One of the most contentious issues needing urgent attention in Nigeria today is how to address the current pace of youth restiveness which is fast becoming a national albatross. The situation has got to a very tense and worrisome peak, and unless something is done, and as a matter of urgency, to arrest the utterly frightening trend, Nigeria may well be heading to a state of anomie comprising mostly a population of highly ungovernable youths. The proliferation of dangerous cult groups, and their continuous spread like wild bushfire is something that should now constitute a major concern to all well meaning citizens. The ominous signs of totally odious appearances of most youth suggest that the nation has tarried too long in turning its focus on a very critical issue, and the intimidating sore has been allowed to fester for too long and now to a very confounding level that is now almost consuming the entire country.
The question that may likely agitate the minds of concerned citizens is how Nigeria got to such a sorry state where the nation’s youth would become so criminally-minded as to now constitute themselves into a threat to the very existence of the state. Yet, if an unbiased introspection is done, the reason for so much tension among the youth is never farfetched. From time immemorial, it has been established that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. When a nation’s youth are allowed to roam the streets without any form of preoccupation, they are bound to embrace whatever comes their way as the new normal. Aside from the millions of out of school children roaming Nigerian streets according to the findings of the United Nations, there are also millions of Secondary Schools leavers who are unable to secure admission to higher institutions and young graduates unable to secure employment. With such a high rate of idle youth, there is already a waiting army of scoundrels and street lessons have forced many of them into various and varying crimes ranging from internet fraud and banditry to cultism and kidnappings which are now almost insurmountable problems.
The remote genesis of the problem is not unconnected with Nigeria’s failed and failing education system producing mostly unemployable graduates on one hand, and acute unemployment of those who hold various forms of certificates which they can or can never defend on the other. For about three decades, Nigeria’s education sector has been on a steady decline while those in the helms of affairs continually deceive the public that all is well. While successive governments continue to pay lip service to the issue of achieving a pragmatic approach to arresting the decadence in the education sector, things have utterly deteriorated in the public schools even beyond anyone’s imagination. The truth that maybe difficult for anyone to accept is that most of the post primary schools in Nigeria today are no more than breeding grounds for hooligans and thugs considering how supposed learners comport themselves either within or outside their school premises.
Trouble started when education became highly politicized and politicians resorted to promising the electorate free education without the zeal to invest massively in the sector in line with the promise made. The resultant effect is that most schools are without adequate learning and teaching facilities. Free books given to students at the commencement of the free education policy have since stopped and most learners now go to school without textbooks.
Teachers on their own part do whatever they can to justify their salary while the public is continually fed with propaganda and rhetoric by successive governments. Unable to cope with an unconducive environment that most public schools have become, many learners drop out unceremoniously and go into the streets. Those who pass out but fail to gain admission to higher institutions as early as they desire also join the streets. The third category are those who graduated without finding jobs sometimes because they are simply unemployable. In essence, the Nigerian environment is peopled by a large percentage of youth whose inability to secure anything worthwhile to do are now major threats to the society. Concerted efforts are urgently needed to bring the situation back to normal. Proper teaching and learning must be restored to the public schools for things to take a better shape. The government must decide what it wants to do. It is unfair to promise parents free education without giving free textbooks to learners. There is also the need to resuscitate the reading culture through the insistence on functional libraries for all schools.
The issue of teachers’ welfare and regular trainings are beyond salaries and should not be ignored if things are to move forward. To solve the problem of late admission of Secondary Schools leavers into higher institutions, the government can reconsider bringing back A’levels to some selected secondary schools as done in the past. It will solve the two major problems of providing avenues for schools leavers to proceed with their studies without having to stay idle at home for years. It will also create employment opportunities for those who will be engaged in the sector as teachers. For graduates who roam the streets searching for unavailable jobs, the government can set up training centers where various vocation will be taught after which soft take off loans can be made available to the trainees. Besides, there are lots of vacancies in every section of Nigeria’s security networks. Maybe now is the time to create a new brand of police force made up entirely of graduates to concentrate more on information gathering and border patrol. The Nigerian police as presently constituted is thoroughly notoriously blackmailed and has lost most people’s confidence. Therefore, until a new concept is injected in such a way that would radically change the citizens’ negative mindset, it is doubtful if anything good can come from that direction.
Viewed from another perspective, the number of police officers posted to each state of the federation has even proved most inadequate leading to incessant clamour in different quarters for state police. It is difficult to understand therefore how so many vacancies would exist within a nation’s security system and a large number of young people would be roaming the streets in search of employment. It is high time proactive steps were taken towards getting the youth gainfully engaged so everyone can heave a sigh of relief.
Oyewusi, the coordinator of Ethics Watch International wrote from Lagos.