership. There are several examples in the scripture where young people made monumental contribution to the development of society.
However, there is no doubt that the elders have failed to put in place effective development programmes for the youth. It remains to be seen whether the youth will fail themselves and refuse to develop themselves and become agents of change. It was Frantz Fanon who said “every generation must out of relative obscurity must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”
Otive Igbuzor, PhD. Is the Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (CentreLSD)
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