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Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Empowered Youths - Drivers of Nigeria's Socio-Economic Growth and Development

Written by: Ogbaga Sunday Thomas (Email:Ogbagasunday3@gmail.com)

Adopting secondary research methodology and with the use of Biblical references, this essay proved that empowered youths are indeed, the driving force of any nation’s socio-economic growth and development. It explored the state of Nigerian youths and discovered that they are grossly not empowered.  In effect, it identified various fundamental problems militating against youth empowerment in Nigeria, and proffered sustainable solutions on how the nation’s youths can be properly empowered so as to fully utilize their potentials and increase their relevance in the nation’s socio-economic development.
Keywords: Youths, Youth empowerment, Driver, Socio-economic growth, Development, Nigeria.

1.0  Introduction

We cannot always build the future for our youths, but we can build our youths for the future” Franklin Roosevelt.

There is no iota of doubt that empowered youths are the drivers of socio-economic growth and development of every nation. As Proverbs 20:29 rightly revealed, “The glory of the youth is their strength”. It is through empowerment that the strength of the youths is channeled towards societal growth and development. Put differently, Nigeria Entrepreneurs Forum (NEF) (2015) had also buttressed that “When properly empowered, the energy, innovativeness, character and orientation of youth define the pace of development and the security of a nation; since in the dreams and aspirations of the youth a nation can find motivation, vitality and purpose”. In the same vein, Tunde (2013) also espoused that “Youth empowerment has multiplier effects on the national economy, including boosting productivity, wealth creation, consumption and tax revenue. And that “The rate of development of a country depends largely on how productive and creative the youths” (ibid). Kofi Anan, the former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, equally submitted vehemently that “no nation can achieve development when its youths are mostly idle and unproductive” (Anan, 2004).

These postulations are not just mere theories or wishful thinking. There are ineffable empirical references backing it up. In the Bible, the consortium of David, Joshua, Joseph, Josiah, Nehemiah, Peter, Paul etc, were all young people when their nations started feeling their positive impacts. Again, casting back to the eras of people like Lord Kelvin, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Benjamin D’lsraeli and many other great men and inventors of yore; one fact also stands out –they were all youths when they made  formidable impacts that changed the socio-economic status of not only their nations but the entire world.

Nonetheless, the contemporary age is no sacred cow. In his classic book, "From third world to first: Singapore’s success”, Henri Ghesquiere evidently explained how Singapore was able to weather out of third world countries (i.e. less developed nations). He largely attributed Singapore's success to the proper empowerment of the nation's youths. Furthermore, it is indeed an open secret that developed nations like U.S.A, U.K, China, France, Canada, the Asian Tigers etc, has continually leverage on its adequately empowered youths to herald rapid socio-economic prosperity.
Against this proven fact that youths are the engine of socio-economic growth and development, it is, however, disheartening that notwithstanding Nigeria’s abundant natural endowments and burgeoning youth population, yet the nation holds world record for widespread poverty, dwindling economy, insecurity of lives and property, endemic corruption, unemployment, poor infrastructure, epileptic power, electoral fraud, among other indices of underdevelopment. With this, therefore, it is not only desirable but imperative to analyze how poor youth empowerment contributes to Nigeria's deteriorating economy; x-ray factors responsible for the menace; and proffer sustainable solutions on how Nigerian youths can be adequately empowered to fully take charge of the nation's economy. 

For the purpose of clarity, it is expedient at this juncture to explain the basic terms in this discussion, I.e. youth, youth empowerment, driver, socio-economic growth, and development.

2.1 Youth
A generally accepted definition of youth is yet to evolve. However, the Pan-African Youth Charter (2006) has it that youth or young people is every human being between the ages of 15 and 30 years. In the Nigerian context, the National Youth Policy (2009) defines youth as all young males and females aged 18-35 years, who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) puts its age bracket as from 18-30 years.

2.2 Youth empowerment
Youth empowerment is 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 the lives of other people (Okebukola, 2013). According to Kwetha (cited in Undie, and Edinyang 2015), “the essence of youth empowerment is to make youths to be more economically and socially responsible and self-reliant, via business and vocational skills acquisition through technical and managerial training”. It is when youths are adequately bequeathed with these values that they are considered as “empowered.”

2.3 Driver
Encarta Electronic Encyclopaedia provides three definitions to the word ‘driver’; firstly, as “a person who drives a vehicle”; secondly, as “a wheel or other part in a mechanism that receives power directly and transmits motion to other parts”; and thirdly, as “a factor which causes a particular phenomenon to happen or develop". By and large, only the third definition finds relevance in this work.

2.4 Socio-Economic Growth
Socio-economic growth may be thought of as an activity involving both social and economic factors which result in the growth of the economy and societal progress and is measurable in both economic and social terms (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English).

2.5 Development
The concept of "development" has a broad and generic meaning. However, in this view, it is a “process of change where a nation uses all its forces of change; mineral, material and human resources to harness progress in the standard of living and economic advancement of its people and the country respectively” (Ibraheem, 2014). It also entails the process by which national income or output is increased.

3.0 Poor youth empowerment and Nigeria’s deteriorated economy: the nexus
That Nigeria’s socio-economic crisis has a lion share of impetus from the nation’s ill-empowered youths is a fact that cannot be argued.

On the one hand, Nigeria ranks high among the most richly endowed nations of the world in terms of natural, mineral and human resources. She has a variety of both renewable and nonrenewable resources, some of which have not yet been harnessed. She is the 8th largest producer of petroleum in the world, with oil reserves estimated at about 36 billion barrels (Kale, 2016). Nigeria also has the 6th largest deposits of gas with her natural gas reserves estimated at a minimum of 100 trillion cubic feet (Emeh, 2016). Again, the country has over 34 discovered solid minerals in commercial quantity with over 44 exportable commodities. Furthermore, with about 84 million hectares of arable land, she is well-positioned geographically and not susceptible to the natural disasters many other countries are prone to (ibid)

On the other hand, it is estimated that nearly over 70% of country’s population of about 180 million are aged below 30 (National Bureau of statistics (NBS) (2018). However, it is on record that out of this booming youth population, over 10million Almajiris (child beggars) are wandering the streets of Northern Nigeria (Ahmadu-Suka, 2018). For those aged 15-35, NBS (2018) has it that over 52.65% or 22.64million of them are either underemployed or unemployed as of Q1 2018. And that up to 6.5million graduates (mainly youths) are unemployed (ibid). 

On the whole, where can we say that Nigeria has stamped its feet today in terms of socio-economic growth and development? Inferring from the findings of Vanguard Newspaper (18 October 2017), no fewer than 112million (representing 67.1 per cent) of Nigeria's total population are living in absolute poverty (I.e. < $1/day). In the same vein, Nigeria was ranked 13th least stable country in the world on the Fragile States Index [FSI (2017], and equally placed 5th in the 2017 ranking of the most dangerous countries in the world by the World Economic Forum (WEF). That's not all.  The latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released on February 22, 2018, by Transparency International (TI), shows that Corruption is getting worse in Nigeria.
These hard facts are just a microscopic tip of the iceberg as regards Nigeria’s underdevelopment and social predicaments, and we cannot deny the fact that dearth of youth empowerment in the country is a major contributing factor.

4.0 A Dig Deep: Setbacks to Youth Empowerment in Nigeria
It is said that the first step to problem-solving is the identification of the root cause of the problem. With the above analysis, it becomes imperative to dive into finding the root causes of poor youth empowerment in Nigeria. This will help in proffering not only accurate but implementable and sustainable solutions to the menace. Thus, the fundamental factors militating against youth empowerment in Nigeria are as follows:

4.1 Poor system of education
 In Nigeria today, no other problem is habitually impeding youth empowerment as the nation’s botched educational system. The word of God in Proverbs 24:4 made it known that "…by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches”. Acknowledging the immortality of this dictum, Dr. Philip Emeagwali, a Nigerian scientist, once declared that "Knowledge and ideas are the engine that drives economic growth and development. Sadly, however, the modus operandi of knowledge impartation in Nigeria can be best described as a large edifice built on sandy soil. In one of my winning essays, I have aptly explained that “Nigeria operates theory-based education system which has reduced schools in the country to a mere place of churning out youths who were never trained on how to practically use their talents and skills to create value and solve societal problems. The system creates no room for innovation and inextricably kills creativity—a factor responsible for Nigeria's highest number of unemployed and poor graduates in the whole of Africa” (Ogbaga, 2017). Of course, an idle hand, it is said, is the devil’s workshop (Proverb 16: 27); but if I may satirically add, a hand that is both idle and poor is the devil’s headquarters.

As “the current spate of unemployment continues unabated, the recipient youths, flanked by the struggle to make ends meet, has become susceptible to criminal tendencies viz: Oil theft syndicate, armed-robbery, political thuggery, kidnappers, militancy and insurgency, whereas their female counterparts peradventure resort to prostitution or human trafficking” (Bashir 2014). Hence, this abnormally has not only limited Nigerian youth's capability as nation builders but has also increased their tendencies of constituting nuisance to the society.

4.2 Sit-tight attitude of the ruling class
If for anything, the unending desire of the Nigerian ruling class to hold onto power has perpetually denied the youths the opportunity to be empowered politically. And indeed, one cannot gainsay the fact that political inclusion of youths in the affairs of the nation spurs socio-economic development. God Himself recognizes the importance of empowering the youths politically for the work of nation-building. For instance, in Genesis 21:18, He instructed Hagar, saying, "Get up! Pick up the youth and grab his hand [i.e. empower him]; for I will make him a great nation". [Emphasis mine]. Furthermore, we always eulogize the leadership prowess of Joshua but the fact is: he was well-empowered. At a young age, Moses started building him up with the purpose of creating a leader who could lead the people when he was gone. Joshua eventually became the man God used to lead His people into the promised land.

Another good example was demonstrated by Jesus. Jesus found a young fisherman named Peter and took him on His wing for three years. Through the process of failures and mentoring, Peter was shaped and empowered into leadership. He became the driving force of the early church and his influence is still felt till date.

However, in Nigeria today, what remains for our over aged leaders is to rule the country, if possible, from grave yard. Hardly do political capabilities, mentorship or positions given to the youths and in rare cases have their voices lend to meaningful governmental actions. This is exemplified by the current leadership of Nigeria. It is no news that the President appointed an 80-year old man as Nigeria's ambassador to the U.S whereas there are thousands of qualified youths who even have doctorate degree in International Relations and Diplomacy. The case of the  80-year old ambassador is just a microscopic tip of the iceberg as the list remains endless.  Again, it worth lamenting that in Nigeria's Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020 nowhere in the blueprint is the wasting potentials of the nation's youths mentioned talk more of the plans to harness it. If this attitude continues, not even the "Not Too Young To Lead" bill can get the youths empowered politically.

4.3 Poor implementation of youth empowerment programmes
 There is gross lack of will and commitment towards implementing youth empowerment schemes in Nigeria. This is usually caused by corrupt practices of the leaders who siphon funds meant for youth empowerment. Every four years, United Nations issues strategies for championing youth empowerment. However, from the onset, one cannot identify any of such recommendations that have been implemented judiciously in Nigeria. In fact, in 2009, Nigeria adopted a comprehensive National Youth Development Policy but it is yet to be implemented till date.

4.4 Poor infrastructure cum harsh businesses environment
 There is dearth of basic amenities such as electricity, good road, steady and affordable internet network etc, which the youths can leverage to do businesses that will increase their relevance to the nation’s socio-economic growth. As I type this, there has been no flash of electric power in the community where I am serving, for the past one month. I tap power from a barbing salon that generates its electricity. The noise from the customers and the generator poses serious challenge to my concentration while the mosquitoes are fueling the torment. By this singular challenge, youths that depend on electricity to do various businesses and cannot afford a generating power plant are automatically handicapped.

Again, “Nigeria is like a sea that ebbs and ripples with entrepreneurial dynamism of youths” (Unah, 2016). The environment is very harsh to run a business especially by the youths. For instance, Chidinma Okaniro—a Nigerian young entrepreneur whose business collapsed as a result of harsh business environment in the country once narrated her ordeals thus:
 “…Three years later, the thought of my business gets me depressed. I was slowly being forced out of business by the hostile business environment in Nigeria. The cost of running the business was just too high and this was largely due to external factors. Due to the epileptic power supply, I had purchased a diesel generator and I spent four hundred thousand naira annually on fuel for power supply, official monthly power bills not inclusive. Multiple taxation was very common and I was forced to pay tax to seven different agencies, with some of these agencies having duplicity of functions. Thugs were used by some government agencies to harass business owners into paying these taxes. These thugs walk into any business office and if they cannot verify that the business taxes have been paid up to date, they confiscate products and business equipment.”
As Ahmed (2015) rhetorically asked, “why do Nigeria have to make it so incredibly hard for youths struggling to contribute to the economic growth and development of our economy through all these costs and state attacks?”

4.5 The youths’ fault
This article will be truly judged as one-sided if I fail to lampoon that some youths are also the cause of their problem. The word of God in Proverbs 18: 16 stated it clearly, that" A man’s gift [i.e. skill] makes room for him and brings him before the great.” [Emphasis mine]. 

Often-taken-for-granted natural gifts like writing, singing, dancing, drawing, carpentering, teaching, wiring, tailoring, shoemaking, etc. are all extremely veritable sources of income which one can utilize to cater for himself and contribute to the economic growth of the nation.  However, there is gross negligence of skills among Nigerian youths today. Equally, the lure of well-starched shirt, good suits, and hand-tailored ties not forgetting the cozy air-conditioned offices has created big flights of fantasies for Nigerian youths to remain in the street in search of white-collar job; forgetting the nation's biggest goldmine—agriculture. Take for instance, after discovering that the education system does not prepare the youths for self-employment, NYSC introduced the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programme (SAED) to bridge such gap and empower the youths. Dishearteningly, only inestimable few corps members do take the programme seriously.

5.0 Where Do We Go From Here?
Isaac Abhuere, CEO of Child Care Youth Development (CYD), once said that “Failure to plan well for youth empowerment is tantamount to planning to fail.” Admittedly, Bolaji Abdulahi (cited in Adazie, 2013), buttressed that, "the Nigerian youth population could either turn out to be a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster if the potentials of the youths are not effectively harnessed." As it stands now, the youth population in the country is a near disaster. Hence, the pathway for nipping the aforementioned challenges in bud and harnessing the potentials of the nation’s burgeoning youth population are as follows:

5.1 Provision of Sound and Viable Education
It is not just education that will save us but education of a certain kind. The Nigeria government must begin to realize that giving the youth viable education is the single most effective way of creating an effective roadmap for youth-led sustainable development in Nigeria. Like I recommended in one of my write-ups, “in order to produce sound graduates with capability to operate, maintain and sustain the nation’s economic activities, school curriculum should be revised to place great emphasis on the acquisition of practical skills in applied science, engineering technology and commerce”.

Similarly, education must be properly funded. At least, the 26% of the national budget as recommended by UNESCO should always be allocated to the education sector. This will enable it upgrade the dilapidated infrastructures, procure adequate academic personnel, remunerate them appropriately, build more educational institutions to accommodate a reasonable number of youths seeking admission etc.

Furthermore, like in the case of Almajiris and school dropouts, Non-Formal Education (NFE) initiatives should be used to get them empowered intellectually.  Non-Formal Education (NFE) in this context means  “any organized educational activity or training activity for school dropout, for illiterate rural and urban r youths, aimed at improving their employment and income earning potentials, or giving them general education, which, in some cases, as desired may help them re-enter the formal system.”(Ihejirika, 2013).

5.2 Political empowerment of youths
The youth must be encouraged and supported to participate effectively in the political affairs of the nation because they have greater energy and intuition on how to manage public goods, including land and other natural resources, for the benefit of all. Consequently, I take side with the recommendation of Igbokwe (2018) that “a particular percentage be reserved for the youths in government so as to ensure they are carried along as this will create a sense of belonging and make the youths realize their role in the socio-economic development of Nigeria.” Youth themselves must also resist and denounce being a “politicking tool” in the hands of ill-minded politicians who want to win election and remain in the seat of power whether by hook or by crook.

5.3 Proper implementation and sustenance of youth empowerment Programmes
With all sense of seriousness and patriotism, government at all levels must pay adequate attention to the implementation and/ or sustenance of youth empowerment programmes. 

5.4 Economic Liberalization and Provision of adequate infrastructure
In their classic book, Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson buttressed, with rigor, that first world countries, such as the United States, Japan, Canada, Asian Tigers, the United Kingdom etc, all developed by liberalizing their economy (i.e. creating business-friendly environment for their entrepreneurs) and provision of adequate and quality infrastructure. A conducive business environment and adequate infrastructural amenities encourages the influx of youths into entrepreneurship which in turn, contributes to socio-economic growth and development
Owing to the problem of extreme business protectionism and dearth of infrastructure in Nigeria as elucidated ab initio, it is imperative for Nigerian government to provide adequate infrastructure; liberalize the economy—abolishing and in some circumstances reducing to the barest minimum, all bureaucratic and political regulations that make it cumbersome to do business in Nigeria and focus its role as a business facilitator instead of competitor. Our youths should also be provided with loans; grants and other forms of succor to enable them materialize their business ideas and innovations. 

5.5 Take the bull by the horns
A quote has it that “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”.  And God Almighty has charged us in I Timothy 4:12 saying: “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young…” No matter the stumbling blocks, we must not sit back playing the blame-game.  If the likes of Linda Ikeji of Linda Ikeji Groups, Jason Njoku of iROKO, Peter Nsikan of Crystal Travels and Tours, Peter and Paul of Psquare, Oluwaseun Osewa  of Nairaland…to mention but a few, could dare the odds and establish themselves into multimillionaires, contributing maximally to nation-building, we too, can swim against the tides and succeed. It only requires untiring hard work, diligence, adventurous, innovative thinking and most importantly, uprightness (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Romans 12:2; Proverbs 13:4; Galatians 6:9).

Our mindset must be directed towards embracing and utilizing available youth empowerment opportunities such as the NYSC’s Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programme (SAED), Bank of Industry business loan for corps members, Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, amongst others.   

5.6 The role of parents
 The word of God in proverbs 22: 6 instructed parents to “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Parents should strive, and encourage their children to nurture their skills from childhood. Every child has an innate unique talent and abilities which he/she can not only rely on to earn a living but also use to better the socio-economic status of the nation. If every youth, from childhood is trained to be self-reliant using their talents, there will not be mass negligence of skills as it is in Nigeria today. Parents should also encourage their children to go into agriculture.

6.0 Conclusion
As this piece draws its final breath, I shall conclude lightly with this satirical joke that recently rocked Nigeria’s number one social media—whatsapp. It goes thus:
“In Japan, a 17year old is an engineer
In Brazil, a 17year old is an architect 
In India, a 17year old is a doctor
In China, a 17year old has a serial of invented automobiles
In U.S. A, a 17year old is a celebrity
In Nigeria—the giant of Africa—, a 35year old is only but a whatsapp group admin!”

Although sarcastic, this captures the true state of quite number of Nigerian youths today!

We have been admonished in James 2: 26 that “faith without work is dead”. If Nigeria is to attain its aspiration of “building a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy to guarantee a high standard of living”; then, ALL hands must be on deck towards empowering the youths who are indeed, the nation’s development agents and trustees of posterity. The best time to take actions was yesterday. Another best time is now! 

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