Nigeria: Understanding the Destructive and Constructive Capacities of Our Youths

By Magnus Onyibe

Magnus Onyibe, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta State dissects the multiple implications of the ENDSARS campaigns

Nothing illustrates the constructive and equally destructive capacity of our youths more than the fall outs of the #EndSARS protests.

And education makes the difference between the creatively and positively charged ones and the destructively and the negatively charged ones.

Allow me explain:

The educated ones are the highly organized protesters that decided to take their frustrations with the killer, SARS (which stands for Special Anti Fraud Squad) out to the streets via peaceful protest march to attract the attention and empathy of the authorities; and their destructive counterparts are the illiterate ones that, after twelve days , seized the initiative from the educated ones to vent their spleen on society , who they are holding responsible for their plight. I have always been bewildered by the aptness of the wisecrack that was imbued in me as child by my parents via constant verbalization. It goes thus:

“The Difference Between The Doctor in the Hospital and the Cleaner is education”

I mean nothing illustrates the conventional wisdom above, more than the incident of EndSARS protesters-as exemplified by the educated who were so organized to raise their own money, feed protesters , provide health care emergencies to the injured, offer philanthropic help to the indigent-prostatic legs for one legged lady and working capital for a woman roasting corn on the roadside, repair damaged vehicles and hire body guards to prevent the ruffians from infiltrating their ranks with the aim of hijacking the protests

On the flip side was the violent and illiterate rioters. The agenda of this category was to destroy every good thing on their path as locust worms would do in a farm or be as destructive and disruptive as the pandemic like coronavirus, Ebola and SARS-the virus would harm the human body and destroy life.

The dilemma is that both categories of youths are our children and future leaders.

In my earlier piece on the calamity of #EndSARS, published on the 19th of October in main stream media and online platforms titled “Nigeria, A President, His Glory And Violent Policing.” l dwelt briefly on how the savings from the end of the economically debilitating fuel subsidies regime that gulped trillions of naira annually can be converted into free education policy that would give every Nigerian access to education up to secondary school level. It needs no reemphasis that education which is a production input for development remains the flagship of the numerous achievements of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo’s public service record . Investing in education in the form of free education is quite unlike granting subsidy for consumption, which subsidizing petroleum products importation is all about, and therefore a wasteful exercise that has reportedly been gulping an average of presumably a trillion naira annually in the past 20 years . Let’s just imagine how many kids and youths would have been educated with twenty (20) trillion naira in the past twenty years of the return of multi party democracy in Nigeria.

As most of us are already aware , education is the main reason Indians, or people of Indian origin , are more in the number of people serving as chief executive officers, CEOs , chief technical officers , CTOs or chief operating officers, COOs in Fortune 500 companies around the world.

The Microsoft founder, Bill Gates has counseled Nigerian government and Nigerians on how we can harness our enormous human capital potentials based on the survey by the Goalkeeper Report indicating that about 60% of our population is comprised of youths demography . But most of our youths remain uneducated and unskilled . And its needless detaining or boring us with the statistics of the alarming number of out of school children in our country, or the reasons for such an avoidable malady .

However , surface it to say that it is the negative aspects of the youth bulge that bears down on us as a nation, whenever violence is unleashed on society by members of that demography who are in the brigands side of the equation . At the same time, it is the positive aspects facilitated by education that is the reason , amongst others , the pair of Ezra Olubi and Shola Akinlade, Nigerian duo who are educated youths, faced with similar hindrances in life like all the other youths in Nigeria , yet they were able to be the founders of PAYSTACK -a unique payment system which was recently acquired for a whopping $200m by a USA based firm, STRIPE.

I would argue that what has been laid bare by the #EndSARS youth protests is that the much talked about youth bulge is not a hype.

It is real and it is like a knife that cuts both ways. While the positive manifestations are far and in between- like the emergence of the founders of PAYSTACK that has held Nigeria aloft in the world of technology, l actually read the about the deal in AngelList, a weekly software engineering high-tech magazine out of San Francisco, California, USA; the negative aspects of the youth bulge also manifests in the activities of the ‘nefarious ambassadors’ such as those who ran rampage across Nigeria with animus intentions of breaking into jail houses to release prisoners , burn down police stations, kill officers & men of the police force , and cart away their weapons as well as set ablaze court houses with the intention of destroying their criminal records. What the above narrative suggests is that in the milieu of anomie triggered by #EndSARS protests , even the destructions that happened had a pattern.

The corollary to the aforementioned hardened criminal elements are the very hungry folks who just wanted food and had to break into identified warehouses to take away without authorization , the CA-COVID and COVID-19 palliatives that they felt (wrongly or rightly ) belong to them. This latter group, comprises of the uneducated or half educated , who are left behind by a society that made no provision for those who failed to get into the development train of the 21st century. Worse still, owing to the negative effect of coronavirus on our economy,whereby foreign exchange treasury is fast depleting; and it is even struggling to provide livelihood for the well educated as reflected by the millions of university educated but unemployed youths; how can such a fragile economy that’s bucking under the weight of huge public spending and dwindling income accommodate the uneducated, unskilled, and therefore unproductive youths now threatening the peace of our country? The driving force behind religious insurgency , terrorism and banditry in the north also being perpetrated by the youths can not be distanced or divorced from the challenge of lack of education and skill by the burgeoning youth population out there in the northern parts of our country.

Another striking thing is that the generation Z is certainly not lazy, but ingenious. They can be actually be constituted into a critical national asset, if government creates enabling environment for them to bloom.

Bill Gate’s proposition on how to harness the potentials of our impressive youth population comes to mind and it is crying for adoption by the authorities as it has been established that our youths are potentially priceless national assets .

l’m so bullish about the chutzpah of our youths, that l urge the authorities to give them a chance to participate in governance, as public servants and also compete in bidding for government business like other contractors.

There are lots of youthpreneurs in our society who are bursting in the seams with good ideas. But they have no access to good contracts, credit and mentorship.

At this critical period in time that our country is in dire need for diversification from the mono product of oil /gas as source of foreign income , earnings from products like the apps mentioned above when exported , would certainly not make Nigeria another Silicon Valley, in California or Indian equivalent in Bangalore. But it would at least be another source of non oil income which hitherto has been limited to the export of raw and unprocessed agricultural products, such as sesame seed, cashew nuts etc as well as precious gems like gold etc.

With respect to converting the uneducated, destructive and disruptive half of our youths to productive human capital and National assets that they should be , my candid advise to government is to take a second look at Bill Gates’s proposal with respect to how the huge potentials of our unique youths demography can be positively harnessed. I’m convinced that Mr Gates has a master plan of how to harness the potentials of our youths that are amenable to training in useful skills that he can share with the presidency or relevant agencies of government.

For the category of youths that fail to get strengthened,stern policies of reining them in by law enforcement agencies would have to be instituted.

And War Against Indiscipline which was a hallmark of President Buhari’s reign as head of state -1983-85 may need to be resurrected with enforcement approach rejigged from the draconian military jackboot style, to being in conformity with democratic ethos as reflected by respect for rule of law and due process in consonance with the present democratic dispensation.

It may not be termed War Against lndiscipline , WAI, but War Against Corruption, WAC.

This tried and tested policy which is more or less akin to citizen policing may prove to be more efficacious than all the paraphernalia of anti corruption agencies established to fight the systemic epidemic of corruption such as the EFCC, ICPC , PACAC by government in the past few decades.

Mr Gates who is also the chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation who most probably has the matter plan of how to convert our destructive youths to useful national assets. concluded by pointing out that if countries like Nigeria and development partners invest more in human capital today, “young people wearing sandals in the poorest, fastest growing countries will be riding bicycles tomorrow–and inventing cheaper, cleaner, safer cars next week and that’s good for everyone.”.

We have seen that happen in China and some countries around it like Vietnam.

Although , the unfortunate incident of #EndSARS protests have had a devastating effect on society, but as very resilient people, Nigerians can try to see some good sides to the tragic events.

First of all, SARS has been disbanded to the relief of the youths and the very poor remuneration of men and women in law enforcement community have also been brought to the front burner and president Buhari is believed to be speeding up the necessary reforms necessary for increasing the remuneration of these frontline workers .

As the Inspector General of Police, Muhamed Adamu has reportedly stated , 22 gallant police officers were killed , with 205 police stations set on fire nationwide.By the same token, an undisclosed or yet to be determined number of youths have also lost their precious lives.

That’s a serious national calamity and because all lives matter , l believe all well meaning Nigerians share the grief of members of the police force just as they are mourning the loss of the precious lives of the youths killed by SARS nationwide and particularly the unarmed ones felled by bullets from the army, at Lekki Toll Gate on 20. 10. 2020 as alleged.

It is equally preposterous that some youths are still on the streets protesting or planning to regroup to do so again, so soon after and without waiting for the authorities to make good their promise. Just as it is equally improper that members of the police force are still bellicose , therefore resisting going back to their duties posts despite the pep talk given to them by the IGP who has reportedly urged them to go back to their duty and defend themselves.

Hopefully, the exaltation by the IGP would not be misinterpreted as directing the police to take vengeance against civilians.

The Governor of Lagos State , Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also in a gesture of goodwill offered compensation to the families of slain police personnel , scholarships to their offsprings, and also repair the police patrol vehicles burnt. I recognize that all the kind gestures cant replace the lives lost. But in one way or the other , sympathy and empathy, often help those in grief.

It may be recalled that following the unfortunate incident of terrorists bombing of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York, in September 2011, now famously referred to as 9/11, most of the first responders- firefighters, police etc were killed in the second wave when another airplane crashed into the second tower of the building. Yes, they were hit hard by the tragedy. But after literarily licking their wounds , the first responders immediately went back to work.

Similarly, after the Black Lives Matter , BLM protests that enveloped the USA a couple of months ago, in the wake of the police brutal killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man , by a white police man, the lives of policemen and women were endangered by protesters who went on a rampage burning down police patrol vehicles and hurting some of them.

Without further ado, the Nigerian police men and women should go back to doing what they do best -without violence against civilians and with a resolve to shorn themselves of unbridled quest for bribe, which triggered the social upheaval.

Hopefully, the hurly burly aftermath of EndSARS might have somehow encouraged our leaders to press the reset button that would usher in the desired positive changes that would make Nigeria a much better country for the multi ethnic nations to thrive harmoniously with inclusivity as the centre piece.

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