Yemi Adamolekun: The angry young Nigerian

Unfortunately, for those in government, they see social media as the enemy, not as a platform to engage and receive constructive criticism. Then again, you would only care about constructive criticism if you actually want feedback.

Every other week, this column will introduce a young Nigerian and give him or her the opportunity to express views on governance and public policy issues that matter to their generation which, by the way constitutes more than 70 per cent of our population. It is my singular honour to present ‘Yemi Adamolekun, one of the leading lights of “Enough is Enough” ( EiE made groundbreaking contributions in mobilising people to register and vote in the last general election.

Yemi and her colleagues coined the slogan – RSVP – Register, Select, Vote and Protect back in 2009. She writes today about the anger of the young Nigerian. In another fortnight, we hope to introduce another passionate young Nigerian and his or her perspectives.

The numbers tell the story. It is not news that the average young Nigerian is angry and in most cases, hungry. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 60 per cent of Nigerians live on less than $1 (~N160) a day. Though problematic, Nigeria’s minimum wage law provides this standard of living: N600/day = N18,000/month = N216,000/year. However, for those living in poverty, this is their reality: N160/day = N4,800/month = N57,600/year.

The National Youth Policy defines a Nigerian youth as someone between the ages of 18 and 35. Per the 2006 census, 50 per cent of Nigerians were between 18 and 35. According to the National Population Council, there are 167 million Nigerians as of July 2012. If we assume the ratio has stayed the same, there are approximately 83.5 million Nigerians in this age bracket. The Africa Economic Outlook 2012 estimates that Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate is 37.7 per cent. In reality, the rate is probably higher. So, little surprise that young Nigerians are angry and hungry when 31 million of them are jobless!

A report released by ‘The Next Generation Nigeria Task Force’ – convened by the British Council in 2010 – highlights the unique position Nigeria finds itself with its demographic spread, stating:

If Nigeria fails to collect its demographic dividend, the seriousness of the country’s predicament should not be underestimated. Its prospects will be bleak and could be catastrophic. … In the worst case, Nigeria will see: growing numbers of restless young people frustrated by lack of opportunity; increased competition for jobs, land, natural resources, and political patronage; cities that are increasingly unable to cope with the pressures placed on them; ethnic and religious conflict and radicalisation;and a political system discredited by its failure to improve lives.

The Ministry of Youth Development was established in February 2007 with a mandate to “promote the physical, mental and socio-economic development of Nigerian youth through the advancement and protection of their rights within the Nigerian state, the promotion of their welfare and provision of opportunities for their self-actualization.” With six ministers in five years, the revolving door has produced policy inconsistencies and flip-flops.

Bolaji Abdullahi was appointed Minister in June 2011. By the time he was ‘promoted’ to Sports in May 2012, he had drawn up a new blueprint for NYSC, set up a new website and actively maintained a social media presence to engage his constituency. In the three months since Inuwa Abdul-Kadir was appointed minister, one is unsure what he plans to do with the beleaguered NYSC and the Ministry’s social media presence has died. Even the website was not functional for a few weeks. How can we expect to institutionalise change when the government gives no time to policy implementation and removing one man grinds a whole programme to a halt?

From YouWin! to incentives in agriculture, the Federal Government is trying to increase opportunities for self-employment to young Nigerians, though tax and regulatory obstacles remain unresolved. In the 2012 Budget, N1.6 billion has been allocated for youth employment, but the Youth Ministry is yet to unveil its plans. The Ministry’s 2012 budget is N76 billion. Of this amount, N70 billion (92%) is allocated to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which trains about 250,000 young Nigerians every year.

In summary, 0.3 per cent of young Nigerians spend 92 per cent of the budget meant for young Nigerians. This parallels the discovery Mrs Oby Ezekwesili made as Minister of Education when she realised that about 80 per cent of the Federal Ministry of Education’s budget and over 85 per cent of the Ministry’s staff resources were being spent on the management of the 102 unity schools, which had only 120,718 students and 27,200 staff members out of a total national population of 6.4 million secondary school students. This alone is enough to make any sane person angry!

Amplified Voices

Despite the many shortcomings of government in addressing our concerns, this demography continues to adapt and innovate; keeping abreast with global developments in technology. With the penetration of mobile phones and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, this generation has taken to tweeting and blogging about its fears, successes, frustrations, disappointments, and yes, its anger.

Unfortunately, for those in government, they see social media as the enemy, not as a platform to engage and receive constructive criticism. Then again, you would only care about constructive criticism if you actually want feedback.  Our rulers do not want feedback and are very used to traditional media where traffic is uni-directional. With social media, people talk back! And, no, it is not a small population of the educated elite who have these opinions.

Most Nigerians feel short-changed by government and believe government is not working, but what social media does is amplify voices. For traditional media, you need to know someone to get an article published or have money to pay for an advertorial. With social media, all you need is a mobile phone and some credit for a data package and people from Kaduna to Brazil will know exactly why you think the Federal Government’s Cassava Policy is a joke or follow you as you track the supposed fuel subsidy savings. Nigeria’s cyberspace is highly critical, but what else would one expect from an angry generation? At least the anger is being channelled in a public and relatively controlled medium.

Technology has given this generation a voice and we are using it actively. Now, we have to use it wisely! From the Minister of Information to the Senate President, to Mr President, all have acknowledged the power of these platforms to spread information quickly (false and true) and galvanise a people to action. From the Enough is Enough March 2010 protest to the National Assembly to the January 2012 country-wide protests on government waste triggered by the fuel subsidy removal, people are plugging in to get educated.

Let us break down the numbers. As of July 2012, there were five million Nigerians (in Nigeria) on Facebook. Assume 200,000 of them become more educated and aware-based on the information they learn online and each person influences five people in their network (not necessarily online), who then influence another five people. Imagine the exponential growth and the Facebook population is not stagnant!

What Next?

This Nigeria is our reality; not our desire. No one seems fundamentally interested in handing over a functional Nigeria to the next generation and since Waiting for Godot is not an option, not only must we demand that they make this country work, we must also be willing to get involved to ensure our demographic strength is to our advantage, not our destruction. A few options are before us:

  • Financiers: “If Nigeria’s younger and more politically conscious elite really want to change the face of politics in Nigeria; they will do well to speak louder in the only way Nigerian politics knows to listen; money. … An influx of private money strategically and surreptitiously employed to counter corrupt public money to support the campaigns of better qualified candidates.” – Iyin Aboyeji. One can be singularly focused on amassing enough wealth to have a voice. Ask Dangote. Financial support is needed for candidates and advocacy campaigns.
  • Advocates (Civil Society): There will always be a role for those on the outside looking in to provide checks & balances.
  • Politicians: Our numbers as a voting bloc can be used to get serious people into positions. Young people should join political parties – run for office or support as strategists, campaign managers, mobilisers etc.
  • Media: As writers – investigative and analytical pieces. As owners of the medium – all news platforms have a slant. More platforms are needed to educate the population especially through radio.
  • Intellectuals: Policy makers – you can either consult from the outside or be appointed as a technocrat.
  • Civil Servants: Government programmes are only as good as the people who execute them. We must return to the days when being a civil servant was a role of service discharged with passion, honour and integrity. We all can’t want to work in the private sector and expect miracles in the public sector.

How will you make your mark?

Mr. President’s administration can shout the word ‘transformation’ till they are black and blue, however, as summarised in the British Council Report, “The next generation can make a huge contribution to Nigeria’s future, but if its potential is not harnessed, it will become an increasingly disruptive force.”


*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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