Reaching a consensus about who a youth is in Nigeria is a fundamental challenge which may blur every other discussion about this demography.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation says youthfulness is an attribute of people who are in the 15 and 24 age grade. It promises though that given the peculiarities of each member state, it would concede to their individual definitions of the nomenclature.
To that effect, UNESCO, when considering youths in the African context, adopts the African Youth Charter definition that youth means “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.” But even that milestone does not hold for Nigeria.
Although equally beset by the same set of temptations and trials which afflict sister countries on the continent, the African Youth Charter standards do not work for Nigeria for two fairly patent reasons.
To begin with, the dual evils of poverty and stagnation of dreams have made the “youth” status an alibi for many people. Remaining a youth is a literary safe house where many of our compatriots whose expectations and ambitions have been cut short by the various limiting condition in our country, hide their heads.
For instance, if you take a sampling of youth leaders in our political parties, the roll would most certainly comprise people closer to their 60th birthdays than anyone near the expectations of UNESCO or even the African Charter. In a country where hard work and diligence are subordinate, citizens seek all sorts of routes of escape and remaining a youth, even until their autumn years, is one avenue.
But there is another way that society has inflicted the post-term youth mentality on Nigerians, especially those who are determined to pursue education.
Matriculation examinations in Nigeria are Herculean in form and content. In fact, the educational system, if there is anything so-called, is, in entirety, nothing but a joke.
Even when these examinations are passed, gaining entry into one of the higher institutions in the country is like a camel passing through the eye of the needle. There are a less than 500 higher institutions of learning in Nigeria, all of which deliver about half a million spaces annually. Very few of these institutions place merit over primordial associations and sentiments, such that a candidate could pass over and over again and remain un-favoured. So, every year, about 1.2 million out of the young people who sit for the examination are unable to gain admission.
A lot of times, when admission precedes and forestalls frustration and loss of interest in advanced education, candidates are mostly forced to settle for courses of study totally divergent from what they aspired for. At the end of it all, the average Nigerian graduates at about 25, puts one year into a mandatory national service and spends the next five or six years trying to find their feet in the employment market. Of course, by then, they are already on their way out of the youth league irrespective of what definition we adopt!
We must however agree that the average Nigerian, old or young, is relentless in the pursuit of self-actualisation, irrespective of how much life has denied them. That tenacity is indeed one of the reasons a person in their 50s would in the search for meaning, appropriate the identity that does not belong to them and insist on remaining a youth.
Yet, Nigeria and its leaders do not see their role in the stagnation of the Nigerian youth who, in spite of himself, battles to find relevance for their life. That is without regard to the fact that the generations of leaders who refuse to leave the scene and talk down on today’s youth are the same set, who consumed the portions of many generations alongside their own.
The octogenarians and septuagenarians who congregate over the present and decide the future of Nigeria lived in the best of the moments of Nigeria’s flow in milk and honey. They had freebies on unimaginable scales. They went to school on the bills of regional governments or multinational companies and came out of school with jobs, accommodation, cars and other perks awaiting them.
Those who decide our fate currently have been at it for close to five decades, passing power from one hand to the other like members of a relay team taking turns to complete a race. Only that these ones have rather than conclude the race of nation-building to the advantage of future generations, have been largely visionless and self-serving. They have frittered away the resources of the state and left the country in ruins; they have mortgaged the future of the country and denied every generation after their own all the benefits that they, themselves, derived from Nigeria.
Only a minuscule fraction of those who are called youths in today’s Nigeria have any idea of what decent livelihood is. And that would be the children, relatives and children of the proxies of these overlords. A majority of those who will live in the future of this country are deprived and unsure of what that the future holds.
Countries with eyes on tomorrow are priming their youths for leadership, liberalising and improving the quality of education, working towards improving access to health care, increasing their capacity for gainful employment and providing welfare programmes that incentivises loyalty from states and discourages anti-social inclinations. And they usually have bountiful harvests as they would not have only deliberately built a competent citizenry prepared for future challenges, they would have also by intentionally and valuably investing in their youth population, earned the loyalty of their young. These youths would also be inheriting a culture rooted in meritocracy, fellow-feeling, love and honesty, which would automatically pass from generation to generation.
But life is tedious for the Nigerian youth. They strive to attain on their own steam, sometimes with uneven support from struggling family members. Even after all the strivings, the state makes no recompense.
Nigerian parents devote the totality of themselves into helping their children to get educated but they remain dependent even after their education because there are no jobs, even the employed crumble under the weight of an economy characterised by uncontrolled inflation and non-existent safety net. As a result, the average Nigerian youth is angry and bitter. Some are so bitter that they have given up on the country and would do anything to leave an uncaring country. That manifests in the mad venture of illegal migration to which an undeniable quantity of the country’s young blood encounter untimely death in the cold anger of the Mediterranean Sea. A lot others, who have relatively good stations without seeing a future for their children sell all their earthly possessions and relocate to soulful environments where their children are assured of quality, sometimes free education and a future that recognises and respects humanity.
Those without the courage to leave the country are in perpetual anger, some guided by the demands of culture or religions live honestly in spite of themselves. Others with less spiritual or sentimental attachments join the bandwagon to match Nigeria and its leaders level of self-focus and wickedness.
The violent minority, which torment us as manifested in the growing spate of violence across the country, are the replications of the 55 politicians said to have stolen N1, 354tn from Nigeria between 2006 and 2013. We must accept that this last set of people are merely a reflection of the selflessness, lack of care and of vision and creativity sown by generations ahead. If the Nigerian youth is unproductive and entitled, they inherited from those who gave birth to them; or do mangoes fall from orange trees? How does a society with no soul breed considerate people?
– Twitter @niranadedokun