Believe it or not, some things in Nigeria are becoming better as we move into the future, while others are becoming worse. There has been sustained transition between not only civilian administrations but also between competing democratic blocs in accordance with the provisions of the new republican constitution that came into effect in 1999.
For more than two decades, democracy has flourished, no matter the meagerness of the progress made. The fact that there had been three peaceful changes of government, and another one in the offing alone is a major achievement.
The most notable sociopolitical cleavages bedeviling the country include hatred between races, poverty, and violent crime. 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 also making spirited efforts aimed at getting all children to attend at least ten years of school, regardless of gender. It is, however, of concern to note that healthcare in Nigeria is steadily becoming worse, and probably will continue for the foreseeable future because both the leadership and the electorate do not seem to care a lot about this social sector as much as education for instance. 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 ten thousand die each year from 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 comprehensive healthcare system. 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 they simply cannot afford it.
With the median age of 19 years, Nigeria is more youthful today than it has ever been. A country’s youth are a great asset when it comes to achieving political, social, and economic prosperity. But that is not possible without a deliberative 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’s economy in the right direction. Nigerian youth are more aware and are claiming their rightful place at the decision-making table by holding leaders more accountable for their leadership, democracy, and governance. The recently concluded elections are a profound testament to the civil and political consciousness taking shape in the minds and hearts of young men and women.
Young people in Nigeria are extremely talented and capable, but with no access to capital implements they are fundamentally schemed out. This is a hindrance in the way of optimising their potential. To compensate and make waves, there is a need to increase the investment in the constructive education of young people. That will equip them with skills that meet the demands of the labour market and the needs of the nation’s rapid industrialisation. 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 not only the nation but the whole 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 organisations. 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.
The fabled future must begin in 2023. The only thing that stands in the way of that is the lack of adequate understanding of our setting as a means for effective implementation of solutions that have worked 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.
The leadership coming onboard May 29 has every opportunity, and responsibility too, to herald the future. All it needs to do is put in place infrastructure and guarantee peace and security and that will almost certainly cure this country for good.
The future of Nigeria must begin in 2023.