President Muhammadu Buhari is certainly not given to “presidential correctness” on a number of state and even personal issues. Indeed, he is more in surplus of “presidential incorrectness” in words. Remember his controversial joke(?) in 2016 in reaction to the First Lady’s (Aisha Buhari’s) statement according to which she might “not back her husband at the next election unless he got a grip on his government.” And that was in faraway Germany, at a press briefing with German Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel. “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” President Buhari was quoted standing next to the Chancellor who certainly seemed not to be amused. This possibly explains (but certainly not necessarily justifies) his blunt remark at the Commonwealth Business Forum Common in London recently.
According to 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,” Of course, there is no gainsaying that the president’s remark was conceptually flawed. I searched in vain for such a pessimistic view of the youth population in the President’s address at inauguration in 2015. On the contrary, President Buhari was upbeat with optimistic and sympathetic view of the youth. In fact the President defined “unemployment,” “notably” in “terms of youth un-employment” which he said features strongly in his party’s Manifesto.
He added further: “We intend to attack the problem frontally through revival of agriculture, solid minerals mining as well as credits to small and medium size businesses to kick – start these enterprises. We shall quickly examine the best way to revive major industries and accelerate the revival and development of our railways, roads and general infrastructure”. Also employment and youth empowerment featured prominently in the Economic Recovery ad Growth Plan, (ERGP) of the administration. “Interventions to create jobs are a core part of the administration, which aims to reduce unemployment and under-employment, especially among youth. The ERGP accordingly prioritizes job creation through the adoption of a jobs and skills programme for Nigeria including deepening existing N-Power programmes, and launching other public works programmes. The partnership for job creation will also focus on the policies required to support growth and diversification of the economy by placing emphasis on Made-in-Nigeria, public procurement which takes account of local content and labour intensive production processes. All initiatives under job creation would prioritize youth as beneficiaries. Accordingly, all capacity building and skills acquisition interventions will be targeted at youth-dominated sectors such as ICT, creative industries, and services. Furthermore, concerted efforts would be made to encourage youth to venture into other labour intensive sectors such as agriculture and construction.”
ERGP document states clearly. If we marry policy pronouncements with N-power 200,000 youths employment, school feeding programme, this President is certainly youth friendly. Of course on the eve of an important presidential election such as that of next year all seem to be fair in partisan campaign. But nothing could justify the ongoing distortions of a simple Q-an-A session with the President Buhari in London.
I agree that the President never used the word; “laziness” in his characterization of the plight of Nigerian youths. Indeed it’s the President’s tormentors who freely smear the youths with laziness in an attempt to undue the President. Witness my fellow friend of the weekly commentariat, Sonala Olumhense who wrote that “Buhari must apologize for anti-youth comment”. Haba! If the President apologizes for every imperfect words (some pure) attribution rather than genuine policy errors, definitely we will have nothing but an apologetic President as distinct from a performing President we voted for. Please even in our frustrations (and I have my own too) we should respect the facts as they are not as we choose to turn them upside to fuel our preferences. However, all said, the controversy over the remarks of the President in London might very well be blessings after all. More than ever before we must do a critical SWOT analysis of our youth population. In doing so we should not be romantic or dismissive of 60 per cent of the population. The strength of Nigerian youths is in the numbers (millions!) and abundant energy which we must harness for growth and development. Indeed, millions of youths are adding value to national development in the remaining factories, small enterprises, music and arts, and significantly sports. Of course the youth weaknesses include skill gaps, (no thanks to poor education and lack of vocational training), unemployment that has fueled insurgencies, kidnapping and crimes in general (almost all crimes have youth faces).
But both the strengths and the weaknesses of the youths offer considerable opportunities for nation building. Please let’s refocus the discussion beyond cheap banalities and downright pettiness. All said, both the bad and good interpreters agreed on the pathetic state of the youths. The challenge is to organize and change it for better, not agonizing as we are doing now. I suggest President Buhari should implement the spirit and content of EGRP enunciated. Furthermore, he should revisit the 2014 National Conference report with respect to youth and Labour empowerment. There must be full implementation of the 2nd National Youth Policy and the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan (NYEAP) with Legal backing to be given to the documents to aid implementation; creation of an Agency backed by law to be saddled with the responsibility of drawing up policy framework and work plan for youth development among other robust recommendations of that historic conference.