…By Paul Ejime
Professor Antonia Okoosi-Simbine, Director-General of Nigeria’s Social and Economic Research (NISER) has advocated the involvement of more young people in governance to enable the country to fully optimise the potential of its large youth population.
“Nigeria, like most low- and middle-income countries, has a young and rapidly growing population, yet it does not have a commensurate level of government effectiveness and economic and infrastructure conditions. The failure to maximize and sufficiently involve the young people, has in part been instrumental in dragging the nation to its present state,” she said.
In a lecture she delivered at the combined 11th and 13th Convocation of the Western Delta State University, Oghara, Mid-west Nigeria, on 2nd December, she said: “while more room is now being made to accommodate younger people, the youths have not been adequately engaged in governance,”
Speaking on the theme: “Towards a People-Centred Governance Process in Nigeria: The Role of the Youth,” Prof. Simbine, said although the youths might not be “all-knowing, it is vital to admit that while an elder’s hand can touch the ceiling, their hand cannot enter the gourd. Hence, the need for a smaller hand. This proverbial statement depicts the interdependence involved in social life, from which governance is not exempt.”
Official figures show that Nigeria is endowed with a young and rapidly growing population with a median age of 18.1 years, which implies that half of the country’s estimated 220 million population is ≤ 18.1 years old.
Simbine, a former National Commissioner at Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) noted that challenges facing Nigerian youths were multifaceted but interrelated, including “limited access to quality education, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, poor infrastructure, corruption, insecurity, political marginalization, a poor healthcare delivery system, cultural and gender stereotypes, a lack of social services, the digital divide, cultism, and drug abuse.”
Quoting the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), she said, “about two-fifths of Nigerian youths are deeply involved in drug abuse,” which along with other factors lead to “youth restiveness, and involvement in fraudulent practices e.g. violence, rape, kidnapping, insecurity, and yahoo (internet crime), that is becoming rife in society.”
She also identified “lack of funding and shrinking state of the economy” as other inhibitions to youths innovative and entrepreneurial abilities, resulting in the high rate of youth unemployment and anti-social vices.
“These conditions serve as a major push factor for the emigration of the young. Some migrate legally while some do so illegally and out of frustration. In addition, some migrate legally but still do not find favourable economic conditions in their destination country,” she lamented.
Simbine also harped on the pros and cons of the “Japa syndrome,” the desire of mostly young people to travel out of the country in search of better economic prospects, educational opportunities, or improved living conditions.
“Reminiscent of the “Andrew checkout syndrome of the 80s,” she said, the advantages of this recent trend, “include increased exposure to economic opportunities, cross-cultural exposure, opportunities for professional growth, and remittances and repatriation of funds (which contribute to foreign exchange market activity and provide opportunities for investments and domestic job creation.”
“However, the Japa Syndrome poses a major problem in that it is purely brain drain,” with “thousands of Nigerian-trained doctors presently practicing in the United Kingdom, while the Nigerian healthcare system is dilapidating.
“It is also reported that Nigerians constitute the largest international student and worker communities in the United Kingdom, not to speak of the United States, Canada, the Arabian Peninsula and other countries,” said the NISER DG.
Other implications of “this trend, include risks and losses in the process of organizing such departures, exchange rate risks leading to financial losses during repatriation, limited diversification, demographic shifts, labour shortages, economic dependence on remittances, disruption of social structures and relationships and decreased entrepreneurship,” Simbine affirmed.
Nonetheless, the NISER DG counselled the graduates “to arm yourselves with a mindset of purpose and victory as you depart the four walls of the school,” adding: “The choices you make are very pivotal in shaping your future.”
She encouraged them to enrol with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship programmes, noting that the NYSC Scheme also “offers you a platform for social networking and employment opportunities, which could be short-, medium-, or long-term. That one year of youth service is a pivotal season in which one’s destiny can be made or marred. Hence, I advise that you participate in it with focus and a sense of purpose.”
“Learning is a lifelong process. Make personal development a goal. Learn soft skills (emotional intelligence, problem-solving, critical thinking, conflict resolution, leadership, teamwork, time management, adaptability… and digital skills (Microsoft Office tools, data analytics) … You could also take professional courses whilst waiting to get a job she added. This way, you are equipping yourselves for the world of work.”
On NISER, the Ibadan-based Federal Government research and policy Think-tank set up in the colonial era, but detached from the University of Ibadan in 1977, Simbine as its first female DG, expressed the hope that the “present government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, working with governments at the various state levels will base the governance process much more on empirically based socio-economic research to reap the most and best from resource utilization and expenditure for the ultimate benefit of the majority of citizens, especially the teeming youth population of Nigeria.”
The Vice Chancellor Prof. Augustine Ikelegbe on his part, described the Western Delta State University as “a proud player in the private university system, which is leading the trail in quality education, the application of audio-visual learning facilities, the application of ICT and digital technology in Nigeria today.”
A total of 426 students received first degrees at the convocation: with 18 earning First Class, 147 in the Second Class Upper, 218 in the second Class Lower and 43 in the Third-Class categories. Honorary degrees were also conferred on eminent figures including the Emir of Zazzau, Amb. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli, CFR, Dr Keziah Awosika, and the Republic of Korea’s Ambassador to Nigeria Kim Young Chae.