Youth Development: Before it is Too Late for Nigeria

Our educational curricula across board should be rejigged to prepare a new bunch of leaders who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their contemporaries around the world. The system should be such that it allows them develop a deep sense of self-worth and patriotism, and profound respect for others.

The game of football and Nigeria have a lot in common. In football, as in Nigeria, anything can happen. The thrills of the game usually come in the most unexpected manner. Most times, it is believable that there is a god of football who decides who wins or loses. How did Barcelona overturn a 4-goal deficit against PSG two years ago? It was simply unbelievable! You just can’t tell what’s going to happen. A growing and increasing popular culture particularly among the youth is the disposition to stake money on games hoping to cash out on impressive odds. As with every game of casting lots, they lose their stakes more times than they win. It is football; anything can happen.

In the Nigerian context, surprises are the norm. Drawing on the football analogy, the leadership of the game is given a 4-year mandate; and in some cases an extra 4 by way of a reward for a good job done. And because it’s Nigeria, many get elevated to leadership by some iniquitous tinkering of goodwill to advance unpatriotic interests. Nigerians have equal stake in Nigeria. Like football fans are proud donning their jerseys, they want to be proud holding their passports wherever they are in the world. They constantly yearn for something they can boast about. They want clean sheet records and trophies. No old glory. Like Liverpool, they want to record successes ‘back to back’. The failure of leadership – current and previous is very conspicuous. In my honest appraisal, the area in which the leadership has had the most disgraceful failure is in the grooming of the upcoming talents – the teeming youth.

This brings me to the main issue.

Nigeria has not done much for its leaders of tomorrow. It has done pretty well at failing them in every way. Our youth are subjected to an educational system that is gasping for breath. One that the leaders of the country cannot trust to bring out the best in their own children. They would rather send them to ‘Oyibo’ schools. Just a few weeks back, social media was awash with graduation photos of children of prominent Nigerian politicians including the President and his vice.

We have failed at exploiting their energies and channeling them to profitable and progressive enterprises. Many have given up on this country and have resorted to doing all they can to relocate for good. The belief is that some other country with ‘greener pastures’ would appreciate their talents and put them to excellent use. On this note, they are right most of the time. These Nigerians are doing incredible work, breaking record and drawing world attention to the amazing potentials lodged in the breasts of every Nigerian with an opportunity. Countries like Canada and Australia are fast becoming the new home for many Nigerians. These countries have tweaked their immigration policies in a manner that encourages Nigerians in their tens of thousands to give migration a trial; hereby leaving with their families. A huge chunk of this set includes those with well-paying jobs – those who to a large extent are relatively insulated from the harshness of the Nigerian economy.

As good as it is to laud greatness, we are the quickest and have become too fond of congratulating Nigerians doing exploits in other countries – people like the Masai Ujiris, Kemi Badenochs, Adewale Adeyemos and so on. We go ahead to thank them for representing the country well. It feels as though all these ‘sons of the soils’ needed to succeed was to leave the shores of Nigeria. There are millions of Nigerians living in Nigeria who can do great exploits if they are also given the opportunity.

On the flip side, there are a few who do not ‘represent’ the country well. They leave the country through illegal means, and in desperate cases risk their lives in a torturous journey through the Sahara to find their ways to Europe. For those who engage in criminal activities, they soon find themselves trapped in the cycle of arrest-imprisonment-deportation. A lot of work has been done by the government to discourage young Nigerians from leaving Nigeria for ‘greener pastures’ only to be involved in crimes. But how effective is it? I feel very obliged to share a recent personal experience.

Just a few days ago, I had the good pleasure of escorting a relative to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. It was my first time at the MMA 1 this year. The check-in time for the flight was 2 am. We got there at 11 pm the night before. Being my first time at the airport that late, I found it quite surprising to find that many people were there before occupying ostensibly convenient sleeping positions on the floor at different corners.

A little digression – Kudos must be given to the Lagos State government for the commendable work done on the 10-lane wonder we can now call an airport road. What we had hitherto was a national shame. It was indeed a beauty to behold at that time of the night with the street lights and bridges that bear testimony to the facelift the road has had.

Back to the airport story. Few moments after my relative had checked in, we took some seats close to the GATE D entrance. As we viewed the dark outside to see many cars now arriving, the airport gradually came alive.

In the minutes that I was seated, I noticed a young man who had been pacing quite uncoordinatedly. My immediate thought was that he was trying to gain entry and was looking for the entrance. This was on my assumption that all entrances were locked. I almost immediately realized that this didn’t make sense seeing that were suddenly more people in the airport who had just arrived and somehow entered unhindered.

As I tried to think about what could be wrong, an Aviation Security official approached. I asked what the problem was. His explanation was that the young man was deported the day before and that he was not okay ‘upstairs’. The young man was not in complete control of his faculty. At that point, I wept!

I was shocked that a person in that state would be allowed to roam about the premises. I wept because there was a man in his prime with a lot of potentials but somehow would not be useful to the society or himself. The talk on whether there are adequate facilities in the country to accommodate people with a similar experience is a talk for another day.

With all of this story, the salient point I’m trying to bring to the fore is that we have a crisis. In my opinion, it is far worse than we struggle to admit. We have to tell the truth – all is not well with our country. We’re too blessed a nation to still be struggling with what I’ll call teething problems. My immediate focus is on the youth and the opportunities in place to secure a bright future for them. Millions of young people are without jobs. The National Bureau of Statistics projects that the unemployment rate will hit 33.5% in 2020; and if nothing changes, the realities would be far worse. These numbers are scary. When our young people are not engaged in positive enterprises, their minds become fertile grounds for ill-minded Nigerians who want to lure them to criminal activities.

My position is: beyond all the needless, propagandistic political appraisals, the focus of this government and successive ones should be achieving full employment and not just talk about merely reducing unemployment.

Our educational curricula across board should be rejigged to prepare a new bunch of leaders who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their contemporaries around the world. The system should be such that it allows them develop a deep sense of self-worth and patriotism, and profound respect for others. It should also address employability issues by tooling them with the skills needed to drive innovation in whatever discipline of their choosing. Our lofty ambition should be building the Nigerian youth who can be employed by the best national and international organizations. They should also be encouraged and empowered to be job creators as well.

Governments across tiers should also desist from paying lip service to investments in education. The next best time to revive our country is now. Nigeria should not just be the country where anything can happen; it should be the country where great things happen.

The world has left us behind; we should be the ones hurrying.

God bless Nigeria.

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© 2020 Samuel Akinnuga.