World Youth Day and Nigeria’s youth unemployment challenge

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By; Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

Simply put, International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12th each year to raise awareness about the challenges and issues faced by young people around the world, as well as to promote their potential. The United Nations according to reports designated International Youth Day as an opportunity to highlight various themes and topics that are relevant to young people, such as education, employment, mental health, human rights, civic engagement, and social inclusion, particularly, as youngsters make up a significant demographic group whose health, mindset and education can help shape the future of our planet.

Historically, the International Youth Day (IYD) dates back to the year 1999 when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) endorsed a recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth that August 12 be declared International Youth Day. The United Nations General Assembly officially declared August 12 as Youth Day in 1999. Since then, this day has been used to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the youth and ways of overcoming them, as well as to highlight the achievements of young people. The first International Youth Day was celebrated on August 12, 2000.

However, as the global community a  few days ago, precisely on Saturday  August 12, 2023, celebrated this auspicious occasion with seminars, workshops and campaigns directed towards the youth, the crucial point that calls for concern is that here at home(Nigeria), our leaders daily behave as a bunch unmindful of the fact that for nation to move forward both politically and socio-economically, its leadership must demonstrate esteem for talents, actively encourage capable individuals, and honour those who excel in their profession- and encourage their citizens so that they can go peaceably about their business, whether it is trade, agriculture or any other human occupation.

To shed more light, Nigeria is a vast country with vast problems that disrupt its progress, namely, corruption, insecurity, unemployment, and lack of energy. But I need not pause to know that the most pernicious of all these problems, in my views, is youth unemployment.

Although Nigerians have in the recent past seen some job creation initiatives from the Federal Government with N-power, an initiative under the Social Investment Programme for the creation of employment and empowerment of Nigerians as most recent.

These ‘widening strides’ notwithstanding, from the growing concerns and frustrations among the youth, it’s evident that youth unemployment is rapidly on the increase and may not end suddenly unless something drastic and dramatic is done by the government.

Further providing a link to the above claim is the just-concluded general election where jobless Nigerian youths flooded every political campaign grounds in their numbers for illicit electoral responsibilities while looking up to the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

This is ‘a tragedy deepened by the awareness that it was avoidable’.

As I sympathise with these youths whose shoulders rest on the crushing effects of the fallen standard of education in the country, which has rendered many unemployable,  I must confess also that instant gratification and other negative influences have conspired to render some lazy and morally bankrupt.

However, these unruly behaviours do not in any appreciable means exonerate the government of the blame for the frustration and agonising moments the youths are passing through. The lack of political will to tackle the challenge from its roots, or see the urgent necessity to cease politics and creatively look for constructive channels to fight the enemy called unemployment contributed to the ever-increasing number of both the unemployed and underemployed.

To explain, if the government has done anything substantial in this direction, Nigerians will not have to look very far to see the impact. And my concern is not what the Federal Government intends to do or is capable of doing. Rather, my concern is about what it is presently doing, and if it’s in the best interest of the Nigerian youth.

Now, look at the danger of such wicked neglect. First, aside from the fact that youth unemployment has put us in a position of appearing before the world as a people that lack a plan for their future leaders, the situation impels the watching world to conclude that government is unmindful that youth unemployment comes with challenges that cut across, regions, religions, and tribes. Of which such had in the past led to the proliferation of ethnic militias as well as youth restiveness.

Notably, this threat has become even more pronounced not just in the oil-rich Niger Delta with a chunk of the proponents spearheaded by professionally-trained ex-militants currently without any job but also in the North where the almajiris are on the increase by the day.

What about Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other major commercial cities in the country where the number of unemployed youths that have fallen into urban-poor bracket is presently higher than other demographic classifications?

Very instructive also, our leaders may be ‘winning political positions’ but their inability to turn these victories into better life for the youths through job creation and other social programmes is beginning to generate questions about their integrity.

Thankfully, with electioneering over, it will be highly rewarding to remind these leaders (both the returning and new) of valuable options waiting to be accessed in controlling this appalling situation and the impending danger of their failure.

This piece holds the opinion that the government must do something to help the youth come out of this challenge. It is in the interest of the government and the nation at large to create jobs for the youth as a formidable way of curbing crime and reducing threatening insecurity in the country. It should be done not merely for political considerations but from the standpoint of national development and democratic sustenance.

To get started, it will augur well if the Federal Government could overhaul agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Presidential Amnesty Office to be more responsive in job creation and youth capacity building.

In the same token, getting both the nation’s academic curricula and the National Youths Service Corps scheme to accommodate entrepreneurship and skill development with the likes of the Industrial Training Fund and National Directorate of Employment equipped to handle youth skill training with startup funds made available.

Also, creating a productive collaboration between the government, private organisations and civil society groups during this window of vulnerability that will act as both a crucial enabler and a means to an end should be another urgent task before the government.

Very key, “For Nigeria to be all that it can be, the youth of Nigeria must be all they can be.” The future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population. This demographic advantage must be turned into a first-rate and well-trained workforce, for Nigeria, for the region, and for the world. “We should prioritise investments in the youth: in upskilling them for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past; by moving away from so-called youth empowerment to youth investment; to opening up the social and political space to the youth to air their views and become a positive force for national development; and for ensuring that we create youth-based wealth.”

 

The youth on their part must recognise that the future is full of promises as it is fraught with uncertainties. That the industrial society is giving way to one based on knowledge. They must, therefore, learn to be part of the knowledge-based world.

Jerome-Mario Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, Lagos. jeromeutomi@yahoo.com Or 08032725374.