By Ben Edokpayi
Recently, along with Eyobong Ita, a former Vanguard staff and president of the US-based National Association of African Journalists, I attended a campaign rally in Akamkpa, Cross River State where it was refreshing, for a change, to hear politicians talk about strengthening the youth of the nation.

The highlight of the rally was the speech by Cross River State Governor Liyel Imoke, during which he spent time focusing on how to empower the youths of the nation.

“The time has come for youths to stop saying I go vote for the person wey go give me fifty thousand or twenty thousand naira,” he cautioned the rapt audience of about 4,000 locals.

Having attended another quasi -political forum tagged “Solemn Assembly”, a few weeks earlier in Uyo, in which the presiding minister described politicians as masquerades; it was refreshing to hear a high-profile politico talk passionately in Akamkpa about empowering the youths as well as encouraging them to shun any negativity in the upcoming presidential and gubernatorial elections.

I did not know whether to believe Governor Liyel Imoke, but he seemed to be speaking from his heart, as he urged the youths of the state to shun violence.

Ironically, the home of Gershom Bassey, one of the candidates (for Senate) for which the PDP rally in Akamkpa was held, was recently attacked by unknown gunmen in an assassination attempt. Fortunately, he survived unscathed because he wasn’t home.

“The person wey you carry knife or gun for, he go enter office siddon well, well,” Imoke cautioned during the Akamkpa rally, adding that “the future depends on you the young ones… no matter who give you weapon for elections, tell the person na lie… Don’t allow anybody deceive you.”

Indeed, anywhere you go in the world you often hear that the “future lies with our youths.” Realistically, that’s the way it should be.

But for Nigeria where the National Population Commission indicates that about half of the nation’s 168 million populace is made up of youth, the country is looking at a very bleak future if the commitment toward empowering the youth doesn’t change.

From what I have observed in the last few months, I have never seen a demographic group so marginalized and disillusioned as I have seen here among Nigeria’s youth. In fact it is a recipe for disaster if the politicians do not realize that reversing the trend in favor of the nation’s youth is crucial, because as the saying goes an “idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

We are not just talking about idle minds here, but investing in demographic groups that realistically should comprise the majority of the country’s workforce.

In a recent research paper for the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative, Professor Tunji Akande of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), showed how serious and endemic the issues of marginalization and unemployment is among the nation’s youth, especially those between ages 15 and 34.

According to him, “deficient school curricula and poor teacher training have contributed to the failure of educational institutions to provide their students the appropriate skills to make them employable. Since schools in rural areas are generally more deficient in infrastructure, teaching facilities and teacher quality than schools in urban areas, this may help account for the high growth in rural unemployed youth. In fact, some experts suggest that the major jump in rural youth unemployment …could be due to the mass failure in national examinations conducted among final-year secondary school students in 2010, which made many of them unemployable in 2011.”

His research paper also emphasized the fact that “there is a lack of vibrant industries to absorb competent graduates.”

So in reality we have a national crisis with our youth, especially when you consider that no one really has a good grasp of the correct unemployment statistics which could be anywhere from 30 percent as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated in 2013, and/or upwards.

We only need to reflect on the sad tale of last year’s National Immigration Service recruitment tragedy, where at least 16 job seekers were trampled or suffocated to death in a nationwide recruitment drive for 4,000 positions (that attracted millions of applicants across the country), to understand how dire the unemployment situation is nationwide.If it were in some other climes, that singular event would have galvanized serious soul searching and action in the programs targeting our youth and the unemployed.

But in Nigeria, business continues as usual.

In fact I think next to insecurity and the economy it is my humble opinion that the two presidential candidates should make initiatives for empowering the nation’s youth a major campaign objective because we are talking about the development of human capital for the sustenance of the nation now and in the future.

It is difficult to imagine that compulsory child education, the first building block to making all of our youths relevant for the future, has not been enforced through compliance with the free Universal Basic Education (Act) of 2004. According to recent reports, “the federal government contributed N238 billion to the fund from 2005 to 2013. However, due to the failures of some state governments to access the fund, the sum of N49.9 billion is lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”

Speaking recently about good governance on a TVC program, my good friend Femi Falana, succinctly framed this complex topic when he said “The common man does not go to court, he does not have the economic wherewithal to go to court, and when the common man is offended he leaves his fate in the hands of the almighty God, and that is why the common man often says “God Dey.”

But it is about time that the common man and our youths graduate from saying “God Dey” to “Government Dey”.

That’s the way it should be.


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