CONCERN about the issue of youth empowerment is a global phenomenon, but to me, it is the greatest challenge we face as a people. Discussions and debates on it are changing as old convictions and ideologies have failed to yield the desired results. My submission on this subject proposes no single panacea as there is no such simple quick-fix or silver bullet solution. In the same vein, man’s quest to maintain a state of perpetual peace is a desired destination, but alas, it is an illusion, as the emerging dynamics of our society has shown. As discussions progress, I hope to suggest a combination of new perspectives to handling the challenge of institutionalising peace for social, economic and political development. What is youth empowerment? Youth empowerment is to empower, engage and create value so that young women and men can contribute to the economic, social and cultural advancement of their families and countries and to their own fulfillment. The following two dimensions of youth empowerment were identified: Young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of these actions. Empowering young people means creating and supporting the enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own terms, rather than at the directions of others. The enabling conditions fall into four broad categories: An economic and social base Political will, adequate resource allocation and supportive legal and administrative frameworks, A stable environment of equality, peace and democracy andaccess to knowledge, information and skills and a positive value system. From these foundational issues, we can agree that any transformational agenda for young women and men in Nigeria must of necessity, address these four areas to empower young people to make their much-needed contribution to the peace and development of this country.
Setting the scene: The quality of a country is not based on the number of men and women in its armed forces nor is it determined by faithfulness to the application of the principles of zoning and or the allocation formulae of political offices, which in Nigeria is actually a euphemism for sharing public funds. No country becomes great by the number of politicians jostling for political offices or the number of times its constitution is amended in a quarter. The greatness of any nation is in the quality of its people in the worth of its governance and in the empowerment of its youths. Indeed, the future of our country and its development depends on how we develop, empower and inspire our youths. In the history of nations, the youths have always been the extract of the population to wage war and make the supreme sacrifice to attain peace and defend sovereignty. But sadly though, it is difficult to ask the Nigerian youth or citizenry to make any sacrifices at the present time. Our belt tightening began in mid 70s before we were SAPped in the decades that followed. It has thus become difficult to demand patriotism from our youths, who now hardly believe in the Nigeria project. For many of them, their sense of dejection, rejection and abandonment is etched in an awareness of hopelessness and a bleak future. They see affluence and are probably envious of the political class. They also want to make sure their needs are accommodated. But how well are we as adults and politicians paying attention to these issues and concerns of our youths. When John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his inaugural speech as president of the United States told Americans ‘ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,’ he knew that America was fulfilling its basic obligations to its people, so to him, it was payback time. In Nigeria, the reverse may well be the case, ask not what you can do for your country – ask what your country has done for you. Candidly though, it is difficult to point out in the last two decades in specific terms what we have done well for our youths: certainly not in terms of provision of basic social and economic opportunities, such as qualitative education, health care and most importantly, jobs.