A Sustainable Approach to Nation Building and National Development

Nigeria’s youth population accounts for about 70 per cent of the country’s total population, estimated at over 200 million. Of the 157 million youths in Nigeria, about 53 per cent are currently unemployed, placing Nigeria as the country with the second highest number of unemployed youths in the world, next only to South Africa’s 61 per cent.

The great potential of the Nigerian youth to expand the country’s capacity as a global economic hub has been blunted, with inadequate job opportunities robbing the country of vast unexplored and underutilized intellectual and material resources.

The Nigerian state is yet to fully harness the vast potential of its youth; despite the Nigeria National Youth Policy 2019 which details the plans and policy approach of the Federal Government of Nigeria. There is no clearly articulated strategic plans to support and empower youths to develop critical skills, be productively engaged in jobs, and contribute to nation building. This harsh reality has left most youths resigned to hopelessness and frustrating idleness. The current practice of youth empowerment in the country, targeted at the individual, is at best, tokenistic.

Interventions that single out specific young people, though useful, have dangerous ramifications when used alone. It creates a mindset of scarcity in young people that increases despondency and restiveness among the population.

Young people have been long denied of opportunities to bring their leadership potentials to bear for national development. This has sparked a power struggle between the aged and youths. This is often reflected in the political domain. One of the main sources of tension between the aged and youth in politics is the issue of representation. Many young people feel that their voices are not being heard in the decision-making process, especially on issues that directly affects their lives. This has led to a feeling of distrust which if not accorded sufficient attention, further erodes state society relations. 

On the one hand, while older individuals who have been involved at the highest decision-making levels for a longer period of time bring to bear ample experience and knowledge, which can be beneficial in nation building and national development, youths possess and have a rich store of fresh perspectives, energy and ideas that can help to bring about positive change and innovation.

In today’s Nigeria, the power of youth in nation-building is undervalued. Young people can be agents of change and social progress. They can be a force for good if they have the right tools and opportunities to participate in their communities. Harnessing the strength and value of the youth is essential for effective nation-building and national development. Youth can play an important role in addressing social issues, while fostering the creation of a more equitable society. By engaging young people in meaningful dialogue and activities, we can create an environment that enables civic participation and encourages them to become active citizens. By investing in all and not some of its youth, Nigeria will be able to build strong foundations for long-term progress and success.

The popular “Not Too Young to Run” law is a form of communal empowerment that confers permitted power on young people. Though not a silver bullet, it is a prime example of the whole-scale perspective that can effectively empower young people. Systemic interventions like this across sectors in education, health, industry, politics, and finance must be prioritized and thoroughly executed. It is equally important to foster participation and inclusion of young people in leadership and governance to the drive sustainable national development. 

As a country, we must create opportunities for our young people which empowers them to be self-reliant, such as through volunteering, mentoring programmes, and skills acquisition training programmes amongst others. We must also equip them with the tools they need to be effective citizens by providing access to quality education, resources and support networks. Discourses on nation building such as the annual Dr. Fola Aina Colloquium on and Youth, Leadership and Nation Building slated to begin later this year, the first of its kind in Nigeria, is intended at further creating a sense of awareness among Nigerian youths on their roles and potential in advancing nation building towards national development. 

Through other initiatives by Triola Aina Foundation (TAF) in this regard including the Annual National Essay Competition on Nation Building, Scholarship programmes and the coveted Dr. Fola Aina Fellowship for the development of youth leadership, amongst others, we can ensure that our youth grow into powerful agents of positive change in our communities and country.

Nigeria’s youth population is projected to be north of 100 million by 2030.  This offers substantial opportunities and associated risks. There is an immense opportunity for economic and social development if the talents of this increasing reservoir of human capital are productively harnessed and deployed. They could also pose a significant risk and threat to social cohesion and political stability if the country fails to create sufficient economic and employment opportunities to support opportunities for its teeming youth population. If youth are provided with sufficient education, training and jobs, then the growth in their numbers could be highly beneficial for the nation’s development.  Youth can be a positive force for development when provided with the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive.

Youths are the most productive members of any nation. They are the most active and energetic workforce that contribute to socio-economic development of the society. With over 60% of the population comprising people between the age group of 18-35, according to the National Youth Policy, young people have a demographic advantage over every other age group. Young people must lead the rebuilding project by uniting the nation on all fronts, devoid of ethnical or religious sentiment. Certainly, youths are one of the greatest assets any nation can have, and Nigeria is blessed to have a large population of youths.

* Dr Aina, a leadership, security and development expert, is the Founder and President of Triola Aina Foundation, Nigeria

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