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The Change Nigerian Youths Are Expecting

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by Mark Amaza, writing from Abuja NigeriaYOUTH COLUMN

The 2015 elections have long come and gone, in what was inarguably the most closely fought presidential race in Nigeria since 1999 and saw the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) losing the presidency to then opposition All Progressives’ Congress (APC).

The elections in March and the eventual change of government on the 29th of May was one of those moments in which Nigeria shone brightly on the world stage. In a continent notorious for sit-tight leaders who never ‘lose’ elections, it was heartwarming to see a country, especially one with the clout that Nigeria has, peacefully handover power from one government to another against the prediction of many foreign watchers and even some Nigerians.

Building on the massive turnout by young Nigerians in 2011 and how they brought their youthful zest and technological savvy to the elections, the 2015 elections saw more of the same, especially with an estimated 11m voters added over the four-year period courtesy of attaining the age of suffrage and those who finally registered to vote. For example, many young people were volunteers in election campaigns, built campaign websites and deployed technological tools in support of their preferred candidates. Admittedly, the eventual winners, the APC were beneficiaries of this visible youth support.

But nowhere else was the involvement of young people was most felt on social media and in the comments section of blogs, which have become like digital beer parlours and a meeting place for young people of all political persuasions, ethnic origins and religious inclinations across vast distances. Although older people are increasingly becoming more active on social media (especially Facebook), the Nigerian social media community is still dominated by young people.

It is hard to get the stats on exactly how many young people voted or how they largely voted in the election, and have the numbers broken down in many more various ways. However, it is without doubt that the numbers were high, even by the simple fact that 43% of Nigerians are between the ages of 15 and 35, which is the youth age bracket.

As admitted by President Buhari himself, the expectations of the Nigerian electorate are high, and everyone is watching and hoping that he is able to deliver in the next four years.

But what are the specific expectations of Nigerian youths?

Like all other Nigerians, the core issues around the elections campaign were built on – corruption and insecurity – are topmost on the minds of young people. They want to see the Islamist sect, Boko Haram that has been on a destructive spree in the North-East quashed and other security threats such as the Niger-Delta militancy and the herdsmen/farmer clashes in the Middle Belt nipped in the bud.

They also want to see urgency and political will in fighting corruption, from prosecuting those who have dipped their hands in the public till or taken advantage of their positions in government to enrich themselves, and also putting in place measures, systems and procedures to prevent corruption from taking place, especially in government establishments.

It has almost become an accepted culture to pay bribes for almost about anything from government: from school admissions to job placements and obtaining contracts. Although it seems to be seen as accepted, it is stoking anger among citizens, especially when juxtaposed with the flamboyant lifestyles of those involved.

But besides these two issues, there are other ones that are particular to young people: job creation and education opportunities.

The population of young people in Nigeria is almost equal to the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with about 54% of this number (or equivalent of the population of Sudan) unemployed. This statistic should keep any government awake at night, as this goes beyond just an economic issue but is also a national security issue. The availability of able-bodied yet gainfully employed young people is a clear and present danger to the internal security of Nigeria, as evidenced by the high rate of crime in many parts of the country, and how easy it is for groups like Boko Haram and the militant groups in the Niger Delta to fill their ranks with foot soldiers.

Young Nigerians will be looking to this government to create initiatives and policies and make decisions that will create jobs for low-skilled, medium-skilled and high-skilled workers. These policies will have to go far beyond giving handouts via the proposed scheme of the APC to pay unemployed graduates N5000 every month for a year. The Buhari administration has to try as much as possible to see how it can link policies it shall make to job creation.

For example, increasing spending on sorely-needed infrastructure will help in creating jobs in the construction sector, as well as reforming the housing sector, the domestication and enforcement of the National Building Code by the 36 states, making mortgage financing more easily accessible, reforming the Land Use Act to unlock the wealth in land ownership and eliminating import duties on building materials in order to make property construction cheaper. This will not only help Nigeria make up the deficit of 17million houses but will also create millions of jobs along the way across the country.

The APC-led Federal Government will need to also remove bottlenecks to starting and running businesses in the country. The World Bank Doing Business report for 2013 which assesses 189 countries and ranks them on 11 parameters, including how easy it is to start a business, registering property, paying taxes and enforcing contracts, Nigeria ranks 147, three places below Liberia, 115 places below Rwanda and 127 places below Mauritius, the highest ranked in Africa.

For example, it takes 30 days to register a business in Nigeria, compared to a day in Rwanda, 4 days in Mauritius and 12 days in Liberia. Simplifying such procedures, together with continuing the policies and programs of the previous administration that expanded access to finance such as the YouWin competition and the MSME Fund will go a long way in helping young entrepreneurs start businesses that will provide employment for themselves and others.

Increasing access to education and improving its quality is another crucial area that will directly affect young Nigerians. Although the APC campaign policy on education was limited to providing one meal per day for all children in public primary schools, it will need to put its thinking cap more firmly when approaching education. This is because the school feeding program depends on cooperation with states as primary education is their responsibility, not that of the Federal Government.

Tertiary education policy, which is the responsibility of the Federal Government, needs a massive overhaul in expanding access and improving quality. Each year, only about 15% of the 1.2million candidates who take the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exams (UTME) of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) get admitted into our tertiary institutions.

The government will have to reform the policy in every aspect – from the requirements for the establishment of private tertiary institutions which are sorely needed, seeing as the government cannot afford to establish all the schools needed to absorb the excess candidates; to looking at funding for its existing schools.

The previous administration missed a golden opportunity during the 15 months that universities, polytechnics and colleges of education were on strike at one period or another; the crisis was a good opportunity for them to advance their ideas for reform. Sadly, the APC which was then in the opposition also showed a severe paucity of thinking on the same matter, and did not offer an alternative education policy to what was in place then.

Now that the APC is in power and reforming the tertiary education sector is their own problem to solve. To their advantage, there is no shortage of ideas on what they can do to make this happen.

In conclusion, the Buhari administration should keep in mind that while the patience of Nigerians is short, that of young Nigerians is even shorter, and they can lose confidence in the administration quickly.

As such, it should focus on delivering tangible benefits to its youth demography. After all, it is them that will live with the effects of this administration for a long time to come.

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