The Role of Nigerian Youths in Restructuring Nigeria —By Bassey Bassey


Bassey Bassey|24 April 2017 
Discourse on restructuring Nigeria has been on high decibels since post-independence, though chanted with different mantras and programs. The successive coups which categorized the early 70s all through to the late 90s with pockets of civil democratic rule were instigated by the supposed desire to correct (restructure) the anomalies in the Nigerian State. 
Nigeria as a sovereign state has experienced the successes and achievements, violent actions, anger of its youths till present. The Nigerian youth is one who is resilient, adventurous, and purposeful, with tenacious drive to succeed at all cost with chronicles of these feats documented in local, national, regional and global archives. Many of the emerging blue chip companies such as Jumia, Konga, Jobberman are owned by youths with others excelling way above their international contemporaries in various fields of discipline; the military coups of the second and third republic were all orchestrated and executed by youths between the ages of 20-32 years. Several of the blue-chip companies and businesses that have existed and dominated Nigeria’s economy for decades were also established by their founders when they were youths. The youths dominated in the affairs of national discourse in the early post-independence era with many occupying both elective and appointed positions of power. To buttress this point those that we refer to today as the founding fathers and mothers of Nigeria began their active political and pro-independence activist careers as youths, when they were in school!
The point at issue is to understand what has happened such that the fortunes of youths have become reversed and the enabling conditions for youth empowerment have somewhat become constrained.
Over the past three decades, situations have changed and the enabling system for youth participation in governance has been emasculated, eroded, transported and become so dispersed that the traction trail cannot be reconstructed. In Nigeria today, there exist an endemic corruption in all spheres of national life, where youths have had their voices squashed and muted. We no longer have vibrant student union governments on campuses because the educational system has been bastardized and politicized, with the right to choose student representative no longer resides with the students but with the Vice Chancellors and the academic management of schools and more recently government. Jobs, are no longer available on merits but for a few who are ready to do the bidding of their line managers/superiors (causing a geometric increase in unemployment), the politicians and elites have subjected the youths to weapons of war during electioneering periods as idle youths become readymade tools for thuggery and political assassinations. The youths no longer have a mind of their own. 
Youth leaders in most political parties in Nigeria are not even within the age band reserved for youths with most surpassing the forty (40) years datum. Technology (social media) seemingly gave the youths a life-line to leverage on in making concrete demands during the pre-, syn- and post-election era of 2015 to restructure Nigeria for the youths, but what we witnessed was the youths executing the biddings/aspirations of their paymasters. The youths got divided along religious, ethnic and political groups further deepening the fault lines that have drifted us away from the realities on ground. 
Unemployment is more prevalent among the youths, as statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics astonishingly place over 11 million youths as the most affected, furthermore 45% of youths between age 15 and 35 are said to be out of work, while one in two graduates are also affected. Yet this figure as scary as it appears has not sparked in youths the urgency to mobilize, synergize and make common and collective demands. The hunger in the land ordinarily should thrust us the youths to ask questions but we are more content in flaunting fake lavish lives on social media. 
For instance, Sports is known to be unifying and empowering force but in Nigeria heads of ministry of sport and its departments are either scampering for funds, or fighting over monies appropriated and expended neglecting the teeming needs and aspirations of youthful population that it should actively engage and take off the street. 
So perhaps the social sphere should unite the youths, but it is not so, the just concluded Big Brother Naija clearly premiered a visual outlook of how the youths are divided among itself with the Efenation and TeamBoss fans taking over the social media space for over 2months of unending disputation and not finding a common ground to agree further creating a wider schism.
Religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and nepotism have shredded and torn us apart more than it would ever unite us, alas the big question now is: What would/can unite us as Nigerian youths, what is our shared dream, our shared aspiration and/or our shared objective?
Three revolutionary crusades are currently campaigned around Nigeria today and each of these movements are spearheaded by the youths not as the integral fulcrum of the system but as vehicles of dispatch to convert, destroy or hold in captive anyone who does or doesn’t share these ideologies; we have the Unitarians who believe that nothing is wrong with the present Nigeria, and assume that the looters of our commonwealth are reaping from their loyalty and long years of patience – using the street parlance “na their time… or it is God that has done it for them and will do mine soon” they believe in struggling to enter into the corridor of power, stay the course and fervently look forward to such a time the pendulum will swing to their side, so they too can take their share of the national cake.
The second group believes in Secession (the secessionists); they do not believe in the contraption called Nigeria, restructuring to them is a mirage that would never happen. For them the union called Nigeria must be dissolved and aborted, hence everyone should go their separate ways. Nevertheless, they are a motley crowd that are often making overlapping claims. No one has yet thought out how these break-up will happen, in a manner that will satisfy the competing claims of everyone.
The third group is the Federalist, who believe strongly that the political and federal system of government is defective, incongruent and ineffective as such Nigeria must be restructured with each of the federating units empowered to take care of itself, with utmost conviction they trust that true federalism will engender competition, productivity, innovation, efficient and sustainable development.
Lastly though negligible, are those whom I term ‘onlookers’, for whom wherever Nigeria is conveyed to, managed or mismanaged, they believe they’ll always find a way to survive, they believe that time addresses all issues and challenges notwithstanding any efforts made. They link the nuances of government and governance in play to fate.
As stated earlier each of the school of arguments are massively being driven by youths as the foot soldiers, but one critical question the various competing schools fail to address is, what are the shared objectives of youths either as fragmented entities or as a whole. How would secession employ a jobless man? What happens to the Unitarian fellow whose only chance to breakthrough is by being loyal to his master and unfortunately losses his master to death at some point? How will restructuring Nigeria through true federalism guarantee youth involvement and relevance in decision making process. It is clear at this point and safe to say that the psychology, emotions, and intelligence of the youths has been pillaged, molested and raped, and that the spirits of our heroes past faintly cry from a distance begging for redemption.
How do we restructure Nigeria as youths?
In restructuring Nigeria, the dominant narratives currently enjoying prominence must be countered, Nigerian youths must first, exorcise themselves of all sectionalized ideologies that have inundated them for long. It is time for re-examination of self, rediscovery of self and the determination to break the shackles of slavery that have kept us in perpetual hibernation and fear. Until Nigeria youths understand themselves and also the complexity of the challenges of Nigeria, not as individuals but as a group we will only win the battle and lose the war, as has always been the case, where few vocal youths get rewarded for their activism. 
If Nigeria as a nation is failing, then it is up to us as youths to define for ourselves the collective task of nation building. We must become Nigerians, and must take collective action to build a common Nigerian Nation within a shared vision framework. This is the task that history imposes on us today.
The Nigerian youth must first conquer self, we must begin to look beyond what the educated youth should get and begin to harmonize our demands as youths irrespective of our educational background, geographical location, religion etc. In achieving this alignment of shared objectives there must be a national youth coalition at multi-levels where youths of various ideologies can come together to identify their needs. These multi-level, but integrated platforms will provide an opportunity for youths in entrepreneurship, youths in rural communities, youths of various faith, unemployed youths, young school leavers, semi-literate youths etc to come together to highlight their common challenges and needs. It is wrong to assume that the problems of youths across all age bands are homogenous or mutually exclusive; hence through a coalition of youths (national, state, local government, communities) each of the youth groups can homogenize their demands, that way there will be a gravitational pull of all youths to the centre because of the shared objectives.
As ambiguous as the term “Restructure” is, youths must understand that we must have a focal point as it concerns only the youths and that our demands should not be in isolation or in silos but should be generational with a multi-mix approach (15-24, 25-30, 30-35 years). 
*Constitutional Demands:
Youths must identify certain constitutional provisions that are unfavorable to the youths. The constitution forbids certain age bands from contesting for elective positions; therefore, can the youths also pressure that laws be made or amended to guarantee the rights of youths to exclusively contest for and occupy certain positions such as councillorship at the local government level? 
Conversely certain age limits [say for example anyone above 35 years] should be barred from contesting for the councillorship positions. Youths should demand legislators to make laws that discourages private and government MDAs from requesting questionable years of work experience from certain age groups (for instance 5 years work experience, and candidates must be 27 years) in a country where students spend double years beyond stipulated time to complete their program due to incessant industrial actions that are either internal or external, and also have limited job opportunities, these actions breed corruption as most youths are forced to falsify their ages and their experiences. 
*Economic Demands:
In terms of the economy, the youths must demand that government should make opportunities available to youths to acquire entrepreneurship skills and these must be targeted at various youth age bands, Nigerian youth must demand that certain percentages of revenue be set aside for youths through to setup of a special funding platform where youths can readily access finances for business or education. 
The burden of asset collateral has immobilized most entrepreneurs from venturing into business as well as young Nigerians to either drop out of school or never attend, if this is addressed through initiatives such as this, Nigeria will be harvesting the intellect and skills of youths for national development. The youths must demand that government direct all multi-national companies and big businesses to operate and maintain operational training and internship centres and programs, where youths can gain experience during their long semester vacations. 
Youths must demand a re-engineering of our educational system to become flexible to allow industry players teach core practical courses in the university or grant lecturers sabbatical leave request in their organizations, these will ensure that youths gain employable skills while in the school as opposed to the current trend.
Tertiary institutions must each have Research and Development units linked to the wider economy, and structured and focused on addressing the needs and challenges of the polity and economy of Nigeria. These units must involve students under the supervision of their tutors. Researches conducted in tertiary institutions should no longer be esoteric they must be seen to be addressing real life challenges and making practical contributions to societal development.
*Policy, Political and Governance Demands:
“There are presently three major sources of laws on the Nigerian Youth. These are the National Youth Policy (revised) in 2001 and the National Youth Agenda which derives from it. The Child Rights Act of 2003 and the MDGs (which not only gave rise to indicators and benchmarks to be accomplished by 2015 but also asked for specific National Country initiatives). In Nigeria this gave rise to the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (NEEDS) and at the State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (SEEDS) and at the local government level, the Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (LEEDS). It should be noted that at the local government levels, virtually nothing has been done. 
THE 2001 National Youth Policy was reformulated and inspired by the May 1998 Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment, to give the government and private sector actors “purposeful, focused, well-articulated and well directed effort aimed at tapping the energy and resourcefulness of the youth and harnessing them for the vitality, growth and development of the country well into the 21st century” (National Youth Policy 2001:1)
Mission statement of the policy- “The mission of the policy is to build youth with a sense of hope, self-confidence, imagination, creativity and pride in the nation’s heritage; youth who represent hope in the future of Nigeria; youth who are disciplined, well-focused, law abiding and good citizens; youth full of the spirit of entrepreneurship, self-reliance, mutual cooperation, understanding and respect’… and youth committed to the ideal of national unity and development as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. 
The 2001 Youth Policy main objectives include involving youths in decision making at all levels of government in matters affecting them; inculcate in youth, the spirit of adventure, resourcefulness and inventiveness; organize and harness the energies of youth in the service of their neighborhood and communities; provide opportunities for youth towards self-employment and self-reliance; recognize and promote the right of youth to choose, make decisions and accept the consequences of their actions and to ensure all youth are given equal opportunities and guided to reach their full potentials. The policy urges the youth to jettison ethnic and religious bigotry, and other forms of violence and crimes (cultism, armed robbery and street violence); promotion of self-help, self respectability, cooperation and community development; to strive to be law abiding and enlightened citizens knowledgeable about their rights and duties to society; and to strive to be actively involved in decision making on matters that affects them.
The policy aims to establish youth development centres to address the needs of out-of-school youth, intensify vocational skills training provision for school drop-outs for skill acquisition, establish a national unemployment data bank for all categories of youth, provide and promote programs providing financial and material assistance for youths to be self-employed.” We must push that the elements of this policy be institutionalized and enforced to the later.
As Nigerian youths we must see ourselves first as Nigerian’s, therefore there should be an abolishment of the indigene-settler dichotomy entitlement, every youth irrespective of their ethnicity must share equal rights and privileges with appropriate legislations backing this. Within political parties, youths must as a matter of expediency seek autonomy as an independent organ of the party system to make decisions, this is the only way to take back our place, the youths reserve the highest voting strength and if we harness this numerical strength to our advantage, we can restructure Nigeria, the era where we have 50 and above year old men serving as political party youth president must end. We must not allow ourselves to be conquered anymore; the time to restructure Nigeria by the youths is now.
In conclusion, the youths cannot restructure and will never restructure Nigeria if there is no rigorous country-wide approach to build the capacity of youths at multi-levels with active inter-generational engagement to understand our shared aspirations and ideals. 
Until we disenfranchise the sentiment of individualism and embrace collectivism, where the youth in the urban centre doesn’t see himself different from the youth in the rural community nor the educated youth valuing himself over the illiterate youth our voices will continually be silenced and our future mortgaged. Our leverage must be the unity in our diversity, where youths speak and act in one voice. The race to 2019 has begun; therefore the youths must as a matter of urgency organize its constituency to restructure Nigeria for the youths. 
Bassey Bassey 
Writes from Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.