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Unik Impact: The Nigerian Youth; A Generation & It’s Burden

Madam Vice Chancellor Ma, I am honoured to be here. I want congratulate you for Federal University Dutse, it has soared and made all of us proud. This is a home coming for me. Besides, I am naturally excited at the prospects of speaking to the youths, especially the students in our campuses for three good reasons.

First, no matter what shape the future decides to come, here is the future in front of us. They are the future faculty, lawyers, judges, journalists, doctors, business leaders, teachers, emirs, university administrators, agric entrepreneurs, lawmakers, governors, ministers and presidents.

Second, here and in front of us, there is the capacity to comprehend anything and everything under the sun. They teach and learn quantum physics, matrix, engineering mathematics, economics jurisprudence, and neurosciences here!

And finally, their responsibility quotient, innocence and potentials are highest than in any other gathering of young people.

This is what I see here. And that is why the choice of the topic; Nigerian Youths: The Burden of a Generation is most apt, timely and appropriate. I therefore congratulate the organisers and thank the University community and management for the very rare honour and privilege

I am tasked to speak on a topic that l have no formal training about. I am just a Physician, and I am accordingly very nervous to have to share the space with these distinguished personalities. I do sincerely hope that, in the end, my views would be seen for what they are; just my personal views and attempt to interpret them within the obvious limits of my education and experiences. I shall look at trends and analyse them. Where l appear very critical and harsh shouldn’t be of any partisan or ideological concern to anyone here. All mistakes shall be mine and are already regretted. What eventually is sound and useful shall be to the glory of Almighty God.

Ladies and gentlemen, a Generation is defined as the demographic cohorts of all the people born and living at about the same time. The 2009 Nigerian National Youth Policy defines the youth as all citizens of the Federal Republic aged between 18 – 29yrs. I understand that the upper limit is now up to 35yrs. This effectively puts all those within the standard youth range today within the Millennial Generation (the generation Y).

The Millennial Generation is defined in popular media usages as those born between the early 80s and the mid 90s to early 2000s. This definition I guess captures most of my audience here. The Millennials are generally marked by their coming of age in the information age and are very comfortable in their usage of digital technology and social media. This is very relevant to our conversation today, and we shall come back to it later.

As of midnight the 10th of August 2019, the Nigerian population clock read 201.5 Million. This makes Nigeria the 7th in world population and about 2.35% of the entire earth’s population (one out of every 43 people on earth calls Nigeria motherland)!

The population is relatively young with a median of about 18.4yrs and 50% of it are less than 30yrs. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the classical textbook description of the youth bulge, and we must square up to face it’s attendant consequences on the economy, jobs, social services and security, as well as position ourselves to reap and benefit from it’s enormous potentials

My fellow youths, I want share a certain story with you, and it is only for you. I attended a certain conference with all those grey haired fancy googled researchers and they concluded that the Millennials as a generation don’t just listen. I quickly asked myself, does it mean that we have up to a 100 million Nigerians who won’t just listen? I chose to disagree. After all the youths are my friends. But just to be fair to those researchers, let us find out here if their findings could be right and we indeed don’t listen……

…… At the count of three, clap once, but not twice….!

Obviously those researchers I disliked could perhaps have a point. But guys, we better listen to this!!!!!

In all human societies, each generation as an epoch would have it’s unique challenges, and from that flows it’s unique roles and how history will both record and remember it.

In Nigeria, the first generation of the Balewas, Azikiwes, Sardaunas, Aminu Kanos, Awolowos, Tarkas and Enahoros and their older cohorts, the Alvan Ikokus and Harbert Mcauleys were committed to a free, independent and sovereign country. All their politics, activism and intellectual efforts were to make Nigeria free of it’s colonial lordship. The immediate post independence period saw similar efforts by the same cohort in building the three regions along clearly defined ideological and economic principles. Nigeria was very competitive globally and well on track to greatness and nationhood

The first military coup in 1966 threatened that stability and indeed the corporate existence of the then young nation. A certain generation of leaders, also young and without much experience rose to the occasion and thank God we still have a country today. Nigeria was saved by young and patriotic military officers in their late 20s and early 30s

Then, came the struggle to democratize in the late 70s to late 90s. Despite the turbulence, inefficiencies and even the wastages and frustrations, we can today stand tall and declare that Nigeria has democratized. Or at least it has gotten the military out of the way and elections are held periodically, predictably and despite serious challenges, freely. It is to the credit of the generation that perfected this that we can stand here today and speak freely without much harassment or censorship by the state or it’s agents.

With the burdens of the decolonization struggles, civil war, and efforts to democratise out of the way, what then are the burdens of this generation, your generation, my generation, the millennial generation?

Invited guests, anyone who is 15yrs today, will be 40 in the next 25yrs. And anyone at 45, will be 70 in the same quarter of a century. Therefore, the 15 – 45yrs age range can seize the next 25yrs and determine it’s directions, quality and outcomes or continue to lament and watch helplessly

With all due respect and deference to the previous four or five generations before us, I would want to say they have done their very best in the best way they can. And I want to assure them that we are not filing up arms for a generation war. I strongly believe they have responded to the challenges of their times in the best ways possible, perhaps within the limits of their individual capacities, history, mindset and other enablers, most especially technology and the information at their disposal.

I was discussing with an elder statesman who was narrating his experiences travelling from Jahun to Kano as a primary school pupil more than 60yrs ago. He narrated how he had to trek to Kiyawa on foot to catch the Kano Maiduguri bound trucks. I further appreciated their sense of accomplishment when my father told me that the only doctor he had ever known from his primary school to early career were all whites. Over time, I began to really appreciate that accomplishment they always radiate while marvelling at how far things have gone for the better as actually genuine. That elder statesman has lived long enough to have several options of good roads from Jahun to Kano. My father has also within lifetime saw not only white doctors but also the reality of about three of his children as medical doctors. That generation has every reason to feel accomplished and fulfilled.

A generation that watched when the first car moved fast his community may not be able to conceive and deliver a speed train. A generation that knew only fax machines and typewriters may not be able to conceive and deliver smart schools, smart learning and smart curriculum. My father and his generation who had in their formative years thought only whites could be doctors may not able to conceive a universal health coverage and let alone apply robots and artificial intelligence into our healthcare. A generation that didn’t learn molecular biology and biotechnology in school may not be able to conceive and deliver modern agricultural and food production practices. A generation that had felt secured with the native authority police may not be able to respond to global terrorism and translational crime. A generation that didn’t know codeine, rophynol and tramadol, will naturally look helpless while these drugs are hawk in our streets.

This comparative disadvantage of the older generations in handling contemporary problems isn’t that of either capacity, passion or will. They had and still could have both. What is certain is the fact that they probably have passed their time and today’s development templates aren’t compatible with their softwares no more!

Problems of 2020 cannot be solved with the mindset, orientation and education of the 70s and 80s.

The status quo may not be flattering, but it is our time and the burden is ours

1. Security: Our borders are among the most porous and unprotected on earth. No reliable citizens’ identification and no national crime database. Intelligence gathering and policing are still very rudimentary. Accordingly, banditry, armed robbery, terrorism, kidnapping, and other forms of organized crimes have taken over our country. The morale, dignity and competence of our police officers is no longer in the national priorities list.

2. Poverty: Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world in June 2018. A person can be said to be living in extreme poverty if they live below the poverty line of $1.90 or 693.5NGN per day.

According to the world poverty clock, 46.5% of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor as at June 5th 2019.

Multidimensional Poverty Index tracks deprivation across three dimensions and ten indicators; Health (child mortality & nutrition), Education (years of schooling & enrolment) and living standards (water, sanitation, electricity, cooking fuel, floor & assets).

3. Education: Nigeria has one of the least net school enrolment in the world with an unusually high gender parity against the girl child. The drop out rates for girls is one of the highest in the world. And at 10.3Million, the number of school aged children who are out of school in northern Nigeria is highest on earth. Here also, like with the police, the morale, competence and dignity of our teachers isn’t on the national priorities list anymore. All these are complicated by one of the least government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP.

4. Health: At 52yrs, the life expectancy in Nigeria is unfortunately the lowest even in West Africa. Infant, child and maternal mortalities are one of the worsts in the world. Fertility rate at 5.5/woman is also one of the highest in the world. So is the population growth rate at 3.2%/annum. We are among the last remaining reservoirs of immunization preventable diseases, and other preventable non communicable and communicable diseases like VVF and leprosy.

5. Gender Issues: According to the UNDP and women’s right watch Nigeria, of the 56.5Million young females not in school worldwide, about 10 Million live in Nigeria and the number keep rising annually

According to the Nigeria’s gender report in 2014, 62.8% of females are without education in North West Nigeria and 38.8% in North Central.

According to the Women in Law and Development Africa, 45% of 15yr olds are married against their resolve in the North of Nigeria, exposing them to high risk difficulties and even death during pregnancy and of course child birth….(my story and Nicole at General Hospital Jahun).

6. Corruption: Nigeria scored 27 points out of 100 on the 2018 corruption perception index by the Transparency International. Corruption Index in Nigeria averaged 20.76 points from 1996 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 28 points in 2016 and a record low of 6.90 points in 1996.

7. Drug Issues: One of the world’s worst cases of drug abuse with particularly young people, including teenage girls worst hit. This drug culture enables crimes, affects health indices and destroys the economy.

8. Environment: Deforestation especially in the extreme North causing desertification, loss of farm land, water scarcity, poor yield, poverty and conflicts.

9. Transport Infrastructure: Poor transport Infrastructure due to years of total neglect, lack of investment and corruption.

10. Religion, Politics & Development: Since the late 70s, new religious revival movements have continued to exert their influence in our politics and eventually development. This is especially a strategic point this generation must take note of

Madam Vice Chancellor Ma, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. A generation fought for our independence. Another one fought a war to keep us one. And yet another fought for this democracy. What then is the burden on this generation? Considering the realities on ground as at today, the burden appears very clear and well cut out like never before

The Millenials, famed for our access to digital technology, social media and information, must deploy same to democratise further, secure our borders, police our territory, improve our healthcare build a knowledge economy, create wealth, share the prosperity, and project these strengths at the global stage as the only black super power! Story of Nigeria as the only possible black super power….

First and foremost, there is a compelling need to recalibrate our collective value system and national priorities list in ways that the morale, competence, and dignity of our police and teachers are at the very top. These two are the basic foundation of any secure and prosperous society. No society can ever develop without sets of conscious, consistent and deliberate national actions to dignify it’s police and teachers. We are copiously wanting in this regard. The recruitment, training, logistics support, welfare and compensation system for these two has to be world class. No much is too much to secure a nation and empower it’s citizens with knowledge

Any future youth manifesto must declare that this territory called the Federal Republic of Nigeria isn’t a hunting ground for violent ideological extremists, murderous gangs and other opportunistic conflict entrepreneurs! Enemies of our people and the state must always go to bed with the fearful certainty that our agents will get them anytime anywhere. This is nationhood 101!

There is a need for completely different set of ideas, mindset and thinking in our educational system. Our best brains must be recruited and compensated to teach from primary to tertiary levels. An incompetent teacher is a much bigger hazard to the society than even an incompetent doctor. While the doctor messes up with one citizen at a time, the teacher does that to an innocent multitude in their formative years, among whom will be our future doctors, teachers, judges and police. One wonders how a society that seeks to develop tolerates so much indifference to the flight of it’s teachers and schools

Our curriculum needs total overhaul and upgrade to match new global realities of access to information, globalisation, and exciting breakthroughs in biotechnology, space technology, communications and robotic sciences. This is the only way we can create a knowledge economy. An economy that is driven primarily by the competence, skills and inputs of individual citizens. Unlike extractive economies, it (knowledge economy) engages all citizens, multiply employment and economic opportunities, share prosperity and ultimately reduce poverty and unemployment. In an established knowledge economy, no citizen is left behind, let alone the millions and tens of millions left in its extractive variant.

The NYSC scheme that will hopely host all of you in a couple of years is frozen in the mindset of the 70s. The 2020s and the 30s must adopt a scheme that collects, configures and conveys millions of graduate youths into economic opportunities and boom

We must figure out ways to enrol all school age children into classrooms. The Almajiri system cannot continue to remain in it’s present form and direction. The Koranic schools should be modernised through skills, numeracy and broader literacy addition to it’s curriculum. All school age children shall have rights to a free, compulsory and competitive basic education

A special attention shall be paid to the girl child. For those of us who are Muslims, Prophet Muhammad PBUH has strongly recommended educating the girl child, which he prioritized over and above the boy’s. Predictably, about two of his wives and a daughter were scholars of note. Nana Asma’u, the daughter of Sheikh Usman Ibn Fodio was a writer, a philosopher, and a scholar in her own rights. Who then do we look up to when our girls turn out among the least educated, healthy and empowered in the world? This has to change

Our people need to be healthier than they presently are. Women shouldn’t die as much during childbirth and more of our children should be able to celebrate their fifth birthdays in health and total wellbeing. Our life expectancy is embarrassing, just as are our doctor to patient and nurse to patient ratios. We must totally and immediately eradicate diseases like leprosy and VVF.

We must clean our neighbourhoods and streets of illicit drugs, and establish sound rehabilitation programs for those who are already victims

To achieve all these, no resources, human or material shall be spared. In areas of policy and governance, our traditional institutions are more or less redundant and grossly underutilised. While we remain totally ignorant and clueless of the utility of religious clerics, their places of worship and the opportunities both can offer for positive social engineering.

We are due as a people for yet another comprehensive round of traditional institutions reforms. For example, in Northern Nigeria, some of the social and to an extent even the economic constraints that ail our development could benefit from the reverence, stability and the solid network of our Emirs and their Emirates. So is also the case with the authority, legitimacy and knowledge of the Islamic Clerics and their pulpits. (Story Friday mosques, sermons, destitution, begging and diseases)

The present confusion where both the traditional institutions and the religious establishment are only barely tolerated, must give way to a future where the two institutions would play a predictable and constitutionally guaranteed supporting roles in our social, economic and development policies and actions

We must halt desert encroachment. We loose about 0.6 kilometres every month to desertification. Earlier in this month, the youthful Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abey Ahmed, led the country of about 80 Million to plant 343 million trees within the same 24hrs. We can do more than this and we must try. Nigeria should have set the pace in the first place

Agriculture which employs the vast majority of our people, contributes the highest to our GDP and directly affects our food security must rise above a 1000yrs inherited enterprise. We must inject research, knowledge, innovations and capital to completely modernise our farming.

Agriculture must evolve into a business backed up with actionable agro industrial and commodity exchange blueprints.

These are the monumental national, regional and local burdens staring us in the face as a generation. Our job is cut out for us. It is our responsibility (just like our heroes past) to consciously organise towards these very specific goals with clear ideological narratives, dedicated political mobilization and sustained progressive actions.

My dear compatriots and fellow youths, the big questions are; do we even behave as if we are aware of this burden? If we are aware, are we ready to do anything about it? If we think we are ready, are we capable as a generation?

This now the appropriate moment for an honest, frank and self critical assessment of ourselves as a generation;

1. We are too selfish, ideologically incoherent and fragmented:

The generation that struggled for independence knew that while the end result of their struggle was power and economic opportunities for most of them, what bound them together were however, strong decolonisation sentiments, freedom for their people and even pan Africanism

The civil war sacrifices were as much about one strong and indivisible black African nation than it was about personal differences and ethnic sentiments.

Even the recent democratization struggles were as much driven by ideals of democracy, free society and individual franchise as it was about power and its contest

Unfortunately, we are too ideologically incoherent and fragmented and very selfish to pursue any competitive and meaningful political movement.

What is our ideological and philosophical sounding board as a generation? Beyond asking the old to leave and give us power, what higher ideals unite and propel us?

2. Organisational defects:

We are bad organisers. Very bad ones. My involvement in politics from the ward to the national levels exposed me to the reality that politics is all about organisation. If one likes, one can spend a whole life time agitating. But in the grand scheme of things politically, he might achieve little or nothing if the traditional organisation bit of it is missing. My generation is all talk no organisation! There are instances where people who didn’t pass through any formal training do much better in organizing and excuting political tasks

3. Finance and Logistics challenges:

Globally, coordinating successful political activities will involve alot of resources. We just don’t have those resources. No one will ever be generous enough to finance another’s political adventure. Especially if he determines that the ‘other’ seeks to replace him.

Nobody will fund us but us! Every kobo counts and shall be volunteered. There is a serious power in numbers. Presidents Obama of the USA and Macron of France were crowd funded by young people. The sad reality here however is that even some of our young educated

elements would rather ask for what they will get out of the process than what they will volunteer into it

4. Ethical & Moral Challenges:

No matter the sentiments my generation might have against those running the status quo, one cannot take away their sense of purpose and responsibility towards what they consider a priority. Perhaps because of the advantages of better education, purposeful mentoring and the exposures they had, they come across as more hardworking, ethically conscious and disciplined than most of our young people.

While we condemn corruption in the open, most of us secretly wish to benefit. We only seem to gloat at corruption that we aren’t beneficiaries of. Money and patronage buy our loyalty. Greed, envy, hate and jealously determine to a large extent our political attitudes and opinions especially towards people of our generation.

5. Emotional Intelligence:

We are too emotional. Our interactions on social media are literally hateful shouting matches. We attack, disrespect and mock each others cultures, spirituality and ways of life generally.

There is even no universal and acceptable concept of what constitutes a major social affliction across ethnic and regional lines. Words like Almajiri, Baby Factory Product, Boko Haram, Terrorist, Yahoo Boys and other derogatory expletives are used to shout down the other not to establish any consensus against the issues at broad and actionable levels.

Our public debates are essentially emotional sound bites around regional, sectional, religious and tribal sentiments. This at best take our attention away from the real issues and eventually even breed contempt and hatred among us!

But all hopes cannot be lost. The prospects are very bright if we choose to do all the right things, at the right time and for the right purposes from today. The political space, much more than any other aspect of our national life needs our fresh ideas and innocent minds.

First, we must quit the politics of next elections. The youths made so much noise in 2015, and by 2019 they almost run the political space into the frenzy of not too young to run. If no one is too young to run, then the fact has been no one was ever too to old run. Such unrealistic timelines and expectations only help to further portray us as an ambitious lot who seek power only for the sake of power

Nigerian youths must learn to toil, organise, shoot blank, fall and rise again. We must never reduce this generational burden to any meaningless debate about ageism. It is not a ‘we’ the young versus ‘them’ the old in the context of age but the specific realities and roles expected of the two generations. We need both the collective wisdom and accumulated experiences of the old to properly harness and guide the energy, innocence and the modernity of the young

The ultimate goal should be specific actions towards an ideologically coherent, self financing and ethically sound political movement (from the polling unit to the national level) that should rival, challenge and eventually neutralise the status quo. The existing political arrangement isn’t ours and may not necessarily be configured to serve or empower our generation either

Good politics isn’t about the next election or grabbing power but organising a society and moving it forward

A new Progressive Activism has to start. It shall be anchored on sound philosophical, ethical and moral principles with clear ideological sentiments around; universal freedom, rights, and equality of all men, right to life, free, compulsory and qualitative basic education for all, universal health coverage, gender fairness and inclusion, social and economic justice, childs right, freedom of thought, association and conscience, cultural renaissance and environmental renewal

And make no mistakes about it, the youth demography has all the progressive resources and elements necessary to initiate these actions. Though they are presently littered across various class, sectarian, and geopolitical divides and interests. They must eventually locate themselves, quit their shouting matches and link up to disrupt this gory status quo.

This is what Development Politics is all about. It promotes big daring ideas, and ethical, moral and intellectual competence. It must accordingly be able to mobilise and own it’s political resources. Set the minimum standards of rights and obligations for both the elected leadership and citizens. Finance it’s activities and sponsor candidates with specific mandates. Then monitor and enforce compliance of same.

Take Jigawa as an example. The state was created 28yrs ago, and like all socio-political entities had had its unique opportunities, challenges and history. While the past remains essentially a history, we can however constructively engage the future around very specific and clear deliverables

As at today, our dear state is probably among the five poorest in the country with one of the lowest literacy index (third from the bottom in the WASSCE results for two consecutive years), high maternal deaths and infant mortality. We are among the top 3 states losing their land to desert encroachment with all it’s attendant consequences on subsistence farming and animal husbandry (the two major drivers of our GDP), food security and poverty. Family nutrition, dependency ratio and female literacy remain one of the worst in the world.

With it’s population of about 6 million; 3 million of which are under 30yrs, reasonably educated and capable, the Millennials in Jigawa can, in the next 25yrs, initiate a possible sub revolution that can effectively change perception and reverse the fortune of the state

Specifically, with an estimated landmass of about 22,410 square kilometres, adequate international boundary, modern airport, about 250km of railway track, impressive road network, two new universities, a teaching hospital, three polytechnics, an informatics institute, a 50 yrs old college of education, schools of nursing and health technology and a reputation for peace, Jigawa, can with the right mindset, daring ideas and patriotism generate a self sustaining prosperity compared to many sovereign territories

It’s diverse and rich landscape comprising of all the savannah types (guinea, sahel and Sudan), expansive and extensive network of wetlands, bird sanctuaries, rock formations and planes can provide Nigeria with a significant fraction of it’s food’s demand, generate foreign exchange, and host all the cattle colonies and RUGAs in Nigeria. In fact, with such endowments, Jigawa is a potential international tourism sensation that can support various chains of hospitality and agro allied industries and activities

I am of the strong believe and conviction that this generation can, within our lifetime deliver ‘a new world’ to the national stage and launch it’s economy at both the sub regional and continental levels.

All that is required in the short to medium term is the right collective mindset and consensus, strategic vision, clinical planning and dedicated progressive political structures to modernise our education, health, local economy and environment over the next 25yrs

Ladies and gentlemen, this may be the hard way, but it is probably the only way to fix things. It was done by others who may even be considered young and not so educated by today’s standards. They have taken all the real bullets, endured tortures and served the prison terms on our behalf. Nobody is in prison today because of the political views they hold.

We are the Nigerian Millennials. A totally free, fully franchised, reasonably educated and technology enabled citizens of a global community who must stand up to the burdens of their generation and time.

We can start to stand from today, or tomorrow, next month, in a year’s time or even ten. But let this generation never refuse to stand and deliver what both time and destiny demand of it

Yes, we must stand!!!