Friday, 12 August 2016

PALAVER TREE COMMENTARIES: Rethinking The Nigerian Youth — Douglas Imaralu; Where Are Africa’s Youths? — Zuriel Oduwole

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji
Rethinking The Nigerian Youth — Douglas Imaralu

The potential of Nigeria’s youth population is arguably contradictory: on one side, pockets of shinning stars; on the other, a largely untapped resource. But there is growing evidence that young people can be agents of change, when given a chance. As we commemorate International Youth Day, this article explores the implication of putting young people at the forefront of change and development in this era of peak youth.

By Douglas Imaralu

When we talk about young people in Nigeria we often talk about the vicious circle problems that get linked to youth: unemployment, underdevelopment, political thuggery, ignorance, radicalization and militancy – although there are pockets of shinning stars.

In Nigeria, the median age of our population is 20.1. But this will not carry on forever, and we are not alone in that. We are part of an interconnected world, which is passing a major statistical milestone in human history this International Youth Day 2016. It is the last time in the planet’s history that more people will be under 30 rather than older: right now we are living in the era of ‘peak youth’.

The total number of young people in the world is starting to plateau. Today, we have the largest global youth population in history, and this mass will remain for several decades before beginning to shrink later this century. What does this mean for us here, and for the world?

First, we need to change the way we think about youth. The UN counts those 1.8 billion as youth because they are 15 to 24 years old, but this definition is arguably not universal and is fast changing. The transition to adulthood is being stretched in all countries. In Nigeria, young people are still waiting to take the lead of growth and development, have a decent job, place to live or their own family, and a say in policies that will determine their future.

But the power of youth is that they are neither dependent children nor fully independent adults. Young people are a vital group facing huge personal challenges, challenges on which society collectively succeeds or fails. Youth is not an age bracket; it is the passing from dependency to independence. It is a transition full of potential – potential that must be harnessed.

Second, we need to change the way we think about what youth can do. This will happen within the lifetimes of many of us today. World leaders, including our own President, Muhammadu Buhari, have set themselves historic Global Goals to end poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030, so this simple fact has huge ramifications. Without the Youth Power of a generation that is 1.8 billion strong and will make sure those promises are kept, that better world will not be achieved for any generation. We have seen an example of what young people can do to change our country positively.

Take 25-year-old Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, whose startup, Andela, recently received US$24 million from Mark Zuckerberg And Priscilla Chan’s Fund to train African Engineers and what that could mean for job creation in Nigeria, or Oluseun Onigbinde, who gave up a career in banking five years ago to devote himself full time to making sense of the country’s federal expenditures and its implication on growth and development.

Savvy in the use of data and social media, Onigbinde founded BudgIT Nigeria, a website that provides budgetary facts and figures an average Nigerian can understand. “Sometimes, it takes individual citizens to lead the way,” says Bill Gates, in a speech delivered at the 2016 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of Pretoria. “Onigbinde is no doubt a thorn in the side of some of Nigeria’s elite. To me, he is an example of what one person can do to make a difference,” Gates added, underlining the impact young people can make when employed as an agency for change and development.

Finally, we need to change our assumptions about what young people want. So many of those stereotypes about young people in our country come from assuming that what they want is either to change things in a way that is a threat to society, or that they are so apathetic they do not want anything at all. When my agency Restless Development asked young people to survey thousands of other young people, we found that was not the case at all, and that young people prioritized having a voice, they wanted a decent living that contributed to their society, they wanted sexual rights to ensure their health and freedom from discrimination, and they wanted to be able to show leadership in preventing and solving our biggest challenges. But most of all, they wanted to show they can, and are already, leading. I hear from young volunteers every day that more young people need to the aware of the ambitious but achievable Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But they also have priorities.

Indeed, it is important to consider the needs of young people before formulating development policies. For Happy Zirra, a Global Youth Ambassador advocating for access to education in Northern Nigeria with the A World at School initiative, goals 2 (Zero Hunger), 4 (Education), and 5 (Gender Equality) are priorities. According to her, “government should also make grants accessible to young people and their organizations to lead delivery of the SDGs.” What this reemphasizes is the need to turn to the agency of young people; to utilize their potential, priorities, and passion to deliver the SDGs.

If we change the way we think about youth, if we change the way we talk about young people, if we change the way that all ages can participate in our decision making, then, we will find that young people will change our world – for the better. This moment of ‘Peak Youth’ can be a historic opportunity for that positive change.

Douglas Imaralu is an Atlas Corps Fellow/Partnerships and Communications Fellow at the US hub of Restless Development, a global agency for youth-led development. He tweets from @jefumare

Where Are Africa’s Youths? — Zuriel Oduwole
Africa’s youths have all the tools at our disposal to tell a new kind of African story – IPhones, Social Media, Internet as our canvas, so we have a very big voice
By Zuriel Oduwole

Hello and Happy Summer months to you all. I am very excited but maybe a little scared as well, not because I don’t like summer, but because of this – I am writing my very first editorial for any newspaper or magazine anywhere in the world. So, I’m excited, and a little scared at the same time.

Some would wonder why I am scared. After all, at the age of nine, I met and interviewed President Jerry Rawlings, who is kind of still an enigma to many on the African continent, or that maybe by age 10, I had started my Dream Up Speak Up Stand Up project to talk to Africa’s Girls especially in rural areas about the importance of getting a good education, and staying in school till at least 18. Or even maybe that by age 12, I had made my first film that showed in 2 cinemas in Lagos, and also showed in Ghana, South Africa, London – England and Tokyo – Japan.

So why am I not writing about movie making or public speaking, since I have spoken to more than 24,500 youths in 11 countries or met more than 18 Presidents and Prime Ministers. Well, it is because I am looking for Africa’s youth. Why, because they are the ones who can change the future of Africa.

A little bit about myself, so perhaps you might understand why I’m looking. My dad is from Nigeria and my mom is from Mauritius, so that makes me a Pan African child. I was born in Los Angeles. This gives me a clear American perspective to things, and opens my eyes wider to many global issues, especially how the rest of the world looks at Africa, where my roots are from. So in all my projects and travels, I always look at Africa, because I see it as a continent that is often painted in a negative light, but I also see this as an opportunity for the young generation to rescue it from this negative perception.

Africa’s youths have all the tools at our disposal to tell a new kind of African story – IPhones, Social Media, Internet as our canvas, so we have a very big voice. But when I run into some youths, in Ethiopia, in Nigeria, in Ghana, in Tanzania, in South Africa, Ghana and even in the UK, I see there are two kinds generally. Those who were born on the continent, and just want to leave the continent very fast, and those who were born out of the continent, and never want to visit the continent.

I am in Africa a lot especially Nigeria, and I see a lot of these there. If I ask them for example where they are from – and by that I meant their states of origin so we can maybe design something for that region, the first thing they say is I’m from Chicago, or I was born in New York. That means they don’t want to identify with Nigeria or Africa. So I ask myself how did this happen. Yes they were born in Chicago or New York, but why don’t they want to have anything to do with Nigeria, or Africa. Sometimes, when I read the papers and see what Africa’s adults are doing like not wanting to leave as Presidents when their time is up, or keeping things that belong to everyone, then I understand a little why the global media say the negative things about Africa, and maybe why these youths want nothing to do with Africa. But still, where are the rest of the youths who would use the power of social media to change the perception of Africa, one country at a time.

My parents always told me and my 3 younger siblings when we were little that we were born in the US, but we must remember where our roots are from, and at every opportunity, we must help when we can. So when I am in Africa, I look for other youths, and somehow I expect them to think like this also.

Like most youths, I like to play and have fun too. I like movies like Madea and James Bond Series, I like music like Bruno Mars and P-Square [only E-No Easy], and I enjoy my X-box games too. But I know that I have a lot of other things to do aside of these things. Like for example, I started a Foundation last December to help manage some of my Education and Skills transfer ideas. Earlier this month, I was in Lagos to teach kids in Makoko basic film making skills, and they loved it. Last month, I helped open a library in Abuja in a government school, where there was none before, and in February, I was teaching unemployed youths in Namibia film making.

My parents are not special in any way, and neither am I. But we all must find out what our roles are in society, and what our missions are in life, and the best time to do so is when we are very young, and the world still calls us youth. Because it means we have ideas, we have passion, and we have fresh legs to run fast.

The question again is where are Africa’s youth? Well, look around out there, from South Africa to South Sudan, from Rwanda to Nigeria, from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Africa’s youth are all out there. But Africa’s adults need to sometimes hold the hands of Africa’s youths, and show where they can help, and teach about real priorities and the things that matter the most, so that the future of Africa – but for me especially the future of Nigeria, is indeed bright. So, now, Africa’s youth are waiting for Africa’s adults, to lead. That way, Africa would be the world’s leader in a few decades time, when the youths are the new adults. We are Africa’s youth.

Originally published (STORY 1) and (STORY 2) in The Guardian Nigeria

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