It’s Time to Add Value to Nigeria’s Youths

ByBen Murray Bruce;
Before I go into my piece  proper, permit me to say a few words about a topical and pressing issue. President Muhammadu Buhari has just sought permission to borrow $29.6 billion. My immediate reaction to this is that it is very important that we as a nation and more particularly we as elders in this nation called Nigeria not make our youths bear burdens that will put them in perpetual bondage. I have never been against taken foreign loans, but I have stated and continue to state that such loans should be spent exclusively on developing Nigeria and not on salaries or schemes that do not add anything to our infrastructure.
That is why I question the president’s request to borrow $29.6 billion from foreign lenders. Yes, we are being told what the federal government plans to spend the money on, but how much of those expenditures affect the youths?
It is important to address this because though it is President Buhari who wants to take this mega loan, he is not going to be the one to pay it back! It is our youth and future generations of Nigerians who would pay these loans back. So if this is the case, then the bulk of the money being borrowed should be spent on them. I mean elders are meant to plant trees to give shade to the youths not vice versa. We have squandered their today. Do we now squander their tomorrow and forever?
There is nothing in the loan expenditure plan about building schools, about granting young entrepreneurs interest free loan. This $29 billion loan only benefits elders. We elders must have a rethink. We must begin to think of our youth and ways to give them value and make them feel good about themselves by investing in their future and not on our consumption.
To the Nigerian youths, I want to tell you that you have value. You can compare to the best there is anywhere in the world.
I was inspired to write you this piece after reading the inspirational story of Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, the Nigerian born Texas surgeon who with his partner performed the historical and groundbreaking miraculous surgery on a foetus that involves removing it from her mother’s womb and replacing her there after the successful surgery. You see, when the world needed somebody to perform this impossible surgery, they looked for a Nigerian.
This incidence prompted me to reflect on Nigeria and it then occurred to me that as a nation, Nigeria made more progress when she was led by youths like Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammad and Olusegun Obasanjo, than when she was led by elders. I believe in Nigerian youths and my belief is not an emotional one. It is one grounded in my experience with youths from all over the nation. Despite incredible challenges, Nigeria’s youths are achieving great things and placing Nigeria positively in the world map.
I am reminded of my experience in February when I visited the made-in-Aba trade fair in Abuja. I do not think I can forget what I saw there for the rest of my life. I saw Nigerian youths with barely any support from government or anybody else besides Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe producing everything from shoes, military uniforms, clothing, toiletries, bed sheets and what have you. In fact, I was so inspired by that event that not only did I buy their products, but I also went home and was inspired to continue with the idea for #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira which has now been featured in the global media including CNN, BBC and The Economist.
The point I am trying to make is that not only are Nigerian youths an inspiration to other youths, they are also an inspiration to their elders. The Nigerian youth is of a particularly resilient nature. Perhaps the most resilient youth of any nation in the world. Twenty years ago, there were no Nigerian superstars and our music industry was a local industry. Today, Nigeria’s youths have turned themselves into super stars and Tuface, Wizzkid and Davido can pull crowds in Los Angeles just like Usher and Trey Songs!
The youths of Nigeria have made Nigeria the foremost Information and Communications Technology hub in Black Africa, bar none such that when Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, wanted to see African homegrown technology, he came to Nigeria because this is where it is going down! The young people of Nigeria have turned Lagos from one of the world’s worst places to live into one of the most progressive cities in the world that also happens to be Africa’s fifth largest economy and her centre of excellence!
Just as Murtala Muhammad predicted in 1976, Nigerian youths have come of age. They have found their purpose and that is an important thing because no matter how many university degrees you have, if you don’t know your life’s purpose, you are worse than an illiterate because an illiterate can start a business and many have done so. But a man who does not know his purpose is condemned to forever be a person of low influence. And this discovery of purpose is bearing fruit!
In the space of three years, Hollywood has released two blockbusters based on novels by Nigerian youths. Uzodinma, a young Nigerian like you, read medicine at the university. He could have gone to get a job in one hospital and be one of many thousands of doctors quietly earning salary, but though he has degrees from Harvard and Columbia universities, two of the best schools in the world, it was his purpose and talent that he fell back on to become great.
Uzodinma likes to write. He did not wait for anybody to get him a job. No! He wrote a book, Beast of No Nation, a book about the Biafran War. The funniest thing is that Uzodinma was born in 1982. He never experienced the war. But he had imagination. He ideated a story that captivated the world. So good was his novel that when Cary Fukunaga made it into a blockbuster movie, Idris Elba, an Hollywood A-Lister, was called in to play the lead role.
Silverbird cinemas premiered the movie in West Africa and it made money for everybody, for Uzodinma, for me and for Nigeria. Now Netflix has released the movie worldwide.
What am I saying? Even though the Nigerian government may have challenges with youth employment, do not sit down and think that the whole purpose of getting good education is to get a good job.
No. Use that knowledge to develop the gifts and talents that God gave you at birth and that is where your money, your fate and your fulfillment will come from. What we call Nollywood, our own version of Hollywood, is a creation of our youth and contributes a massive 1.3 per cent of our entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is youths who have turned it to a $5 billion industry. I bought two Chevrolet Volts. A Chevvy Volt is an electric car that is a status symbol in America.  That car is designed by a Nigerian youth named Jelani Aliyu. Amongst those of my readers who are youths are several Jelani Aliyus.
In England, a Nigerian youth who is a Member of the British Parliament, Chuka Umunna, is being spoken of as a possible British Prime Minister. Forget about the so called youth marginalisation. You can be president of Nigeria some day. There is no field of human endeavour in which the Nigerian youth does not excel despite having some of the most challenging circumstances in the world. This is why I want to appeal to Nigerian youths to stop allowing themselves to be divided by the old breed who have for years profited from dividing Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines.
What I see on social media does sometime give me cause for concern. Nigerian youths too often want to use their God given intelligence against each other over petty differences like tribe, religion and political affiliation. Listen to me. You constitute 60 per cent of the population of this country. The day you realise that and unite to pool that massive power is the day we will have youth president and youth governors. Some of you may remember that in June last year, before the president named his cabinet, I urged him to appoint youths as ministers if he wanted to see the change he promised.
What I said exactly was that “If we want geometric growth, let’s have youthful ministers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, into government to generate ideas and innovation, #commonsense”.
I also said: “Nigeria has had big dreams for ages. It’s time we wake up and accomplish those big dreams. It starts by empowering our youth #commonsense.” Some people responded to me by saying the Nigerian youth are not ready to govern and my response was this. Ask yourself when Nigeria made the most economic and social progress since our independence from Great Britain.
If you are honest, you will agree that our glory years were between 1963 and 1979. That is a period of 16 years. Well, it may interest you to know that for 13 of those 16 years, we were led by youths from the 31-year-old Gowon to the 36-year-old Muhammad to the young Obasanjo. If history is the judge, then it is clear that it is not the Nigerian youths who are not ready to govern, it is the Nigerian elders that have not shown as much capacity as our youth.
In 1999, 36 governors were elected across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Out of these 36 men, the youngest was a man named Donald Duke. He was 37 years old when he became governor.
However, if you measure their performance while in office vis a vis the resources available to them, probably none of these governors achieved as much as Duke did. You see, even in this fourth republic, the Nigerian youth has distinguished itself from their elders. I wish to conclude my letter to you, the Nigerian youth, by quoting a tweet I tweeted on the third of July, 2016. I said then and I say to you today that Nigeria will change the day Nigerians have solidarity with each other irrespective of tribe and face common problems. Your elders including me have failed to do that, so it is up to you to do what we were not able to do.
Thank you and may God bless you all.
• Murray-Bruce represents Bayelsa East in the Senate and is the chairman of Silverbird Group