Harnessing potential of youth as agents of national development

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Abuja

Youth are one of the greatest assets and investments of any nation. In every nation, the youths play a vital role in national development. Their involvement in decision-making processes is also crucial for fostering positive social change and creating sustainable societies.

By including young people at all levels of decision-making, nations can harness their energy, creativity, and fresh perspectives to address societal challenges and contribute to national development

Unfortunately today, youths are confronted with various challenges, limiting their contributions to national development. These challenges include poverty, limited access to education and training, unemployment, gender biases, health practices, social responsibilities, and limited roles in data collection and research.

Analysts believe that addressing these challenges is crucial for harnessing the potentials of youth as agents of positive social change and promoting national development.

According to Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, while youths are increasingly recognised as positive change agents globally; many struggle for meaningful inclusion but instead experience marginalization.

The State of World Population report released in April 2023 by the United Nations put the world population at over eight billion. Several accounts report that half of the world’s population is under 30, but they have little say over the decisions that shape their future.

This negates a central principle of the 2030 Agenda which is the assurance that “no one will be left behind.” The Sustainable Development Goals are meant for all nations, all peoples of all ages and all societies.

In Nigeria, the youth constitutes not less than 40 per cent of the country’s population and voting population. Though they are making waves across the world in various sectors including the education sector, health sector and the entertainment industry, their involvement in governance and decision making process is still low.

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 37,060,399 youths from the age of 18 to 34 constitutes 39.65 per cent of the total registered voters of 93,469,008  for the 2023 general election in the country.

The data released by the commission prior to the election also revealed that 33.4 million or 35.75 per cent of the registered voters were middle-aged persons between the ages of 35 and 49.

Also, a report by Agora Policy titled ‘How to Deepen Gender, Social and Political Inclusion in Nigeria” released in December 2022 states that citizens under 35 years of age account for at least seven in 10 Nigerians.

The report put together by a group of experts on gender, political and social inclusion and produced with the support of MacArthur Foundation, pointed out low level of youth inclusion in Nigeria.

It noted that the capacities of women and youths for full actualisation are constrained by unequal access to power and resources as well as exclusionary norms, practices, laws and policies, which in turn negatively impacts development outcome for the country.

The report states that Nigeria undermines itself by limiting the potential of significant segments of its population, which are youth and women.

“Continuing on this path, amounts to Nigeria shooting itself in the foot or punching grossly below its weight. Deepening inclusion is thus not a favour to the excluded groups but a sensible route to overall national development. It is in Nigeria’s self-interest to be a more inclusive society,” the Agora Policy reports states.

Over the years, several measures have been put in place by governments, institutions, civil organisations and corporate bodies to ensure youth inclusion in Nigeria as a way to empower young people to become agents of change and to bridge leadership gap in the country.

Notable of these on the part of government was the signing of the Not too Young to Run Bill into law by former President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2018. Also chief among the efforts was the development of the Nigeria National Youth Policy currently undergoing review, aimed to enhance youth development and participation in the context of sustainable development.

Others include the Youth Development Policy to facilitate interaction between Nigerian youth and the government; the  establishment of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to battle rising youth unemployment and promote national unity.

Various initiatives were also carried out by different corporate bodies such as the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF), Yiaga Africa, UNICEF and other UN agencies in Nigeria, MacArthur Foundation among others.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan has been vocal about the importance of inclusive governance, describing it as democratic rights.

While he was President of Nigeria he launched and implemented several initiatives to empower Nigerian youths to address the high rate of unemployment in the country.

Some of the initiatives include ‘You Win’, Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy (YES) in 2015, Public Works, Women and Youth Empowerment Programme in 2012 and Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).

Jonathan, the founder of Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) and Chairman of West Africa Elders Forum (WAEF), has consistently advocated inclusive governance, justice, and sustainable democracy and others as solution to the Sahel crisis.

 

The former president, via his foundation, has been engaging African governments, leaders and stakeholders to address structural biases against youth, especially women and girls in order to promote equality and build an inclusive society.

Mr Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, an NGO dedicated to promoting democracy in Africa, believes that increasing youth participation in politics is crucial for the development of Nigeria’s democracy.

Itodo who played key role in advocating for Not Too Young to Run law also believes that implementing strategies such as  creating youth-friendly political spaces, youth empowerment and education, strengthening youth networks and organisation would create a more inclusive political landscape that values and incorporates the perspectives and contributions of young people.

To Director-General, National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Abubakar Sulaiman, there was also need to change the narrative that youths are mere thugs, instruments of violence and anarchy.

Sulaiman speaking at a two-Day national retreat for Young Parliamentarians Forum (YPF) of the National Assembly, tagged: ‘Youth Alliance Towards 2023 General Elections, said that youths should be more involved in partisan politics and political activities.

“You can’t have the notion of taking charge or taking power when you refuse to get yourself involved in politics. If youths actively get themselves involved in political activities and parties and at the various levels they are more active, their voices would be heard. This is because they constitute a majority at every level,” Suleiman said.

To the Chairman of Heirs Holdings Group, Tony Elumelu, who is a strong advocate for youth inclusivity and empowerment, creating opportunities for young people is crucial for the growth and development of Nigeria and the African continent.

The leading philanthropist in youth empowerment across African countries believes that youth engagement is crucial for the development of any society, and that entrepreneurship can play a significant role in driving the engagement.

Elumelu, speaking at the induction programme for newly elected governors organised by the Nigeria Governors Forum in May 2023, urged the state executives to prioritise youth engagement and policies that promote entrepreneurship among young people.

He described the measures as the sure means to create the most impact and catalyse socio-economic development and growth.

“We know Nigeria is a nation of entrepreneurs. Hence, we need our governors to unleash this next generation. We have the largest youth population in Africa. The future of our states and country belongs to our youth. We know young people in Nigeria are disengaged from the society, and this creates alienation and lack of purpose.

“This frustration manifests in extremism, emigration and the slippery slope to crime. We recognise the importance of incorporating young people in decision-making and leadership roles and empowering them to contribute to the development of their communities.

“We believe our young can make meaningful contributions to the society, when provided with the support they need. We must create a platform for the young majority to thrive, be heard, and contribute,” he said.

The chairman of the Elumelu Foundation said Nigeria cannot afford to waste her most precious resource, but promote entrepreneurship among young people.

“Entrepreneurship is a transformative process as it helps to explore creativity, pursue passions, and allows meaningful contribution and impact on our own communities.

“By encouraging young people to pursue entrepreneurship, we can help them develop these important qualities that will serve them well in all aspects of life,” he said.

Elumelu said that each governor has a responsibility and should commit to creating favourable policies that ensure these businesses thrive and support young people to harness their potential and create wealth for the nation.

He urged the governors to invest in Nigeria infrastructure, be strategic, identify those areas where all citizens will get the best return.

“Nigeria’s next generation are our hope for a better and more prosperous future. They are dynamic, vocal, patriotic – but they need our support, attention, and empathy. They need our action! We need their participation in our society. We should embrace and welcome this.

“As leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders in our society, we must recognize the potential of entrepreneurship to promote youth engagement and wealth creation in Nigeria.

“We must invest in programmes that support and encourage young people to pursue their dreams and develop the skills they need to succeed as entrepreneurs.

“Let us work together to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship to thrive in Nigeria, and to empower our youth to become active participants in the development of our country. Give them economic hope and they will transform our country,” he said.

As Nigerians look forward to greater youth engagement in the country under the President Bola Tinubu-led administration, observers are of the view that achieving that requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the various barriers to their inclusion.

Scholars opined that by creating opportunities for youths to participate in decision-making processes, increasing their representation in political institutions, addressing financial barriers, and promoting positive role models, Nigeria and Africa can create a more inclusive and representative democracy.

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