Life for the average youth in Nigeria today is sad, tough and extremely rough. With life-sustaining opportunities dwindling by the day, it is no wonder that Nigeria was ranked 161st on the 2020 Global Youth Development Index. This poll measures the status of young people in 181 countries around the world. The report was released as part of events to mark the International Youth Day on August 12. The process of arriving at this index is no respecter of race or nationality.
For a country whose largest demography is its youths, it remains a depressing irony that they are the most oppressed and abused, perhaps, slightly after the womenfolk. It would seem like the country has little or no regard for its young’s future judging by the way it has handled their affairs.
The most succinct indicator of this depressing reality is the state of the education sector in Nigeria. Besides having the highest number of out of school children globally, the quality of education has increasingly declined for decades. Worse still is the constant industrial actions by lecturers, crippling academic activities for months on end, altering the trajectory of the students and their aspirations.
Another debilitating scenario is the failure of the state to provide a conducive environment for youths to engage in productive activities as seen in the high rate of unemployment. While we agree that in a capitalist system, the economic climate is usually dictated by factors that include but not limited to high interest rates, multiple taxation and rising insecurity, we also lament that such conditions are taking their poll on the youth with regard to their effort to find a foothold under the sun. It is most excruciating for young people who, as start-ups, find themselves playing in a business field of uneven levels that are not in their favour.
However, the society has had to bear the brunt of the neglect of the youths as evidently the acts of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, drug peddling and all sorts of crimes seem to be executed most by youths. We are not by any means rationalising the ugly trend. We mention it so as to nudge the authorities to act in the right way
Little wonder that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently, disclosed that more than 70 per cent of Nigerian youth might soon become ex-convicts if the present high rate of their involvement in cyber and other crimes was not checked, managed and their energies channeled to more productive purposes.
The anti-graft agency had decried the high rate of cybercrime among youths and enjoined every stakeholder in the country to discourage the youths from internet fraud. We agree that young people have since resorted to crime and all manner of illicit activities by choice as there is no justification for such actions that hurts society. After all, there are a lot other young people who have resisted the temptation to engage in illegal activities also by choice.
But in a system which increasingly shows that only those who resort to violence are given attention, the situation becomes even more precarious. And this situation continues to thrive as the politicians and other stakeholders who ought to make policies and programmes in the interest of youths and the country’s future are the ones who, having deprived young ones of their freedom to education and responsible living, employ them as thugs for power acquisition and status perpetuation.
The events surrounding the EndSARS protest and its handling by the authorities are a clear indication of how dicey things have become. How a peaceful protest against police brutality against the youths quickly delved into violent suppression of a yearning for a new narrative, remains instructive. The recent separatist agitations in the country also reflect, subconsciously, the angst at a system that is feeding off the destiny of its young ones.
The responsibility of ensuring that Nigeria attains immense world influence and not just continues to survive, lies in the quality of attention leaders pay to the youth. It has become common knowledge how young Nigerians dominate their peers in other climes where they are allowed to showcase their potential. From the global academic/technological space to the creative/entertainment pantheon, Nigerian youths have proven immense capacity over and again. But these are mostly manifest only when they leave the shores of Nigeria. Yet, the country is replete with the highest number of young people in the entire black race, a potent force waiting to transform not just the black race but impact the world in positive ways.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that the energy of the youth population must be harnessed and utilized maximally. It is trite to assert that they are the future of this country. Therefore, the quality of the youth the nation is breeding today will definitely reflect on the adults and leaders of tomorrow.