By Jerome-Mario Utomi
At about midnight on Thursday, December 31, 2020, Nigerians joined the rest of the world to witness the departure of the year 2020 and within the same space, observed the arrival of the year 2021.
Both events were greeted with an aura of jubilation. However, while I tried like others, to savour the arrival of the New Year and its anticipated promises, the memories of two separate but related events that are Nigeria-specific not only came flooding but gazed on my face.
The first was the shadowy but scary spirit of the #EndSARS protest, particularly the incident of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate where scores of protesters, according to media reports, were shot as shooters believed to be personnel of the Nigerian military opened fire on hundreds of youths keeping vigil to demand an end to police brutality, an interplay that the world has since agreed was a grievous blunder and a sin both the Lagos state and federal governments will continue to share in its guilt.
The second has to do with the memory of an intervention I made in August 2017, entitled Nigerian youth; celebrated abroad, despised at home.
Refreshing our minds, the piece among other remarks, narrated how a good number of talented Nigeria youths occupy enviable positions at the global stage; back home, disheartening see these same youths of ours helplessly relegated to and made to watch the political and leadership affairs of their nation from the political gallery.
Even as the piece pointed on how political class employs different strategies to ensure that the doors leading to the “power arena” remains perpetually shut against the youths, it submitted that unless something theatrical is done to change the narrative, the nation will continue to ‘lose’ these young Nigerians that will provide the future leadership needs of our nation to countries such as the United States of America (USA), Canada and South Africa.
Unfortunately, about 3 years after that warning signal was dispatched, the nation is still in perpetual search for the most appropriate style for creating rancour-free relationships between the leaders and youths in ways that will render future conflicts unnecessary, just as opinions are heavily divided on whether youths should be allowed to go through the nation’s political leadership apprenticeship.
As an illustration, as a way of forestalling another #EndSARS experience in the country, some have suggested and called on political leaders to develop ‘relationship-oriented leadership style’. To others, especially development professionals, they insist that the best way to averting future resentments by the youths is through the provision of good governance via generation of people-friendly policies, engineering of public leadership apprenticeship for the youths that ‘involves task-orientation, clear leadership objective and creation of shared awareness of dimensions of the task and provide monitoring and feedback’.
Whatever may be the true situation, it is the opinion of this piece that the need to find a solution to youths’ restiveness in the country urgent as they are must be holistic in approach and the most constructive way to achieve this purpose is the adoption of steps that will put the youths in a positive mood.
The reason is obvious. According to a large body of research, people in a positive mood tend to be not only more optimistic but also more forgiving of others and creative in seeking solutions. A positive mode triggers a more accurate perception of others’ argument because people in a good mood tend to relax their defensive barriers and so they can listen more effectively.
From this revelation flows another set of questions.
How can the nation achieve this demand when the present political practice does not engage the best minds in our country to help get the answers and deploy the resources we need to move into the future? When people with networks of influence, their knowledge, and their resources necessary for creating the capacity for shared intelligence that we need to solve the problems are kept out of government?
Certainly, it is glaring from the above that if unleashing our collective productivity, reclaim, revitalize and save the youths from incessant restiveness is part of our objective as a nation, then it again demands more reforms and concrete action from all but more especially from the government; federal, state and local governments alike.
Beginning with the government, we must as a nation recognize that ‘the traditional progressive solution to problems that involve a lack of participation by citizens in civic and democratic processes is to redouble their emphasis on education. And education is, in fact, an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills.
In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it is obvious that education should have a higher national priority. It is also clear that democracies are more likely to succeed when there is widespread access to high-quality education’.
Education alone, however, is necessary but insufficient. A well-educated citizenry is more likely to be a well-informed citizenry, but any education or transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere. Apart from the reality that unemployment naturally leads to frustration, no nation can have the unemployment challenge similar to what is here in the country without experiencing youth restiveness.
Take the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published Q2: 2020 labour statistics as an example. The data revealed that Nigeria’s second-quarter unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018.
These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.
Instead of our political office seekers giving youths arms during electioneering, this should be the time to give the youths work and insist that they work for bread.
What about the family? This is the time for parents to recognize that for a nation to make progress and enjoy relative peace, it must depend on the strength and influence of the family, hard work and respect for elders and love for scholarship and learning to keep the society orderly as these values make for a productive people and help economic growth.
To catalyse the process of enshrining national unity and concord, the time is ripe for the federal government to overtly declare their willingness/resolve to respect human rights and take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of those rights by her citizens.
Lastly, it is our collective responsibility not to destroy this great nation but to join hands to nurture and sustain it. If we are able to manage this situation and other social menaces effectively and navigate out of dangers of disintegration, it will once again announce the arrival of a brand new great nation where peace and love shall reign supreme.
But if we fail in this direction, it will again render the recent declaration by the presidency that it will no longer allow a repeat of #EndSARS protest experience as gospel without the truth or a mere declaration of intent as no nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability without fairness and equity.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.
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