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International Youth Day: Nigerian youths and challenges of nation building

By Gbenga Adebambo, Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure, Kemi Sokoya, Henry Ekemezie and Maria Diamond
12 August 2017   |   4:20 am
Globally, youths have made and are still making marks in various fields of human endeavour including leadership. In developed countries, they are true leaders of today and tomorrow...

Globally, youths have made and are still making marks in various fields of human endeavour including leadership. In developed countries, they are true leaders of today and tomorrow, not that of tomorrow alone, which has remained elusive to their counterparts in third world countries. They are ambassadors of peace, but not so in third world countries.

In Nigeria, the challenges before the youths are enormous-unemployment, poverty, crime, poor education, poor leadership, lack of opportunity to provide leadership and others. Over the years, the challenges have not abated and there is no sign that it is doing so soon. But that notwithstanding, Nigerian youths have broken records in different endeavours, though mostly outside the shores of the country.

However, many of them have not and are still not helping matters with their lifestyles. While many want an easy way to success, only few are ready to work hard and earn a decent living. Not helping matters is the continuous recycling of political leaders, who over the years had been responsible for Nigeria’s woes.

No wonder Nigerian youths were elated with the recent passage of the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” by the National Assembly. But the dilemma is that the passage has not made it law until it is passed by 24 out of the 36 Houses of Assembly in Nigeria. This is another hurdle its outcome is not certain. This is even as some would argue that age is not a major factor for providing good leadership and sound ideas. But so far, it is obvious that Nigerian youths have not been giving enough opportunity to prove their mettle in leadership and other aspects of societal development.

Youths Need More Reorientation On Positive Leadership
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure
John Paul Mwirigi, a 23-year-old orphan has set a template for youths around the world, especially in Africa, following his landslide victory in Igembe South Parliamentary seat in Meru County with 19, 366 valid votes.

Surmounting all hurdles as a mere “boda boda” rider in Maua town during holidays and through a campaign financed by his supporters as an independent candidate, to beat his rival, Joseph Mwereria, who contested on the platform of Jubilee Party, this is a great fillip for Nigerian youths to rely on the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” if passed into law to make a difference in the country’s leadership.

Even with these developments, it is not yet Uhuru for Nigerian youths as they are being confronted with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and poverty of ideas, which is a major social malaise among them.

Meanwhile, the President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP) Mr. Dappa Maharajah, has argued that the ascendancy of young people to power without preparation and maturity will worsen the situation of things in the country.

He hinged his argument on the work of Plato, the renowned philosopher and proponent of The Republic, submitting that politics and governance is not a tea-party or safari walk for any kind of jamboree, but requires more intellectual engagement and knowledge to enhance justice, equity and laudable development in the society.

According to Plato, “a Philosopher King is a ruler who possesses both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life.”

He quoted Plato and forewarned that “there will be no end to the troubles of the states, humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in the world and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”

The Ondo State Coordinator of Not Too Young To Run Campaign, Mr. Obatola Jonathan, stressed that in line with the 2017 International Youth Day theme: “Youth Building Peace,” youths have been avant gardes of conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.

Obatola, who narrated the pivotal roles the youths played in the politics of the state, lamented that the high level of deprivation, impoverishment and lack of relevant education of some Nigerian youths have made them submit to the whims and caprices of greedy and unscrupulous politicians who use them as thugs.

“The youths are more aware now compared to the past. They are more aware that the politicians will dump them after the elections. They are aware that the paymaster will not groom them for future leadership. They are conscious of the fact that politicians will not send their children to commit evil in the society.”

He added that ideal mentoring, consensus, cohesion and unifying ideology among Nigerian youths will further lead to qualitative participation and inclusion in the political process.

“There is a great need for us to unite as young people so that we can influence change in the country. If we are still divided along ethnic, religious or political lines, then we cannot achieve anything tangible. We must not allow the political elites to continue to use youth against youth.

“The political elites do not have time for mentoring, only few of them write books. If we do not want to continue to promote mediocrity, the youths must get relevant education to understand the dynamics of democracy and leadership. We must acquire new skills and also explore our hidden potentials so that we will not fumble when the mantle of leadership falls on us.”

The Coordinator averred that the passage of the Not Too Young To Run bill by the National Assembly, if passed into law, would give youths the opportunity to occupy more leadership positions in the nearest future.

Another member of the youth campaign group, Mr Orioye Benedict Gbayisemore, said: “We seriously need reorientation, because that is what the elders are always saying, but we put it back to them that there are bad youths and good ones; and we have bad elders and good ones too. But let us try the sensitisation among ourselves.”

Though, Mr. Oluwarotimi Daniel Omojola admitted that there is high level of ignorance among some youths, but he was quick to declare that youths are ready to take the leadership position.

“Not Too Young to Run is the way forward in this country. It is only an insane man that will say Nigerian youths are not productive,” leveraging the readiness of the youths in their accomplishments and laudable feats in all various endeavours of life.

“Name any field of learning that you would not see a Nigerian youth renowned locally or internationally. Mention any aspect of living, good or bad, a Nigerian youth will not be actively and not passively recognised. There is nowhere in the world one would not see a Nigerian youth with the buzzing Not Too Young to Run spirit. In fact, they drive the wheel of several countries in the world.”

Aside representative democracy, Omojola added that most of the enduring monuments in the nation today were products of military regime led by young productive Nigerians in their heydays as youths.

“The present day youths are still trying their best in making sure that the effort of their heroes past is not in vain.”

Nonetheless, he emphasised that it is important to state clearly that the civic roles of every Nigerian youth in promoting nationalisation should dwell on these five concepts: patriotism, reading culture, critical reasoning, skill acquisition and policy making.

Youths Blame Govt, Politicians For Their Woes
By Kemi Sokoya, Henry Ekemezie and Maria Diamond
Speaking on youths and their future, a young graduate, Mr Ikechukwu Madu said: “Youths are faced with a lot of challenges in the country which include unemployment, insecurity and lack of basic amenities.

Miss Morenike Oseni, said that challenges are pushing Nigerian youths to the wall, making them to be desperate for survival.

Also speaking, Ijeh Moses said that to create a peaceful atmosphere in the country, youths should be responsible and law abiding.

“Our political system does not support a productive youth system. They are like a glass ceiling, same old cabal of politicians who do not want the younger generation to have a place in the country.

“The youths are aware of the implications of allowing greedy politicians to use them, but because of the state of the economy, poverty and starvation, a lot of youths are always handy to be used by politicians.

“No politician can manipulate or use me for his personal interest, not matter the offer he placed before me. This is because I am enlightened and contented to a large extent. Besides, I know the implications of being used,” Ijeh said.

Michael Chukwuma, a footballer, said that he has no flair for party politics, but he appeals to fellow youths to take a stand against corrupt leaders by eschewing mediocrity and sycophancy.

Kemi Ogunlenu declared that she is well prepared to become a refined leader of tomorrow, because she is educated and knows the pros and cons of good leadership, having learned from past mistakes of the Nigerian leaders.

“Our politicians do not have the best interest of Nigeria at heart. They have their own personal agenda always.”

In his own remarks, Steve Ngerem, a youth service corps member in Kogi State, said that Nigeria really needs a dedicated leader that can save the country from the depth of indiscipline and disorder.

“It’s time to wake up from our slumber and take the government into action by playing part and helping in our very little way to elevate Nigeria to a greater height.

“The most funny but annoying part of it all is that you are eligible to vote at the age of 18, but not eligible to contest for leadership unless you are 50 years and above.

“When the youths are excluded from their legal obligations, their commitment to the society is reduced,” he said.

A university graduate, Chukwuebuka Ojukwu, said that it is only in Nigeria’s politics you hear of two rivals contesting for a particular political position, then after a while the rival from the opposing party would develop a strange illness and die abruptly.

“These strange things happen and they discourage youngsters and other professionals who wish to aspire for political offices.”

Oluwamayomikun Jegede, a student said that many youths don’t aspire to be leaders of tomorrow because the old politicians have created a barrier that prevents them from moving further.

“These youths are being used as political thugs, errand boys/girls all in the name of personal assistant. The people who ruled when my mum was in high school still occupy the political space up till date and because of this, our youths are more concerned about the entertainment industry and have less time thinking about making a commitment to the nation.

“We are youths and also leaders of tomorrow, all we need is a political orientation in order for us to deliver our best result,” she said.

Lessons From Rwandan Genocide
By Gbenga Adebambo
Edmund Burke once said: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”. This was further corroborated by George Santayana in his book, The Life of Reason, where he said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Twenty-three years ago, a tragedy of immense proportion occurred in the heart of Africa, in the small nation of Rwanda. The 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsis lasted for 100 days (between 7th of April to 4th of July, 1994), where more than a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered.

The founding members of Never Again Rwanda (NAR), a human rights peace building organization that arose in response to the 1994 Genocide, recognised that the minds of young people were exploited to destroy Rwanda-both leading up to and during the 1994 Genocide. Guided by a vision of a nation where young people are agents of positive change and work together towards sustainable peace, the organisation recognises the role of youths in developing and rebuilding a united country.

Some few months ago, Rwanda celebrated the 23rd anniversary of a genocide that claimed and ravished the nation. History has it that the genocide was not a sudden occurrence; it was as a result of national negligence of salient issues over the years. An English proverb has it that there is no smoke without a fire. The Nigerian music legend, Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa succinctly captured in her single, “Fire on the Mountain”, a clarion call to pay attention to symptoms before they become full-blown sicknesses!

I have distilled some lessons from the Rwandan genocide that can help us navigate through the tension created by various ethnic groups with the hope of avoiding a Déjà vu replay of the Rwandan genocide.

HATE SONGS AND SPEECHES: The Rwanda Genocide was believed to have been ignited by a song titled Nanga Abahutu (I Hate These Hutu), sung by Rwanda’s then most popular musician, Simon Bikindi. Tagged internationally as a ‘killer’ song, Nanga Abahutu was a crucial part of the genocidal plan because it incited the ethnic hatred of Tutsis and further incited people to attack and to kill Tutsis. Simon Bikindi is presently serving a 15-year jail term. Charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, Simon Bikindi was sentenced for his role during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In its judgment, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said: “Three of Bikindi’s songs were specifically referred to in the indictment: ‘Twasezereye’, ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’. The chamber found that all three songs manipulated the history of Rwanda to extol Hutu solidarity. It also found that Bikindi composed ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’ with the specific intention to disseminate pro-Hutu ideology and anti-Tutsi propaganda, and thus to encourage ethnic hatred.” Although several of Simon Bikindi’s ‘hate songs’ against Tutsis played a strong role in the genocide, Bikindi was not sentenced for his songs but for a speech he made from a vehicle equipped with a public address system, where he encouraged ethnic Hutus to kill Tutsis.

Correlating this with the Nigerian situation, there is a song that has gone viral disparaging people of Igbo origin and wishing them dead in some northern states. Northern Leaders should come out to condemn this currently trending anti-Igbo song. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar outrightly condemned the anti-Igbo song and the people behind it. The Nigerian police and national security agencies must dig out the originators of this song and arrest the perpetrators. Religious leaders should come out openly to condemn hate speeches and songs. I would also like to advise the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), to bring together musicians from the various geo-political zones in the country in order to compose peace songs that will command great following and diffuse tensions.

NATIONAL YOUTH POLICY: After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, devising a National Youth Policy became imperative in view of the several challenges plaguing the youths. A national youth policy is a road map for youth empowerment, development and inclusiveness. I have analyzed and compared the National Youth Policies of Rwanda and Nigeria and was in no doubt that ours is more robust. While the priority domains of the Rwandan Youth Policy consist only of eight themes, that of Nigeria cuts across 18 priority themes. The only challenge is that the Ministry of Youth and Sports is not giving priority to Youth Development and this policy has been made redundant. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, on assumption of office assured Nigerians that Buhari’s administration would avoid those mistakes in the past that led to the non-inclusion of the Nigerian youths in policies, programs and empowerment initiatives that border on youth development. If the truth were to be told, it is very obvious that the Minister has become too much pre-occupied with Sports to the neglect of the core needs of the teeming youth population. The nation needs to revisit this policy in view of promoting the youth economic, social, cultural, intellectual and moral welfare. We should set up appropriate mechanisms for implementing and coordinating the policy. The Ministry of Youth and Sports must be made to realise that he is the trustee for implementation of the National Youth Policy.

EDUCATION AS A TOOL: Malala Yousafzai said, “With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism”. Education serves as veritable tool and foundation for the promotion of national unity. By the 1920s, the colonial educational system was being used as “a divisive instrument” and stressed differences between Hutu and Tutsi pupils, putting them into categories in and out of school (Rutayisire et al.2004). Fictitious histories of divisionism were drafted, incorporated in the country’s educational curriculum and taught to the Rwandan population. The President of Rwanda from 1973 to 1994, Juvénal Habyarimana, used the Rwandan education system to propagate his ideology of ‘apartheid’ famously referred to as “Equilibre Ethnique”(Ethnic Equilibrium). Hate propaganda was developed and channeled through various means. It is important to note that it was not only the structure of the educational system that reinforced divisionism, but also the content. The teaching of the false history of the differences between Hutus and Tutsi inflamed ethnic hatred and violence that eventually culminated in the 1994 genocide (Kranish, 2010).
However, after the Rwandan genocide, the education system changed radically. The same education that had been used as a tool to perpetrate hatred and genocide is now used as a tool to combating genocide ideology by incorporating subjects relating to genocide in primary and secondary school curricula. The federal government must be applauded on the re-introduction of History into school curriculum and resolving the ‘flammable issue’ raised by the dichotomy between the two religious studies (CRK and IRK). Teaching historical perspectives of Nigeria will help young ones appreciate the nation better, understand their identity and embrace national unity. The content should be robust enough to accommodate the civil and Biafra war and how to avoid the likelihood in the future.

PEACE BUILDING INITIATIVES: As a fallout of the Rwandan genocide, several youth building initiatives were born, one of which is the Never Again Rwanda (NAR), an association of students survivors of the genocide. This initiative is geared towards teaching the history of Rwanda, the importance of peace building and intercultural tolerance. The youths in Rwanda believe strongly that they need to learn from the past in order to build a brighter future. NAR wish to increase youth’s capacity in critical thinking through research and strengthening regional youth exchanges. NAR once facilitated a public speaking competition for the youths in Rwanda, this public speaking art inspired the founders to allow the youths to exchange views on conflict and peaceful resolutions. Another organisation called Aegis Trust is initiating different programmes to foster peace education and peace building in Rwanda. They recently initiated a peace programme with the theme “Empowering a New Generation of Peacemakers”, the initiative included the profiling of peace building activities initiated by young people.

ETHNIC SUPERIORITY: Like the famous quotes in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. The colonial political legacy, which established the political identities of the Hutu and Tutsi and glorified the Tutsi over the Hutu, initiated the animosity between the Hutu and Tutsi that precipitated a cascade of violent events leading to the genocide. History is full of the repercussions of master-race theory. The holocaust of the Second World War was propagated by Adolf Hitler’s race superiority agenda. We must affirm that individual excellence, rather than race or ethnic origin, distinguishes one man from the other.

MENACE OF THE FULANI-HERDSMEN: The long walk to the Rwandan genocide was actually dotted with senseless and pocket-killings that were left unattended to by the government. The un-checked menace of the Fulani herdsmen is gradually heating up the polity. We should quickly allude to the issue of the Grazing Reserve Bill. Law is not law, if it violates the principles of justice. Josephine Ruffin said, “If laws are unjust, they must be continually broken until they are altered”. A diagnostic look at the Bill reveals its inherent flaws. It’s crystal clear that the contents of the Bill are unconstitutional. The Nigerian Constitution (Section 42(1)) forbids taking any action, or applying any law that favours any particular community or group, and it is undoubtedly discriminatory to create any sort of “reserved” areas for members of any ethnic group. The ravaging issue of herdsmen’s killings must be promptly attended to. Delay of justice is injustice.

NATIONAL YOUTH CONFERENCE: One of the Rwandan government initiatives to diffuse ethnic tensions and build-ups is to create a national platform for youths to express themselves. The government believes strongly that taking their concerns and proposals into account play an important role in the decision- making process. Youth intervention is a necessity for sustainable development and one would expect the government to convene a national youth conference with the focus on turning the Nigerian youths into Peace Ambassadors. In general, young people feel marginalized when their voices are not heard or trusted as credible.

Who is afraid of restructuring? Since the Rwandan genocide of 1994-95, restoring, restructuring and privatising the economy has been the emphasis. The government has made great strides to excise ethnicity from politics and society. John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. This peaceful revolution is the restructuring of the nation. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki has reassured the nation that the issue of revisiting the devolution of power Bill is sacrosanct, as the content of the Bill will bring Nigeria closer to a federal entity. Injustice is not the real problem, it is a symptom of a deeper problem, and it is obvious that something is inherently wrong in our structures and institutions. It is obvious that Nigeria needs restructuring as the nation is suffering from the consequences of dilapidated structures and weak institutions. We must begin to see that injustice is only a symptom and an opportunity to design new models of governance, education and other options. Freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship. Edmund Burke said, “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.” We need a vibrant National Assembly that will make laws to bridge the yawning gap of inequality between the rich and the poor and also evolve vibrant institutions.

YOUTHS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: No one today can deny the power of social media in building peace and making positive change. Youths are mostly on social media and we can use social media to drive peaceful co-existence and neutralise hate speeches. The Chairperson of Africa Democracy Forum and the Executive Director of Never Again Rwanda, Dr.Joseph Nkurunziza has often reiterated the importance of social media in propagating peace. Honorable Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister for Youth and ICT in Rwanda, has asked youths to fight against people who want to disseminate Genocide ideology through social media platforms. Messages of love and tolerance can be spread through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp to mobilise people to be more tolerant.

The whistle-blower policy of the federal government on corruption has actually gone a long way to expose corrupt officials. This policy can be extended to the issue of peace and security. People should be rewarded also for escalating any observed sinister plans, ominous propaganda and anti-peace movements that are bound to endanger the peace and unity of the nation. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.” We must not be deceived; nobody is safe in a world of injustice. People must never be pushed to a level where their pursuit of justice has become a survival imperative. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.