Nigerian Youths, Nation Building And The Elusive Tomorrow
Being a lecture delivered as Guest Speaker at an annual lecture organized by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) which took place at the Theodore Idibiye Franscis Auditorium of the Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria on April 3rd 2014
Who is a Youth?
According to Merriam-webster dictionary, Youth is the time of life when one is young; especially the period between childhood and maturity. The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines youth as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 whereas the Nigerian youth policy defines youth as people between the ages of 18 and 35.
By interrogating the definition of youth as advanced by the Nigerian youth policy, it becomes obvious that the policy challenges the dictionary definition of youth by including obvious adults. While it is tempting to ignore this as mere clerical inadequacy, its deeper structural significance on the little expectation placed upon the Nigerian Youth makes it look like a grand scheme to silence that demography of the Nigerian people. Bluntly put, few if any, expect the Nigerian youth to be a serious part of national development.
This is why it is being said that only 20 people can be described as youths out of a total number of 492 currently at the National Conference. It is the reason leaders who led Nigeria in their thirties have been accused of adopting a sit tight attitude even in their 70s and 80s.
Youth lesson from langsyne
At the foundation of the Yoruba kingdom was wisdom, cross-age wisdom.
Oduduwa or Oodua is credited with the establishment of a centralised state at Ife (Falola and Heaton, 2008) which is believed by the Yoruba to be the cradle of life. While the meaning of his name, Oodua, may have cofounded many, particularly Yoruba cinema and home video artists, who erroneously translated it to mean 'Odu lo da iwa' (sacred wisdom aided the creation of good manners), I have argued that an etymological interrogation of his name 'Oodua' within the context of the surviving indigenous variants of the Yoruba language, spoken by the people of Ife, Ekiti, Ijesha, Akure and even Benin, suggests that Oodua means sacred wisdom led to the creation or establishment of a dominion or a kingdom (odu da uha - Oodua). The definitive part to examine is the suffix 'uha' which depicts royalty, throne, dominion or by extension kingdom in those indigenous variants. Similar names like Adesua (Ekiti and Benin), Ogunsua (Ilesha, Ife, Ekiti and Akure), Uha Ogoga (Akure) etc can help the audience. Crucial to this discussion however is what transpired in a parallel narrative regarding the founding of the kingdom of Ife. Oral tradition says that the roles of Youths was so significant at the founding of Ife that the Yoruba for all eternity commemorated that significance with the popular saying, omode gbon agba gbon l'afi da Ile Ife - meaning the wisdom of Youths combined with the wisdom of elders made the founding of Ife possible.
Take note of the important points though: wisdom was central to the founding of Ife. Wisdom of Youths and Elders - in fact, wisdom of Youths first (if we consider the literal order) then elders! Sacred wisdom was not exclusive to elders of the land.
The pertinent question is whether the Nigerian youths have measured up to the history making standard set by those Ife youths of yore? This is not a blame game. For a youth to produce history changing results in the development of a town or a country, such a youth must first acquire the primary or essentials qualities that can become pivotal to such changes.
Today, the quality of minds on display by countless youths in Cyberspace, in their contributions to serious issues of national significance, often betray crass ignorance, and at some extreme, utter laziness. From personal abuses to curses, the average youth seems in a race for the trophy for degeneracy. It strongly indicates that there is indeed a need to radically revamp the education process to help develop the mind rather than merely turning up school leavers or graduates.
What should be done
Tomorrow will remain elusive to the Nigerian Youth unless concerted and deliberate effort is geared towards the embrace of excellence by the youth. There is no substitute to developing the mind and there is no better way to do this than through personal efforts targeted at improving one's mind. Most of what is required to improve one's acumen are already available in specific types of books. Read! Probe! Think!
Become skilful at something and ensure you know a small bit of every other thing. Trust in God but don't ask God to do for you what you can do for yourself. God is not your maid!
Agitate, not just for youth but for the overall wellbeing of the country. Agitating for youths or for women only further polarise the divides and ensure the greater interest of everyone remain out of focus. Often, what afflicts the youth also afflicts elders, women and any other group.
Don't spend one day extra beyond your graduation date meddling in the affairs of Youth organizations such as NANS. It robs the polity of needed enthusiastic and fiery 'youth' energy when young folks who ought to be aspiring to become the next big thing as entrepreneurs, researchers, or the next lawmakers in the House of Assembly turn themselves into cheap mobilising tools for politicians on the platform of NANS. Allow extant or bonafide students to manage the affairs of NANS. If politics appeals to you, then go and join real political parties and contribute your energy at that level. If you permanently stunt your individual socio political evolution by remaining 'NANS Youths' perpetually even at 30 or 40, how then do you blame someone for taking your place in the oil ministry at 75? How then do you unleash your incredible youthful energy in solving serious national or business challenges for the benefit of the Nigerian people so that you can earn a bragging right?
Benjamin Disraeli famously stated that "the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity". This is an axiom. But in the Nigerian context, that can only happen if they prepare themselves and are willing to outsmart the tides that conspire against them.
So I ask you, how knowledgeable are you in the critical issues that militate against us as a people? What would happen if suddenly opportunities are trusted upon you whether in your youth or as an adult? Would you be a harbinger of rapid change like Prof. Peter Adeniyi (when he led FUTA)? Would you know what to do with raw power as El Rufai demonstrated as FCT Minister with the reclaim of the Abuja Master Plan? Would you challenge the system as Dora Akunyili did at NAFDAC? Would you be capable of confronting the establishment as Ribadu did at EFCC? Would you wrought rapid change as Rotimi Amaechi did with those 250 mega schools? Would you be able to introduce reforms in food production as Akinwumi Adesina is doing or confront the roads as Godswill Akpabio has been reputed to be doing in Akwa Ibom? Or would you just grab the chance, go to your new exalted office and loot, loot and loot? Or simple go to such places and sleep, sleep and sleep? Any capability you wrought in leadership would be a product of how you have moulded your life as a youth.
Finally, for Nigeria as a nation, there is an immediate need for a paradigm shift in the nation's school curriculum for proper and reliable or productive pedagogic training. There must be a new education scheme. Such a scheme must promote the capacity of the youth's mind to be developed rather than current fixation with akosori - memorising aimed at merely 'regurgitating' what has been taught without any understanding of the core principles or the ability to probe and even disagree with superior reasons. It is only a school system that develops the mind that can turn out nation builders with capable minds to solve critical challenges.
'Tunji Ariyomo, a COREN chartered engineer is the Policy Chair on Infrastructure, Energy System and Technology for the National Development Initiative (NDi). The NDi project can be accessed at www.nd-i.org