(By Sampson Akwafuo)
“The proposition to alter relevant sections of the constitution and allow persons who have resided in an area for a long period to claim indigeneship of the said area should be supported. Many of our youths were born in states and zones different from their parents’ states of origin.They grew up and have lived in these states, having friends, kith and kin and have developed strong affinity for their supposed host communities.They should be legally and constitutionally allowed to claim indigeneship of such states, if they so wish, and, therefore, entitled to accruing rights, duties and privileges. It will be discriminatory and against the tenets of democracy to deny them these rights.“
Incorporating the welfare of Nigerian youths This all-important exercise is here again. The National Assembly is spearheading efforts towards giving Nigerians a befitting people-oriented constitution. The grassroots public forum for Nigerians from all walks of life to make inputs and our representatives in the National Assembly to elucidate the steps to be taken in the current exercise and areas, they think should be amended, have just been held in the 360 constituencies across the federation. This was followed shortly by Senate zonal public hearings across the six geo-political divisions.
At the just concluded exercise, there was a consensus that our constitution needed be urgently amended to correct perceived anomalies.How will this exercise impact on the collective welfare and individual needs of the Nigerian youths? The template produced by the House of Representatives contains 43 major areas and items and only a handful of these affect the youths.
There is a proposition that the National Youth Service Corps be removed from the Constitution. The NYSC scheme, since its establishment in 1973,has tremendously contributed to the development and endowment of our youths with varied skills, in most cases, in addition or in variation to those they acquired from tertiary education. It helps in bridging the gap between graduation and induction into the labour market. My uncle told me recently how the scheme used to be the toast of every fresh graduate. They looked forward to it right from their fresh years in the university. Its contributions towards the unity of Nigeria and empowerment of the youths cannot be over-emphasized. Granted that the scheme has recently resulted in some loss of our vibrant youths, what is needed is a restructuring of the scheme. Scrapping it or delisting it from the Constitution is not the best solution to the problem.
The current minimum age requirement for elective offices in Nigeria needs to be amended, too. Many of our youths have proved to be very efficient in private businesses and other endeavors within and outside Nigeria. It is a well-known fact that youthful exuberance, enthusiasm and energy tend to fuel organisational activities when exhibited in a controlled and tactical manner.
In Nigeria, public and political office positions are seen as reserved for retired personnel or protégés of old chieftains, whose activities and sources of income may not be easily verifiable. At present, you need to have attained the age of 30, 35 or 40 to be elected into the House of Representatives, as governor, senator or president respectively. This is discriminatory and alien to international standards of modern day democracy. The present constitution assumes that at the age of 18, a Nigerian is matured enough to make intelligent comparisons and well-informed decisions about candidates standing for elective offices and are therefore allowed to vote. Why won’t the same person be eligible to stand to be elected? Yes, if you can vote, you can as well be voted for.Nigerian youths, therefore, demand an amendment to the relevant sections of the constitution to enable eligible and capable youths contest elective positions at the age of 21.
The proposition to alter relevant sections of the constitution and allow persons who have resided in an area for a long period to claim indigeneship of the said area should be supported. Many of our youths were born in states and zones different from their parents’ states of origin.They grew up and have lived in these states, having friends, kith and kin and have developed strong affinity for their supposed host communities.They should be legally and constitutionally allowed to claim indigeneship of such states, if they so wish, and, therefore, entitled to accruing rights, duties and privileges. It will be discriminatory and against the tenets of democracy to deny them these rights.
There is an urgent need for the establishment of a scheme or commissionthat will cater for our unemployed youths, something similar to theUnemployment Benefit Schemes in Western nations. The government can affordto pay all eligible unemployed youths a token to take care of theirwelfare for a certain period. The list should be reviewed every six monthsto determine continued eligibility. Efforts should be made at puttingthose who have not secured jobs back to work. This gesture will go a longway in reducing the disturbing crime level and increasing our sense ofnationhood. The recent Graduate Internship Scheme introduced by theSubsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE P) is commendable andshould be sustained. This scheme will enable the youth acquire experiencesand become employable. Some of us will also be able to become employers oflabour after the year-long programme. Hence, Nigerian youths demand thatthe Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) and the Subsidy Re-investment andEmpowerment Programme (SURE-P) be incorporated in the new constitution.
Appropriate legislative framework should be put in place to ensure are structuring of the National Directorate of Employment. In the recent past, there has been an improved campaign for rapid employment generation and self-reliance by the NDE and its management. This is commendable, as their activities have placed many youths in positions to become employers of labour and to create wealth. Efforts should be geared towards ensuring the presence of the directorate in each of the local government areas. The directorate can be upgraded to a commission and constitutionally empowered to ensure able-bodied youths are gainfully employed. Appropriate an dadequate funding should be provided and mechanisms for checkmating corruption in the commission put in place. At the grassroots level, the directorate should encourage youths to take up mechanised farming and they should be properly supported and well funded. This gesture will go a long way towards the achievement of a Federal Government vision of food sufficiency.
The level of our annual budget implementation has been a vexed issue.Evidence has shown that late submission of budgets by the executive,federal and state, contributes to the inability of ministries, departments and agencies to appreciably implement budgets. The proposition to amend the constitution such that the president and the governors would present the budget before the National Assembly or the Houses of Assembly at least three months before the commencement of the financial year is worthy of consideration. This will require alterations to sections 81 and 121 (1) of the constitution. This will give the legislature ample time to critically digest the budget proposal and make necessary inputs and then pass it to law before the financial year begins.
The Federal Government should endeavour to allocate adequate resources to the Youths Development Ministry and other ministries whose activities have direct or indirect impact on the welfare of youths, such as Information and Communication Technology, Science and Technology, Education, as well as Labour and Sports. The management of the National Youth Service Corps recently complained about the inability of the authorities to provide adequate feeding for corps members during their orientation programmes. They called on state governments to come to their rescue. However, the state ministries in charge of youth development and affairs are not left out in this same problem of under funding They, too, are battling with paltry fund allocation. This is pathetic and cannot be allowed to continue. Concerted efforts by all and sundry, private and public, are required to engage and sustain youth and education programmes. The youth is the future of any nation. We cannot afford to starve youth development programmes of funding.
Every step must be taken, including constitutional alteration as may be necessary, to address the monster of unemployment that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society. Our youths have resorted to all manner of vices due to lack of activities to occupy their mind, and keep them busy.From Maiduguri to Lagos, Sokoto to Calabar and Port Harcourt, we are falling victims of society manipulation and their cruel activities,including jungle justice. It has been frequently argued that unemployment, frustration, anger and disillusionment are some of the factors driving our youths into the Boko Haram mayhem.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo captured it vividly recently when he said: “The danger ahead is real and potent. There is absence of serious,concrete, realistic, short and long-term solution. The danger posed by an army of unemployed youth in Nigeria can only be imagined.” The future of this nation is unquestionably in great danger if drastic and urgent actions are not taken to reduce the level of joblessness.
The administration of local councils needs to be strengthened. There are many reasons to do this. It is the nearest to the people and the grassroots. A greater majority of the youths have found local council administration as a stepping-stone in their political career. Their contributions to the development of democratic culture and service delivery, through this level of government, have been outstanding. There is a clamour for this tier of government to be granted financial autonomy and the joint state/local government account abolished. This will require alterations to section 162 (6) of the Constitution to ensure that local councils’ allocations get to them directly.
The tenure of chairmen/Councillors of local councils should be enshrined in the constitution and provisions made to withhold allocations to unelected officers. These measures will increase grassroots development and positively impact on the welfare of the youths.
Gender and equality issues should be addressed in the constitution to ensure the protection of the rights and interest of women and youths. A certain percentage of appointive and publicly elective positions should be reserved for women and youths. These will ensure youths get into management decision-making bodies, where they will be placed in positions to effect the needed changes and introduce youth-friendly policies.
Funding of our educational system is another critical area that requires our attention. Appropriate legislations and constitutional provisions should be put in place to ensure the restoration and sustenance of the hitherto high standard of our ivory towers. Education and research support agencies, such as TET fund, UBEC and PTF should be strengthened and adequate funding provided for their activities.
A greater degree of autonomy should be granted to institutions of higher learning. Federal and state governments should not hands-off their statutory duties of funding them and at the same time granting them autonomy. Cutting edge research and creative innovations should be encouraged through establishment of mechanisms for rewarding deserving scholars and academics.
It is our sincere wish that all and sundry, including civil societies,religious organisations, members of the academia, organised private sector, labour and our elected representatives will participate in this exercise and contribute towards giving Nigerians a youth-friendly and people oriented constitution.
• Akwafuo, an ICT student in the UK, wrote from London.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”