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OPINION: Crave For A New Nigerian Youth And Governor Ugwuanyi’s Tailored Interventions




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By STEVE ORURUO

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Historical records reckon with the youths as a formidable force for remarkable transformations and development in every society. 

All antecedent epoch-making inflexions, from the Industrial Revolution to domestic political uprisings, the World Wars to institutional reforms, and to the digital evolution, have the legible markings of adventurous youth. Contemporarily, besides the political realm which has largely remained under the recalcitrant and often suffocating siege of septuagenarians and octogenarians especially in Africa, the youth still constitute the critical boulder upon which nations  are either built or destroyed.

The will, imagination, courage and actions of every nation’s youth propel its economy, inspire leadership credibility and accountability, fuel social change and crystallize innovations that drive multifaceted development. Investing in the youth should therefore be a cardinal priority of progressive political governments, emphatically echoed by these timeless words of Coretta Scott King: _“The failure to invest in youth reflects a lack of compassion and colossal failure of common sense.”

Investing in the youths is as complex as it is necessary;  demanding robust policies, unfettering will, commitment and diligence. *Firstly, the youths deserve to grow up in a global climate devoid of political volatility, socio-economic instability and insecurity. 

The unfortunate reality however is that millions of the world’s youth are trapped in climes walloped by hunger, lack of basic social amenities, wars and needless political conflicts cum violent transitions.  Ensuring the effective and uninterrupted education of every youth is another integral component of youth-oriented investments. 

As Gilbert Chesterton brilliantly observed, _“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another . A nation teeming with uneducated youths not only battles socio-economic instability and political fiascos, it is a danger onto itself, sitting ignorantly on a self-fabricated time bomb.

 The destiny of such a nation is, with a confident clairvoyant accuracy, ridden with episodes of economic stagnation, restiveness, social unrest and profound directionlessness.

The Nigerian youth must subject themselves to a critical introspection. For long, it seems they have languished in ignorance of the enormous trove of potentials and power lying fallow within them or perhaps been subservient slaves to self-doubt, truncated self-esteem and the cozy but virulent charm of apathy. 

The post-independence Nigerian youth have condemned themselves to mere spectators at best,, while the nation barely trudges through the murky waters of corruption, poverty, human rights abuse, electoral malfeasances, and hopeless institutional decay. 

Sadly enough, political fiefdoms have been concretized under the enablement of youth with the attendant amplification of the chasm between the bourgeois and the plebeians. 

While it behoves on the government to empower the youth, the Nigerian youth must rise up to the responsibilities of righting generational wrongs and powering the nation into aeons and oasis of prosperity, and they must think beyond violent destructive agitations to achieve this.

Quite frankly, We inherited a Nigeria built on mutual suspicion and bitter political rivalry and it is this divided Nigeria that we are still operating till today. We do not need to continue to fan the embers of disunity and unhealthy battle of supremacy bequeathed to us by our founding fathers. 

More instructively, we do not need to continue to romanticize a return to the past that was so steeped or marooned in ethnic chauvinism, religious bigotry and horrible cronyism they tend to advocate as the ultimate solution to Nigeria’s multifarious challenges.

We need new activists and new thought leaders who will turn the heat on the mismanagement and incompetence stealing away the destiny of Nigeria. 

We desperately need problem solvers, solution providers and nation builders. We need a “NEW NIGERIA” movement. Regrettably, we cannot completely build a “new” Nigeria with”old”Nigerians—particularly those who have made up their minds to see nothing but gloom and doom for the country. To them, Nigeria is finished beyond redemption or any possible resurrection

We need “new” Nigerians- those whose passion is fuelled and propelled by a yearning for the development of the country; those who see bountiful opportunities for greatness, those who consciously expend their energies on promoting what unites us rather than magnifying what divides us, and those who insist that every part of Nigeria deserves to be treated with equity; no matter their tongue, beliefs, population or political leaning.

Nigeria did not stumble into this woeful status overnight and Nigeria will not be salvaged overnight. It took decades upon decades to ruin Nigeria. To create the mindset that shapes a responsive and functional leadership and positively controls National discourse; it will take a long time. 

When I said that our hope is firmly nestled in the  “youth”- defined in the National Youth Policy as those between 18-29 years of age, although the African Youth  Charter prefers 15-35- I am sure some pessimists would have sniggered; YOUTHS? 

The same chaps or Lads that are on social media hurling all kinds of obscenity, aspersions, venom and innuendos at one another based on ethnic, religious and political prejudices. 

The same chaps that are implicated in yahoo-yahoo (internet scam) all over the world? The same chaps that are dosing heavily on hard drugs? 

The same chaps that would rather elect to vote in Big Brother Naija (BBN) than on election days. The same chaps that are being churned out by our dysfunctional and strike-ridden educational system? I do see ill-mannered conversations on Twitter and WhatsApp mostly coated in insipid literature. I come across vile ethnic and religious hate speeches being spewed in the crudest possible language. I am often condemned to face twisted facts and outright falsehood in the name of politics. I don’t live on the moon. 

I see highly disrespectful youths and the badly behaved youths on social media sending misguided missiles of tantrums, vituperations, innuendos and deadly aspersions without reflections on the debilitating effects and number of casualties.

But do these tell the entire story of the Nigerian youths? CERTAINLY “NO”.

We need to acknowledge that there is a large army of young Nigerians who are great thinkers and builders, who are doing things better than we did in our own youth, who are going to places we never went, who are making exploits in greater dimensions and who are reaching heights we only dreamt of. And I mean in every walk of life; academics, media, science, arts and entertainment. 

Under the same intense climate, hot temperature, challenging humidity and protracted volatility, we are producing resourceful youths, yet we tend to see only the bad and forget the good. The major task before us is how to retain, refine and reproduce the good, and quite essentially, how to salvage the bad. 

We give up too easily, perhaps just to justify our cynicism. Could it also be that we are underappreciating our youth and, thus, using the deviants to parochially define the entire demography? I can testify that from the same vilified and unshepherded army of youthful Nigerians, we have been recruiting resourceful talents, some of whom have won awards and gained international recognition.

We have to also admit that we have failed our youth. We cannot logically complain about the output without a critical appraisal of the input. The school system, both traditional and vocational, is in comatose. That is not their fault. 

Whether we like it or not the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. This is not subject to arguments but a natural fact. They are the building blocks and the indispensable nucleus of the society. 

They will end up in different fields – business, sports, media, civil society, civil service and politics. They will end up calling the shots. If we lose them today, we lose the future of Nigeria. What we owe them is the duty to encourage the positive use of their energies, to correct their mistakes, to celebrate their overwhelming successes and to show them the light so that they can find the way*. Nigerian youth, home and abroad, have to form the core of the rebuilding process. Reorientating and mentoring the youth should form the key strategy, not just for the government but corporate bodies and individuals. 

We need a “NEW NIGERIA MOVEMENT” not only as a mantra but engraved in our strained mentality. A movement of informed and passionate youth who in their total contrition need a great Nigeria. 

We need new Nigerians amongst Nigerians who want to side with Nigeria in this troubled journey to Nationhood.* *We need youth who will turn on intellectual heat on all levels  of leadership- Federal,  States and Local Governments to literally force the underperforming public office holders to start performing at optimum today for the sake of our tomorrow. These new Nigerians must hijack and dominate public discourse with unflappable candour, chilling maturity, reassuring temperance and indelible sense of history.

But some leaders, inspired by their commitment to the social contract with the electorate, sensitivity to the emerging rage and discontent in the air and in pious obedience to the will of the Almighty, are already keying in to measures that will ameliorate the suffering of the people especially the youth.*

An often overlooked perspective in youth-oriented investment is economic empowerment through the support of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). According to the flagship global financial institution, World Bank, SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide, and generate 7 out of 10 formal jobs in emerging markets. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2020 reveals that in Nigeria, MSMEs account for 96% of the total number of businesses in the country, and contribute about 50% to the national GDP. The stimulating revelation by the survey that SME owners in Nigeria typically fall between the ages of 20 and 60 years depicts that the realm of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises is dominated by youth who mostly operate their businesses under sole proprietorship.

The Government of His Excellency Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi which began in 2015 and was historically sustained by an overwhelming majority of the state’s electorate in 2019, has beamed an uncommon spotlight on the youth through the dendrites of education, economic empowerment, employment and socio-political integration. It is no longer news that in his regime, there have been massive reforms in the education sector manifest in infrastructural renaissance, capacity building, award of scholarships to indigent. students, recruitment of quality teaching staff and unprecedented prioritization and enhancement of workers’ welfare. 

It is also glaring that the political structure of His Excellency Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s government, across a two-term mileage, has echoed youth representativeness loudly enough to rattle the foundations of gerontocracy and political ostracization of the young people in the entire continent.

However, the economic dimension of Governor Ugwuanyi’s youth-oriented policies and projects remains underappreciated. This is moreso despite the conspiracies of economic recessions, consequent dwindling of accruing federal statutory allocations and stunted internally generated revenue (IGR) growth. The nation during the Ugwuanyi regime has been badly scathed by economic woes headlined by the 2016 recession, the debilitating 2020 Covid-19 economic stagnation and the current post-covid recession. Unlike the average political leader, rather than find convenient subterfuges in these afflictions, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was inspired to break out of conventional moulds and set unseen precedents.

Governor Ugwuanyi empowered 3,600 traders, majority of whom are youths, with N50,000 each under the Enugu State Traders empowerment Scheme. Also, over 750 youths were engaged in skills acquisition under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme. A thousand youths, working assiduously and tirelessly under Enugu Clean Team Project (ECTP), receive Minimum Wage for less than 20 hours of work per week. Furthermore, the Governor approved the establishment of two World Bank projects, namely IFAD and APPEALS* programme for women and youths agricultural empowerment, for which the state government pays counterpart funds regularly. 

Today, young people in Enugu, like Miss Chinwero Chisom Lilian, the State Champion at the 2020 Maltina Teacher of the Year competition, exude new zeal for excellence and enjoy uninhibited expression on the platform of Governor Ugwuanyi’s policies.

The Enugu Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Centre under the administration of* Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has been on the frontiers of youth empowerment, spurning several avant-garde initiatives*, *curated by Hon. Arinze Chilo-Offiah, the inventive Special Adviser to the Governor on SME Development and Head, Enugu SME Centre.

The Centre has been aggressive on the vanguard of providing collateral-free working capital through the Enugu SME Business Support Loan (ESBSL) for enterprising SMEs and MSMEs to cushion the financial constraints impeding the successful startup, growth, sustenance and development of micro, small and medium enterprises.These loans are not tools of economic guerrilla warfare, as is often the case in Nigeria, rather genuine vehicles through which Enugu youths can be emancipated from the venomous gripe of poverty.

Not long ago, the Enugu State SME Agency partnered with Utiva to launch Enugu Technology Talent City poised to empower youths with invaluable digital skills profitable in the modern day marketplace. Through this programme, Human Capital Development Loans were provided under clement terms for beneficiaries to learn Product Design and Programming. At the end of the programme, these beneficiaries access various job options through which they are able to repay their loans. The Enugu SME Hackathon was conceived to be a gathering of tech-inspired and non tech-inspired thinkers brainstorming to re-incline, redesign and redefine the future of work in Enugu state and enforce a global change. It has since served as a platform for the conception, incubation and operationalization of innovative, cost-effective and sustainable smart  solutions for business. 

Among other numerous initiatives from the Enugu SME Centre include: Auto-revamp Innovative Training Program (AITP) in partnership with Autoease, which seeks to equip indigenes with skills in automobile body repairs and upgrade; Enugu WiFi project in partnership with Wicrypt; and Enugu Job Portal Development and Employment Training Program. Information on these and more are available on the official website of Enugu SME Centre – https://www.enugusme.en.gov.ng/

The Ugwuanyi regime is building solid legacies revolving around the youth of Enugu State; the tendons of the Wawa clime. Through restructuring, strategic rethinking, salient policy formulation, and implementation, the young people of Enugu have been given the attention, sociopolitical integration and economic leverage they deserve as the engine of society and leaders of tomorrow. Governor Ugwuanyi has so religiously sustained the mission he embarked upon in 2015 to harness the vast energy and potential of Enugu youths towards realizing his noble agenda of credible leadership, economic diversification, jobs creation, blistering performance in sports, revitalization of the education sector, Health for all, Judicial independence and the institution of a sane political culture anchored on cooperation, equity, egalitarianism, peaceful coexistence, adherence to zoning tradition and social justice. The recent global recognition and award given to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi by the Ohaneze Ndigbo Youth Wing (Worldwide) as the Best and Most Peaceful Governor in the South East is just one in a growing array of deserving crowns befitting the stature and youth-oriented legacies of Enugu’s Chief Servant as he approved the employment of another batch of 1000 youth on the 18th of December*

Steve Oruruois the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Information


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