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Youth bulge in Nigeria: Asset or liability?

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Since independence in 1960, expectations are that our political leaders would take us sooner or later to the promised land through sound policies and effective implementation strategies. But times are hard, and it’s no surprise that politicians have abandoned ship on policy matters. They’ve applied full verve to politics because that is perhaps, the only profession that currently guarantees balanced diet three times a day. Policy issues have been relegated to the background and substituted with politics, more so when no one can predict what happens next in the political terrain. Even the most “articulate” of our politicians have locked on to their opponents like the fire control system on board a ship tracking an enemy target.

Our politicians know all the strengths and weaknesses of their political opponents, but not much is known about our youths which constitute more than 60 percent of the estimated population of about 200 million people. That the world refers to Nigeria as the “giant of Africa” is not because of the country’s technological capabilities and economic development, but mainly due to the size of its population and resources. Whilst I concede that a large population is one of the components of national power, it’s only valid when it has been converted into human capital through accelerated education in a world that is knowledge-based.

In the midst of political uncertainties across the country, the Office of the National Security Adviser is concerned about youth bulge in Nigeria and its implications on national security. So the 9th Edition of the National Security Seminar organized by the Alumni Association of the National Defence College (AANDEC), took place at the National Defence College, Abuja, between 19 and 20 February 2019. The theme of the Seminar: Youth Bulge in Nigeria: Implications for National Security, brought together scholars, alumni-serving and retired military, paramilitary, and bureaucrats, members of the diplomatic corps, journalists and other professionalswith a view to proffering policy options to the Presidency.

What is youth bulge? According to JY Lin, a former Chief Economist of the World Bank, “Youth Bulge is a common phenomenon in many developing and in particular, less developing countries (LDCs) where infant mortality has been reduced successfully but high fertility rate still exist among mothers.”Over the years, this has led to a significant increase in the proportion of youth population between 15 years and 35 years relative to other age groups. Youths within this age bracket are most active and yet, most vulnerable of the country’s population.

Nigeria has a youth bulge. That is why the Chairman, N Umaru, a retired Air Vice Marshall, in his opening remarks prescribed a three-pronged strategy of “engagement, empowerment and employment” to enable our youth bulge to be an asset. It is the nation’s inability to protect our youths from crimes and criminality through job creation that has made them to constitute a threat to national security. It is because we have not been able to engage, empower and employ our youths meaningfully, that is why most of them are either unemployed or underemployed. Bearing in mind security challenges in the country, participants were generally of the view that youth bulge in Nigeria is a liability, not an asset. The forte of participants’ contributions is how to derive benefits from theyouth bulgein a way that will make our youths productive to themselves and the country.

Almost all the participants were of the opinion that if the potentials of our youths were well harnessed, they would be an asset for national development. They will not be predisposed to vices thereby constituting a threat to national security. Today, a few of our youths are contributing their quota to the development of the society by doing their businesses well. They have been engaged, empowered and employed by families, friends, non-governmental organizations as well as local, states, and federal governments to be productive citizens of the country. But just like in any society, we have many youths that are jobless. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 55.4 percent of our youths are unemployed/underemployed. This data shows why most of our youths are involved in political thuggery, ballot box snatching, kidnapping, armed robbery, insurgency, advance fee fraud aka “419,” and other forms of lawless activities in order to make a living. Majority of our youths –male and female- are into drug abuse. And with all these negative narratives, one begins to wonder what the future has in stock for our youths and the country. It takes a generation of committed leaders to build a nation. If this negative trend continues, how do we get our youths to be committed leaders that will build the country in the future?A critical assessment of successive governments for decades show that they have been formulating policies to engage, empower, and employ youths in the country. The problem is that these policies with their imperfections die with each regime as they are not products of a national development plan. So there is no continuity in policy.

Perhaps, this is the time for the country to go back to national development plan with sectorial goals and milestones. To start, we need a 10-year national development plan that aims to eliminate poverty, and reduce inequality within a time frame by drawing on the energy of the people, growing an inclusive economy, improving capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the country, and promoting leadership, as well as building bridgesbetween different ethnic groups throughout the entire country. Interestingly, Nigeria’s development plans from the first (1962/68) to the fourth (1981/1985), consistently identified technological development as a core objective. While secondary objectives include “increase in the real income of the average citizen; reduction in the level of unemployment and underemployment, increase in the supply of skilled manpower; greater self-reliance and increased productivity among others.” All these depend strongly on technological progress. Nigeria is economically underdeveloped because the country is technologically backward. A nation which doesn’t learn from its own mistakes, or from the mistakes of others, will not be able to engage, empower and employ her youths. God bless Nigeria!

 

MA Johnson

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