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Young people and the time of Nigeria

12 March 2014, 10:42 Tony Usidamen

As events to commemorate Nigeria’s centenary (January 1, 1914 – January 1, 2014) continue, and as I reflect on the condition of Nigerian youth today, the perception of the precarious world that has been shaped for us over the last 100 years became stronger than ever. Unarguably, the generations of young people who have come on the scene, one after the other, in recent decades, have found a country whose characteristics and “climate” are changing. Today, the greatest challenge is being young in a nation dominated by fear and uncertainty.

Graphic, empirical or quantitative evidence strongly support this assertion: According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) “2012 Youth Baseline Survey Report”, the population of Nigerians below the age of 35 years comprises 60% of the entire population of the country. Assuming that the 2006 census and the 2012 estimate of 167 million for people resident in Nigeria are correct, then the youth population in Nigeria today may well be over 100 million.

Of this number an alarming 54% are unemployed, the NBS report shows (I reckon that the underdevelopment of agriculture through years of neglect and poor policy administration, comatose extractive/mining sector, de-industrialization and the failure of manufacturing over time have contributed in no small way to the poor employment figures).

Also, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its 2013 Human Development Index (HDI) Report, ranked Nigeria amongst countries with low development index at 153 out of 186 countries that were ranked. Adult illiteracy rate in Nigeria is 61.3%. Life expectancy is placed at 52 years while other health indicators reveal that only 1.9% of the nation’s budget is expended on health. 68.0% of Nigerians are stated to be living below a miserable $1.25 daily.

Additional worrisome data are that, while South African and Egyptian universities make the list, no single Nigerian university is ranked among the best 10 in Africa and top 400 in the world, as the “Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014” show. “T.H.E. Ranking” is the only global university performance table to judge world-class universities across all of their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Of course, social services today are exceedingly poor and the decay in public infrastructure is glaring for all to see. Or does one need any data to appreciate the challenges that the problem of ethnicity, diminishing national consciousness, religious intolerance and unchecked activities of militias and terrorist organizations pose to security at societal and individual levels in Nigeria today? The gory pictures from the recent massacre of over 30 students in Yobe State by Boko Haram insurgents tell the tale better.

As gloomy as they appear all the data given above do not sufficiently portray the ‘real’ drama of today’s youth. The critical issue is something denser; something that goes beyond the unemployment statistics and the tables confirming that the world has changed and that the guarantees of a generation ago are almost impossible in today’s times of ferocious competition and obligatory flexibility.

At the heart of the matter is the question of ideology. Today’s youth are immersed in epochal changes. We were not born in historical circumstances in which time-tested, traditional value systems are handed on almost mechanically. We find ourselves before a diversity that forces us to choose.

Sadly, the ideology that reads everything in terms of “individual” success; where the value of a person is measured by the possession of material wealth (materialism), is what many young people, in recent decades, have lived by (how much culture, movies, and music bear this terrible news!).

Relationships, family, ideals have been pruned, cut away. “Solipsism” - the belief in oneself as the only reality - and, even worse, “Nihilism” (the belief in nothingness), are gradually taking root in our youth. The results?  Various forms of impatience, disappointment and, yes, fear. So much so that many young people today have become violent against themselves, others and the world.

While everything in a person tends to search for something that satisfies fully his desire for beauty, truth, and justice, what we meet and what is proposed publicly and privately seems marked by condemnation, precariousness, uncertainty, and doubtfulness.

The real drama, therefore, lies in truly finding something that satisfies one’s life. And life as it is, with its limitations and its precipices, not life as a soap opera. This is the story, splendid and terrible, that is on the stage in the Nigerian theater, and pertains to all.

Traitor fathers

But where has the father, in his inexcusable absence, gone? Italian author and playwright, Giovanni Testori, wrote about those “traitor fathers” who had coined a medal with no flip side, “the medal of easiness, that did not envision its flip side: difficulty.” They then passed it on to their children, betraying the very ones they had generated.

Indeed, the Nigerian society today is full of such “traitor fathers” who have failed to transmit to the young the values of hard work, dignity in labour, selflessness, social responsibility, accountability, fairness and respect for others, reminding us that fatherhood is not a “natural” given but is cultural and educative.

The dearth of “adults” who are a presence bearing a true identity, a positive hope, a constructive certainty or meaning for their lives leaves many young people in an immense solitude, which they fill with the easy and sometimes terrible “games” that are readily available.

Thanks to these traitor fathers who have institutionalized corruption in every facet of our public life through years of bad leadership (with a score of 25 out of a possible 100 points, and ranked 144 out of 177 countries measured, Nigeria emerged the 33rd most corrupt country in the world in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2013), our youth have imbibed a lifestyle of greed and a “get-rich-quick-at-all-cost” mentality.

But how can the youth see things any different in a society where corruption is the norm and thieving politicians and fraudulent businessmen are celebrated as heroes? Where a poor, hungry man who steals another’s ‘cube of sugar’ is imprisoned while a public official who embezzles ‘billions of dollars’ of our common wealth is allowed to go scot-free, or even granted Presidential pardon?

The Need for Re-orientation

At individual and national levels, there is a paramount need for reorientation; a changed set of attitudes and beliefs. There is need for an education (The fundamental idea in the education of the young is that it is through the younger generations that society successively rebuilds itself), and parents and religious leaders have a role to play here, as much as educational institutions do.

Let’s be clear: the concept of education I am referring to is not “mere acquisition of academic qualifications” (as, unfortunately, obtains in most institutions of learning today). No! I mean education as Luigi Giussani, Italian educator and founder of International Communion & Liberation Movement, describes it in his book “The Risk of Education” - “an introduction to total reality.”

To educate means to introduce a person to reality by clarifying and developing his primary or original view. True education, therefore, has the inestimable value of leading a person to the certainty that things, in fact, do have a meaning, and “tradition” is an important component of the educational process.

Unless young people are taught about the past (tradition) from within a life experience that highlights a correspondence with the heart’s deepest needs; in other words, from the context of a life that speaks for itself (a true father figure - who could be a parent, teacher, or any responsible role model), they will grow up either unbalanced or skeptical. If they have nothing to guide them in choosing one theory (a working hypothesis) over another, they will invent skewed ones.

The youth must take this past and these reasons, look at them critically, compare them with the fundamental desires of their heart, and say, “this is true”, or “this is not true”. As they grow older, following this educational method, their passion for life acquires an intensity and brilliance that even the educator could not have fathomed, and discloses to them the dignity of their personality and the affinity with the divine that gives it its substance.

Of course, this “recollected awareness of the ultimate sense of life’s mysteries” must become a spiritual exercise, an ascetic path, and thus a suitable perspective from which to live out a goal worthy of their lives.”

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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