AN ADDRESS PRESENTED BY AWELE IDEAL ESQ, PRINCIPAL PARTNER, IDEAL CHAMBERS, AT THE 6TH ANIOMA ASSOCIATION USA INC. GEORGIA CHAPTER SCHOLARSHIP AWARD CEREMONY, ON WEDNESDAY, THE 25TH DAY OF MARCH 2020.
AWELE IDEAL, Esq.
If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito. ~ African Proverb
I must say that I was somewhat surprised when I received the letter inviting me to be the guest speaker at this very important event. I thank our brothers and sisters in Georgia, USA for giving me the rare privilege of being part of this event and for the enormous personal sacrifice they make every year to commit to human capital development back home. May this endeavor spur us all to always think of how in our own ways we can promote growth in our motherland, Anioma. I join them to welcome the awardees; our young brothers and sisters, our parents, teachers, friends and all guests here to this momentous event.
Permit me to start my discussion of the topic, The Role of Youths in Building a Sustainable Community in Today’s Nigeria with a little story:
A long time ago, in a land not far away, there lived an old man in a house on top of a hill. He had dedicated his entire life to study and meditation. He was known far and wide for his intelligence, sensitivity, and wisdom. Kings and leaders, investors and important people visited him to seek counsel. His words dripped with wisdom and his answers ever so correct. He seemed to have a special faculty that enabled him to cut to the essence of any problem or issue. When his answers and solutions were implemented, the result was always excellent. And his fame spread even farther through the lands.
In the village down the hill was a group of boys who played together. Sometimes they climbed the hill to visit the old man and ask him questions, for which he always seemed to have the correct answers. Over time, it became a little game, with the boys continually trying to think of a question that the old man could not answer. But they were never successful.
One day, the leader of the group, a boy named Obi, called the others around him and said, “I have finally found a way to stump the old man. Here in my hand, I have a bird. We will go and ask the old man if the bird is alive or dead. If he says that it is dead, I will release it and it will fly away. If he says that it is alive, I will crush it, and the bird will be dead. Either way, he will at last have been proven wrong.”
So, they all hurried up the hill. The old man watched them coming and noticed the eager looks on their faces. Then Obi stepped forward and asked, “Old man, I have a bird here in my hands. Is it alive or dead?”
The old man looked at their mischievous, expectant faces and then quietly said, “Obinna, it is in your hands.”
I have told this story to bring home to you the fact that whatever I say here today, whatever Anioma Association in the USA does for you, whatever happens around you or to you, you individually will play a big role in how your future shapes up for you; that it lies largely in your hands what your tomorrow will be. And indeed, it actually lies in your hands what you make of life; what you achieve, no matter your circumstance.
It may sound rather harsh to say that your future lies in your hands in a society such as ours where there are many social, economic, infrastructural gaps. But I would rather be brutally frank with you by rousing you out of any form of excuses you may harbor to take the challenge which this difficult environment throws at you.
The grass to grace story never loses its appeal. But 99.9 per cent of the time, nobody tells you of the personal efforts that every achiever had to muster to record the success that turned grass to grace. Success is simply the meeting of preparedness and opportunity. Today, an opportunity presents itself to you in the form of scholarship awards by our brothers and sisters in the United States who through personal sacrifices undertake to support your academic pursuit. They have chosen to give you scholarships instead of hosting a beauty pageant or reality show in the recognition that sound education is the first rung on the ladder to building a purposeful life, next to raw talent or skill. Yes, many talented or skillful persons have found success, but even then, a person who has raw talent or skill without education often does not go far on the ladder of success. Where he goes far, he would never go as far as he would have gone with good education.
At this juncture, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us turn our minds to the topic of this paper: The Role of Youths in Building a Sustainable Community in Today’s Nigeria.
Let me begin by saying that the word, “youth” is very problematic to define in a country such as Nigeria. This is because, almost everybody in Nigeria today loves to be considered a “youth”, especially if there is some benefit attached to that categorization. There is this story of a Nigerian who in his 50s presented himself as a youth and actually participated prominently in a youth group. Funnily as it sounds, we still find such instances around us today. But for our purpose here let us find a working definition by saying that you are in your youth at that time of your life when you are growing out of childhood innocence; when you are growing out of that stage of dependence into the stage of bubbling energy; when you are at that point when you want to conquer the world. It is that point in time between childhood and early adulthood. That is the period of youthfulness which is characterized by exuberance.
But there is even a statutory declaration in the National Youth Service Corps Act, 1993 to guide us to a clearer dichotomy for the age in reference, as Section 2(2) of the Act provides that:
A person shall NOT be called upon to serve in the service corps if, at the date of graduation or obtaining his diploma or other professional qualification he is over the age of thirty.
In agreement with this categorization, some available statistic says that youths in Nigeria include citizens aged 18–29 years. Indeed, this is a huge demography. Suffice it to say that the age between eighteen and thirty is that period when you are expected to finish your education and find your first job. And so, for the purpose of this presentation, let us agree that the word “youths” refers to persons between the age of leaving compulsory education and finding their first job. Based on this, I believe that you, the beneficiaries and most of your friends here before me, are all youths.
Youths in today’s Nigeria
About fifty percent of Nigeria’s 206 million Population (about 90million) is below eighteen years of age and that makes Nigeria the country with the third-largest youth population in the world, only after India and China. And if we go by our earlier categorization, we would be talking of well over 6o per cent of the population. With a high birth index, Nigeria is readily the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. The vital question for us today is where is the place of youths in Nigeria? Is the country preparing its youthful population for the future? Are the youths aware of their potentials? If they are aware of their potentials, are they harnessing them? Are youths making the right kind of impacts at all levels of the Nigerian society? My brothers and sisters, the reality that face us is that our answers to these questions will rather be tongue in cheek; it cannot be wholeheartedly positive, because an assessment of our youths leaves us with a divided opinion on their impact.
You will all recall the #LazyNigerianyouths. It arose in the social media in response to the scathing criticism of young people in Nigeria by no less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari. I am only interested in establishing how youths of this country are perceived and not really bothered with the merit or demerit of the statement. To drive home this point, permit me to quote the President:
More than 60 per cent of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.
That was the president speaking during a panel appearance with world leaders at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London in April 2018. Of course, this statement did not go down well with Nigerians, especially young people whose major platform for communication is the social media. Sad as it may seem, majority of discerning people believe that the statistics is accurate and the president’s reading of young people’s body language is correct.
We do not need to look very far to confirm that most young people are today driven by an inordinate entitlement mentality, which springs from the assumption that somebody owes them their existence and their wellbeing. While this might be true to some extent, in that it is the responsibility of parents and the government to prepare the youths for a purposeful life, it is only half of the story, because you should not be heard to say that you owe your failure from the failure of your leaders and your parents, because some of the world’s notable achievers were those who surmounted great obstacles to place themselves into reckoning.
Nigerian youths were not usually lazy. Indeed, the youths of Nigeria were in the forefront in the fight for the independence of this country. The Nnamdi Azikiwes, Obafemi Awolowos, Ahmadu Bellos, Anthony Enahoros, the Odimegwu Ojukwus, Yakubu Gowons, the Alfred Diete-Spiffs and Aguiyi Ironsis of those times were indeed as young as yourselves. They were the first set of indigenous leaders of this country in democratic times and military dictatorships. It is our history that the now threatened unity of this country was won on the blood of Nigerian youths, especially those from around here.
With 300,000 annual mobilization in about forty-three years, over 12,000,000 Nigerian youths through the National Youth Service Corps have contributed immensely to the sustainable development of this country, at sometimes at grave costs and losses. These youths have served the country as teachers, doctors, lawyers and administrators in cities, towns and far-to-reach parts of this country. Some of them have intermarried with people from ethnic groups different from theirs and helped somewhat to cement the bond of national unity. During elections, these Corps members have dutifully made voting possible for their fellow citizens even under difficult and extreme circumstances. Some of them paid the supreme price (may their souls rest in peace).
It is sad that in this 21th century, our youth have drifted away from this noble path into a slippery valley of social vices: drug addiction, internet fraud and social media addiction. There are various theories for this. Some blame the state of the youths on the same leaders who in their youth charted the course of the country. They are held responsible for failing to plan a wholesome future for the youths of today. They have been blamed for wanton theft and corruption of all strata of our society and for their penchant for recycling themselves. Those who hold this viewpoint to the ever-presence of most of these leaders on our political landscape say that our leaders have refused to plan for succession.
But, others like me believe that whatever the circumstance, our youths have not played the role they should play well. This is because, power is often not put in your laps; you almost always have to stand up and ask for power as there is no possession of power without contention. And the rebuttal lies in the fact that the youths of the 1930s and 1950s did not wait in docility for the colonialists to hand over power to them. They demanded it, fought for it and made sacrifices for it. They ACTED; they took ACTION! There are no two ways about it; youths must act, because, the older generations, no matter how much they wish to hang around, would definitely go. They cannot live forever. So, it is a truism that youths are the leaders of tomorrow.
Having conceded that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, it then presupposes that they ought to take interest in their today. They must begin by taking personal interest in themselves; their physical, mental and emotional development. They must take interest in their families, their community, their social environment and their country. And because the world is now more than ever a global village, they must take interest in developments in the world at large. The outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid 19), which unfortunately is now in Nigeria is a good example why youths must pay attention to world happenings.
Although there is strong reason to worry about the fate of our youths today, I strongly believe that all hope is not lost. Occasions like this provide veritable platforms to awaken our consciousness to seize our place in community, national and global development.
The Role of Youths
Do youths have a role to play in building a sustainable community? The answer is yes. Reasonable change starts with little actions from individuals. For us to have a healthy, sustainable community, we must first of all have healthy individuals whose decisions today directly contribute to shaping theirs and the community’s wellbeing.
What roles then are open to youths? Youths can play leadership, advocacy, Enforcement, protective and developmental roles. In the past, our age grade systems afforded youths avenues to learn these skills. In every community, we had organized age groups that had structures through which leaders emerged. They spoke up when there was need for change of direction in their communities. They were guided to be custodians of the customs and traditions of their communities. They protected their communities against intruders and they promoted developmental ideas or championed community projects.
Although the times have changed and everyone is chasing various dreams, the youths of today can play these roles in some modified forms. No matter where you go, you cannot change your identity. You must keep that thing that makes you unique—your language, your culture, your custom and tradition so that you can pass them on to your children.
Youths must know where they are coming from and where they are going. You must know your history, as Bob Marley would say. Know your identity and be interested in your future. Be interested in where your leaders are leading you to.
On the national stage, be a conscientious good citizen. There are civic responsibilities put on you by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. How many of you have your voter’s card, the National Identity card, your driver’s license or the Nigerian passport? Some of these things do not cost so much to have and as citizens you need them at some points.
To play your leadership, advocacy, enforcement, protective and developmental roles well, you must be prepared, and education is the first solid foundation for that preparation you need. I congratulate you that some of you have been found worthy of a scholarship award by the Anioma Association USA, Georgia. Do not play with this once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Go out there and aim for academic excellence.
The world has become so dynamic that the future belongs to those who can fit into it. Equip yourselves for a 21st Century world. It is a digital world that may soon turn into one of Artificial Intelligence. So, expose yourselves to digital technology; acquire ICT skills and make yourselves employable when you graduate. Remember that most often now you are in competition with the whole world.
Challenges facing youths in Nigeria today
One may ask why the youths of today are not like those of previous generations—those of the nationalists, the independence and Civil War eras? There are many reasons why the present-day Nigerian youth is struggling. There is the failure of national planning and youth development policies. There is the failure of succession planning. There is the lack of political education and there are the environmental distractions.
Many Nigerian youths are the victims of faulty educational foundations. Inchoate government plans and policies, the unwillingness of older politicians to groom younger leaders, the general lack of analytical skill among young people to understand how political structures and decisions affect their future. But the most debilitating factor are the environmental distractions of the desire for easy and quick money; insecurity and addiction to the dark current of social media (sharing dark jokes, attraction to lewd scandals and trading hatred and disrespect). All these factors have limited the role of Nigerian youths in contributing to the building of sustainable community development in Nigeria. But as I have said, there is no room for excuses and there are many examples to prove that despite all these challenges, all hopes are not lost.
Some Inspiring examples of Nigerian Youths
This speech will not be complete if I do not share with you some sterling examples of young Nigerians who have achieved remarkable successes in various endeavors. Let these achievements spur you on and challenge you to attain your potentials. Among youths from Nigeria who have positively put their communities on the world map are:
KAREEM WARIS OLAMILEKAN; an 11-year-old boy from a ghetto community in Lagos, Nigeria, who is now globally recognized as one of the world’s best hyperrealism artist.
DR WENDY A. OKOLO; the first black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and the 2019 winner of the BEYA Global Competitiveness Conference award for the most promising Engineer in the United States government.
EMMANUEL OHUABUNWA; a 22-year old Nigerian who made history at John Hopkins University, United States of America as the first black to score a Grade Point Average of 3.98 out of 4.0 in Neurosciences degree, which won him a scholarship to Yale University to pursue a degree in Medicine, plus other awards.
MISS AMARACHI ONYINYECHI OSUJI; graduated with a First Class (a CGPA of 4.9 over 5.0) in Chemical Engineering from a Romanian university and an award for her academic performance and extra-curricular activities, after three years of unsuccessfully pursuing a degree in Medicine and battling depression.
ABDULSALAM IDOWU; A former street beggar who was called to The Nigerian Bar in 2016. He had lost his mother at three. He was crippled by a disease and virtually got abandoned by his father and relatives. As a destitute eight-year-old, he took to begging to see himself through primary and secondary school education. Abdulsalam later gained admission to study Political Science at the University of Lagos. He said at his graduation: “I was not satisfied when they gave me admission to study Political Science because I have always wanted to be a lawyer. So, I struggled to get admission to study Law. I got the admission when I was in my final year, writing my final project for the Political Science degree”.
ABIMBOLA TEMITOPE ADESOLA; graduated with First Class degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Cyprus University in January 2018. Abimbola also won a scholarship to pursue Master’s and PhD degrees at Louisiana State University, USA. She was the best overall student of that year. She was just 19.
FUAD OGUNSANYA; the best graduating student of Lagos State University, LASU, in the 2016/2017 academic session, had F9s in his first SSCE results because of the cataract he inherited from his father. He not only overcame the disease but went on to pass SSCE and graduated with a CGPA, of 4.7 in Business Administration.
UFOT EKONG; solved an unresolved mathematical puzzle that students at Tokai University, Japan had not handled for thirty years and went on to break a 50 year old academic record by graduating as the ‘Best All Rounder’ with a first-class degree in Electrical Engineering, and getting the highest grades the university had witnessed in 50 years. He is fluent in Japanese, French, and Yoruba languages. He currently works for Nissan, while undergoing a Master’s degree program in Electric/Electronic Systems Engineering and has registered two patents under his name for developing an electric car.
DR VICTOR OLALUSI; earned Nigerian government’s honor for being an
Ambassador of Excellence. Olalusi scored a 5.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) for seven straight years at the Russian National Research Medical University (RNRMU), Moscow. He was the best graduating student in the whole Russian Federation in 2013.
OSARIEME ANITA OMONUWA; at 22, bagged a First-Class honors degree at the University of Reading, United Kingdom, making her the first black woman to win the Reading University Chancellor’s Award in the history of the 121-year-old institution.
CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE; a prolific writer who attained international prominence as a youth.
Our own AUSTINE AZUKA “JAY-JAY” OKOCHA; a professional footballer with exceptional skill and former super eagles’ captain who has written his name in gold in global soccer.
Education is good. Sound education is better, but sound education backed by strong life principles of success is best. And here are some of the pillars upon which you can build your life and future:
Understand your environment.
Be proud of your identity; no room for inferiority complex.
Be authentically unique; bring your individuality to bear.
Build strong networks; connect with people and have mentors.
Set high goals; dream big.
Be faithful to your dreams; plan and work on your dreams.
To summarize all the above points, I say care for others and your society; create happiness; be fair to your families and neighbors. Never be ashamed of who you are; be unique, but not fake. Make friends with people who can advance you and most importantly, identify successful people to mentor you. While at it, do not take people in your network for granted. Find opportunity in problems by creating solutions that will set you apart from the crowd. If you set lofty dreams, plan well, work steadfastly to achieve them and you are disciplined, the Universe will connect with you and God will open doors for you and your success will benefit others, your community and the nation.
In conclusion, let me share with you what a Russian diplomat said at the event in honor of Dr Victor Olalusi I mentioned earlier: ‘Genetically, Nigerians grasp knowledge easily”! Know it today that, that statement includes you; that you are among some of the best gifted of the human race in terms of intelligence. Even in the United States today, it is on record that the Nigerian population is the highest educated. We are excelling in various fields. We need to be a little more focused.
Before I go, let me leave you with a quote from John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America:
Complacency of the youths in any community is an existential threat to the survival and future of that community. No one is too young or too old to make a difference. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”—Inaugural address, January 20, 1961.
So, the future belongs to you. You have the highest stake in the future of Nigeria and how you prepare for it: economically, socially, culturally and technologically. The decisions leaders make and the policies they design will impact you the most and for a long time to come. Now more than ever, you need to engage in shaping policies and decisions that affect you. You cannot achieve these by being docile and complacent. Be a part of the conversation by imbuing your community with ideas, energy, creativity, and innovations. Your passion, your vision, your energy are very essential components in building a better and prosperous future in your home communities and the country at large. Do not take this task lightly. Make the resolve today. The future of Anioma is in your hands. And your benefactors have played their part and history will be fair to them.
Thank you so much for listening.