BOLAJI ABDULLAHI AND THE YOUTH CHALLENGE
It was interesting reading Youth Development Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi's article on the challenges facing Nigerian youths in a national newspaper, last Friday. Entitled Agenda for Nigerian Youths, and published on August 12 to mark the International Day of the Youth, the minister dwelled on the sheer huge population of Nigerian youths (68 million), and the need to harness their potentials to translate them from mere numbers to an important national asset that could deliver great dividends to Nigeria.
He painted a graphic picture of young Nigerians, focusing largely on the employment challenge, while also identifying voice and values as critical areas. The minister promised that the Youth Development Ministry will facilitate a study to disaggregate the youths population or, (as understand it), segment them into different categories such as the unemployed, the unskilled, and the uneducated etc, and use the knowledge to develop intervention plans and to advise different sectors and other tiers of government on their youth development plans.
It is, indeed, refreshing to have a minister who can think deeply and eloquently convey results of his introspection on the Nigerian youth situation to the people. This is not totally unexpected from Abdullahi, a journalist, who has again had the opportunity to work closely with another young and visionary politician in the mould of the former Kwara State governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who left major strides in agriculture and electricity generation in his state, and is now a senator of the Federal Republic.
The challenge before Minister Abdullahi, however, is to quickly address the problems he has identified and tackle them. Let the minister, who is one of the youngest in the cabinet, go beyond postulations to actual action to make an impact on the situation of our youths.
It is critical for him to distinguish his ministry with a visible and workable programme of action to address youth problems and bring out their potentials.
He had, on assumption of office, identified youth unemployment as a major problem of Nigeria, apart from general employment. From statistics released so far, we know that while general employment in the country stands at 19.7 per cent, youth employment is 41.6 per cent.
The minister identified problems with existing employment generation schemes, especially the non-consideration of the inability of youths to provide collateral required for them to access loans for entrepreneural projects and promised intervention to address it. He also promised to facilitate youth skill acquisition programmes that will put the private sector in the driver's seat. This is hinged on the realisation that private service providers have the right motivation to ensure products of such programmes meet the demands of the markets. The Minister will also identify and evaluate existing interventions at all levels and make appropriate recommendations.
Since the minister has decided to take a holistic view of the problems in the youth sector, he will do well to begin his intervention in the youth employment crisis from the education angle since it is only a youth who has acquired useful academic and vocational skills that can complain about unemployment.
Why, for instance, are today's youths failing the basic Senior Secondary School Examination (SSCE) in record numbers? Newspaper reports, last week, put the number of students who failed to have the required number of credits for university admission in the May/June West African School Certificate Examination (WASC) at a million.
Although the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) results are said to be marginally better than that of last year, the Ministry of Youth Development ought to be interested alongside the Education Ministry in the reasons for this mass failure. Not only the Youth Development Ministry, even the national orientation agencies have a role to play in re-orientating the minds of students towards their studies.
This is a critical problem that needs a comprehensive approach and all hands on board to reverse the ugly trend. There is no debating the fact that very little youth development can be done when students cannot attain the most basic of academic qualifications. It puts a clog in the wheel of their educational advancement and limits their access to the best of both educational and vocational training.
The Federal Ministry of Youth Development should therefore partner the Education Ministry, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and social orientation agencies to find a solution to this problem. Bolaji Abdullahi has the advantage of youth. Though not exactly a spring chicken, I believe he can understand better the way youths think and the many distractions and disorientations that are responsible for their poor performance in public examinations, possibly better than our education eggheads who may depend on a more academic and scientific approach.
Poor performance in the SSCE has assumed the status of a national emergency that deserves concerted efforts from all parents, relevant institutions, ministries, departments and agencies of the government. The ministry of education cannot do it alone.