Youth Development: Key To National Peace And Unity – Daniel Onjeh



I have been invited here to speak on a rather familiar topic: “Youth Development: Key to National Peace and Unity”. Therefore I should begin by, perhaps reeling out a few other hackneyed phrases which have been specifically and deliberately served in overdose to the Nigerian youth over time, either as consolation for their palpable and inexcusable neglect today by the ruling elite, or as a strategy for further incarceration or suppression of the productive minds and tremendous energies of the youth.

We hear: “The Youths are the Leaders of Tomorrow”; “The Youths are the heirs of posterity”; The Youths are the Pillars (or Cornerstones) of Society”; and so on and so forth, great comforting words.

But clichéd as these sayings seem, especially in contemporary African societies, they yet convey fundamental irrefutable facts, which actually ought to constitute the crucial points of the navigational compass of any human society that truly aspires to attain, retain or enhance its greatness in the global space.

Therefore let us attempt to define the youth. By the standard of the United Nations charter, a youth is a young person aged between 18 to 25 years. The Africa Union charter, however, defines a youth as a young person aged between 18 to 35 years. Back home to Nigeria, the National Youth Policy conforms to the Africa Union charter and places the youth within the age bracket of 18 to 35 years. These differing age brackets for the youth only show how subjective the concept of youth is across boundaries. So a broader definition for a youth should be any young and energetic person. Although, as we have seen in recent times, this broad definition has also made it possible for persons of 60 years or above to lay claim to being youths.

At this juncture, I wish to express my special commendation to the organizers of this symbolic event – Afriworld, for their untiring efforts at bringing issues regarding the development of the African youth to the fore. Your organization has no doubt saddled itself with a huge mandate. But you can always count on the relentless support of other like-minded organizations and individuals. To be more specific, you can always count on my support, Com. Daniel Donald Onjeh’s support, on this noble cause.

Although by all the subjective standards of youth definition I have outlined earlier, I am clearly above the youth age bracket. But my passion and commitment to youth development is not one that could be diminished by such skewed standards. So not only do I see myself and feel as a youth, but I am determined to spend many more years of my life in this worthy pursuit of youth development across the world because I truly believe that the youths are the cornerstone of society.

Kindly permit me to inform this honourable gathering that I served diligently as President of arguably the largest national agglomeration of students in Africa, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 2002-2003. I subsequently served as President of the West Africa Students Union (WASU) in 2006. Considering that students constitute the bulk of the youth population of any nation, it will be appropriate to say that I have been a key player in the vanguard for youth development in the last close to two decades.

So how is youth development the key to national peace and unity? Simply, the youth are the most energetic, vibrant, populous and impressionable segment of society. Therefore the youth can either be positively harnessed to foster national peace and unity or negatively channelled towards national anarchy and disunity. Every society must make a conscious commitment to building the capacity of its youth towards productive enterprises, because if the youth potential of any society is not harnessed towards national productivity, then we can be sure that it will be channelled towards pulling down the very pillars of that a society.

There have been several laudable efforts by the Nigerian government in the past, and even more efforts at the present time, to address the challenge of youth underdevelopment and by so doing, foster national peace and unity. The concept of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme was well-conceived to among others, empower a segment of the youth with practical citizenship and leadership training; expose them to the different working milieus as well as bring youths of different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds in very close quarters, hence fostering national unity. Sadly, the challenge of adequate funding and perhaps thorough accountability has been a major setback to the NYSC scheme.

In 2011, the previous administration launched the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWIN), a Public-Private Partnership with Woma McCann, with the view to educating young Nigerians entrepreneurs to accelerate business growth and boost job creation. That is also a very laudable programme, which though captures only a tiny fraction of Nigerian youths is still grappling with the challenges of inadequate funding.
The incumbent federal government, through its Social Investment Programme, has equally rolled out some laudable programmes targeted at youth development. The N-Power project is one, which targets to empower 600,000 Nigerian graduate and non-graduate youths within the ages of 18-35 years with work and skill acquisition opportunities, while they are paid some stipends to meet life’s exigencies. Although this programme also targets only a small segment of the youth populace,

In fact, the creation of the Federal Ministry of Youth Development was supposed to be a huge panacea to the challenge of youth development in Nigeria. But that has not been the case, as the youth ministry has existed more as an appurtenance of another ministry. The Ministry of Youth Development had been merged in the past with the Ministry of Women Affairs; Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs; today, it is merged with the Ministry of Sports. And in my thinking, the mere fact that the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is currently housed in the National Sports Commission gives us an idea of what the priorities of the Honourable Minister lie.

But while we applaud all the aforementioned initiatives aimed at youth development, the fact remains that it is only through the provision of quality education that we can liberate the minds of the youths to enable them to attain their full potential. The acquisition of useful knowledge and practical skills constitute the core major driving forces of economic and social development.

The call for a comprehensive review of Nigeria’s education curriculum at all levels has become sort of a platitude on our lips. The current content of Nigeria’s education curriculum, vis-à-vis countries in Europe and America, is by itself a huge scandal.

But action in the direction of curriculum review over time has left much to be desired. Same goes for the issue of adequate funding of the educational sector. While UNESCO had long recommended that a minimum of 26% of national budgets be committed to educational development, Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to the education sector over time has hardly exceeded half of UNESCO’s minimum recommendation.

Yet, education remains the only proven antidote to illiteracy, as well as the key to unlocking the shackles of poverty and perpetual subjugation. And of course, where poverty and illiteracy thrive amongst a vibrant population; peace, security and unity become very scarce or totally inexistent.

Therefore while appreciating the various social intervention programs of government for the youth, such as conditional cash transfers, the fact remains that only qualitative, functional and affordable education at all levels can sufficiently address the challenge of youth empowerment in Nigeria.

With the foregoing words, I sincerely wish to thank the organizers of this occasion for considering me worthy of the award of “Pillar of Peace and National Unity”. I am greatly humbled by this honour, but more than that, I am challenged to continue to do more towards advancing the cause of the youth in Nigeria and all other parts of the globe.

Thank you all very much and may God bless you.

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