So the other day my friend Samson Itodo and a few of his friends went and got the Not-Too-Young-To-Rule Bill passed. Passing a bill is an arduous task. You need all the links and connections in the world to get things fast tracked. But they got it done. Kudos to the team.
Then it occurred to young Nigerians that the euphoria will last for only a while. The political party that signed the bill and went to town boasting about how they’ve opened the political space to the youths of Nigeria, also demanded the most shocking amounts of monies from aspirants on their platform in a way that mocked the same youths, most of which realized that having obtained the ‘right to rule’, what they didn’t have was money in their pockets or bank accounts.
They had been played. The youths of Nigeria had been used to open the route to builders of dynasties and feudalists who needed the road widened for their sons and daughters to get on the political gravy train – since they had stolen enough money to guarantee that Nigeria remains a slave and master society; where they and their children and grandchildren will be the masters and the youths of today – and their offsprings – will remain the slaves.
I always opined to the youths that what they should be fighting for is a Not-Too-Young-To-Get-A-Good-Job-And-Be-Useful-To-Myself-My Family-And-My-Society Bill. The youths of Nigeria will have to learn priority, and also how not to rush out on fleeting victories when real issues are yet unsolved. Indeed immediately after the NTYTR Bill was passed, some youths gathered and were pushing for Itodo’s group to get them an ‘Independent Candidacy’ Bill. I was livid with some of them for permanently being in the begging mode. The youths of Nigeria represent the largest demographic here. Why are they always begging the political establishment for one thing or another? Why don’t we also learn to use what we have on hand to maximum effect before shifting the goalpost as if we were spoilt children looking for newer toys to play with? Will there come a day when we will have everything we desire? I wondered if our youths knew the meaning of independent candidacy and the criteria they will have to fulfill (monetarily and logistically) in order to qualify.
In the USA, the last major candidate that ran as Independent for the seat of the President was Billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. Collecting signatures alone costs a fortune as you need volunteers all over the nation. However, independent candidature is good at the very local levels where you can do legwork to fulfill the requirements. We have to worry though, about the penchant for people to forge things. In the USA they have an elaborate way of subjecting every claim to serious scrutiny. Let’s move on.
So it’s certain that the youth of Nigeria will not be granted political power on a platter, contrary to their desires. But that is not the biggest fraud being played on the Nigerian youth. Our youths should seek first the kingdom of financial independence before seeking political power. They should not seek political power in order to become financially comfortable. That route is what has led to all the criminality in our land today. In my sojourn in politics, I have seen so many examples of youths who are not ready to do anything else – straight from school – than politics. It is a sad commentary. This phenomenon is bigger in some parts of the country than others, but it is now spreading like wildfire as careers are going bust due to national economic mismanagement. Only politics can bring the untold wealth with which our youths are daily being enticed. Nothing will destroy this country faster than this path we have chosen.
I say that the biggest conspiracy against the youths of Nigeria is the refusal of the political elders to allow the youths of this country be part of the solutions to our problems as a nation. It is evident that these people have totally run out of ideas and are busy flailing all over the place. But they have cornered the little wealth that their limited imagination has been able to generate. The space is constricted. The youths may be struggling to get entrepreneurship going but failures are far more than successes, and our entrepreneurship hardly creates anything but is full of salesmen for the ideas generated by the youths of other countries. Nigeria’s leaders have ensured that the youths of this country are unemployed and un-empowered.
They have reduced the youths to beggars for crumbs, and of late, have ensured that the youths are scrambling for political power, just to stay relevant and get access to the commonwealth too. In this way, they have instituted a vicious cycle of corruption. For this desperate political system they have foisted on us all, can only lead to the bleeding to death of Nigeria. When young people who should be gainfully employed are left to their own devices, what they start to lose is dignity. I am also saying that the mad rush to entrepreneurship is misguided because as we can verify, and as I have also pushed on these pages, what we need to first establish in this country is to ensure a minimum acceptable standard of living for our people wherever they may live. And if we try to do that, we will realize that public resources are not meant for the wanton enjoyment of a few feudal lords, but to maintain a sane society. We will then see that we haven’t started to have a public sector that delivers public goods all over Nigeria. This must be done.
Someone shared a post from a Nigerian living in the UK today, who compared London and Lagos in terms of medical facilities and infrastructure. 2 teaching hospitals in Lagos serving 21million people, 14 in London alone, serving 9million people. Whereas he made a point about medical workers being overworked in Nigeria, what I saw was how we have under-invested in the wellbeing of our own people. What I saw was how President Buhari and his cohorts jump into the next plane to treat themselves in the same London, using monies that should have been invested in building more hospitals here, training and employing more health workers, and paying them better.
What I saw in stark relief, was how the UK National Health Service (NHS) employs 1.7million people and is the largest employer there, even as the public sector employs 21% of UK’s entire workforce, while our public sector (federal, state and local), only employ 3% or less, of our workforce, and keep them at so-called ‘secretariats’ to be pushing evil files of corruption which further gut the country.
What is this conspiracy? I haven’t quite defined it to my own satisfaction. A friend of mine, Martins, a radio anchor, once asked me during one of his shows “Tope, Nigeria is an unbuilt country. Yet we say there is no employment. Who will build the country”. Now, building a country does not involve only money. Indeed there is a lot that is done for free when building a country. We must tame our entrepreneurship rhetoric so it doesn’t get all our youth thinking of how to make money from every transaction. They are money-hungry, simply because they have been deprived for too long. And usually such deprivation leads to untrammeled greed and destruction. Yet there are opportunities for the youth to be part of the building of Nigeria. Opportunities abound.
I had once pushed for the launching of a program titled “Cleanest, Safest and Most-Organized Country in Africa”, as a way of anchoring the energy of our youth, and creating a new spending class, especially by providing provisional employment for secondary school leavers in the light security and environmental sectors. These youths can be used to make Nigeria clean, safe and organised. The goal is to begin to work towards that reality. It is a journey not a destination. Millions of lives can be transformed this way. Food poverty can be eradicated. And I believe this category of people are such that will patronize local goods. What is more? This initiative will begin to get our youths to be financially included and responsible. This is how it is done in every reasonable country.
In Europe and USA and everywhere else we like to fly to and admire, while ruing our own fates, they now get jobs in secondary industries. People push out their children from 16 to go get a job. Here, we will need government intervention for now, because the jobs we have here are still very elementary, fundamental, and often not profitable to private sector involvement. We are talking of things like street sweeping, planting and protection of grass and flowers, beautifying the streets, securing our streets, organizing our streets, towns and villages, ensuring people keep to rules etc. These are things that if we get them right will pay for the effort by way of attracting tourists and Diasporan Nigerians to come and spend here.
But I then had a better idea. We need to scale up. We have been hearing of how our graduates leave university with no skills. Foreign companies come here and complain that they can’t find anyone to employ hence they have to bring their own employees. We also hear about how government is spending too little on education. As we speak ASUU is on strike for another pay raise. Can we not solve the problem by getting students in universities involved already in solving society’s problems while they learn? Can we not assess them on the practical problems they solve? Can our university, polytechnic and college students not get involved in group projects directed at these problems? Can we not pay them for their efforts? If a student gets anything like N40,000 per semester for getting involved in problem-solving projects would that not encourage them to learn? Who says the professors who supervise these experimental solutions cannot get an extra N500,000 every semester? And the projects are there, staring us in the face. Who says private sector companies cannot mentor these students and take them on as interns for the duration of the projects they are doing? Will this not open up Nigeria big time? Will this not give our students experience that they can write up on their CVs even while at school? Will this not crash the cost of contracting in Nigeria?
Imagine if students of civil engineering in polys and unis begin to get involved in building small street roads? Imagine if students of urban and regional planning actually helped in planning and opening up our villages, small towns and inner cities? Imagine if students of geography and regional planning actually helped find solutions to our many erosions and helped in planting trees and grass where we are suffering from decertification? Imagine if students of electrical engineering were the ones building and operating mini hydro turbines, solar, windmills, biomass and other clever ideas that will light up Nigeria from the ground up? Will that not be better than this mass importation of power plants that we cannot maintain? Will that not begin to short circuit our inefficient transmission system? Imagine if students of history were helping to collate the histories of all our small settlements and students in computer science helped to create the websites and upload our dying languages on the internet? Who says we cannot build a Google full of Nigerian and African content? The amount of data entry required for the issues besetting Nigeria is endless! No one should think these ideas will take away jobs from those looking for it with their certificates presently. These ideas can only open the space.
For we can employ the same long-suffering graduates to supervise these projects. These ideas aren’t too far-fetched. I realized there is an intricate link between society, companies, public sector and universities everywhere else in the developed world. Stanford University built Silicon Valley, for starters. And Stanfordites still troop there even while in school. I see Nigerian higher institutions with no roads, no water, no light… dilapidated infrastructure, abandoned projects and I wonder why they cannot help themselves. What is the essence of a degree if you cannot solve problems. Ok, incentives the students. Let them experiment. Make them feel appreciated. They will create a new Nigeria.
Think about any department in the university. They can immediately begin to impact on society. For departments where we struggle to find a direct link – say Philosophy – we can make the student choose where they will love to embed so long as they want to be useful. The dispersion of these schools all over Nigeria also means we can begin to specially diversify and open up this country which had been hemmed in since our leaders focused only on state capitals. This will be a remarkable project and I am sure our youths will appreciate it. I once told this to a top banker friend of mine and he said Nigerians don’t want to work. I really don’t think so. At least we must give opportunities to those who are willing to be useful. Starting from our campuses will further add integrity to such an idea because not only does there reside a bit more decorum among our professors, ghost students are lesser than ghost workers. And I believe monitoring will be easier at that level.
So this is the biggest conspiracy against Nigerian youths. It is the fact that there is much to be built in Nigeria, they have the energy, passion, exposure, imagination, connectedness, innocence, clear-mindedness, agility to build up the country, but are decidedly being obstructed, confused, deprived, impoverished, seduced with ephemeral nonsense, violated, contaminated, corrupted, used and abused, vilified and deliberately sent on wild goose chases to pursue money where it doesn’t exist while our pretend leaders work actively in solidifying the modern slavery era that Nigeria has become. That is why our leaders don’t care if any number of Nigerian boys are sold as slaves in Libya, beaten up mercilessly by police in Angola, deported like sardines from Gabon, languish by the thousands in Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai jails, seek for asylum like wild beasts and wretched of the earths all over Europe. None of them give a toss
Youth. Yes you. Wake up!