“The power of youth is the commonwealth for the entire world. And the faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match with the idealism, enthusiasm and courage of young people”.
I actually work with young people, so I quite appreciate the phenomenal and positive energy of youth. But beyond their strength, idealism, patriotism, passion, bravery, innovation and a can-do spirit driven essentially by purposefulness, young people represent the future. And I am very sure nobody can take that fact away from them.
For instance, at Doris Amaka Ochei (DAO) Foundation, a non-governmental organization where we are offering hope and building an inclusive society without discrimination, I see young people and their ingenuity at close quarters. I have seen them perform different tasks, and take up responsibilities without being asked. They are indeed, amazing.
But what amazes me most about youth, is their strong spirit of volunteerism, and they deserve to be commended for this. Every day, at DAO, they work tirelessly to engender hope, set reasonable boundaries for good behaviour and promote inclusion through advocacy. They are also working very hard to better our best as an organization, and that gladdens my heart.
Young people are doing great wonders everywhere but I deliberately singled out DAO Foundation because we are at the planning and execution stages of our annual Children’s Christmas Party, an event that brings together, children from diverse background. However, I hasten to add that this yearly event places special emphasis on underprivileged children, kids, especially in the hinterland, who do not enjoy the privileges and advantages of other children their age. So, as I write these lines, I am aware that some parents and children are already expectant because this Christmas party also comes with gift items, praise and worship, Bible reading, exultation, mentorship and counselling, payment of school fees, (WAEC/NECO fees), and scholarship awards that cover tuition, feeding, transportation and general upkeep for deserving students. Apart from the goodwill of our patrons, I am proud to say that DAO Foundation has accomplished so much in so short a time because of young people working with us.
So, today, I pay special tribute to young people everywhere, especially those working with me for all the great things they do that makes me proud. I am very sure the journey would not have been possible without their youthful energy, hard work, strong desire for success, support and dedication.
My question remains: what are we doing as individuals, corporate organizations, faith-based organizations, cultural groups, institutions and even government, to harness the huge potentials of our young people everywhere in our dear country? How can society benefit when young people have increased access to opportunities? What becomes of our country in these changing times if there are tailor-made and deliberate policies that encourage education, technology, vocational training, ICT and innovation exclusively for the youth? What changes do young people want for the future? How can we effectively prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s very fluid world? Where do we see our youths in the next ten years? What skills do young people need today to survive and be useful to themselves and their country? How can we address youth unemployment crisis? How about the all-important issues of youth values, education, attitudes, perceptions, influences, peer pressure and the like?
These are never-ending question that require the attention of everyone, including governments at all tiers.
That is why it gives me great joy whenever I read about the exploits of young people particularly here in Nigeria because opportunities are limited in this part of our world. For me, when young people succeed, I usually record that success for humanity and the next generation because our common world can only be better when youngsters excel in their chosen professions. Today in Nigeria, they are doing great wonders, not only in the entertainment industry but also in the professions, entrepreneurship, scholarship, creative arts, project financing, manufacturing, invention and the like.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the famous Nigerian writer who has done a remarkable work with her uncommon novels, short stories and nonfiction, is an ideal youth for the purposes of our discussion here. Before her 30th birthday, Adichie had received the David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Centre Award). This young Nigerian female writer who is also a recipient of many awards, was in 2017, elected into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Science, one of the highest honours for intellectuals in the United States. It may surprise the reader to know that Adichie holds 16 honourary degrees from universities like Yale, Pennsylvania, Edinburg, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Catholic University of Louvain. I know personally, that this writer’s accomplishments and good example will continue to resonate and inspire young people, not just in Nigeria but across the world. And we are all better for it.
But Adichie is not Nigeria’s only young national hero. A trip down memory lane shows that our founding father who took over leadership from the British shortly before independence in 1960, were a mix of experience and youth. We cannot forget in a hurry, men like Chief Mathew Mbu who became a well-known right-wing firebrand nationalist and cabinet minister in his late 20s or Anthony Enahoro, the quintessential journalist, politician and pro-democracy activist who played a major role during our country’s independence struggle. How about other “youths” like Michael Imodu, the great politician and father of trade union in Nigeria; Ernest Ikoli, the first Editor of Daily Times and an astute politician; Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, the colourful Nigerian politician and statesman who expanded the English vocabulary with his beautiful and highfalutin words; T.O.S. Benson, a First Republic politician and Minister of Information; Adekoge Adelabu, a prominent Nigerian politician from Ibadan; Aminu Kano who fought tirelessly for democratization and women’s rights, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, “the most jailed Nigerian female politician” and a host of others?
I also remember that most of the military officers like General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and all the soldiers who fought to keep Nigeria one, were also young men in their early 20s and 30s, fresh graduates from famous British military institutions like the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and Mons Officer Cadet School.
It is noteworthy that in spite of the colonial masters’ economic and political interests, Nigerian youths at the time, still thrived and lived up to their full potential under the colonialists; and later in a relatively new country.
So, what went wrong? How did we find ourselves here, and at a time like this? Is it possible for any country to grow and succeed without making young people an integral part of its economic development and political agenda?
Time is running out, but I am still pleased, in spite of all the challenges because there could not have been a better time to bring about the much-needed change in the lives of our youth.
As a matter of fact, we can actually reverse the situation today by looking inward and working out our own model on how to empower young people, create the enabling environment they urgently need, mentor them, provide essential life skills for them and lead them by example at all times.
If the youth of any country is well skilled, and provided with all the right opportunities, then the sky will be the starting point for that country. In Nigeria, we know that our country’s large youthful population is an asset. So, let us take full advantage of this and start because this is the time to begin.
As they say, time is of the essence.
Doris Ochei PhD, a Business Development Coach and Gender Advocate writes from Lagos.