Nigeria is a country with an estimated population of about 150 million. Those between the ages of 15 and 35 form more than 50 per cent of the total population. These comprise students, employees, workers, farmers and persons from various professions, including the unemployed but educated or otherwise. These young people constitute a large force; they are energetic, enthusiastic and full of zeal.
Unfortunately, a large number of them are without any direction, and we all agree that it is dangerous to allow them remain idle as it would increase their frustration. A larger number of them are capable, devoted, and dedicated to work. Their frustration is as a result of their unemployment status. It is a great national wastage if these energetic hands and brains are not provided with some sort of work to meet the needs of the nation. Nigerian youths have never lagged behind when called upon to meet a challenge. It is the duty of national leaders to mobilize their abilities and provide the youths with a direction.
It is no longer in doubt that the Nigerian youths have enormous strength, power and capability to change the course of direction of a country. They have the capacity to turn around the fortunes of a nation, if given the opportunity to contribute towards national development. Their counterparts elsewhere have helped change governments in their respective countries.
In fact, it was youths of Indonesia who overthrew President Suharto. It was also the massive youth movement in the former Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) that fought and won the battle against the military invasion of their country. The history of Cambodia, Cuba, France and Pakistan provide evidences of the invincible progressive force of the youths. The history of North Africa and the whole of the Middle East cannot be written without mentioning, in significantly bold letters, the role of the youths in triggering national revolt and revolution that has today changed the face of leadership in that part of the world. For instance, the uprising led by youths in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria, among others, brought about democratic rebirth in these countries and forced sit-tight leaders out of power since early 2011.
During the colonial days before the partition of Nigeria, the youths played a very inspiring role in the freedom movement. Even after independence, the power of the youths has not changed. The June 12 agitation was pioneered by the youths. Most of the agitations for equity and justice in Nigeria have been led by the youths across the nation. The agitation of the Ogonis for environmental freedom is being championed by the youths. Egbesu youths fought for the Ijaw nation. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also took up arms against the Federal Government for various reasons, including more political space at the centre and the need to plough back significant oil revenue for the development of the region. And today, the story of Nigeria cannot be complete without reference to that episode. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has also been fuelled by the youths desire to get Ndigbo back into reckoning in all affairs of the nation again. The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) militant wing and the Afenifere were driven by the youths. The Arewa Consultative Assembly could not have made any impact without the zest shown by the northern youths. Even the various ethno-religious violence and agitations, some destructive though and undesirable, had been motivated by youths expression of anger. These have, in no small measure shaped the development process of Nigeria.
The truth is that if we exclude the youths, the rest of the population will comprise old people and children. And these cannot be called the real manpower of any nation. So, I think that if the youths of the country are not galvanised to devote their energies to the task of national reconstruction, the whole manpower of the nation is wasted, and it could take Nigeria hundreds of years to meet up with others who prudently put the energies of their youths into useful purpose.
Of course, the task of nation building is enormous. And at all levels, the role of the youth is vital to achieve success and the objective principles of the state. Now if the youths are assigned responsibilities according to their capacities and capabilities, in a honest and sincere fashion, there is no doubt that they will help transform and change the development pendulum of the nation.
This is because the youths have the energy, time, zeal, determination, resources and creative imagination to achieve new levels of excellence and push the button beyond the ordinary boundaries. And come to think of it: the youths are eager to make name; they want to be famous; they want to break new grounds; they want to change the way things have been done in the past, and re-invent the present in order to give a new meaning to the future. And these in mind, the youths are encouraged to contribute their quota to move the nation forward beyond meeting the aspirations of the mere pedestal of national growth and development.
In any case, whatever the governments, at all levels, do to promote nation-building affects the whole society. And because the youths form the majority of the whole population, the impact is felt more by them. Therefore, any policy or programme aimed at moving the development agenda forward must bear in mind the place of the youths in driving such policies and programmes to logical conclusion.
It is on this basis that I propose an inclusive youth policy that exploits their potentials for the benefit of the nation. It is not difficult to mobilize the youths for nation building. It only takes a serious government with an open heart, transparent and accountability to do what is right.
There are several ways to engage the youths in meaningful endeavours to engineer national development. Of course, a number of schemes, projects, and programmes abound to elicit the total involvement of youths to yield quick and better results in development. Thus, the youths can play a pivotal role in the social-economic regeneration of the society, instead of engaging in vices that stifle development. I think that if the youths are connected with the raising of the level of production in agriculture, a new level of consciousness for better farm yields through improved techniques and proper use of fertilisers and pest control, and food security and sufficiency will be achieved.
On the economic front, the youths desire to make a difference would come to play as they dissipate their energies in moulding public opinion in favour of eradication and prevention of vices, thereby promoting economic development through new investments, employment generation and national economic opportunities. In peace-building, information and communication technology, infrastructure development, war against corruption, industrialisation, innovation and creativity, policy implementation and the mobilisation of national consciousness for development, the youths are veritable engines of success, if properly deployed and engaged.
By enlisting the involvement of the army of youths, the government will have successfully mobilised the idle manpower and saved the nation from falling prey to vices. By employing the youths in some socially useful ventures, the possibilities of violence, unrest and turmoil will be largely minimised. It is, therefore, in the national interest that the youths are attracted towards some sort of development activities. Such involvement would generate a sense of pride and self confidence in them and raise their morale. It will also provoke among them more sense of patriotism, and push their nationalistic outlook beyond limit.
This is the spirit we desire of our youths. And it is only possible with government’s willingness to engage them, and make them contribute to nation-building.
Worlu is a student of Mass Communication of Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.
Glory Chidinma Worlu