Charles Okeke Okoko, PhD
Department of History and International Relations,
Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State, Nigeria
Chidi Ejikeme Osuagwu, PhD
Department of History and International Relations,
Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State, Nigeria
The most veritable form of youth empowerment is their education. This entails formal and informal education. The line between informal and formal education is underscored by the creation of jobs for the formally educated and the granting of soft take-off loans for the informally educated through the acquisition of some skills. This paper is concerned with the surveying of the ethical contents of the empowerment programmes penciled down for the youth; assess the veracity of purpose or lip service of the providers; and find out the extent of the lipservice vis-à-vis the cheap popularity evidently pursued by some of the professors of youth empowerment. The paper concluded that excepting some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the government input in youth empowerment, which smacks obviously of politicking with attendant fanfare, leaves much to be desired. The efforts have been devoid of ethical orientation or reorientation and the development of, especially, moral and national consciousness.
The youths are the sustaining link between an aging population and the society, and imbue it with energy and longevity. This is done through the hard work, talent, zeal and commitment of societies’ youths. In technical terms, the youths are the capacity contents that must be utilized to achieve successes to the benefit of both the youths, their forebears and societies at large. But who are the youths.
Sociologically, the transition from childhood to self-supporting adulthood is the onset of the youth or youthful period. This periodization, which could be mere anachronism, differs from society to society. For instance, although the age of twenty-one (21) is regarded as an end to adolescence and transition to adulthood, the youth category in Nigeria begins at age eighteen (18). It is also the benchmark for an individual to become eligible to vote and be voted for in Nigeria. This right automatically confers on him/her the status of adulthood, therefore, a youth. While there is no consensus, absolutely, among varying societies of what the upper limit of adolescence should be, certain parameters have been adopted as determinant. These are that the individual (youth) becomes financially independent, employable, could marry, learn and is disposed on how to use his/her leisure time appropriately (B. O. Makinde, 2007: 2-3).
The youth period is that when the individual’s social instincts are suddenly unfolded and must be underpinned by acuity of logic. He/she becomes responsible or is expected to be so, attains emotional maturity and could hypothesize vis-à-vis the double standards, corruption, long-leggism, godfatherism, lying, lipservice, cheating and crudities that bedevil society. These, he/she queries in contradistinction to normative rules, values and regulations. The youths demand freedom. Whether at the lower or upper limits of the youth period, which has been put in Nigeria at between the ages of 18 and 35, he/she often sits back to consider the different manifestations of the emerging self and the need to stabilize self and participate in the control of his/her spatial environment and the human components of it.
It is at this point of the emerging self and stabilization that society meets the youths in-between. An evidently volatile meeting point, the society is confronted with the youths at varied levels of development, successful or failed, and are embroiled in the events around them which are their normative experiences and the need to make normative evaluations nexus central value choices about the meaning and events of life. This elicits a crisis and a catharsis, especially, if this category (the youth) finds itself wanting in any or all of its previous undertakings. To the youth, life should have been naturally or institutively characterized by the prevalence of qualitative and equitable distribution of social and material services and well being; and the free individual participation in the affairs of the state and an overall human mastery of his/her environment (Kosemani and Anuna, 2008: 234).
If the youths fail, remain largely uneducated, undisciplined and unskilled, it behoves society to create an enabling environment or situations as platforms on which the youths would widen their knowledge and general intellectual horizon through an all-inclusive education in order to minimize (Kosemani and Anuna):
The divisive problems of ethnicity [for instance] and modifies and refines attitudes … toward power and wealth, and … the development of values, and creation of social circumstances which contribute to psychic mobilization or empathy among the [youths] citizens.
The inclusive action of society (that the youths are part of) and essentially its government would be the social mobilization of this vibrant and easily aberrant aspect of Nigeria or societies per say. It is not only the psychological and re-skilling involvement of the youth in the socio-political processes, but would also entail, contextualized to Nigeria, the shifting of traditional bonds and loyalty from primordial attachments to family, kindred and clan, to the country and its institutions and to its diversities (Kosemani and Anuna: 2008).
Before the efforts of government in youth development and empowerment, which are spelt out in the “National Youth Policy”, that was enunciated by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001, it is imperative to rehearse the rights of the youths nay Nigerians from the ages of 18 as contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The youths like other citizens have right to life, dignity of human persons, to personal liberty, to fair hearing, to private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, of expression, to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of movement, from discrimination and the compulsory acquisition of property, among other rights that could be subjected to further interpretation by more competent commentators (1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended).
The National Youth Policy
The National Youth Policy which is written in six chapters, was enunciated by the Olusegun Obasanjo led Nigeria government in 2001. This policy document was necessitated by the obvious fact that six out of every ten Nigerians are under the twenty-five-year age bracket. Thus, the need to quickly tap the abundant energy and resources inherent in this category of Nigerians (National Youth Policy, 2001). It will be stating the obvious that government realized the strength and potentials of Nigeria’s youths as means for national growth and development.
Chapter one of the National Youth Policy identifies the Nigerian youths as vulnerable due to factors which individually and collectively would constitute problems to them. These problems have been itemized to include the breakdown of values, moral decadence in society, lack of appropriate role models, poor education, cult activities, religious fanaticism, unemployment and underemployment, the political manipulation of youth organizations and general indiscipline (Ota: 2015). Inclusive are mounting health and social welfare problems, such as sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Most Nigerian youths between the ages of eighteen (18) and twenty-five (25) did not, and might not; get formal education, which is an immense handicap. Previous governments had initiated programmes and projects before 2001 to eradicate youths’ problems. These were through the establishment of the Ministries of Youth and Sports at the national and state levels, and more enduring has been the National Youth Service Corps programme that was launched by the Yakubu Gowon-led government in 1973. As evidenced by the events in the NYSC programme when millions of naira was siphoned during the tenure of Colonel Abdulkarim Adisa, as its Director, other laudable programmes of government were poorly implemented and, in most cases, sabotaged. The Ministries that have catered for the youths, so far, have no significant achievements to show for their existence except lipservice and failures. The Ministry of Youth and Sports was recently left gapping at the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil where it won zero accolades when it used its ‘on the spur of the moment’ template.
Chapters two and three of the National Youth Policy centre on its vision, mission, values, scope and objectives for the youths which also are enshrined, as mentioned above, in the 1999 Federal constitution of Nigeria (as amended). The chapters espouse the need of creating a category of well-motivated and reliable youths who would be inculcated with good leadership and followership values. The youths will be encouraged to join voluntary and community-youth oriented organizations that will foster positive values, attitudes, virtues of patriotism and selflessness in them. They will be encouraged to engage in the activities of similar regional and international organizations. The society and parents, in spite of this policy thrust, will also be expected to assist the youths in achieving the goals and objectives of government. The youths thus, according to E. N. Ota (2015), will be expected, as their contribution, to engage in:
The promotion and defense of democracy and civility in the governance of the country and in interpersonal relations with fellow citizens, eschewing ethnic and religious bigotry and all acts of violence and crimes, promotion of the principles of gender equality, self-help, cooperation and community development, promotion of values of tolerance and responsible conduct as well as active involvement in the promotion of national unity and national development, among others.
Chapter four envisages an effective youths development programme and the best approaches that could be adopted in doing so. Inclusive in the processes are pathways to personal development and public participation in the affairs of the nation. This will be through an education and vocational training processes that seek to significantly draw the youths into the national decision-making process and increase substantially the percentage of educated youths, either formally or informally. To this end, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be expected to complement government’s efforts in the areas of training and skills development in order to make the youths to become gainfully employed. Government will also improve on its social security programmes to assist youths who through no fault of theirs have been incapable of taking care of themselves. Chapter four also espouses the promotion of the arts and culture as veritable vehicles for the appreciation of the nation’s past and for its citizens to respect each others (its multiethnic composition) cultural heritage.
Chapter five of the Policy delineates the target youth groups and emphasizes their peculiarities. It targets post-primary students, those in the tertiary institutions, out of school youths, female-last-limit adolescents, the disabled and delinquent. The Policy has also proffered formulae for taking care of each of these youth groups. Included also are those youths, male and female, who have been sexually and physically abused, engaged in child labour and gender discrimination as well as the abrogation of obnoxious cultural practices which Stonehenge them to the past. The policy also stipulates incentives and facilities for gifted and talented youths in order for them to actualize their dreams and potentials (National Youth Policy, 2001).
Chapter six which is a summary of the Policy document confirms government’s readiness to implement the policy, not to abdicate its responsibilities to the youths and society; and to make the youths to become not only employable but also become employers of labour. If the stipulations enunciated in the “National Youth Policy are faithfully implemented by government, shun of lipservice and charlatanism, it would have become a memorable dividend template of 21st century democracy”.
Consequent Efforts by Government and NGOs
In Nigeria, as is elsewhere, including the developed economies of the western world, micro, small and medium-scale ventures largely drive the economy; and are responsible for the employment of at least 50% of the countries’ workforce that is essentially dominated by the youths. The objective of the National Youth Policy is to educate, train in skills acquisition and, generally, empower the youths. The expectation is that the young entrepreneurs that will emerge will make rapid and sustained progress and help in realizing the long-term vision of Nigeria’s job creation efforts.
In January 2016, about 773 youths graduated from the Delta State Youth Training and Empowerment Programme. The programme, which is an every-year activity is executed under two platforms, namely, the Skills Training Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) and the Youths Agricultural Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP). This is a blueprint that is expected to create effective direction into diverse fields of entrepreneurship that will also be in line with the current emphasis on the diversification of investment into the agricultural sector. Therefore, the training of the youths must identify a broad-spectrum training in basic business management techniques and practices that will make them successful entrepreneurs and business managers (Omon-Julius Onabu, 2016: 21).
Under the STEP platform, the youths will undergo training in skills acquisition or the learning of trades, such as in computer hardware maintenance and repairs; catering and confectionery, electrical installation and repairs, barbing, bead making, decoration and event management, fashion design and tailoring, tiling, block molding, Plaster of Paris (POP) and interlocking outdoor tiles (Ibid).
Under the YAGEP, youths will be trained in the skills, counseled and subsequently established in choice agricultural enterprises, such as poultry, piggery, fishery and crop production. The essence being that the uncertainties in the oil industry makes diversification of investment into the agricultural sector meaningful. A concerted interplay of, and contributions from, the various sectors of Nigeria’s economy will make for inclusive growth and development.
Again the youths participating in these programmes would be counseled into more appropriate brands of programmes in which they will fully realize their potentials. According to the Rise Network, the youths will be assisted to express and achieve their highest feats in idea building, educational advancement and wholesome human development. 12 It will further reinforce the orientation of Nigerian brands and businesses that the youths want more than just entertainment-oriented programmes since knowledge makes any individual totally whole and more investment has to go in the direction of education driven youth development programmes (Rise Network, 2014: 8).
Charlatanism and Ethical Lipservice
Youth empowerment, as is very glaring, is an essential ingredient in national development. Therefore, there are governmental and parental ethical obligations owed the youths if they are to be spared from the hard struggles and inauspicious experiences that made the lives of their parents or past generations very difficult (Ota, 2015). Government, in particular, needs to be concerted in its efforts by exhibiting real commitment to solving the problems that beset on daily basis this (youthful) aspect of its population. This would be a best approach to nation building and sustainable democracy. Thus, the stipulations in the National Youth Policy enunciated by the Obasanjo-led administration has been adjudged as the first official expression in Nigeria towards stamping its commitment to promoting youth development and empowerment. Yet, there exist serious loopholes in the National Youth Policy document (2001) which have affected its implementation till date (2016), namely:
- The policy, inclusive of its vision, mission, values and objectives, is a federal government policy statement with no direct linkages to the other tiers of government, the states and local governments, that have more direct contacts with the youths;
- There is no call for moral rearmament. As a result of economic emasculation and psychological disenchantment, family values are on the decline. The policy did not emphasize the role of religion in restoring moral and family values. Moral instructions in schools from the pre-nursery to secondary schools’, from the platform of any religion, would serve to inculcate the culture of moral uprightness in Nigerian youths; and
- There is a need to stress the relationship between good governance and youth development. Glaringly so, successive governments in Nigeria have failed to provide the basic human and material needs for majority of Nigerians.
While the gap between the poor and the rich continues to widen, the youths have taken to the streets, having been consigned to the lucrative employments of larceny, arson and thuggery easily provided by the politicians or political jobbers who see politics as the easiest and fastest means of becoming rich. Those who cannot hawk along busy expressways have joined these employment and criminal gangs. Annoyingly, youths are seen and used as task force members by government in the collection of levies at road or street junctions and in the process have terrorized, and still terrorize, civilians with sticks and menacing countenances to enforce their irresponsible mandate which does not require any forms of skills. Irresponsible in the sense that government could as well have trained, or train, them into respectable citizens and still carry out same functions with some nobility.
Government should embark on strategic reforms to satisfy her citizens traditional basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. The citizens are in addition expected to be able to have access to free and qualitative education, adequate healthcare and the participation of citizens in political decisions that impact directly on their lives (Ota, 2004). In furtherance, these would encourage the reinvention of family values and national cohesion and progress.
Of all modern basic needs, education is unarguably the most important; and this was eminently discussed in the National Youth Policy. Inclusive in receiving adequate education are the promotion of health education and family planning techniques. The inherent problem in education, formal and informal, is harnessing the target audience. Those in schools can easily be harnessed than those who are not in school and who are basically unskilled workers, apprentices and touts and cannot tap into the government’s plans for them. 17 Even when resort is made to the media (paper and electronic), how many of them can read? Or ever listen to the radio or watch the television?
The policy equally has not made provisions for the youths that are consigned in over-crowded and intolerably non-reformative Nigerian prisons. Consequently, there is a compelling need to reform the prisons which are home to many youths. In Ota’s words (2015: 12):
A situation where young offenders and those who have committed minor offences are automatically jailed or dumped into awaiting trial rooms (ATM) in police stations leaves much to be desired. Since many of the youths are the breadwinners of their families, their incarceration most times, turn their family members into destitutes.
Regarding incarceration, some commentators who are traditional religionists have suggested traditional forms of establishing veracity instead of the over-reliance on the English legal system that has not prevented many innocents who owing to jargonistic gerrymandering have been sent to prison or even executed.
The National Youth Policy and previous designs have not provided for the development of a system whereby a community-based oriented penal system that makes it compulsory for, at least, first time offenders to be sentenced to community service. This provides an alternative sentencing option which would rehabilitate offenders and reduce the burden on prison facilities (Ibid).
The success of any youth empowerment programme is a challenge to all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic or religious backgrounds or to any other subjective, in this case, frames of reference. One is at a loss since well-thought-out programmes and projects have failed or have been implemented half-heartedly. There is evidently a yearning gap between policy formulation and policy implementation. A mountain of pessimism has been created through the erosion of confidence caused by the dismal outcomes of youth empowerment initiatives in the past. Governments have gone through the same motions, of formulation, non-implementation and lipservice, without movement. Government, instead of instituting genuine procedures for the execution of youth programmes and projects, engage in buck-passing which has negatively influenced its genuine intentions and policies at all tiers of governance vis-à-vis job creation and empowerment.
Government establishments and their officers have connived with financial managers concerned with the allocation of micro-credits to misdirect funds meant for the empowerment of those who have been trained at government’s expense. After training, those who applied for government support under the Youth Agricultural Empowerment Programme (YAGEP) of Delta State, for instance, were made up of ‘fake’ or ‘implanted’ farmers. A survey shows that only about 25% were genuine farmers. Unfortunately, there is nothing wrong with this, as it remains the usual ‘smart’ thing to do. It is not seen as creating further underdevelopment or economic sabotage, but it is given political colourations by the cronies of those in political power, evenso, it is construed a dividend of democracy. Yet, the misdirection or misapplication of funds and fakery have been possible as a result of conniving and corrupt government officials who hope to get gratifications. Government officials have gone to the extent of excluding the rightful beneficiaries by registering fake agricultural companies and cooperatives. Evidentially, these officials have successfully siphoned monies meant for micro, small and medium enterprises (Onabu, 2016: 21). This also is not peculiar to any state but is a national concept and ways things must be done.
Those that were trained with government’s funds have expressed doubt as a result of the government’s perchance at reneging on, or misdirecting, its promises. Moreover, the products of these government schemes have often been shortchanged by the contractors and agencies to which they were sent to work with or do internship through tampering with their remunerations which are subsidized by government. This has also been possible because government officials have connived with contractors and agencies to dupe government by collecting part percentages of government subsidies and deprive the beneficiaries. Neither has government ensured that these entrepreneurs accessed funds meant for them, as evidence of commitment nor have the entrepreneurs been able to do so.
This paper painstakingly surveyed previous attempts by government at youth empowerment; and summarized the contents of the 2001 National Youth Policy that was enunciated by President Olusegun Obasanjo. In all, governments have been found wanting. The processes of wealth and job creation schemes must be both sustained by government through the deployment of well-trained officials, an effective civil service and a good capacity-building platform. Government’s efforts must in turn be supported and collaborated by NGOs and global investment organizations, financial institutions as well as corporate bodies and donor agencies, to allow for the desired expansion and effects. Government must engage in strategic partnerships with as many organizations as possible that are really open to collaborate with it for the benefit of the youths.
If these processes are well-articulated by government, the youths would have been prepared, initiated and equipped with technical and practical knowledge, vocational skills and know-how, operational values as well as resources, beginning with a starter-pack or seed capital from government, to enable them hold their own in the business world as both self-employed and employers.
The era of giving-out improperly conceived handouts in the name of youth empowerment is over. The era of giving cars to be used as taxis to youths without teaching them basic mechanical maintenance is also over. The youth must be empowered with soft skills knowledge, inculcated with a mindset of change, personal development and business management, and in addition to leadership (and followership) skills which are crucial for their eventual success in life.
Federal Republic of Nigeria, National Youth Policy, Abuja: February 2001.
Kosemani, J. M. and M. C. Anuna, M. C., 2008, Politics of Education: The Nigerian Perspective, Enugu: Emesco Publications.
Makinde, B. O., 2007, Understanding Adolescence, Lagos: Mandate Communications Limited.
Ota, E. N., 2015, “Youth and Future of the Nigerian State: Interrogating the National Youth Policy”, paper presented at a conference on Science and Technology, Federal University of Technology, September.
Ota, E. N., 2004, “The Basic Needs Approach As An Alternative Approach to Nigeria’s Development”, Uyo Journal of Humanities, Vol. 10, July.
Omon-Julius Onabu, 2016, “Creating Young Entrepreneurs”, ThisDay, Wednesday, January 27.
“Rise Network Marks 2014 UN International Youth Day”, 2014, The Guardian, Friday, September 12.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended) Chapter IV.