By Jerome-Mario Utomi
As a globally recognized event, the world on Wednesday 12th August, 2020, celebrated the International Youth Day (IYD), a programme that gives young people voices and opportunity to celebrate, actions and initiatives, as well as their meaningful, universal and equitable engagement, endorsed by the United Nation World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youths.
What is, however, of interest to development minded individuals is that the theme of this year’s celebration; “Youth Engagement for Global Action” largely highlighted the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels could enrich national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.
Indeed, separate from the fact that the future strength of every nation depends on its young people as their generation will provide the next leaders, this year’s celebration becomes more admirable and deserves our praise when one remembers that youths of Africa extraction and Nigeria in particular, despite occupying in recent times top striking diplomatic positions and development affairs mid fields at the world stage are back home dishearteningly and helplessly relegated to the background in the scheme of political and socioeconomic affairs of their nation. They (the youths) are often made to watch the political and leadership affairs of their nation from the political gallery.
Youths on their parts visibly but ignorantly endorsed this underground plots through their actions and inactions. The continuous silence and feeling of comfort in the face of political leadership deprivation, youth unemployment and lack of access to quality and affordable education authenticates this position.
This ‘ghastly account supports one thing; Nigeria, whose nationhood, generally acknowledge huge potential and manifest destiny, are still floundering and the youths of this country have a sacred mission to retrieve the country from precipice of disintegration, leadership snares and delusions, and lead it on the part of growth, progress, prosperity, development and genuine nationhood.
But, how can this be possible, considering the fact that we are in a nation where tribal loyalty is stronger than our common sense of nationhood? Can the youths effectively gird their courage? How far can the youths go as change-agents in a country where excruciating poverty and starvation continues to drive more people into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect? In a society where majority of the youths can easily be induced to work across purpose; and in political space where high density of the youth’s population reside in various villages with no access to information or livelihood, Can they truly create any impact? The answers to the above beginning with the last lies in a scholarly report which stated thus; youths coming from the extreme rural or tribal background are placed at a severe disadvantageous position because of their traditional background, limited exposure and orthodox believe. Even if the tribal and limited exposure challenge is solved, statistics has made it abundantly clear that the greatest weakness associated with youth related gatherings is their inability to remain united for a very long time.
This fears cannot be described as unfounded as what played out during the 2019 general election remains a pointer to the reality that majority of our youths are ready to compromise their position for pecuniary gain. However, confronted with this condition, the youths must recognize that to produce change, they must be organized and work together in their units of powers.
To change this trend, and achieve the objective of engaging youth in formal political mechanisms, increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies which have symbolic importance that can further contribute to restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth, there are inescapable actions that the youths must take.
Separate from shunning negative habits and involvement in criminal acts such as; drug abuse, murder, insurgency, militancy, armed robbery, Nigerian youths must recognize that the man who creates power makes an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the man who questions power makes a contribution just as indispensable especially when the questioning is disinterested, for it, they determine whether we use power or power uses us.
Supporting this position is Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution adopted from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948) which gives everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The youth must also access the power of the press as Section 22 stipulates that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to upload the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter [Chapter IV: Fundamental Rights] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”, which has been emboldened by the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
It is important that Nigerian youths speak up against violation of human rights, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Like their elders, youths must not initiate, encourage or spread false, mischievous or divisive information capable, or with outright intent, of misleading the populace and disrupting societal harmony and peace. Within the ambience of the law, they must speak up with facts against any wrongdoing or oppression by the government or fellow citizens capable of endangering sustainable democracy and the effective delivery of good governance.
To catalyze the process, the youths must imbibe the attitude of holding Government stakeholders (Duty Bearers) to account for the use of the resources entrusted into their care and since the Constitution is the highest law of the land and the Constitution has given sovereignty to the people, therefore, the youths like their parents are under a duty to exercise that sovereignty as provided for in Section 14 (2) (a) of the Constitution by making demand for prudent and accountable use of what is in the budget.
They (youths) should view as evil the argument by political deconstructionists that Nigerian youths must face difficulties as there is no nation where each has his/her own job and house, and where all children receive as much education as their minds can absorb. This claim in views is not only ‘rationally inexplicable but morally unjustifiable. It is a fact that government lacks capacity to fix socioeconomic challenges alone. But any government with goodwill and sincerity to save and serve the people must develop creative and innovative channels to promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and job creation.
Nigerians are in agreement that the law is the supreme instrument of the state which must be respected and no one is above the law. Therefore, Nigerian youths must be law-abiding citizens, and avoid taking the laws into their hands, seek redress of all their grievances through appropriate legal institutions, and respect the rule of law. They must respect constituted authorities and perform all their legal obligations such as practising honesty.
More importantly, Nigerian youths must appreciate that democracy is not an end in itself; that when democracy fails to underwrite social justice and social mobility, it fuels hopelessness. This particular fact if well understood will assist the youths to comprehend that as citizens, they are constitutionally eligible to vote and be voted for. For that reason, it should be their responsibility to consciously and adequately prepare for leadership.
Jerome-Mario Utomi (email@example.com), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant