The Youths Speal Out – By Yushau A. Shuaib
If elders possess the experience, the youth have the energy, if elders are the planners, the youth are the builders, if elders are blessed with the benefit of hindsight, the youth are enriched by foresight, powerful dreams and visions – General Sani Abacha
The above articulate phrase was made by no other person than the Nigerian Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha at the last National Youth Conference on Nigeria in the 21st Century. The conference, which was organised by the Yakubu Gowon Centre, afforded the youths from all over the country the opportunity to freely express their views and proffer solutions to the problems of Nigeria and draw from the forum perspectives and agenda for the 21st century.
In the conference, which was witnessed by highly intellectual professionals from within and outside the country, including an African scholar of universal repute, Professor Ali Mazrui, wide range historical and contemporary problems and issues important to Nigeria were analyzed in terms of their implications and possibilities for the 21st Century, including the place and the role of contemporary Nigerian youths in addressing and helping to resolve those and other issues being at present discussed at the Constitutional Conference.
About 300 participants who attended the conference either came in response to official invitation or were nominated by their respective states or organizations such as the National Youth Service Corps scheme, universities and various youth organisations nationwide.
Unfortunately, the conference which was the largest congregation of Nigerian youths from Lagos to Yobe, Delta to Sokoto and diverse religious, tribal, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, got very little attention of the media. Only a little segment of its proceedings in form of news stories on papers and speeches delivered by speakers who were not youths were used in the press. I hereby found it necessary, as a participant at that conference, to point out some of the issues that reflect the state of Nigerian society today and tomorrow. The youth expressed themselves logically and maturely on various sensitive issues, which even the adults, have not succeeded in discussing calmly and rationally. It took time to discuss relevant matters fully as noted by the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
What the conference, however, failed to discuss and fully define or resolve was a definition as to who should be regarded as a youth. At the conference, for instance, some elderly people with beard or grey hair were noticed among the participants, not as ordinary observers. In defining the concept of youth, some see the youth as any person between ages of 6-30. Others said from 17-45. Physically and statistically, the two views may be acceptable. At the same time, one would wonder if a person between 30-45 is not too old to be a youth.
Most of the elderly women at the conference dressed and talked girlishly while the older men were seen dancing boyishly at the party hosted for the youth. The decree establishing the National Youth Service Corps scheme, which exempted anybody below 17 and over 30 years of age, I suggested, is more appropriate and more acceptable as a criterion. On the youth National development, the youth resolved that the National Youth Commission should be established as an apex agency for a uniform and central coordination of the efforts of all youth organisations in the country.
This observation is necessitated by the anti-youth posture which has remained an impediment to the inclusion of youths in the policy and decision making structure of society, either by convention or by decree. For this reason, the representatives of Nigerian youths recommended that the proposed Commission should be autonomous, independent and free from ministerial red-tapism and be charged with the effective implementation of the National Youth Policy. The staffing and composition of the commission should be in such a way that vanguard youth organisations are given a prominent and central role to play.
For meaningful contributions towards the development of our fatherland, the youth called on members of the Constitutional Conference to regard the youths as a special constituency for the purpose of constituting the executive and legislative organs of government at all levels. They should reserve a minimum quota of 25 per cent of incumbent positions strictly for the youth.
The Nigerian Youth also recommended that the proposed National Youth Commission should work hand in hand with the National Commission for Women in addressing the problems that emanate from the Gender Question and that the programmes of women organisations and agencies designed to correct gender inequalities should focus more on the youths.
The Federal Government should also make a deliberate policy favouring the female gender in employment opportunities and in admission to higher institutions of learning.
The most widely discussed issue at the youth gathering was on political instability and the search for a viable democratic polity. Can we have a military democratic government? The youth critically observed that classes cut across ethnic, religious and sectionalist differences among Nigerians so as to perpetuate their hegemony as a class.
It was saddening and highly disheartening for the youths, the future leaders, to realise that bribery and corruption which are mechanisms for primitive accumulation of capital, have created a selfish political class and an envious followership, which misplace values and misdirect orientation. It is in view of the foregoing that it has become necessary for the government to eradicate poverty by encouraging extensive agricultural practice and providing employment to break the myth of money politics. That has been the backbone of the class control of political leadership.
Whether it is diarchy, two-party or multiparty system of government or even the advocated dual sovereignty idea by the keynote speaker, Professor Ali Mazrui, it is necessary to enable various ethnic groups accommodate each other with a mechanism put in place to enable efficient identification of membership that should cut across the nation. Politics should be open to popular contests and there should be a process of power sharing that would discourage the attitude of winner-takes-all from being entrenched in the constitution. What Nigerians need is a stable government of the people, NO MORE, NO LESS.
Although, different scholars and speakers viewed economic development from different perspectives, the congregation of Nigerian youths at the conference looked at it as resting solely on the country’s ability to exploit and utilize its natural, economic and intellectual endowments for the production of goods and services which would benefit all its citizenry. It is the belief of Nigerian youths that for a genuine economic transformation, the country needs a committed and patriotic leadership that will strictly adhere to budgetary provisions and fiscal discipline.
It is also necessary for the Federal Government to invest in human resource’s sectors such as agriculture, which in recent times have been left at the peril of some small-scale producers. There is no denying the fact that our educational system has deteriorated. The crisis in our institutions of higher learning is attributed to inadequate funding. The youth unanimously resolved that government should invest more in schools and provide equal opportunities for children with respect to education at all levels, both in rural and urban areas so that the standard could be the same.
*The article was first published by Democrat December 2 and &, 1994 and New Nigerian January 22, 1995