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Coping with Nigeria’s youthful population

As societies evolve, the problems faced by the youth are equally evolving. The key issues faced by the youth in this century can be said to be largely distinct from those of the last century. But of all the problems being faced by the youth today, it seems that unemployment is the most pressing. While there are arguments that propose that people’s successesare related to individual efforts, it is also true that other factors as circumstance of birth may be a determinant toward an individual’s prospects in life. But beyond these factors, there is also the fact that the world has changed significantly during the last several decades, which means that government’s strategic intent toward coping with the problems of the youth,on the one hand, as well as the expectations from government on the part of the youth themselves, on the other hand, need some realignment.

Take for instance, young people in Nigeria sometimes look back on the privileges and the prosperities that accrued to their parents in their youthfulness. They then compare their situation today to the situation of their parents. For example, after obtaining his university degree, my father got his first job not because he applied for it, but because he reluctantly wrote a letter to the institution asking if there was an opportunity for him to work with them. The reply to his inquiry was an appointment letter.

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Accordingly, people in my father’s generation will also tell you that they were equally able to buy new cars through some easy loans, and they also had fully furnished houses provided by the government as at the time they started working. You do not get these privileges in Nigeria today. But the reason you do not get them is not only because Nigeria has failed the youth who may be hardworking, it is also because the world has changed considerably between our parent’s generation and ours.

Nigerians love and admire the West, and they perceive the West as perfect examples of progressive countries. But in the West today, a person of our generation does not have the privileges and the prosperities that easily accrued to people in their parent’s generation. In fact, the present generation of Europeans in and around the age of 30, who, in average terms are more educated than their parents, are, ironically described as a dependent generation-with half of European adults living with their parents.

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My French friend, whom I met in England, was the first person to point out this reality to me. Data from a survey by Eurofound in 2011, obtained from 28 European countries show that the percentage of youth within the ages of 18-30, who still live with their parents is 48 percent, representing 36.7 million people. The implication of these figures is a revelation that within a continent categorized as rich and prosperous, it is difficult for young people to carve out a life of independent economic existence, and even more tellingly, they have poorer economic prospects than their parents in the long term. In countries like the UK, which is relatively more prosperous than many other European countries, it is said that a generational analysis of young people’s attitudes has shown that the youth likely see themselves as poor even after few years into launching a career-an attitude that is historically not usual.

With these in mind, I do not think that it is realistic, as a Nigerian youth, to feel entitled to all the privileges handed down to our parents by the government in their own youthful ages. Most African countries have failed the youth in many aspects of human development, but it is important to recognize that within these failures, the world has also changed considerably. Our parents and us lived in totally different worlds. Good quality education is expensive everywhere today. Jobs are not easy finds everywhere today. Life in retirement may be even more challenging than ever before. This is the reality of the world we live in.

But some of the problems of youth unemployment in Nigeria can be lessened considerably if we can approach it from the perspective of a credentialist equilibrium. For example, it is important for the government in Nigeria to make investments in education that transcendsit as being only the means to simply secure desired jobs in the public sectors. Subscribing to an educational system in which the youth are trained in such a way that makes them available to public sector jobs onlycreates consequences as low productivity and long waiting times before they can secure their first jobs and get on moving with life. These consequences may have its roots in government’s association of the jobs to formal education such that modernization, social and economic mobility becomes difficult to attain without pursuing the path of formalized education.

But more importantly, we must strive as a collective to construct a society that is reasonably and substantially meritocratic across its many folds, as much as possible. The access of citizens to education and job opportunities should be based, more importantly, on performance rather than social class. When success in education and access to jobs depend majorly on social class, or circumstance of birth, then the fairness which must be a part of government incentivized education is sure to be weather-beaten. And while it is important to advocate for and implement strategies that makes the private sector a sizeable employer of labor in Nigeria, it is only realistic to also consider the fact that such effort will be laden with some challenges, stemming especially from populist coercion that calls for increased government interventions and reallocation of resources within the society.

 


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