Opinions

Chude Jideonwo’s Speech at The Future Awards Symposium in Ekiti State – Who Is The “Next Generation” And Why Are They Important?

 

Well, it is an established fact that Africa has a young population.

 

According to UN population statistics, the median age on the continent is 19.7 years, compared with 29.1 in Asia, 40.1 in Europe, 27.6 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 37.2 years in North America. Even in Africa, Nigeria has one of the youngest populations with a median age of 18.5, and more than 70 percent of the population is under the age of 35. So within the context of my talk today, I’d like to define the “next generation” as the 55 million or so Nigerians that fall within the age bracket of 15 to 35 years, representing about one-third of the total population of the country, with a near even distribution of male and female. So this next generation can be termed the “Nigerian youth”, even though our official definition of youth is “citizens between the ages of 18 and 35”.

 

This formidable group called the “Nigerian youth” is more than twice the size of Ghana’s total population, yet their demographic, social, political, and economic importance is often insufficiently acknowledged. And to make matters worse, the Nigerian youth also appears to have deviated widely from the roles associated with it, especially when one looks back at the remarkable contributions made by the young “Zik of Africa”, Tafawa Balewa, Shehu Shagari, Obafemi Awolowo, and other young Nigerians at the time, towards our development as a Nation.

 

To put it simply in the words of Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister, “the youth of a nation are the trustees of prosperity”. In fact I believe they are the most powerful agents of change in any society and their actions have far-reaching consequences, good or bad. In politics, we see as an example, the central role played by Arab youth in changing the political system in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, simply because they felt alienated from the society, excluded from job opportunities and decision-making. In most civil wars, the majority of combatant soldiers are the youth, so you can imagine their importance to peace-building in the society.

 

In healthcare, the bulk of new infections of deadly diseases like HIV and tuberculosis in the world today are among the youth, so yet again their actions will determine whether or not these debilitating diseases are eradicated from our world. That youth are the champions of innovation today is no hyperbole: see as examples, how enterprises set up by young people, like facebook and google, have revolutionized the way human beings relate to one another, making significant contributions to the global economy in the process.

It is transformation. The “Asian Tigers” like South Korea were able to transit from a developing to a developed economy by investing in the one resource they had in abundance in the late 1940s: a young labour force.

 

The Koreans developed a program of “education for economic growth”, focused on investing in skills and education for the youth to power industrial revolution and economic growth. also true that theyouthareenginesofeconomic

 

Let me also state emphatically that the involvement of our youth is crucial to sustaining the achievements made by this government through its Transformation Agenda. Today, we are proud that the stability of our macroeconomic environment is being acknowledged internationally, and the fact that we have one of the fastest growing economies in the world, following the IMF’s recent forecast of a 7.2 percent GDP growth rate this year. But if, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, the 1.8 million youth that enter into our labour force annually are not gainfully employed, the productivity of our labour force, and by extension the entire economy, will eventually be eroded, bringing down the stability and growth we presently enjoy, and also creating disharmony in the society. This is why this administration is quite focused on job creation, especially among the youth. Nigeria’s youth bulge, if properly harnessed, can power economic activity over the next 30-40 years, like in Korea’s case.

 

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher once said that “good habits formed at youth make all the difference”. So our youth are the custodian of moral values, a key ingredient in the fight against corruption and other fiscal leakages confronting our economy today. It is a truism that  corruption is a challenge that Nigeria has battled with through the decades and still battles today. While it is easy to shout corruption, the key is to nail it down in specifics and battle it. This government has taken notable steps to fight it but these are often not well acknowledged. The reforms of the petroleum subsidy regime, fertilizer distribution system, and pension administration are notable. But I still believe the war against corruption can only be won through the involvement of the next generation – the Nigerian Youth. We have to go back to be basics and encourage our youth to display the kind of moral values that once stigmatized corrupt practices

 

in our society. We also need to encourage our youth to use modern day technology as tools to combat corruption. So with all these, distinguished ladies and gentleman, I believe that we cannot understate the importance of the next generation or the youth to our nation. They are both today’s assets, and tomorrow’s leaders, parents, professionals, and workers. So what does “getting involved” entail? Well, it does not necessarily mean having to engage in politics or be in government.

 

Getting involved starts with you believing in yourself and in this nation of ours called Nigeria, and standing up to those beliefs. From my international experience, I’ve come to discover that much of the bad publicity Nigeria gets in the foreign media today is actually due to the words uttered by Nigerians at home and abroad. “This government is useless”; “Nigeria is a terrible place to be – nothing works”, and so on, are some of the statements that you hear Nigerians make. I understand that there are many severe challenges but this is not unique to Nigeria. Citizens of other developing countries also face similar challenges, but hardly will you see them “wash their dirty linen in public”, run down their nation, and engage in destructive criticism of their government in the manner Nigerians do. This  occurs primarily because Nigerians don’t believe in the country.

We need a rethink, we need to start believing in this nation and in its ability to deliver the aspirations of its citizens, so the  revolution starts with you – the next generation;

Getting involved also means doing the right things and encouraging others to do likewise,

Such as

(a) obeying the laws of the land;

(b) refusing to engage in corrupt activities like examination malpractices, and giving or receiving bribes;

(c) eschewing ethnicity – which is another serious cancer eating away at the fabric of our national interest;

(d) ensuring you vote during elections so that the elected government is a true representation of the will of the people, and refusing to participate in any post-election violence. In fact empirical evidence shows that the exercise of citizenship rights and duties in youth are durable and often determine political participation later on in adulthood;

 

If the opportunity arises, getting involved may mean participating in government, whether as an elected official, an appointee, or as an assistant to an official in government. There is a plethora of empirical evidence demonstrating that young people who are afforded opportunities for meaningful participation within their communities are more likely to achieve healthy development.

 

Generally speaking, youth involvement will lead to better decisions and outcomes because much of the challenges of the society affect our youth directly, as I mentioned earlier. They are better placed to advocate strategies needed to resolve some of their own challenges.

 

Needless to say that getting involved is actually a fundamental human right. All people, including the young, have a right to express their views on decisions affecting their lives. So are there any costs to getting involved?

 

The answer to that is yes. Being a change agent is never easy in any situation, and it can be very lonely. You may get victimized for trying to do the right thing, or for expressing a differing but just opinion. It also involves a lot of personal sacrifices, especially for those who participate in government. It often requires very hard work and dedication, constant learning, and exposes the individual to various types of attacks. Let me give you a personal example. It is no secret that some oil marketers were behind the kidnapping of my mother last year, as a result of my fight to remove corruption from our petroleum subsidy regime. I’ve received several threats and verbal abuse from various quarters for doing the right thing. But have these deterred me? No! I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in, and continue to be an agent of positive change, and so should you.

 

To conclude, let me borrow the words of Kofi Annan to say that “no one is born a good citizen, no nation a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline: it is condemned to bleed to death”. So get involved, and be a change agent for a better Nigeria. Thank you for listening.

 

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Chude Jideonwo  is a Nigerian lawyer, award-winning journalist and media entrepreneur. For a decade now, he has garnered key experience in all forms of traditional and new media, and has translated that practical experience into successful media campaigns; he is also recognized as a leading expert on New/Social Media and Youth Lifestyles. He is also a co founder  and managing partner of Y! Naija, Y! magazine, Red Media Nigeria.

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