By Joyce Daniels
WHILE we have abundant energy resources in crude oil and gas, I believe the energy that will power Nigeria into a prosperous future will come from her teeming, vibrant youths. However, despite its enterprise, energy and dynamism, this generation of the Nigerian youths may not see the change it wants without the knowledge of how Nigeria’s political system works and actively participate in it.
Nigeria, the most populous black nation, is home to around 200 million people with an annual population growth of 2.61 percent. Currently, over 33.6 million (16.8 percent) Nigerians are regarded as youths (aged between 15 and 35). However, according to statistics, about 43.69 percent of Nigeria’s total population were aged 0 to 14 in 2019. This means that in the nearest future, the youth will increasingly form the bulk of the country’s population as children grow older into young adults.
While there is a natural growth trend in the number of young people in Nigeria, there isn’t a natural growth of opportunities for them. In fact, statistics show a worrisome escalation in the rate of unemployment. According to Quartz Africa, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has more than tripled in the last five years. Combined with grossly inadequate physical infrastructure, rising inflation and a political system that cannot ensure justice and inclusion, Nigeria’s youth unemployment problem portends a bleak future with millions of angry, frustrated youths.
However, despite these facts, not everything is bleak about the prospects of the Nigerian youth. Though encumbered by nuances of socio-political and economic issues, many young Nigerians are rising above their challenges and creating opportunities for themselves. Nigerian youths are innovative and resilient, and if given the opportunities, will excel in any field of endeavour. Across the country especially in Lagos, young people are engaging in enterprises and creating small and micro-businesses with many of these providing solutions on a small to medium scale.
According to the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Nigeria’s over 37.07 million MSMEs account for more than 84 per cent jobs in the country. They also account for about 48.5 per cent of the gross domestic product, GDP, as well as about 7.27 per cent of goods and services exported out of the country. This shows that irrespective of their circumstances, young Nigerians are willing to work and create something to lift themselves out of poverty.
Young people are putting innovative ideas to work, leveraging on the opportunity provided by the internet to get access to information and collaboration with others across the globe. A good example is the fintech company, Paystack, founded by Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, which was acquired last month by Stripe for $200 million.
Another remarkable symbol the Nigerian youth’s ingenuity is Nollywood, the world’s third largest movie industry, built without government assistance and without foreign investments until recently. With small pieces of equipment that the world thought belonged to amateurs, young Nigerians are able to make blockbusters for the consumption of the entire African continent and beyond.
While many young Nigerians are rising above their economic challenges through innovation, technology, and enterprise they continue to be hampered by a repressive political and security system that has stifled their freedom. In their bid to forcefully effect a positive change, Nigerian youths across the country recently trooped out to protest atrocities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, and other forms of police brutality. While this unprecedented demand for justice and accountability was met by a high handedness on the part of the authorities, it has shown Nigerian youths how strong our voices can be if we speak out in unity.
With the #EndSARS movement, Nigerian youths have shattered some of the stereotypes they had been labelled with and shown the world they are capable of instigating real change. As a young Nigerian myself and a long-term advocate of positive change, I can confidently say that Nigerian youths have found their voices and they are ready to use this in unison. However, building the future that we want will entail us participating more in the political process beyond economic liberation and political activism. We must learn how the system works so we can change it systematically. This is something I am currently actively engaged in.
There are a number of arguments against youth participation in Nigerian politics as currently constituted. For one, it seems quite difficult to participate in mainstream politics today and remain untainted with corruption due to the high cost of running political campaigns and the patronage system that breeds godfathers and political stooges. There are also examples of younger politicians that have become controversial to many young people in recent times, including a former actor and Lagos legislator who drew the ire of Lagos youths over his support for a clampdown on free speech in social media.
Nevertheless, political participation does not only mean joining the major parties or running for a position but also actively taking a stand and choosing a candidate during elections. Up until the #EndSARS protests Nigerian youths have been labelled as politically aloof, leaving politics to mostly people of the older generations yet clamouring for change. Political participation also entails understanding Nigeria’s laws and her history. As calls grow for the emergence of a youthful political leader not affiliated with the current mainstream politicians, the need for a political and historical sensitisation for millions of youths who will support such candidate has become pertinent.
Every successful movement in world history started with an ideological sensitisation of a critical mass by a few outliers. Since history stopped being a subject in schools during the military era, many young Nigerians have lost interest in learning about their country. This is why every young person with extensive influence including celebrities, social media influencers and journalists should begin to use their platforms to get youths to understand the Nigerian constitution and history, and be engaged in constructive discussions about critical issues of the day. Using my platform as a speaker, I have started a webinar series on ‘Understanding the Nigerian Constitution’, with renowned lawyers breaking down critical aspects of our constitution on every episode to drive it home for our youths.
Despite what we have achieved with the constitutional series, I know there is more to be done. Most Nigerian youths look up to one celebrity or the other as a role model. This is why I will be starting a new virtual talk show themed ‘Driving it Home’. During the programme, I will host other socially and politically conscious celebrities to analyse and explain major issues of the times to the public.
The new series will serve as a vehicle for sensitizing and educating the teeming Nigerian youths who are social media savvy and are yearning for opportunities and change. We must now begin to learn about our past and study our present so as to gather enough lessons for the future.