Believe it or not, some things in Nigeria are becoming better as we move into the future, while others are becoming worse. The government in Nigeria is in the hands of civilians in accordance with the provisions of the new constitution promulgated in 1999.
For more than two decades, democracy has flourished, no matter the meagerness of progress made. The fact that there had been three peaceful changes of government alone is a major achievement contextually. The most notable sociopolitical cleavages bedevilling the country include hatred between races, poverty, and violent crime.
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The economy of Nigeria is presently the largest in Africa and Nigeria has no doubt reaped a lot from this singular fact. Slowly but steadily, governments at different levels are moving forward with investments in infrastructure and social human capital. Governments are making spirited efforts aimed at getting all children to attend at least 10 years of school, regardless of race or gender.
It is however of concern to note that health care in Nigeria is steadily becoming worse, and probably will continue to into the 21st century. Each year in Nigeria, half a million people are infected with HIV, and it is estimated that about 6.8 million people will be infected by 2025. About 10, 000 die each year because of Tuberculosis.
Also, the infant mortality rate is twice what is normally expected for a country with Nigeria’s income. Not many people have access to doctors or a national health plan. In cities there is only one doctor for every 700 people, and the ratio is even worse in rural areas. Few people are able to afford private health care because of the extremely high prices.
With the median age of 19 years, Nigeria is more youthful today than it has ever been. The country’s young people are a great asset when it comes to achieving political, social, and economic prosperity. But that is not possible without intentional and sustainable investment in the education, health, employment, and empowerment of young people.
It is also imperative that young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to steer the nation in the right direction. Nigerian youth are more aware and are claiming their seat at the decision-making table by holding leaders more accountable for their leadership, democracy, and governance.
Young people in Nigeria have great and innovative ideas but with no access to capital they are left out. This is a hindrance to maximizing their potential. To compensate and make waves, there is a need to increase the investment in the education of young people. That will equip them with skills that meet the demands of the labour market and the needs of their nation’s development. A rise in youth unemployment has already led to a sharp rise in crime. Many young people are frustrated and feel neglected by the systems that should be providing opportunities for them.
The future of Nigeria is its youth, and the necessary investments should start now if we are to harness the demographic dividend. Nigeria’s young, emerging leadership is made up of people who have a passion and vision for the continent. Harnessed well, they will ensure that the country benefits from an array of human capital that can take the continent forward.
But many challenges stand in their way – and it’s essential that we give our youth the tools to overcome them. Early investments in young children are proven to be cost-effective and have a higher rate of return than later remedial interventions for older children or adults. This makes early childhood development a strategic investment.
We all have a role to play in giving kids a strong start to life and the education they deserve: from parents and community leaders, to international donors and organizations. Developing young leaders must be a priority to create a secure, prosperous, and peaceful continent. Young Nigerian leadership will bring more than just political emancipation. Before us lies a challenge to finally implement the many solutions we have talked about and indeed written about. Young leadership means the creation and implementation of workable solutions that have often eluded us. Leadership must be the change that turns the tide in preventing the many malaises that ail the country.
This means we must focus on improving our health systems. We also must balance the prevention and curative aspects of health care with the sociocultural context of our societies. And we must prudently use our resources in high-impact, yet low-cost interventions to save more precious lives.
What stands in our way is not adequately understanding our setting and simply implementing solutions that work well in developed countries. We must keep scientific accuracy but adapt solutions to suit the local situation. Policy reforms should include education systems that respond to Nigeria’s needs; healthcare systems that prevent and treat diseases; and universal health coverage that includes access to sexual and reproductive health care. The latter especially impacts girls, who are a big portion of the population.
At the same time, political leaders must design and implement sound youth-centred policies. And they need to put in place infrastructure, as well as guarantee peace through community partnerships that allow Nigeria’s young people to attain focus and reach their full potentials as adults. That is what the future must mean for Nigeria, Nigerians and especially young Nigerians.
By Huzaifa Jega, an Abuja-based management consultant