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Youth restiveness, By Dan Agbese

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Our youths are restive. We cannot pretend to be ignorant about this. Still, our political leaders choose to pretend about it and the danger it portends for the country and its future. Youths are potent forces for change – both positive and negative. When their anger boils over, it turns into a tsunami.

            The youths tested their power of protest with the #EndSars peaceful protest in October 2020 over the police killing of a youth in Delta State. The peaceful protest over police brutality of fellow citizens ended tragically because the government panicked and inadvisably reached for the gun. The gun silenced them, but they achieved their objective by forcing the president to admit that the excesses of the police unit, known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, had gone well beyond the call of duty. SARS was disbanded. The youths also served notice that thenceforth, they would no longer padlock their lips whenever they see the government doing what threatens their future. The government will take them for granted at a high cost to itself and the nation.

            The recent youth protests over the murky circumstances surrounding the death of a popular young singer, MohBad, was evidence that the youths are watching. Those protests could have turned ugly if the government had been implicated in what happened to the young man. The fear of youth power should be the beginning of an important political education and attitudinal changes among our political leaders. 

Our country is blessed with a large youthful population of close to 45 per cent of the population. They are, to borrow a hackneyed phrase, the leaders of tomorrow. It is incumbent on the oldies to prepare them for those onerous future responsibilities. For their sake, at the last count we had a total of 259 universities, made up of 50 federal, 61 state and 148 private. In addition, as of 2018, we had 66 polytechnics, 85 colleges of education and 25 monotechnics. 

Our youths thirst for education. These institutions should slake their thirst. But they do not. A Daily Trustinvestigation in 2018 remains instructive. According to the newspaper, between 2010 and 2015, some 10,105, 379 people sought admission into the then 260 tertiary institutions. They had room for only 2,674,485 of them in six years. They have no room for more applicants because most of them are poorly staffed and poorly equipped to do what they are supposed to do. I do not think the situation has improved much since then.

These impressive numbers of our tertiary institutions paint only a glamorous picture of what is seen; what is not seen is the rotten underbelly of our educational development. They hide the facts of what we have made and continue to make of the ill preparations of our young people as part of the current change agents and future leaders of the nation. Our educational system is defective. The late K.O. Mbadiwe once dismissed it as “puny.” 

It does not seem to worry the federal government and our educational planners that we are busy producing certificated but poorly educated young people. I have made this point repeatedly in this column. Professor Charles Soludo, then governor of CBN, now governor of Anambra State, once said that 80 per cent of these certificated young people were useful neither to themselves nor to the nation. I doubt that there has been a radical change in the pathetic situation since then. If an educational system continues to produce young people who are of no help to themselves, it fails the youths as well as the country and its future. 

            Universities and other tertiary institutions are primarily responsible for our manpower development. If each of these 259 universities in the country graduates 1,000 students per annum, we will have 259,000 new hands to push the ploughs as we try to move the nation forward. But there cannot be enough room for all the hands that wish to push the ploughs. Unemployment is not just a problem; it is a national nightmare.

In 2020, the unemployment rate was 33.3 per cent – about one third of the national population. Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics did some voodoo mathematics and told the nation that that figure dramatically dropped to 4.1 per cent. There is no evidence for this. We do ourselves injuries when we choose to speak with forked tongues to make us all feel good.

As a people we are normally immune to scandals. Still, the scandal involving some federal government officials exploiting the desperation of our youths by selling them pieces of paper for non-existent jobs must have pushed the frontiers of corruption. The scandal briefly made it to the media and petered off. No heads rolled. I am sure that as you read this, the sales are still going on.

Not long after he left office after eight years as president, Obasanjo warned that youth unemployment was a time bomb. Maybe the bomb was not ticking loudly then; it is ticking loudly now. Those who have no ears to hear must borrow ears to hear.  The unemployment burden is on our youths. Their university degrees have not taken them off the streets. They waste their youthful energy in either idleness or channel it to crimes and other anti-social activities. 

Most of the kidnappers, bandits and armed robbers are youths. If we take our youths off the streets where they pound the pavements wearing out their shoes daily hunting for legitimate means of livelihood, we deny the devil the right to put their idle hands and brains to evil use. None of us can pretend not to know that our unemployed youths are being recruited into violent and other crimes daily by crime lords all over the country. This is a huge challenge and one the politicians would do well to pause and give some serious thoughts to. If it is not well with our youths, it cannot be well with the country’s present and future and it cannot be well with our political leaders.

            The state of the economy is partially the problem. The other is the misallocation of financial resources. Palliatives? Got it. Because of politics and political interests, the allocation of financial resources must bend in the direction of the arc of public applause. The Nigerian economy has never respected the classical economic theory which posits that lack of money forces down prizes. In our own peculiar case, the less we can afford it, the more we pay for everything – food, transportation, education, etc. 

Vice-President Kashim Shettima recently spoke of the mess in the economy. Mess does not fully describe the state of the economy Tinubu inherited from Buhari. The economy was badly run down. There should be no beating about the bush here. We are in trouble because the economy is in trouble. The frontiers of its regrowth are shrinking rather than expanding. Promises of its reflation and the creation of job opportunities have become the refuge of the clueless going back to Buhari in what ails it and what must be done to cure it of its ailment. 

It is a bad mistake to build tertiary institutions without planning for how the public and the private sectors of the national economy can absorb their products. It is the classical example of a nation that plans to fail itself and its citizens.

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