“we have powerful potential in youth and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power towards good.” If the events of the past few weeks have taught us any lesson, it would be that Nigerian youths now constitute a powerful voice that can no longer be ignored. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo is one of those who believe this. A major challenge for Nigeria as a nation, however, is whether this ‘youth energy’ is being properly channelled: is it being used for a positive or negative cause? The answer is as controversial as the question itself. However, the truth is that open dialogue, not open confrontation, holds the solutions to the myriad of challenges confronting the Nigerian youths.
To isolate the youths from the critical process of political decision making is to create a recipe for disaster, and this is why the recent interface between the Vice President and the Young Parliamentarians Forum (YPF) couldn’t have come at a better time. During the visit, Osibanjo acknowledged that “there are indeed important issues to be addressed” and noted the crucial place of youths who are “not just a demography but they are in the majority”. The Vice President right concluded that “what we need to do for that the vast majority is what we must do for our country: we must find a way so they are represented as effectively as possible.”
All over the world, the incorporation of the youths into society’s governing structure has become the norm and Nigeria shouldn’t be an exception. The misdirection of the EndSARS movement and subsequent mindless looting of public infrastructure is a warning and also a pointer to the fact that if the energy of the average Nigerian youth is not channelled towards a positive cause, their negative energy may consume us all. We are all now aware that you cannot build a country in isolation of the youths.
Interestingly, most Nigerian youths do not expect the government to solve all of their problems. The least they should expect is periodic engagement by the leaders. In other words, the government should not just sympathize with them but also empathize with them. An opportunity for this presented itself during the protest against police brutality and the Vice President did his best through active engagement on social media. He made the youths understand that their agitation was just and also showed that the government was listening to their voices, that their concerns were being taken into account, and that steps are being taken to implement their demands.
Going forward, Nigeria’s political outlook should be a government for the youths, by the youths and for the youths. Incorporating the youths into the governing structure of the country is now a must. Youthful inclusion should not only be in politics. Beyond rhetoric, deliberate attempt must be made must be made to include youth in political decision making. This is no longer an option but an imperative because, as Osibanjo said, the youths are the vast majority and must be included in the vital process of political decision making that affect their lives.
The neglect of the problems and concerns of the Nigerian youths predates the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The only difference is that the youths are no longer voiceless and we don’t need another dosage of the ENDSARS movement to understand the average Nigerian youth is aggrieved. A lot is clearly wrong, but it won’t be fair to assume that the current administration is not doing its best through social interventions deliberately targeted at ameliorating the sufferings of the youth. Records available chronicle the Buhari administration’s efforts since 2016.
In March 2016 the N10 billion Youths Entrepreneurship Support (YES) project was launched through the Bank of Industry to empower youth with loans to start businesses. In June 2016, the N-POWER scheme was launched to address the issues of youth unemployment and help increase social development. December 2016 saw restructuring of the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN Connect) to connect young entrepreneurs to local and international markets in order to expand their businesses.
The year 2017 began with the January launch of The MSME Clinics for owners of small/medium-scale businesses to easily access business solutions. Beneficiaries of these clinics included young entrepreneurs. In April 2018 Osinbajo toured tech start-ups across the country, some of which include Ventures Platform, CC-Hub, Andela, Flutterwave, Farmcrowdy, and Paystack amongst others. In June 2018, the N-tech software scheme was set up under N-Power to train 10,000 software developers for the local and international software development market. In July 2018 Osinbajo visited Silicon Valley and Hollywood where he spoke with global industry leaders in information technology and entertainment and pitched Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. In the same month, the Vice President met with Google CEO Sundar Pichai where he discussed how the Federal Government and Google could collaborate and enhance the utilization of digital technology in Nigeria. Barely a month after the meeting, Google launched its Google Station in Nigeria for youth to take advantage of recent technological innovations across the globe. In June 2019, the Central Bank, in collaboration with the Bankers’ Committee, set up a Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI) as part of efforts to boost job creation for the youth with focus on fashion, information technology, movie and music.
Unarguably the year of uncertain manifestations, 2020 saw the government setting up the MSME Survival Fund under the Economic Sustainability Plan to enable vulnerable MSMEs to meet their financial obligations and in turn, safeguard jobs in the economy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September 2020 the payroll support was launched under the MSME Survival Fund to assist small/medium scale businesses and self-employed youth meet their financial needs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2020, the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme (P-YES) was launched to create 774,000 jobs across the local government areas in the country. In the same month, the administration began payment of N30,000 one-time grant to 330,000 artisans across the country under the Artisan Support Scheme As part of the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan. Also in October, the Federal Government launched the formalization support scheme where 250,000 MSMEs will get free registration of their business names under the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the N75 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) for youths with solid entrepreneurial ideas to be able to get affordable loans and start their businesses.
Clearly, this government has made deliberate efforts to ameliorate Nigerian youths’ sufferings through social intervention. This question, however, persists: has enough been done? If these interventions are anything to measure then we can conveniently say the path with the Nigerian youths have been mutual and beneficial. Notwithstanding, a lot more needs to be done to improve the lot of our youths and undo decades of bad governance.