Abia's Exemplary Youth Engagement Initiative by Jasper Uche
The theory of 'youth bulge' is gaining currency in the global scene. Its proponents argue that there is a strong linkage between countries prone to civil conflicts and those with rapidly growing youth populations. The theory contends that societies that witness huge youthful population without corresponding job creation schemes to absorb the latent minds, inadvertently breed an army of disaffected and disillusioned youths with high susceptibility of taking up arms; to increase the terror network, that have come to redefine the dynamics of domestic, regional and international politics in the 21st century. The World Bank had reported that “job creation in Nigeria has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working population”. Indeed, the youths represent the best essence of any given society. They are usually imbued with untainted energy, robust ideas and virile potentials for charting a new path of social reproduction. They constitute the elements for confronting the negative trends in the status quo. Their strategic value makes the youths very critical in nation-building and leadership recruitment. Unfortunately in Nigeria, the youths are the worst hit of our predatory capitalism where there is no welfare anchor for the poor and the defenseless. Embedded in this is a sharp disconnect between the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the poverty level, a fact which the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) corroborated by its recent report. Regrettably, the report indicated that 69% or 112 million Nigerians are living below poverty line just as 54% of the youths are unemployed. It is indeed a harsh paradox that in a country where a privileged few are living in surpluses and opulence, the majority are wallowing in crippling poverty and deprivations. The enrichment of the tiny elite and immiseration of the vast majority are at the root of Nigeria's social distress.
With the startling revelation that the unemployment rate in Nigeria is 23% , and over 67 million as unemployed youths, Abia State Government under the conscientious leadership of Governor T.A. Orji (Ochendo) has risen up to the responsibility of tackling the hydra-headed monster from Abia end. Concurring with the British Council Report that “youths, not oil, will be Nigeria's most precious resource in the twenty-first century”, the visionary leader provided momentary reprieve to the excruciatingly pauperized group whose extreme level of deprivations is a fertile ground for insecurity and violent crimes. Before launching into the bigger empowerment packages, he deployed resources on stop-gap basis to the youths across the seventeen (17) LGAs of the State. Through the appropriation of the State House of Assembly, Governor Orji was enabled to pay the sum of fifteen thousand naira (N15, 000) each to no less than 4500 indigent youths as monthly stipends. The government increased the empowerment momentum by procuring and distributing over 700 buses, taxis, Sienna buses and tricycles to the youths for job creation in the transport sector. The thinking of government is that this will quickly close the unemployment gap. The beneficiaries are expected to build the transportation business to the size of the likes of; The Young Shall Grow, ABC Transport, Peace Mass Transit, among many others. Positive stories coming out from the novel project indicate that inter and intra city transport has been boosted while the fleet of commercial vehicles plying our roads, including the rural roads have increased considerably; and checked unnecessary hike in transport fares, usually occasioned by scanty number of commercial vehicles to the semi-urban areas. In Abia, this has immensely reduced the surging number of hangers-on and 'executive' begging that nearly marred the ingenuity and irrepressible can-do spirit of our hardworking youths. Another very impactful youth empowerment package that had eluded the State is the payment of bursary awards of fifty thousand naira (N50,000) each to Abia students in tertiary institutions and Nigeria Law School campuses. The reactivation of the moribund State Scholarship Board as soon as Governor Orji came on board was a pointer to his avowed readiness to put smiles on Abia students. Understanding that education is pivotal to decolonization of the mind and acquisition of the skills that are germane in today's knowledge-driven economy, Governor Orji took the gauntlet of rechanneling the scarce resources to leverage the intellectual pursuit of Abia young scholars. The recent distribution of computers to schools and individual students are part of government efforts to key her people into the in-thing digital economy. Besides, the state skill acquisition programme has trained many young minds in different vocations and produced well-trained artisans. Graduates of the scheme equally received fifty thousand naira (N50,000) seed capital to take off their businesses and field reports indicate that they are doing well.
The implementation of these empowerment packages is a watershed in the policy thrust of Abia State Government. It is a well-crafted plan that is within reach. The political economy gains are multi-layered. It has significantly reduced unemployment rate in Abia and achieved truly the definition of youth empowerment as noted by Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia as “an attitudinal, structural and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and lives of other people, including youths and adults”. Approaching the youth empowerment from a layman's perspective, it connotes a paradigm shift from the prevailing individualism where youngsters struggle to survive or fend for themselves without support and encouragement from government. Youth empowerment of Abia sort is geared towards producing army of self-reliant youths who can through appropriate guidance and prudent management of their empowerment packages- vehicles, bursary earnings and monthly stipends as noted from the foregoing, stand on their own. The programme is a sleek launching pad for thousands of youths who are desirous to carve a niche by taking their economic destiny in their hands.
For those who are students, the stipends can serve as upkeep while those who lack money to register for public examinations will find it as a boost to their academic career. With good savings too, one can raise a significant amount to pay for school fees. The earnings from bursary can help in paying necessary fees, purchasing of textbooks, embarking on research trips and personal upkeep. Younger people who are interested in starting a business can raise a seed capital to run petty trading and small-scale businesses which will grow over time. Those who already have businesses can through savings overtime put their businesses on the track of growth, high yield and sustainability. Youths are therefore encouraged to start with what they have and stay on course to build the business with perseverance and hard work.
Governor T.A. Orji's youth empowerment scheme is targeted at stirring up the innate capabilities of young people who can leverage on what they received from government. With good business plan and feasibility studies, small scale businesses can be built with a little start-up capital. There will definitely be some challenges but dedication and staying power can make a lot of difference.
The youth empowerment initiative is significant in many respects. One, it helps to cushion frustration-aggression and raises dashed hopes. Two, it frees-up bottled disillusionment and resentment among the youths. Three, it sends a strong signal that the youths occupy a pride of place in the policy thrust of Abia State Government. Four, it has in more profound ways alleviated poverty and puts food on the table of the jobless and unemployed. Five, it makes the poor and vulnerable to have a voice in their environment through economic empowerment.
From strategic perspective, Governor T.A. Orji has engendered a harmonious social environment and moderated myriads of security challenges by galvanizing the entrepreneurial drive and economic survivalist instincts of our younger generation. The silver lining is that Ochendo has raised a compelling yardstick in public policy which incumbent and successive leaders at all levels will treasure as a benchmark.
Uche lives in Umuahia