By Chibogu Obinwa
Re –the Nigerian President’s recent controversial (and to many–highly insensitive) remarks made during his recent visit to the United Kingdom, implying that the Nigerian youth are lazy and feel entitled to freebies. Hmm –I actually think that the term ‘youth’ has been thrown around so much to the point of being clichéd that we need to even come to an understanding of what it means to be called a Nigerian ‘youth’. Of course we do not even have a common definition of the term (for obvious reasons).In the Nigerian context, qualification for ‘youth’ is not so much age related as it is economic experience related. So –for instance, if unemployment and other hard economic measures traps you further within the four walls of your parents home, and you find yourself completely dependent on them even at the age of 40, you might as well qualify to be called a ‘youth’. In other words, I think that the unique Nigerian context has given us the legitimate permission to extend our youthfulness (or ‘youthfoolness’ as may even apply). That flexibility of the definition of youth in the Nigerian context is a valid reflection of the reality on ground.
Now-lest we forget why we are here, it was the comment made by the President about the youth being lazy. Just as we often say (again in our clichéd speeches) that citizens deserve the leaders they get, I think it will be fair to balance the equation and assert that political leaders deserve the youth that they get. This will probably earn us the challenge of the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario. Whilst I am not totally holding brief for the youth population (whatever that constitutes), I can categorically state that it is quite an unfair and insensitive statement to make. We have to note that the youth can only perform within the parameters of the presence (or otherwise) of socio-economic institutions at their disposal. In situations where they are expected to create supportive institutions, they also need the right political environment to do so. What enabling policies, laws, infrastructure, positive mentoring from the older generation of political leaders have been bestowed on the youth? These are key questions we need to ask. Also, can the older generation of leaders boast of bequeathing the youth with quality mentorship required to enable them steer the tide of an overwhelmingly challenging economy and erosion of our value system?
How do they expect to reap a crop of perfect youth when they have largely sown an orientation seed of corruption and bad governance? So we can comfortably assert that good mentorship (a key ingredient in harvesting great leadership returns) is conspicuously endangered in our current polity. However, we cannot overlook the fact that, inspite of all, we have very hard working young women and men with brilliant and creative ideas of entrepreneurship, but do not have the required institutional support to birth their ideas and passion. Many small and medium scale business aspirants are not even able to secure soft loans from micro finance institutions because the criteria for securing such a loan are skewed against them. Some are not able to secure jobs in public institutions because their last names do not ring any bell in the corridors of power nor are (in some instances) some willing to compromise their core values and succumb to sexual harassment that might accompany their job search experience. As Mohammed Yunus (the founder of Grameen Bank) once said “Poverty is not created by poor people…but by the institutions we built around us. We must go back to the drawing board to redesign those institutions so that they do not discriminate against the poor as they do now.” This is so apt in the Nigerian context as well.
This does not go to say that the entire youth population is free of any blame. While we proudly admit to having a handful of vibrant promising youth, we equally have those that have comfortably reclined their seats waiting for handouts that they have not in the least earned or even aspired to earn. That group exists too, and have also found an easier excuse to recline further in the midst of a not so promising economy. So –for example, you get poorly educated youth who feel entitled not to study to pass their exams because after all there would be no jobs waiting for them to grab. Or, those that feel that they can become political thugs and receive quick handouts from corrupt politicians because after all, ‘there are no jobs’. There are also those that feel justified to engage in criminal activities and make easy returns because, again, ‘there are no jobs’. So in essence the ‘none-youth’ leaders have provided the easy justification for bad and ‘lazy’ behavior of the ‘youth’. There is moral as well as political complicity involved. This might seem like an endless blame game but one thing is clear, the youth are as ‘lazy’ as the political leaders have largely enabled.