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YOUTH RESTIVENESS AND RESTORATION (2)

By NBF News
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In the first part of this series last week, I beamed the searchlight on the dysfunctions that characterise our social system and tried to trace them to the restiveness and misdemeanours that have been the lot of the Nigerian youth. What I plan to do in this article is to further dissect the situation and attempt to locate the kernel of the problem and see what can be done to ameliorate it. It has seemingly become the norm to heap the blame for every evil in our society on the youth, even where such evil has been committed by adults. It is, sadly, so because of the highly opinionated and biased disposition of the society towards the plight of the youth.

But one fact that cannot be disputed is that Nigerian youth are very talented, creative and industrious. That a few of them engage in antisocial behaviour is not enough to obliterate the fact that the Nigerian youth need the support of government and, in fact, the entire society to develop and contribute meaningfully to national development. As I wrote last week, the environment under which our youth operate these days differs significantly from what obtained in the sixties, when some of us grew up. The society then was very agreeable to learning and created programmes to address the inadequacies of the youth.

What we have today is a society that is unconscionably bereft of soul to give the heart of the youth life. How can the youth maximise their talents or potentialities for societal development when the environment is hostile and a talent-killer? Probably, what the planners of our national development did not bring into focus in designing the curricula for youth development is their dynamics and peculiar personality. The advancement in Information Technology, for instance, has brought to the fore the prodigious dexterity of the youth and taxed their endless capacity to explore. Because of disagreeable environment and poor reward-system, they tend to drive their energy towards the wrong direction. Their involvement in cyber cafe crimes and other crimes is a clear indication of this negative tendency. What America and European countries have done to deal with this worrisome dimension is to galvanise the potentialities of their youth towards national integration, in such a way that each person is sufficiently motivated to deliberately get away from crime.

Again, they made provision for social benefits for their youth to enable them to provide the basic needs of life until such a time they will be gainfully employed.

Curiously, in Nigeria, it seems the government cares less about what happens to our youth. One is bound to ask why, despite our rich mineral resources, poverty still stares one in the face. The youth roam the streets, scavenging for food, while wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few privileged individuals. Billions of dollars are generated annually from diverse revenue sources, but nobody feels the impact of this huge financial resource.

Education has been known as the biggest industry in any country that is serious to make an impact on the global scene.

This is why governments the world over have worked conscientiously to make it functional, qualitative and available to their citizens. It is the belief that when a person is well-educated he becomes an asset to his country. In fact, many companies sought their manpower needs from the universities and other tertiary institutions before the students graduate. This practice was once very common in Nigeria. I still recall the time when companies, such as Lever Brothers, Leventis, Nigerian Breweries, SCOA, and Volkswagen of Nigeria literally invaded our tertiary institutions in search of graduate trainees, who were usually offered jobs long before their actual graduation. The same situation obtained during the long vacations, when undergraduates organised themselves into groups to offer long vacation lessons to secondary school students.

Teaching aids and other instructional equipment were in top form then, making teaching and learning pleasurable and didactic. Quality of teachers in schools was very high as only the best applied for teaching jobs. Naturally, the quality of teachers corresponded with the quality of graduates produced.

Sadly, today, all that has changed. In fact, what obtains now is exactly the opposite. This unfortunate turn of events has, therefore, had far-reaching impact on the overall formation of the youth.

It is worrisome that there is no national plan for job creation that is targeted at the youth population. What we have in place now is not sufficient to address this endemic problem. The idea behind the establishment of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) is to tackle this perennial problem. But the impact the programme has made in this area is simply inadequate. Considering the large youth population of Nigeria (which is about 46.6% of the overall population) it behoves the government to work out a commensurate programme that will focus on job and wealth creation, with extraordinary focus on how to build the moral fibre of the youth. This is where the family, the schools, the churches and other relevant organisations come in. Since these institutions are all socialising agents, it is only proper that they be incorporated into the institutional framework for the reformation of the youth.

Let me quickly point out, that the prodigious talents of Nigerian youths are a huge advantage in designing a remedy that will strengthen the total package for their renewal. The Ministry of Youth Development is a good effort in attaining this goal. However, the ministry has remained generally bogged down by inertia. Instead of focusing on the primary objective for its establishment the ministry has got itself immersed in politics and unnecessary bureaucracies that tend to obscure its vision. What the Federal Government should do is to totally reorganise the Ministry and charge it with the target of creating jobs, wealth and moral rearmament of the youth. The approach the ministry should adopt in the pursuit of this goal should differ significantly from the usual civil service red-tape. In fact, it should be as efficient as the Ministry of Niger Delta, with special funding and personnel.

The success of the amnesty programme has widened the opportunity for the engagement of youth in gainful enterprises. Before the introduction of the amnesty programme by the Umar Musa Yar'Adua government in 2009, militancy and restiveness in the Niger Delta were fuelled by the use of the youth, and they were ready to die to gain autonomy for their region. It was also known that these youth were brainwashed and manipulated by some mischievous elements for their own selfish interests. These youth were armed to the teeth and used for kidnapping, killing, arson, and gorilla-warfare.

The die-hard attitude of the youth and their malleability made the situation in the region tense and tricky. Many of them were brutally felled by the superior fire-power of the security agencies, especially the Joint Military Task Force (JTF). To show their desperation and frustration, the armed youth resorted to blowing up oil pipelines and terrorising oil workers. The NNPC and other multinational oil companies lost billions of dollars. It was common in those days for oil companies to declare force majeur as a way of escaping the harsh realities.

With the introduction of amnesty came some relief to all parties in the conflict. Hundreds of youth, who before now had engaged in nefarious activities, are being steadily reformed and transformed. They are sent to foreign countries in batches to learn a new way of life and return to contribute positively to national development. The enthusiasm they have demonstrated is an indication of their preparedness to submit to change and transformation.

I have made reference to the amnesty programme to drive home the point that our youth are teachable and redeemable.

Our educational system, as it is currently designed, cannot support the production of self-confident, independent and entrepreneurial graduates that can stand on their own immediately after leaving school. What we have in place at the moment is a system characterised by all types of flaws - ranging from system dysfunction to moral failure. The disappearance of the middle class from our social system is a result of this discrepancy. How many universities in Nigeria can boast of vocational and entrepreneurial curricula for their students? This is why I feel highly elated by the directive by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to universities to make provision for strategic planning in their curricula. This will go a long way in training well-rounded graduates that will be an asset instead of liability to the nation.

This brings us to agriculture. Why has government continued to neglect agriculture? Vision 20-20-20 made adequate provision for agriculture in the package. But how feasible are the contents of the package on agriculture? I ask this question because you cannot achieve the goals of Vision 20-20-20 without addressing the problems of youth development. With over 46 per cent of the national population, the youth have an incredible capacity to re-engineer our national development initiatives. What the government need to do is to revive the moribund agricultural projects, especially the groundnut pyramids, rubber and palm plantations, and hides and skin, making the youth the driving force. We do not have any justification to lack anything in this country, because God has blessed us bountifully. What we need is to harness these huge resources for the benefit of our people.

Has anybody thought about engaging a majority of our youth in agriculture, as a way of tackling the endemic unemployment in the country? Our youth can serve as extension workers, agronomists, veterinary doctors, preservationists, food technologists, and botanists, etc., in large farms that will be established across the country. This approach will cut unemployment by half within the next one year and fight hunger and poverty. There are other areas we can engage our youth - in construction and small scale industries. They can serve as engineers, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, etc, at construction sites, but on a higher scale. All the construction firms should do is to ensure they are well remunerated and motivated. I believe they can adapt to whatever orientation they will be given because of their exposure and education. The same situation can apply to small scale industries. The youth can do well in this area, once they can get access to cheap funds. Indonesia is doing very well in this regard. Almost every home in Indonesia has a cottage industry. This promotes skills, industrial growth, and put some cash in the pockets of those engaged in it.

Parents should be made to pay more attention to the upbringing of their children. Agreed parents should work to cater to their families, but this should not be done to the detriment of the children. For instance, parents owe their children a duty to see to their moral training, educational lift, and physical nourishment. We have very high rates of crimes because parents have shirked their duty to their children and wards. Is it not true that 60 per cent of what children practise outside were learnt from home? Even poor academic performance is also traceable to poor family background.

I mentioned early orphanage. This is accountable for the inability of many youth to go to school, as there is nobody to train them. Government should make it a national policy for children that lost their parents early in their childhood should enjoy federal scholarships. How can a child who lost both parents at a very tender age survive the rigours of life entirely on his own? Some orphans, because they have nobody to take care of them, resort to prostitution, armed robbery, hawking, etc., to survive. These risks would be reasonably eliminated once government makes provisions for their welfare.

The solutions enumerated above can take care of the scourge of cultism and general violence in our tertiary institutions. There is hardly any such institution where you will not find cultists. They terrorise students and lecturers and expose themselves to untoward consequences. It is not enough to rusticate or expel students who engage in cultism. Government should devise a strategy to contain the menace of cultism in our schools. It may not have realised that some of the violent gangs that hold the nation hostage are products of cultism from tertiary institutions. Go to some police stations and you will be shocked by what you will find: young, energetic boys and girls languishing in detention for both very serious and minor offences. Investigate further and you will be told that many of them are students of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education from across the country.

There is no way we can have a crime-free nation without addressing the needs of the youth. This is true since they form the most vulnerable social class in the country. Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, Oodua Progressive Congress (OPC), MASSOB and similar groups draw their membership largely from the youth. If this is so, why then has the government left them idle, neglected and despised? Trillions of naira are budgeted annually for national development. Unfortunately, out of this amount, only an infinitesimal percentage of this goes into youth development programmes.

What of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme? It has outlived its usefulness in its present form and content. The original idea for establishing the NYSC in 1973 was to use it as a tool for national reintegration after the Nigerian Civil War. Sincerely speaking, the programme helped appreciably in attaining the goals of national reconciliation. Having achieved this objective, it is only expected that it should move to another level of national reformation, in line with the agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The role the youth played in his election and, by extension, the emergence of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, was very remarkable. I knew that Jonathan was going to win the elections the moment the youth population rallied behind him. As far as I am concerned, nobody can win election in Nigeria without the support of the youth.

My idea about a modern NYSC is to make it resourceful, idea-oriented, value-driven and inspiring to be able to attract and harness the rich potentialities of the youth for national development. Instead of passing out and staying for years without jobs those who successfully pass out should have jobs waiting for them. To achieve this goal, the operators of the scheme should overhaul its curriculum to accommodate such strategic programmes as leadership and military training, skill acquisition, manpower development, language clinic and other such things that will bring out their hidden talents of youth in order to make them self-reliant and independent afterwards.

All said and done, the Nigerian youth are a huge agent of social transformation, reformation and growth. Their neglect over the years has led to unsavoury consequences for the country. The earlier we are able to correct this anomaly, the better for our collective national rebirth and benefit.

If in our usual strong-headedness we opt to sidetrack and continue to blame them for every ill in the society, then we should be set to bear the grave consequences that will follow.