Saturday, 23rd September 2023

Youths and the horns of dilemma

By ‘Femi D. Ojumu
15 February 2023   |   4:00 am
In my undergraduate days at the University of Ife in the 1980s, a seminal treatise, Learning the Law, by Glanville Llewelyn Williams was compulsory reading for all law students.

In my undergraduate days at the University of Ife in the 1980s, a seminal treatise, Learning the Law, by Glanville Llewelyn Williams was compulsory reading for all law students. Williams was an outstanding legal scholar and for a period, was the Rouse Ball Professor of English Law at Cambridge University and subsequently, the Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London. No mean feat! Today’s piece however, is not about the book per se, but it is about the seminal opening words in that tour de force, which directly impinges on today’s viz: a man has but one youth and, considering the consequences of employment that well, he has reason to think himself rich, for, that lost, the whole world cannot regain another.

Getting the basics right from the start, there is no singular definition of what constitutes youth. The United Nations proffers a non-binding definition as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. The Cambridge Dictionary vaguely defines a youth as a young person. Whereas, the National Youth Policy (2019) defines the youths as all young males and females aged 15 -29 years who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The latter is the applicable definition for the purposes of this write up.

The expression dilemma emanates from the ancient Greek words, di, meaning two, and lemma, meaning propositions. Logically therefore, the combined term, dilemma, means two propositions. Advancing to literary theory and its modern interpretation, the allusion to horns of dilemma, invokes a figurative choice between two contesting alternatives, each with challenging outcomes. A conceptual illustration is a breadwinner/single mother, holding two jobs with her last $100 note; three young children to feed in pernicious winter and facing disconnection from her energy supplier over several months’ unpaid bills. Quandary? Feed the children and risk contracting pneumonia with her kids because she gets disconnected in harsh winter? Or, she pays the gas bill and the family risks starvation?

Another example, is X, a married father. His wife proactively gave up her senior banking executive role to raise their two young children first hand, with his express agreement. X is owed seven months’ salary by his employer of 15 years! In the intervening period, X, is highly geared, owing various creditors N5M. The family has received eviction notices and the landlord is threatening litigation. X has sold the family’s only car to support his family. Suddenly, X’s employer pays five months’ salary, N2.5 million which, although necessary, is insufficient to meet the mounting debt burdens – outstanding rent, school fees and medical bills. What should X do? Pay rental arrears and have his children evicted from school? Or, should X pay the children’s school fees and medical bills and wait for the landlord to commence litigation; in the process, sully X’s hard-earned reputation. These are just two illustrations of the horns of dilemma confronting ordinary folks globally every day. And youths, are no exception.

Let’s consider Nigeria. What are some of the horns of dilemma besieging the youths? How have the youths themselves, from a sense of personal responsibility, adapted to the conflicting volatilities, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguities of a dynamic 21st Century? Is there a coherent and viable strategy to address youths’ “neets” (not in education, employment or training)? Is it working? Does the conundrum speak to a wider constitutional issue pertaining to devolution of powers? All things remaining equal, the presidential and national parliamentary elections will take place in 10 days; governorship/state houses of assembly are scheduled for March 11, 2023; do the contending political parties have costed and actionable strategies to address the challenge of youths’ “neets” within 100 days, which can be piloted in targeted precincts within the country’s six geo-political zones; potentially to help inform policy choices on wider roll out? Plainly, these are tough questions defying simplistic solutions. But then, that’s the essence of effective leadership. Those with the burning aspirations to lead must advert their minds to these and related issues reinforced with a team of competent, dedicated and willing professionals who are prepared to think innovatively to frame solutions to these and related knotty issues.

By way of context, Nigeria’s 2023 population is circa 219, 473,898 (Worldometers). The country’s youth unemployment is 42.5% and youth underemployment is 21.5% (National Bureau of Statistics). Put differently, over 93 million youths are unemployed and over 41 million youths are under-employed. These are pretty grim statistics by any reasonable definition. If these youths are not in employment, education or training, we don’t need a rocket scientist to figure out that a sizeable proportion thereof constitute or potentially constitute ready raw materials for terrorism, banditry and kidnapping.

According to the World Bank, the number of Nigerians living in poverty rose by 35 million in 2022 and inflation averaged 21.34% as at December 2022, when compared with other developing economies at circa 10.6% and developed economies at circa 8.6%. Youths, the leaders of tomorrow, were most disproportionately affected by the almost year-long closure of universities in 2022. Plus, the country is quite painstakingly inching towards a cashless economy with a live currency change programme. The transition has been arduous to say the least – people are struggling to access cash for daily needs, technology glitches and the new currency is largely elusive across swathes of the country. The anger and frustration stemming from this transition has generated extensive criminal acts against bank employees and bank assets in parts of the country.

Juxtaposing these with the fact that the world of work has changed for ever, given dynamic, rapid and unending advances in artificial intelligence, automation, computational thinking, machine learning, robotics, traversing aeronautics, avionics, banking, bio-medicines, defence, fintechs, logistics, law, space administration etc how can this ticking time-bomb of youth neets be defused? In Q4 2022 alone, US tech firms Meta (11,000), Twitter (3,700), Stripe (1,100), Snap (1000) and Lyft (700) together shed approximately 17,500 jobs. Now, whilst these may well be due to underperforming stock prices and the pressures of market forces, the phenomenal impact of automation in product and service delivery cannot be underplayed.

The policy question then is this; if a developed economy like the United States, is experiencing these shock waves, how might a less resilient economy like Nigeria’s cope? Ditto, some of the horns of dilemma facing the youths: do they remain in Nigeria or do they exit Nigeria via legitimate; and, as some have done, illegitimately via the Mediterranean or via the Sahara Desert risking death, starvation or entrapment by people smugglers in north Africa; the so-called “japaaa” syndrome? Do they seize the opportunity for a better Nigeria by scrupulously analysing the manifestoes of the respective political parties and their standard-bearers by voting rationally for their best candidates, or do they mortgage their souls by voting for those offering them the largest bribes?

Again, do the youths, instead of being torn by the horns of dilemma, metaphorically seize the bull’s horns, form their own political parties and challenge the status quo or, do they collaborate with the established order and work for a better outcome for all? Youths will have to decide for themselves the option which suit them, but this paper advocates a comprehensive rejection of the mortgage of their souls on three main counts.

One, it confers no strategic advantage whatsoever other than the immediate expediency of receiving petty cash which will last for at best 24 hours! Two, a better life and a better future, is more likely to be accomplished by tried and tested politicians who have delivered proven results and sustainably uplifted citizens out of the cesspit of sinking poverty! Three, youths should advert their minds to the fact that offering and receiving bribes, for the purposes of directly or indirectly influencing elections, constitutes a criminal offence contrary to the provisions of section 130 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

The case for a nimble and robust integrated strategy to address youths not in employment, education or training, is incontestable. In Nigeria, there are at least 93 million of youths in that category – which is more than combined population of the United Kingdom circa 67,886,011, Greece at approximately 10,423,054 and Sweden at approximately 10, 099, 265. Repeating old models won’t do!

To the extent that an allusion has been made to an integrated strategy for youths’ neets, there are extant provisions elucidated in section 18, part II, of the Concurrent Legislative List of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended); affording state Houses of Assembly the right to enact laws regarding industrial, commercial or agricultural development of their states. Accordingly, given the context of elections commencing within the next fortnight, genuine concern for the sustainable development of Nigeria, political aspirants, state legislatures and thought leaders, are encouraged to devise robust strategies for actionable, effective, innovative and targeted approaches, working collaboratively with relevant stakeholders to address the exponential crisis of youths’ neets. The problem will not disappear with redundant business-as-usual models.

Countering the desperately perverse outcomes of youths’ neets calls for mutual obligations by youths, government and other stakeholders. For example, there are literally thousands of certifiable free online courses which unemployed youths could take advantage of and improve their employability prospects. They should! As alluded to above, technology has completely transformed the world of work and has become an enduring feature of our times. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), prophetically, in his 1859 tour de force, opined that it is neither the most intelligent nor most power specie that survives, but the most adaptable. Youths must adapt to the current technological realities of the 21st century.

They should vote for demonstrably effective aspirants with the proven leadership capabilities, commitment, judgment, strength of character, zeal to best impact their lives and society. The fundamentals are important too – identifying and learning from impactful mentors whether in person or online; a commitment to lifelong; availing themselves of scholarships schemes within and outside the country; utilizing their innate talents to monetize their skills, services and products; and of course, marketing those skills to a global audience through the penetrative impact of the internet.

In closing, the stirring words of one Nigeria’s founding fathers, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987), to the Assyrian Union of Teachers, delivered in Ibadan, in 1947 chimes with the subject matter viz “…education is that process of physical and mental culture whereby a man’s personality is developed to the fullest. A man whose personality is fully developed never fears anything; he cringes not and never feels inferior to anyone; no matter the colour, stature, or strength of such a one; he is self-reliant and will resist any form of enslavement until the last beam in him is exhausted. He maybe an employee, or a servant, but he is self-confident and courageous servant, who does his work with efficiency and probity…a citizen of the world…”

• Ojumu is the Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal consultants, in Lagos, Nigeria.