In today’s time and age, at 72, President Buhari would more than likely have a generational challenge with the concept of youth development. In a country like Nigeria where the notion of ‘youth’ in itself has been abused, misused and disused, it becomes even more difficult to situate real youth development within the context of governance intervention and socio-economic development.
There are about 68 million Nigerian youths and to put that in context, it is about twice the population of Ghana; more than the population of South Africa and bigger than the entire population of the United Kingdom. If the Nigerian youth population were to constitute a nation, it would be the fourth biggest in Africa and the 19th largest in the world.
If there is one thing that successive governments and policy makers agree on, it is the fact that Nigeria is gifted with enormous youth potential. According to an independent research by the British Council, by 2030, “Youth, not oil, will be Nigeria’s greatest asset”. However, it has also been warned that Nigeria’s huge demographic advantage could easily become its demographic disaster if the right investments are not made on a sustainable basis to nurture the youth into responsible and productive adults. In effect, whether Nigeria’s youth would become a resource to be harnessed or a problem to be solved depends on the kind of support they get as they grow from childhood to teenage and to adulthood. This challenge sits at the very heart of youth development in Nigeria.
According to a Central Bank of Nigeria report, about 46 per cent of Nigeria’s 68 million youth population are without jobs. That is about 30 million people! Of the 4.5 million young people that enter into the job market yearly, only 10% are absorbed. Those with secondary school certificates or less make up 80% of the youth unemployment rate. The statistics are indeed grim and none of us is immune from the consequences. We bear the brunt daily in the form of criminal activities and other social delinquencies.
Nigeria has recurrently grappled with the task of breaking the jinx of youth development largely because our governance approach to youth development has been severely limiting. In Nigeria, most government interventions are more closely related to youth management rather than youth development. Without prejudice to some of the credible work undertaken by previous governments in Nigeria, the offices of the special assistants and special advisers on youth both at the state and federal levels are activated only a few months to elections.
Anyone interested in the youth sector should be bothered to know that our Federal Ministry of Youth Development is majorly responsible only for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Whereas, youth corpers account for less than 1% of Nigeria’s youth population, it is appalling to know that 90% of the annual budget of the Federal Ministry of Youth Development is spent on paying the allowances of youth corpers. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
But the way forward is not rocket science. First, Buhari’s government must come to terms with the fact that the Nigerian youth is not asking for too much and that the Nigerian youth is not a problem to be solved but a resource to be harnessed. We have seen the raw energy of creative youth talent mined from the dust and rust of our society and refined into priceless gems and precious stones. We have seen Nigerian youths arise from obscurity into global recognition by sheer dint of enterprise and belief in the power of possibilities. We have seen young Nigerians who ask nothing of their nation but expend their time, talents and resources in the task of nation building. We have seen young Nigerians who have refused to be reduced to mere statistics in unemployment and have become creators of jobs and job opportunities. Such is the spirit that powers the aspirations of the Nigerian youth. Buhari now needs to plug into this raw potential and proceed from where previous administrations stopped.
Second, Buhari should resist the urge for radical shake-ups that will make news headlines but amount to little in real terms of development. Rather, his policy focus on youth development should be reform-oriented. In 2001, under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Federal Government of Nigeria produced a National Youth Policy. The document, in spite of its defectiveness in certain areas, was designed to serve as a comprehensive blueprint for youth development. The policy provides for a periodic 4-year review to keep up with the emerging dynamics of youth development. Buhari will need to consult that document widely and ensure a thorough implementation of its objectives. There is no point re-inventing the wheel.
Third, youth development without adequate investment is a mirage. This brings me to the Federal Ministry of Youth Development and why Buhari must refocus the ministry from three critical perspectives; leadership, funding and purpose. For a start, the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Youth Development is not the type Buhari should play politics with. A competent young Nigerian technocrat who understands the dynamics of youth development needs to be assigned to man that ministry. Arguably, the only minister Nigeria has been lucky to have in the youth ministry – a real technocrat who understands the issues, was Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi who designed the Youth Employment Programme (YEP), midwifed the YouWIN process, set up the first ever youth engagement platform in Sub-Saharan Africa using the social media and carried out Nigeria’s first ever NYSC reforms all within a period of 12 months, before he was re-assigned to the Sports Ministry.
That the Ministry of Youth Development needs to be adequately funded to discharge its responsibilities to the Nigerian youth is non-negotiable. You cannot fund youth development in Nigeria with 90% of the ministry’s budget going to the NYSC alone. That is unacceptable! Also, the ministry must be empowered with a set of goals and objectives that are clearly articulated in order to avoid confusion in its operational direction. From experience, working in the Youth Development ministry as a ministerial aide, the ministry will serve Nigerian youths better as a facilitator of youth development interventions across sectors, from Agriculture to ICT to sports etc rather than as a service-providing agency of government.
The absence of a strategic framework for inter-ministerial collaboration is another challenge in our nation’s youth development effort. The National Youth Policy acknowledges and assigns important responsibilities to the Federal Ministries of Education, Women Affairs and Sports. A cohesive collaborative strategy must be in place for these ministries and relevant agencies to discharge their responsibilities appropriately without the risk of duplicity.
Let us take a look at the NYSC. Mr. President, I am not one of those who believe the NYSC should be scrapped. As we have it, the NYSC provides an opportunity to properly equip about 250,000 future leaders of Nigeria annually, as ethical, principled, hardworking, and entrepreneurial citizens. The NYSC can be transformed into a desirable experience that drives national economic growth. Under a sustained credible and competent leadership, NYSC can be retooled to harness the power of youths towards national competitiveness and increase in rural growth and development among many other possibilities.
Conclusively, it is instructive to note that previous administrations have put in place initiatives, structures and systems that are laudable. One remarkable effort is the YouWIN business plan competition. Tokenistic as critics have described it, it can be refocused and rescaled for higher impact. Buhari must keep politics aside, prioritize country and look into continuity and consolidation, not cancellation.
In setting up a coherent, concise and cohesive youth development agenda, President Buhari has a lot of inspiration to draw from the words of former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disreali who said; “The youth are the trustees of a nation’s prosperity.”
Ohimai Amaize is a former Ministerial Aide at the Federal ministries of Youth Development, Sports, Defence and Foreign Affairs.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.