(By Okorodudu Philip Ogaga)
“In the south, rivers have been polluted, farmlands made unproductive, water made unsafe for drinking, diseases are rampant as a result of the search for oil, the Nigerian gold mine on which the country is almost dependent. The struggle for survival leads youths to look for means of fending for themselves by all means, fair or foul, evinced in the current spate of kidnapping, militancy and bunkering in the oil region.“
THESE are hard times for the modern day Nigerian youths. Each time one travels from one rural area to another, one is besieged by very ugly and pathetic sights, mostly of the plights of the youths of modern day Nigeria. The rural areas bear the brunt of the neglect by our leaders of today who were youths in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Nigerian institutions competed favourably with their counterparts in Europe.
The youths of 1960’s and 1970’s who now form the fulcrum of the present political class enjoyed social amenities and had employment waiting for them before or upon their graduation from higher institutions. Then, the government supplied homes with pipe-borne water; scholarships were given to exceptional students without sentiments, electricity from the then NEPA was not as epileptic as we experience it today, health care was a right of citizens as it was readily available, roads were constructed with the best of materials. This can be attested to by the continued functionality of some of them till date.
Today, the tide has turned. Our leaders have refused to lay the same foundation for us as it was laid for them. Nowadays, only the children of the privileged are guaranteed good health care, employment, quality education, and good jobs upon graduation; others are left to their fate.
Thus, Nigerians that enjoyed good healthcare services while growing up and whose humanity was guaranteed by a state that was responsive and responsible to all irrespective of status have bequeathed dependency rather than independence on the youths of today. This has led to the gory situation that the youths are at present engulfed in.
Youths in the rural areas bear most of the brunt of this neglect. They lack education and basic amenities and are saddled with the responsibility of looking after their aged parents and younger ones. Frustrated, they join gangs whose activities are nefarious. They are left with no choice as they do not have the requisite qualification to give them the rarely available white collar jobs neither do they have any skills to start a trade. Any opportunity that comes their way is grabbed with both hands. In this instance, the Nigerian politician sees an opportunity to employ able-bodied men as thugs and body guards to harass their opponents and in the process, harm them. The youths become veritable instruments in the snatching of ballot boxes and rigging of elections.
Perhaps one of the major effects of the lack of basic structures necessary for the improvement of human life is the increasing number of teenage parents. These days, it is not uncommon to find a girl of 17 years with two or three children to fend for. At such an early age when she is supposed to be under the care and guidance of her parents, she is on her own eking out a living. The fathers of these children are either unknown or are themselves teenagers with no means of livelihood and still living with their parents. The teenage mother, left with little or no option, engages in using what she has to get what she wants.
Student union bodies, like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which are supposed to fight for the right of students and by extension, the rights of youths in the society, have now been commercialised and politicised. The political elite use the body to witch hunt perceived enemies. Rather than champion the course of university students in ensuring the quick resolution of the over four months old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), they are busy giving one form of dubious awards or the other to government functionaries in supposed recognition of their ‘excellent performance’ in certain areas. Thus, sycophancy has crept into student’s unionism at the expense of its core objective of protecting the rights of students.
The precarious situation of the Nigerian state is to blame. There is a complete distrust by different groups in the way the government runs it affairs. The core objectives of government and governance have been locked in the shelf and the struggle for political relevance is the order of the day. In Nigeria, it is leadership by where one comes from and not leadership by the qualities that one possesses.
In the north, Boko Haram will not let Nigeria be. The sponsors of this deadly sect are interested in selling the future of the country for political gains. There need not be good roads, stable power supply, and good health care etcetera if they are not at the corridors of power or dictating the pace. In the process, religion is turned upside down mostly to uneducated youths and in some cases idle graduates who are told that they are fighting a just cause. The youths, in search of economic security, believe anything that they are told as long as it puts food on their table and are ready to ‘go all the way’ to ensure that their dependents also have food. The government, in a bid to save itself from complete breakdown, diverts funds which are meant for economic development of the country to combat the resultant insurgency. The result is lack of basic and social amenities currently being experienced in the country.
In the south, rivers have been polluted, farmlands made unproductive, water made unsafe for drinking, diseases are rampant as a result of the search for oil, the Nigerian gold mine on which the country is almost dependent. The struggle for survival leads youths to look for means of fending for themselves by all means, fair or foul, evinced in the current spate of kidnapping, militancy and bunkering in the oil region.
The politicians themselves, in a bid to make up for the work done for them by these youths who may become potential political enemies if neglected, employ them to shore up security and seek for opportunities to divert public funds to personal accounts. In the process, contract sums are inflated and low quality materials, well below specifications, are used in executing projects, thus endangering the life of the general populace and leaving a bad legacy for the younger generation.
Youth unemployment has reached a crescendo where, if active measures are not put in place to checkmate its geometrical increase, the crime rate would be worse than that of war-torn countries like Somalia.
Government has to wage a total war to redeem the youths not just from self destruction but from itself and self-centred politicians whose stock-in-trade is to make the country ungovernable. Youth empowerment programmes like the SURE-P must not be left in the hands of the political class to handle, for they will divert the funds necessary for socio-economic development and politicise the process of getting the youth enlisted for the adhoc committee’s remedial programme.
It is high time government paid attention to capital projects that will stand the test of time and for politicians to allow the masses to elect their own representatives to govern the affairs of the country, for, in the words of Thomas Carlyle: ‘Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance. It is character which builds an existence out of circumstance. From the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels; one warehouses, another villas; bricks and mortar and mortar and bricks until the architect can make them something else.’
• Ogaga is of the Department of Electrical/Electronics and Computer,
Faculty of Engineering, Delta State University, Oleh Campus
“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.”