The belief that youths are the leaders of tomorrow is a universal concept and the belief propels countries across the world to pay serious attention to youth development programmes, while funding them appropriately.
The Federal Government has demonstrated this conviction in the last 50 years by recognising the pivotal role of youths in nation-building process. It had also implemented youth development programmes via a multi-sectoral approach.
Analysts have commended the government for establishing the Federal Ministry of Youth Development, which initiates, coordinates and implements youth development policies and schemes in the country.
Prof. Benjamin Osisioma of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, says that the youths represent the most tangible investment that any country can have.
“The strength of our armies, the virility of our workforce, the resilience of our national values, the skill and dexterity of the professional class; all depend on the quality of our youths,” he says.
“It is upon their number and quality that the future of any nation depends. It will be a tragic mistake to neglect or ignore the youths,” says Osisioma, a professor of political science. Observers say that successive administrations in Nigeria have been mindful of the need to undertake youth development programmes, as they have consistently instigated purposeful policies to improve the welfare of Nigerian youths.
Mr Maltimore Mojekwu, a political analyst, recalls that the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973 by the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon was one of the innovative schemes initiated by the government to foster unity among Nigerian youths.
“The NYSC scheme has made some appreciable impact in fostering unity, understanding and integration among Nigerians. The scheme has helped corps members to understand the language and cultures of other people in the country,” he says.
Mojekwu also recalls that the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme of the military regime of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo also encouraged Nigerian youths to participate more meaningfully in agriculture, although the programme was haphazardly implemented.
“The Obasanjo-administration did a lot to give the youths a voice in the decision-making process, especially through his establishment of the National Youth Council and the Youth Parliament,” he says.
Besides, Mojekwu says that the establishment of the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, also known as the “Man 0′ War”, with various centres across the country had assisted in equipping the youths with good citizenship and leadership skills, in efforts to enhance national development.
The university don adds that the establishment of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), the Peoples’ Bank and the National Movement for Mass Mobilisation (MAMSER) during Gen. Ibrahim Babandida’s administration also contributed toward youth development.
Mojekwu notes that the NDE has promoted skills acquisition among the youths, particularly young graduates, while the defunct People’s Bank then granted soft loans to the youths.
“In spite of the difficulty in obtaining loans due to the constraints brought about by collateral requirements, the programmes had helped the youths to engage themselves in productive endeavours,” he says.
Mojekwu observes that successive Nigerian governments were determined to achieve the objectives of their programmes, adding, however, that poor funding hindered the fulfillment of many of the programmes.
“One characteristic of Nigerian politics is that whenever one administration leaves, its policies are often abandoned by the succeeding administration.
“Most of these programmes are borrowed from civilised nations and if they are properly funded, their objectives would be achieved,” Mojekwu says.
Mr Greg Onugbolu, the Director of Youth Development in Anambra State’s Ministry of Youth and Sports, believes that the Nigerian Civil War (1967 -1970) negatively affected the development of youths in the country.
He says that immediately after the war, Nigerian youths shifted their attention to the burgeoning oil sector, jettisoning agriculture, which was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy before the war.
“The civil war destroyed agriculture in Nigeria. Immediately after the war, concerted emphasis was placed on petroleum and this unwittingly aided the destruction of the spirit of hard work in the youths.
“The youths abandoned farming and groundnut pyramids disappeared in the North, while cocoa and palm oil production nose-dived in the South, as the focus of the entire nation was on the massive wealth from crude oil.
“Along the line, the money from the crude oil diminished and this created distortions in the national economy. Many people lost their jobs and became unemployed.
“At that time, the people’s orientation had changed and it became difficult for youths to go back to agriculture,” he says.
Onugbolu, however, commends the Federal Government for establishing a Youth Development Centre in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country.
“What I saw at the Oshogbo centre when I visited there shows that the Federal Government is now beginning to understand pragmatic ways of enhancing youth development.
“This shows that emphasis has been shifted from paper work or mere policymaking to implementation of realistic youth development projects,” he says.
Onugbolu stresses that if the youths are exposed to skills acquisition schemes, the current high rate of unemployment in the country will be reduced.
“But I still believe that youth development has not been taken seriously by the other tiers of governments simply because they do not understand what the concept of youth development is all about.
“Today in most states of the federation, youth development offices are still part of various ministries as an appendage.
“The problem still remains with virtually all the state governments, as they have yet to adopt the Federal Government’s initiative by establishing youth centres in their local government areas,” he says.
Onugbolu, however, says that the Anambra State Government is making plans to establish youth centres across the state.
A social commentator, Mr Francis Okoye, says that since 1960 when Nigeria became independent, successive governments had taken pragmatic steps to develop the youths, adding, however, that much still remains to be done.
“A country where its teeming youths, especially the educated ones, remain unemployed, cannot be said to have achieved much in terms of youth development,” he says.
Okoye calls on the government to empower the Nigerian youths through the creation of employment opportunities, so as to stem the high level of insecurity, armed robbery and kidnapping, which have become the order of the day.
Observers say that the government and the citizens of Nigeria should make concerted efforts to promote youth development because the future of the country relies solely on the ability of the youths to spur and manage national development.
Peter writes for NAN.