Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with one of the largest populations of youth in the world, and according to the National Youth Policy of 2019-2023, Youths in Nigeria includes citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria aged 18–29 years. A survey carried out in 2012 showed that eleven million youth are unemployed in Nigeria. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the recent recession, one will agree that this number would have skyrocketed. One can categorically say that lack of education may not be a major driver of the high rate of unemployment as data from CIA Factbook dated 2018, shows that 67% of Nigerian citizens are literate.
The reality of Nigerian youth is that of helplessness and hopelessness as education is not a guarantee for success. Graduates are under-employed and, in most cases, unemployed, having no source of livelihood. This situation causes desperation and consequently leaves most young Nigerian citizens with no other option than to engage in fraudulent activities- cybercrimes, theft, kidnapping, murder, rituals, etc. Others may decide to leave the country either through legitimate or illegitimate means in search of a ‘greener pasture’. The consequent result is brain drain, a situation where our best minds develop other people’s countries and neglect their homes. This is not because they are happy to leave but, in most cases, they were left with no other options.
This then leaves every concerned Nigerian with the questions of, “What is the hope of the Nigerian youth? What can be done? How can we save the leaders of tomorrow today?” lingering on their minds.
One answer to some of these questions is youth empowerment. Youth empowerment is not limited to a 6-week vocational training or a fund relief, grant, or seed capital given to set-up a business. In fact, the above-listed means of empowerment do not solve our problems in their entirety because these pieces of training are not always available to everyone. Also, these do not solve the roots of the problem we have in the country. These solutions subtly imply that every youth must be self-employed to survive and therefore we experience a brain drain in the public and civil services sector. Many competent youths do not see a career path even in the civil service.
At this time of writing this article, I decided to check up the real definition of youth empowerment that would capture my thoughts. I found one on medium.com by Unnatiblr which says “Youth Empowerment is a process to encourage youth. An effort towards making a course for them to sustain and adapt as per the situations. It aims at improving the quality-of-life youth are living and bring Empowerment by giving them access to the resources which can help them to build confidence and work in the direction of attaining growth and transformation.” The summary of this definition is that youth must be given an enabling environment to succeed. An enabling environment makes provision for people to thrive regardless of career/business choices. In contrast, a disabling environment makes it exceedingly difficult for a business to thrive, ideas to mature, and consequently frustrates genuine efforts of hard work and success pursuit.
According to YouthPower supported by USAID, an enabling environment encourages and recognizes youth, while promoting their social and emotional competence to thrive. To be successful, youth should be surrounded by a community that maximizes their assets, agency, and access to services and opportunities, while providing a safe and supportive space for expression and growth.
How can we achieve this in Nigeria? It is a collective responsibility that trickles down from the top, the government to the very last man standing on the street. Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that Nigeria is a safe place that provides access to services and opportunities, a haven, and a fertile ground for the youth and by extension every citizen.
Gbemisola Adeoti puts it rightly in his poem, Ambush, our land should no longer be “a saber-toothed tiger” or “a giant hawk” whose hovering courts unceasing disaster. Neither should Nigeria be like the whale that swallows the sinker, line, hook, and bait of a fisherman, hence, aborting the dream of a good catch. Laws should be put in place, the political systems should be youth-friendly, little, and big wins should be celebrated by all, innovations should be sponsored, and ideas supported to full maturation.
The older generation should stop looking at the younger ones as a threat while the younger ones should own up and be responsible for the future that belongs to them so that their own children will also have a place to call home.
Nigeria has all it takes to be an enabling environment and the youths have what it takes to make Nigeria a great nation.
Written by Ayomide Fasan
Volunteer at YNAG