(By Isaac Asabor)
“To me, the youths can hardly give anything to the country as long as their voices are unreasonably stifled each time there is an opportunity for them to express their views on burning national issues. For instance, who is truly representing the youths at the on-going national conference at Abuja? What can the youth whose spirit is daily crushed whenever they are told that they are not employable give to the country of their birth as John F. Kennedy admonished?“
AS an African proverb says, when a farmer arrogantly beats his chest at the market square and proclaims that his son would one day build him a better hut than the one he built for himself and later on in life give him a befitting burial when he dies, then one does not need a soothsayer to tell him that he must have, over the years, harvested enough tubers and invested same towards the child’s future. Viewed from the perspective of the foregoing, one may not be wrong to think that the late American president, John F. Kennedy was very confident of the enabling environment which the then American leaders created for the American youths coupled with the investment made on their future when he said, in his inaugural speech as the 35th president of the United States, “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The foregoing quote, which has somewhat become a catch phrase for motivational speakers and rhetoricians in this part of the world, is already been misunderstood and misquoted as it obviously does not really fit into the pitiable situation of the Nigerian youths whenever it is applied to calm their frayed nerves or to pep them up.
The reasons why the inspirational quote seems to be meaningless to many Nigerian youths can be understood from the perspective of the fact that the Nigerian leaders have not created a conducive environment for the youths to thrive like their American counterparts. Yet they have turned the saying by JFK to a mantra of sort. Whenever any agitated and depressed youth is told “…ask what you can do for your country”, it is logical for the youth to sharply retort, “How is it possible for me to give back to the country that has not invested anything on me?” Nigerian youths have every reason to be angry given the unwholesome realities that daily confronts them. For instance, for close to one year now millions of youths in the polytechnics have been at home doing nothing. The majority of them that graduated have no jobs. The few of them that have jobs are obviously under-employed. At events that call for their participations, they are not always properly represented in the true sense of the word. Majority of them have been literarily conscripted as leg-soldiers of desperate politicians. With all these, what does the country want from them?
The truth that is inherent in this piece bitter as it may be to many self-styled patriots of this nation must be told. It is obvious that if the truth is not told the myriads of obstacles that are standing in the way of the youths may not be adequately removed for them to get prepared for their future leadership role.
Without any modicum of exaggeration, Nigerian youths have for ages been subjected to the retrogressive factors of abject neglect by the government, exploitation by slave drivers and criminalisation by politicians who are bent on winning elections at all costs in the spirit of “do-or-die.”
What can the growing army of unemployed youths give to a country that has rendered them famished and devalued their certificates so much so that many of them have taken to “Okada” and “Keke Marwa” businesses to keep body and soul together? Even some youths who went against all odds to become entrepreneur without support from any quarters hardly have a reliable power supply to keep their businesses going not to talk of having motorable roads constructed to link with their offices. Most of these creative and entrepreneurial youths are today out of their businesses owing to paucity of funds, a situation that when accessible, was worsened by high interest rates charged by banks. The banks themselves are operating in a non-conducive business environment. It is as bad as that! Then, what does the government want the youths to give back to the country?
The need to express this opinion became imperative because some leaders, motivational speakers and politicians seem to be abusing this saying made by one of the world’s visionary leaders that knew that the people, particularly the youths, needed to be equipped with skills and in turn give back to the country that gave them that much. To me, most people that are wont to mouth this inspirational saying are completely ignorant of the underlying motives of the saying. The saying is not meant for the youths that are yet to be equipped to face future challenges. It is not meant for youths that are left to jay walk the streets many years after graduation. It is equally not meant for the youths that trampled themselves to death during recruitment exercise into any Federal Government parastatal or para-military service.
To me, the youths can hardly give anything to the country as long as their voices are unreasonably stifled each time there is an opportunity for them to express their views on burning national issues. For instance, who is truly representing the youths at the on-going national conference at Abuja? What can the youth whose spirit is daily crushed whenever they are told that they are not employable give to the country of their birth as John F. Kennedy admonished?
What can many hardworking and peaceful youths give back to the country when they are unfairly and unjustly relegated to the background while other youths that are into militancy are appeased with scholarships and juicy government contracts? It is a known fact that no one can give what he does not have. If I may ask again, what has the government given to the youths so far for the youths to give back in return?
There is no denying the fact that the youths have zealously and patriotically shown the interest of contributing their quotas to the national growth but they are not always encouraged. For instance, the ones that showed interest to serve the nation by joining the immigration services were recently shown the way to their graves —prematurely. Also, who is representative enough to represent the youths at the on-going national conference? Who is representative enough to represent the youths at the youth wings of various registered political parties? The question goes on and on without any convincing answer.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to ask those that are steering the ship of the Federal Government of Nigeria what kind of youths they really want, and what kind of gift do they really want the youths to give to the nation. In view of the above puzzling questions, our leaders are in a good position to choose the quality of contributions they want from the youths.
It is germane to point out at this juncture that JFK’s 1961 inauguration address was marked by sparkling phrase-making among which is “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” In the light of the deep wisdom that is inherent in the foregoing speech, one is tempted to ask what our leaders want from the youths. Is it violence they want from them? It is not false to say that they are getting enough of it from many of the youths in the northern part of the country that have unpatriotically and defiantly joined the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
Still in the same nexus, if they want the youths to be giving back to the country by creating sodomic environment across the nation, they should be rest assured that they are already getting that from some vulnerable youths that have literarily strayed away from various institutions of learning, to the streets and clubs.
Finally, the essence of this piece is to let our leaders decide what they actually want from the youths. If they want peace, they should begin to initiate youth-centered policies and programmes. On the other hand, if they want violence from the youths it is left to them. They should not forget that the youths cannot give what they do not have.
• Asabor lives at Eric Moore, Surulere, Lagos.
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