• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerian youths: Historic challenge to nation building (2)

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 Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that Nigeria as it is today is a product of inspiring interventions of young Nigerians into politics of the country. People like Samuel Akinsanya, Ernest Ikoli, Kofo Abayomi, H. O. Davis, Adeyemo Alakija, and even Nnamdi Azikiwe were young Nigerians who in 1933 formed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) that challenged and ended the political dominance of the National Democratic Party led by Herbert Macaulay. By October 1938, the NYM won elections for the Lagos Town Council. The same year, they launched the Youth Charter and in it they articulated their demands, which included opposition to the British indirect rule.

One of the important attributes of the membership of NYM was its diverse orientation, comprising leaders of other groups such as students, trade unions and other associations. Rather than being a source of division, it strengthened them. They utilised their diverse membership in these various groups to build an effective national campaign for Nigerian independence. A major plank of strength was their ability to give new radical orientations to Nigerian trade unions, student organisations and other associations based on which the campaign against British indirect rule and for Nigerian independence was given an active life.

Up to today, the political legacy of the generation of Nigerian youths of 1930s still has expression in our national life. It is a legacy that is manifest in especially the radicalism of Nigerian trade unions and student movements. More fundamentally, it is a legacy that was stimulated by levels of formal education. In many respects, it could be argued that the collapse of formal educational system in Nigeria since the mid-1980s accelerated the process of extinguishing radicalism out of Nigerian youths. Partly as a result of poor access, but more on account of crash of standards, the energy, vibrancy, adventure and aspirations of Nigerian youths are weak, shallow and peripheral, if any at all.

Like the Nigerian leaders, aspirations are limited to material acquisition, which hardly goes beyond cars, houses, marriage (in the case of men) and pilgrimage. It is hardly about development in terms of production, services, etc. Everything is about personal consumption without even the modest effort to attempt to influence the source of supply. Against the background of high oil revenue in the country, therefore, it is possible to earn without labouring and many Nigerians accept this reality as normal.

A reality that is apparent is that such a perspective leads to the destruction of all organisations. With politics mainly about individual aspirations, organisational objectives are limited to the promotion of individuals. This could include sabotaging organisational activities resulting in death of organisations. On account of this, many organisations have crashed; some of our militant and radical organisations have lost their edge. New forms of radicalism very close to, if not entirely, terrorism have emerged. Our old radical organisations have lost their youthful colouration either on account of completely being run by old guards or becoming appendages to interests that regard young people only as tools.

Organisations such as the Nigerian trade unions and student movements, which since the 1930s served veritable national political agenda, have been reduced to legal expressions with hardly any substance in respect of meeting the expectations of members. That is the unfortunate state of Nigerian trade unions and student movements. It is a situation in which even their primary responsibility of improving the welfare and lives of members has been compromised if not sacrificed. It is a sad complex reality that leaves Nigerians with a virtually hopeless situation. It is a situation that requires something different!

As a nation, we need new organisations. These new organisations must have clear vision and driven by committed and selfless Nigerians. Above all, the organisations must be political. The truth is that as a nation, there is a deficit of national youth organisation with a clear political objective. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which played that role in the 1980s and early 1990s, is today a commercial enterprise. None of our parties has bothered to develop framework for tapping the energy of Nigerian youths. The approach has always been short term, limited to using young Nigerians, often drugging them, to promote the personal aspirations of politicians.

Producing something different, therefore, should translate into getting any of our political parties to develop a clear framework towards the organisation of young Nigerians on a national scale. For such a framework to come with potential of contributing to pulling Nigeria out of its current mess, it has to have a component that seeks to mobilise Nigerian youths around a demand for quality educational delivery, mass employment and social welfare programmes. These are issues that should be developed into a charter of demands similar to those of NYM of the 1930s and NANS of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Like the NYM, it should have strong political objective. With more than 60 million Nigerians being young people below the age of 35, majority of whom are today unemployed, such a political demand has potential to produce the winner of any election if backed by strong organisation. A major drawback has always been that it is very easy to express all these but very difficult to get anything started. This is where our opposition parties negotiating the current merger to produce APC can produce superior commitment and to that extent, as part of the rollout plans for APC, produce a national youth political framework.

It can be readily predicted that this will not happen if initiative is to come from the leadership of the parties. What will make this happen will be a situation whereby some young Nigerians are able to take the initiative and develop the framework and some organisational strategy. In order for this to be effective, it has to be nationally oriented. For instance, as part of the strategy to give the framework and strategy national coverage in order to promote the demands for quality education, mass employment and social welfare on a national scale, it should seek to produce party youth leaders who are guided by the organisational strategy at all levels. In addition, since the challenge of achieving the implementation of these programmes requires budgetary allocations, it then means some representation in the legislative arm of government. Could such a framework and organisation come with a commitment to ensuring some minimum number of APC candidates for House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly in all states? Also, could the framework and organisation include strong mechanism for delivery?

These are not questions that require hypothetical answers. They require practical answers with clear vision, leadership and organisation. APC just needs to shape the way forward and reincarnate the glorious achievements of Nigerian youths of the 1930s. Nigeria shall be born again! 

 

SALIHU MOH. LUKMAN

Lukman writes from Abuja.

 

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