Implications of Youth Unemployment & Changing Values in Nigeria

Youth unemployment is an important policy issue for many countries regardless of the state of development. Youth unemployment leads to youth restiveness and militancy. In my part of Nigeria, there have been several attempts at developmental progress, but our problem has been ineffective implementation.

When a youth is unemployed, he or she becomes amenable to social vices like thuggery, militancy, robbery, prostitution, etc. As older generation, we cannot continue to sit, fold our hands and watch as our youth languish in unemployment and go astray. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King (Jnr.) in his letter from Birmingham jail, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly.

There are many factors that have led us to where we are today. These are some of the factors: poor societal values, poor attitude of politicians to development:

Poor Societal Values and Ethics

This is a key factor in our society. Respect is shown to money and affluence and no values placed on ethics and societal values. One is rated by the amount of money he has rather than integrity and character. Respect for elders has become a thing of the past and even some of the elders have sold their birthrights for a plate of pottage.

In the Yoruba west, there are traditions and cultures which are still respected. Young people greet elders with respect. The reverse is the case in the Igbo area, especially where young men who made money in questionable ways bear the nick names of Okwu oto ekene eze. For those of you that have lived in the Yoruba land, such a name is not known as you must prostrate to greet the Kabiyesi.

In 2008, I was in Ajase Ipo in Kwara State to facilitate a grassroots women training project. I had the opportunity to meet the Kabiyesi and had to greet in the traditional Yoruba manner. It is symbolic. Greeting generally in the traditional society was not just a way of wishing people or elders the best of the day. It embodied the hierarchy in society and the respect accorded to them. The way people greeted also was indicative of the centralizing myths that held society together.

Today in this part of the world, greetings are just time-markers for the one that greets and the one that is greeted. It has lost most of its social significations due to the inversion of value that is generally the bane of post-Babangida Nigeria. It is in this reality that we must find the more philosophical signification of Okwu oto ekene eze beyond its etymological meaning. Okwu oto ekene eze is symptomatic of moral and social decay; it is a metaphor for cultural nihilism, the kind that has enveloped our State in recent times; it is a highly negative tendency and appeals to the worst in our collective destiny.

In Igboland, leadership has become an avenue for making money and building the best of cars. Our leaders do not care to carry their followers along and do not even understand the dynamics of gaining influence with people and also failed to realize that position has little to do with genuine leadership. This stems from poor ethics and the desire by all to make money no matter the risk involved. We have all thrown to the trash cans the popular Igbo saying that ezi afa ka ego.

Furthermore, there is lack of mentorship from the older generation to the younger ones and this has negatively impacted on the lifestyle and morale of our youth.

Poor Attitude of Politicians Towards Development

In Nigeria, governance and development is not holistic. Good governance indicators are always by the number of roads constructed, number of schools rehabilitated, number of computers and printers sent in to schools, erosion sites rehabilitated, provision of pipe borne water as well as rural electrification projects carried out. In as much as these are needed by the citizenry, they are not the only the basic needs of the citizens.

Development in Nigeria is so political-oriented. The arrogance of politics and politicians, coupled with unacknowledged ignorance, has misconstrued the meaning of democracy dividends. How can roads, water, and pipe-born water be the dividends of democracy, when even the worst military dictatorships can provide them? As a lawyer and former student of political science, I refuse to accept those as the true dividends of democracy.

The germs of all genuine democracy and government of laws (not government of men as we have in Nigeria) are freedom and liberty. In the 21st century, after 49 years of independence, our leaders are yet to deliver and enthrone those values as the centralizing creed of our society. Our people have waited in vain for that to happen. A nation or a State where people cannot walk freely in day or night and pursue their mundane activities with little or no worry is no longer a human community. That community is in dire need of a redefinition or new birth.

Time For Change

I have visited some smaller African countries. Not only do they have constant supply of power and water, their children could walk the well-streets at night without fear of molestation. I was touched in 2002 when I came out of my hotel room in Bamako around 1am in the night and saw young people sitting at the foot of a sculpture piece under intense electric light reading novels and other literature.

Can that happen here, even if the streets were well-lit? And why not? The answers are self-evident and must be answered by each and every one of us in the secret places of our hearts. If we truly seek a new dawn in this state, we must look beyond the leadership to ourselves.

We must be the change we seek.