By Nnanke Harry Willie
Does President Muhammadu Buhari really know Nigerian youth? Does he know the awesome gifts, talents, boundless energy and lofty visions of Nigerian youth he is meant to lead and provide a springboard to take them to the nadir of their aspirations? Does President Buhari know the incredible challenges of Nigerian youth? If we are to answer the above posers factually based on what Buhari said in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, the answer will be a resounding “No”.
It beggars belief that President Buhari upon whom Nigerian youth placed so much hope and massively organised, mobilised and voted for his election victory has repeatedly displayed scant regard and baseless generalizations hauled at them that unwittingly denigrate them before the rest of the world. In his recent unfounded sweeping claim, our President was reported to have said in the United Kingdom that “We (Nigeria) have a very young population and our population is estimated conservatively to be 180 million. The 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. A lot of them have not been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria has been an oil-producing country and therefore they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare and education free”.
In a February 2016 interview, President Buhari is also reported to have said some Nigerians in the UK, mostly youth, are disposed to criminality and should not be granted asylum there.
I do not know which group of Nigerian youth President Buhari interacts with. If he is referring to a large percentage of the children of top politicians, top civil servants, the stupendously rich but corrupt high-net-worth individuals, I can sympathise with him. As truly, many children of this bunch of privileged Nigerians are exactly as described by President Buhari having witnessed their parents amass undeserved wealth throughout their lives and also been beneficiaries of the warped system and they, the children, also get underserved placements in top positions in MDAs and major businesses (without competition and due process) only due to their parents’ leech-like entitlement syndrome to the ‘spoils’ of the Nigerian state. The problem, however, is that this group of Nigerian youth form less than 1% of the totality of Nigerian youth.
The teeming majority of Nigerian youth just expect and pray for the opportunity for self-realisation, the opportunity to good and functional education, opportunity for meaningful employment, access to the basic necessities of life such as functional infrastructure, good healthcare, social and environmental security and the right to dignity. Increasingly, various governments have lowered the degree and quality of the above listed but the relentless effort to smear Nigerian youth by a President who should be their father is the ultimate stab in the back that will bring tears to the eyes of the long-suffering Nigerian youth who have had to bear the brunt of the ills of poor governance perpetrated by the generation of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Daily, hordes of Nigerian youth leave their local communities for towns and cities (after receiving the best education available to them) in search of non-existent jobs. Communities (which have been pillaged by political robbers, kidnappers, criminals and terrorists masquerading as religious bigots or herdsmen) obviously offering them precious little for a decent living. They come to cities only to discover that they could be in search of a job for years on end and barely survive on the benevolence of relatives and friends. Yet they keep searching and hoping for a break-through while juggling odd and sometimes risky jobs. When all fails they take the risky plunge to seek greener pastures overseas where they endure the worst kind of treatment from human traffickers and sometimes get killed for their body-parts or die while trying to cross the Mediterranean on over-crowded dingy boats. This group of Nigerians who have been put through all this by the misgovernance of their ‘elders’ do not deserve to be further abused by their president.
In virtually every country where you find Nigerians over-seas, they are the best educated of the immigrant community. The Chairman of Econet, Mr Strive Masiyiwa, in a write-up recently affirmed that Nigeria’s greatest asset is her youth population as he came to realise during recruitment exercises while he was working on launching Econet Nigeria in the early 2000s. His reason was the extremely huge population of high level educated Nigerians. Nigerian youth are inventors in many areas including but not limited to technology, science, medicine, arts, music, film, sports and so on. In Nigeria, without any government support, Nigerian youth started and have grown a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry (Nollywood) that has won the acclaim and respect of the entire world. The least we expect any president of Nigeria to do is highlight these positives among others if he cannot, in addition, draw up a policy and programme to make it bigger and better than he met it.
Meanwhile, reports from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate that there is an acute shortage of jobs for Nigerians. According to NBS Labour statistics report of Nigeria in Q4 2017, there are 7.9 million Nigerian youth aged 15-34 that are currently unemployed. The report also revealed that 58.1% of youth within this age bracket who are currently working are underemployed. Though, the active population in the country increased by 0.5% within the period, over 2.9 million graduates and another 5 million semi-skilled workers also lost their jobs within this period. Meanwhile, N-power has been the only major job creation initiative by President Buhari’s government (with a miserly pay of N30,000).
The report further stated that there are about 6.8 million unemployed people in rural areas, while urban areas have a pool of 4.7 million unemployed people.
Unemployment Rate in Nigeria increased to 18.80 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Unemployment Rate in Nigeria averaged 10.63 percent from 2006 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 19.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. The report also stated that “The labour force population increased from 83.9 million in Q2 2017 to 85.1 million in Q3 2017.
Comparing Nigeria’s third quarter’s unemployment rate with the international rates, the NBS report stated that Nigeria ranked 28th among international records. The highest unemployment rates in the world, according to the report, were recorded in Djibouti (54 per cent), Congo (46.1 per cent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (41.7 per cent), Haiti (40.6 per cent), and Afghanistan (40 per cent), while the lowest rates were found in Qatar (0.2 per cent), Cambodia (0.5 per cent), and Belarus, Benin and Thailand, which had an unemployment rate of one per cent respectively.
With these spirit-dampening statistics, where then are the jobs that Nigerian youth are too lazy to work at as alleged by President Buhari? One would have expected President Buhari to use the international platform he had in the UK to seek for support for his country to lift her youth from the ravages of unemployment but he rather tells his audience that Nigerian youth are lazy! This is all so incredulously curious. Apart from the missed opportunity to galvanise support and goodwill for Nigeria, can you imagine the extra time and drilling as well as profiling that Nigerians will now have to further endure at foreign airports, embassies and foreign lands? Whatever unsavoury experiences we encounter can always be defended by the officials and other citizens of the world that our own President does not think much of us, so why should they!
There is no perfect society. There are always several bad Apples in a basket but a good marketer will remove the bad Apples and gleefully promote the best in the bunch. This is what President Buhari should always do for Nigeria, This is a strident call for President Buhari to cease and desist from de-marketing Nigeria and her youth. With due respect Mr President Sir, please stop!