OPINION: In Defence of Nigerian Youths

By Isaac Asabor

Is Public Relations (PR) always about “sugar and spice and everything nice”? Are there situations where you have to close ranks and fight to defend seemingly defenseless people? The answer to the foregoing first question is, “No” while that of the second question is “Yes”.

In this age of social media where seemingly innocuous events could be blown way out of proportion, and at the same time where getting the facts across to the people become increasingly challenging in an ever-streaming, over-cluttered digital world, it is increasingly becoming a challenge to embark on the thankless mission of defending those the society has ostensibly written off.

While this age of social age has presaged a more open culture of sharing and trust, there is still need for individuals on social media platforms to be circumspect in the way they communicate and engage. Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to take a cue from the Bible, which states in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that, “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive.

At this juncture, it is expedient to say that it is permissible to criticize Nigerian youths that were or are involved in #EndSARS Protests across the nation as some of them were caught in video footages on social media committing all manners of crime. Some even went as far bugling Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) belonging to banks that have nothing to do with their demands from the government. In the same vein, some were caught breaking into warehouses were Covid-19 pandemic palliative materials were stored in in Lagos, Ondo and Kwara States. Still in the same vein, some were captured by cameras breaking into people’s shops where they engage in looting, and somewhat armed robbery. To me, all the foregoing ignominious acts have not compelled me to see them as “Lazy youths” as they are not, and that when rightly cared for by the government that they will no doubt turn a new leaf.

The reason for the confidence I have in them cannot be farfetched as most of them have being pushed to do what they ought not to do in the first place by fear of failure and political rhetoric not translated to so called “dividends of democracy”. For instance, from one political dispensation to the other they have been promised “heaven on earth” by politicians only to be left high and dry.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics reveals Nigeria’s unemployment rate as at the second quarter of 2020 to be 27.1% indicating that about  21,764,614 (21.7 million) Nigerians remain unemployed.

Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment rate (28.6%) is a combined 55.7%. This means the total number of Nigerians who are unemployed or underemployed as at the second quarter of 2020.

The data also reveals the worst-hit are Nigerian youths with over 13.9 million currently unemployed.  In the third quarter of 2018, the last time the report was released there were about 13.1 million Nigerian youths unemployed. Youth between the ages of 15-24 have about 6.8 million Nigerians out of jobs and another 7.1 million also unemployed.

The highlights of the Statistics show that the highest unemployment rate was recorded for youths between 15 – 24 years constituting 40.8%, and followed by ages 25 – 34 years at 30.7%, even as NCE and OND holders, and those with Nursing Certifications recorded an unemployment rate of 30.8%.  Still in the same nexus unemployment rate amongst second-degree holders stood at 22.9% while unemployment rate as classified by Doctorate degree holders is 23.3%.

In as much as this writer is not in support of the abnormalities engaged in by some of the youths during the #EndSARS Protests, it is enough to say that the idiosyncrasies they perpetrated should not be overlooked by the government and some private enterprises that would like to refocus the direction of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the benefits of the youths. There is no denying the fact that the critics of the youths in the last few days; since the condemnable footages began to trend on social media have refused to open discussions on the underlying sociological factors that have been contributing to the juvenile delinquency exhibited by some of the youths.  Some of the sociological factors cut across problems of child poverty, social disadvantage, and the pitfalls inherent to adolescent decision-making. Aptly put, the foregoing sociological factors have for years been contributing to youth deviances across the country.

To truly understand the perspective of this piece, and the fact that it is the government that is reaping what it has over the years sown, it is expedient to dispassionately ponder on this brief interview with an area boy in a media parley whose name will not be mentioned in this contest. He was asked, “When did you get to Lagos?” He replied, “I was born here in Lagos. I grew up in Ojuelegba. We lived in a very small apartment in Shita”.

He was asked again, “Which school did you attend and when did you leave school?”

He answered, “I attended Aguda Grammar School all the way to Senior Secondary School 1 and that was it. My father just woke up one morning and said he couldn’t afford to keep paying to keep my older brother and me in school. That was when it all began. I had to start hustling on my own”.

He further asked, “Tell me about your family?” To which he answered again, “I am from a polygamous family. My father has two wives. My father is a danfo driver, he plies the Ikorodu road. My mother sells frozen food in Surulere. She keeps a very small stock, nothing big. She was using the profit from the business to help with food at home. She really tried her best. My dad was also really trying until he went to marry another wife. Ever since he got married to the second wife, things just became very hard at home. I don’t know why a poor man would marry two wives. I still keep on wondering till date. He literally just woke up one morning and said I was old enough to start catering for myself. He told my older brother the same thing. He said he had to focus on our younger ones and that we should cater for ourselves since we were above 16 already. That was when the street hustling started for me. I started as a conductor with one of his colleagues then but the pay wasn’t good. He was just treating me anyhow, probably because he knew my dad. So I left the job and came down to Ikeja. I mingled with a few guys on the street and that is how I ended up in this car park job. I go home once in a while though just to say hello to my mom and my younger siblings”.

Against the backdrop of the realistic facts presented in the foregoing on how the government can push the youths to the streets, it is enough to say that preventing the youths from going astray requires government’s policy priorities. To this end, the government approach should be tailored to the specific group and individual members. What works best is a combination of care, castigatory, educational and employment measures.  In as much as the government may simply set limits by imposing penalties on youths who have committed a crime, it is also important to offer young people the prospect of work and education. This will keep them from embarking on a life of crime. To crown this piece it is expedient to quote the late sage, Automated Teller Machines who said, “The rich, and the highly-placed in business, public life, and government, are running a dreadful risk in their callous neglect of the poor and down-trodden” and “The Children of the poor you failed to train will never let your Children to live in peace”.

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