By Pat Utomi

In Nigeria we love clichès. One hackneyed truism, for example, is the often spewed view that our youth are leaders of tomorrow. In reality, the youth often provide the vision, the energy, and the passion that saves nations adrift today.

Yet when ours brought their worries to the table to confront police brutality they were gunned down by public authority. But the ghost of Endsars still hovers over us. The truth through the prism of my goggles is that a nation that does not nourish its youth forecloses the possibilities of a great future and blocks opportunity for the current halt of a slide.

I recall the slide of the United States of America in the late 1970s when I lived there and inflation climbed to unheard-of levels like 29%. Upstart Japanese companies were overtaking great American giants whether it be Canon on Xerox, Toyota versus General Motors, Komatsu battling Caterpillar, and so on.

On campuses, young people polished their CVs but not too many were coming to recruit. All this led to the victory of an ageing Ronald Reagan over incumbent President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Presidential elections.

Gauntlet

Reagan unleashed the spirit of America and its youth picked up the gauntlet. I returned to Nigeria in 1982 and went back to visit the US not long after. Instead of working on their CVs in March for job interviews, seniors, or final year undergraduates, as we call them here were crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s on their business plans and hoping to be billionaires by their 26th birthday. The youth of America had created a new economy and the .com explosion revived the American economy.

In many ways the Nigerian youth are denied the shoulders other societies make available to their youth, to stand on to see the future more clearly and brutalized when they look to speak up, manage to still make an impact. The grand hooks of the economy today, the Tech space which has attracted much foreign investment and may attract more than three billion dollars this year, the entertainment industry, both Nollywood and Music, which have kept Nigeria from dropping off the world map have come from the young. Imagine therefore what can happen if we have forward-looking policies that inspire the young to be the best they can be.

My friends in the alternative party track movement have spent much time discussing youth policy. The position I have offered for starters is that if we were to form a government next year 55 per cent of the cabinet will be women and young men and women under the age of 44.

Consensus is also emerging that the policy monitoring teams will be dominated by young people under 40. Funds to drive investment opportunities for young people would also be stimulated.

I have also proposed the idea of youth development centres to develop in tripartite partnerships with NGOs and the private sector. These centres will offer a combination of entertainment, learning, information access, library, and job placement centres with high-speed internet connectivity. The concept builds on and expands the Canadian model and will be a required fixture in Town Planning. They will be the new village square of the 21st century and places of culture.

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Consultation

Consultation with young people, through their representatives and in Town Hall meetings will become an established part of Governmental processes in the post-PDP/APC era expectedly come in 2023. The logic is simple.

If I began to have meetings at the Ministerial level as a 19-year-old student leader, causing Foreign Minister to come to UNN and brief us on Nigeria’s Foreign policy issues when Nigeria was considered a frontline state in the struggle for the liberation of Southern Africa in 1975/76 why to show the next generation not to have more access than that.

The public sphere must be touched up to allow young people the chance to exhale earlier in their formation.

I have spoken publicly before about a conversation I had with General Alani Akinrinade shortly after Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France at 39. He noted that young people in Nigeria were pointing to trends in France, Austria, Scandinavia and elsewhere where young leaders were emerging and pointed out that most of those emerging young leaders were groomed in the Students Union movement.

Such opportunities were no more there, the General lamented, as there had been in my time. He blamed the Military and politicians for destroying the Student Union movement in trying to prevent any voice of opposition without thought to the damage that shortsighted approach was doing to youth talent development. I could not quarrel with the stout point the General had made.

For many years and more formally since 2004 when I founded the Centre for Values in Leadership I have committed much time, energy and goodwill to building up leadership prowess in young people.

A change of leadership guard must bring with it new thinking about Students Unions and a policy of not interfering or meddling in Students Union affairs.

Incentives to encourage voluntarism and the strengthening of youth leadership organizations like the Boys scouts will aid very much in the reversal of the collapse of culture that currently afflicts Nigeria.

I put these views forward as a simple teacher with an audacious vision for a great nation, a Nigeria whose youth is the anchor of future peace and prosperity as we invest in their education and health so that they are human capital not statistics of a time bomb waiting to explode.

Utomi, a political economist and founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership, is a former presidential candidate and leader of the NCFront.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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