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Friday August 12, 2022, was a very important date. It was a day set aside by the global community to celebrate the International Youth Day. According to information from the United Nations, the purpose of celebrating the annual event is, among other things, to raise voices against injustice and discrimination against the youth all over the world.

The International Youth Day was recognised by the United Nations when it passed a resolution towards creating it in 1999. This day came into existence with the recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers which declared August 12 of every year as International Youth Day.

Essentially there is a need for this because very many youths across the world are struggling with issues related to physical or mental health, education and employment, which need to be addressed. When government or society does not focus on proper development of the youth, they tend to become rebellious and many times opt for choices that are neither good for their development nor for their country.

As the global community uses workshops, concerts, conferences, cultural events, seminars and meetings involving national and local government officials and youth organisations to celebrate International Youth Day, while recognising the contributions of young people and volunteers who are working toward the betterment of the society and raising important issues that needs the attention of the society, the situation in Nigeria says clearly that instead of celebrating, the average Nigerian youth is currently in a state of frustration.

The frustration of these young victims of our nation’s socioeconomic challenge was fueled by the present Federal Government’s failure to fulfill the promises it made to them in the past, as well as its penchant for leading without recourse to transparency and accountability.

To explain this position, a recent report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), reveals that in the second quarter of 2020 the unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9 per cent, up from 29.7 per cent, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2 per cent from 25.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groups. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million, out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.

For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, the youth in every society, says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world, such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel, is obvious.

Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends a signal to all segments of the Nigerian society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even at the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2 per cent); 1980s (9.8 per cent) and the 1990s (11.5 per cent). Youth unemployment therefore is not a recent phenomenon. But if what happened in the 1980s and 90s were a challenge of sorts, what is happening at present, going by the latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a big challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and proliferation of solutions.

From the above, it is obvious that, we are in dire straits because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take this country nowhere.

It is accurately documented that many Nigerian children are out of school, not because they are not willing to be educated, but because the cost of education is beyond the reach of their parents. The public schools are short of teachers with dilapidated buildings. The private schools, on the other hand, where the environment is conducive for learning, are cost intensive and out of reach of so many students and their parents.

In like manner, the Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU ) has been on strike since February 14, 2022. The group embarked on the ongoing industrial action to protest the Federal Government’s inability to implement their demands on salaries and allowances of lecturers, as well as improved funding for universities. The implication is that for the past six months and counting, these youths have been idling away at home.

As the 2023 general election approaches, the question is how far can the youth go in a nation where tribal loyalty is stronger than the common sense of nationhood? 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? Or in a society where the majority of the youths can easily be induced to work across purpose and in political space where a high density of the youth’s population reside in various villages with no access to information or livelihood? Can they truly create any impact? Or remain united for a long time.

It is important that Nigerian youths continue to speak up against violation of human rights, suppression of free speech and freedom of the press. Unlike their elders, youths must not initiate, encourage or spread false, mischievous or divisive information capable of misleading the populace and disrupting societal harmony and peace. They must speak up against any wrongdoing by government or fellow citizens that is capable of endangering sustainable democracy and the effective delivery of good governance.

They 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 is not only ‘rationally inexplicable but morally unjustifiable.

Also, 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. 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.

*** Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).