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Nigeria’s youth after the elections: What now?

Onno Ruhl's picture

In my previous blog post, I talked about the political pressure caused by the very large number of unemployed youth in Nigeria. Without wanting to predict the future, I examined how this problem could either pose a systemic threat, or alternatively, create positive pressure on Nigeria’s leaders to start tackling the twin problems of unemployment and social exclusion.

Since then, Nigeria’s elections have come and gone, and most observers agree that they were reasonably free and fair, presenting a break from the past in that sense. All agree that the violence that followed the announcement of results in the Presidential elections was very sad. I think it is fair to say that almost everyone was shocked at how quickly the violence spread and how bad it became.

Most of the international press reported this violence to be religious in nature. I beg to differ. To me, the violence was a further illustration of the dangers posed by the massive problem of unemployed, socially excluded youth. President Jonathan put it well earlier this month, stating that “these youth are raw material for politicians to create political violence and thuggery.” In my view, the violence was created for political purposes by whoever chose to create it. What allowed it to happen is the presence of so many youth with no prospects in their lives, who are easily manipulated into violence. It is not religion that caused the violence. Instead, it is politicians taking advantage of the social exclusion and disaffection felt by so many.

So far, events in Nigeria have followed the negative scenario suggested in my previous post. How can this be turned around? 

It would be great if Nigeria’s leaders collectively embraced the need for pulling the country together now. This is not the time to talk about religious or ethnic divisions. It is the time to understand that the country must start to address the issues of unemployment and social exclusion. As long as so many youth have no prospect in their lives and so many mothers and infants die needlessly, it will always be easy to create violence. The 2011 World Development Report underlines how cycles of violence can damage development prospects. Nigeria must not fall into this trap.

How great would it be if the new administration took the issues of unemployment and social exclusion head on? Would it be possible to mount a social program of the scope of Brazil’s “Bolsa Familia” or Mexico’s “Oportunidades” in Nigeria?  Could such a program transform the relationship between Nigeria’s government and its people as has happened in Brazil?

No program can solve these problems quickly, but in Nigeria we have a good tradition of giving credit for “trying”. It sounds to me like now is the best time to start trying. It should be in the interest of both President Jonathan and the newly elected group of State Governors to show efforts now and results tomorrow. Nigeria needs it!



Submitted by Chinedu on
Onno-- Great post. However, the starting point before the administration embarks on another journey of public wastage is to ask: what ever happened to SMEDAN, what happened to NDE; what happened to other similar programs. Without admiting the failures of these agencies that by the way continue to get money from the budget, and moving firther to scrap them, we will be making a mistake in advising the government to embark on another journey because it feeds the current fad - WDR, Tunisian effect. What is mportant is what works for Nigeria and I feel strongly that the efficient investment of its own resources is critical to making Nigeria work. So let us know first how the Bank intends to support existing agencies with the same vision.

Submitted by Tunji on
Onno Well said. I will like to join Chinedu in inviting the Government of Nigeria to give serious thought to the reasons for the failure of past initiatives on employment generation. What have we achieved with NDE, SMEDAN and NAPEP? Are there good reasons why these programs are not visibly making the so much desired difference. What is the effect of politcising some of these laudable programs? Government should set up a Committee of senior citizens to review the performance of these programs and come up with a decentralized approach to job creation efforts in the country. I see no reason why a Federal Agency will go to Ogun state to distribute motorcyle or tricycle in the name of poverty alleviation when the same can be done through the state machinery at lesser cost. That an item of development is on the concurrent list should not be mistaken as an opportunity for duplication of efforts. To my understanding what this mean is that such issues are so important that both the Federal and State governments should focus on them. President Jonathan should give priority to this line of thought as another May 29 comes around.

Submitted by Brenda on
Onno: Inspiring write-up as always. I totally agree with you that unemployment is a major challenge for the youths in Nigeria and same in so many other countries. There is no country with all its working population employed. I do agree that some countries have a greater percentage of their workforce engaged in one vocation or another. But I want us not to focus only on what the government can do for the youths. Good Leadership, we all know can create jobs but good-followership will provide enabling environment for the jobs to yield desired objectives. The very talented youths we have in Nigeria can survive on their skills, if channeled to the right direction. Chinedu raised question about the Bank's support to existing agencies with vision. Again I want us to stop for a second and think why any agency set up to do something positive will have to get external support before it survives. I believe this is the time to try but let's not rely on politicians 100%. They do have a role to play but the part that the citizens play would count the most.

Submitted by Onno on
Chinedu, Tunji, Brenda, Thanks a lot for your comments! Chinedu is very right indeed: the key is to improve the results Nigeria achieves with its own money. This is as true at State level as is it at Federal level. Some states notably have already achieved significant success in dealing with youth issues, as is well known. Rather than reinvent the wheel, a new program should leverage sucesses that are already there, in Nigeria. In the same vein, your idea to review existing programs and rationalize them is excellent. The bottom line is that Nigeria should learn both from interntional good practice and from its own successes as well as failures to find a way to tackle the problems of social exclusion and unemployment. Nobody has the perfect solution, but a good solution can be found if leaders are determined and willing to learn. This applies to leaders both at Federal and at State level. Many thanks again, Onno

Submitted by Tonbofa on
Onno, Your analysis on the post election violence is spot on. Unemployment amongst the Nigerian youth is one of our greatest problems in Nigeria as most of our crises can be traced to the youth being idle and as such tools for evil. In Bayelsa State, the Governor, His Excellency, Chief Timipre Sylva, rightly determined that the unemployment and general hopelessness felt by the Niger Delta youth was the cause for the security crisis the State has currently exited. In order to prevent the next generation from falling into the same problems, the Governor embraced a Child Development Accont (CDA) project (an offshoot from the Mexico Opportunidades project) introduced to the 36 Nigerian State Governors by the World Bank, Columbia University and New America Foundation (the Partners). The CDA is based on the asset theory which says when children know they have assets kept for them, they tend to perform better. The CDA has been successfully tested in Uganda and a similar model is being employed in Bayelsa State. In Bayelsa, the project is called the CDA Savings, Training and Rewarding Savers, (CDA STARS) and is piloting with just 1,000 (J.S.S.2/ Year 8) students from the 8 local government areas. The State Government is the sole sponsor of the project, with the Partners providing technical advise. The State Government will open bank accounts for these randomly selected students with an initial sum of money, hoping that the students will increase this initial sum by saving any money they get. Where the students so save, the Government will double their saved amount. The project has a financial education aspect, where the children will be taught financial responsibility in a child friendly manner by Lynx Nigeria (a Nigerian NGO). The project was launched in November 2010 and the accounts are currently being opened. The financial education commences this month. I am the co-ordinator of the project and I tell you that the response from the students, their parents and the Bayelsa people has been amazing. The Governor's goal is that when the students graduate from senior secondary school, they will have a nest they can use to pay their university tuition or start a business. This knowledge should encourage them to put in their best in school, aim high and struggle to attain their dreams. If we can influence the mindset of these young ones in such a positive manner, we will avoid the crises uninspiration amongst the youth has encouraged. Visit for more on the project. Tonbofa

Submitted by Onno Ruhl on
Thanks for your description of the work in Bayelsa, which I had heard about when it was being conceptualized. Good to hear that it is off to a good start. This underscores the notion that in building a national program, Nigeria can use many suucessful ventures at State level as starting points. I am thinking for instance also of the OYES Program on Osun State and Lagos' excellent work with the "area boys". What matters most is that leaders at all levels recognize the problem and commit to doing something about it. Then, it is important that we build on successful experience, both in Nigeria and elsewhere. All the best with your programs! Onno

The the new generation Nigeria must be a top-down community of competence and conscious engagement. There are key questions to answer along this trail and I believe that the World Bank can do a whole lot more to help Nigeria wake up fully to the opportunities and leadership challenges of the 21st century. Here is how I see this: Who owns this land? With the recent elections, it does appear that what Nigerians are beginning to acknowledge, albeit in that peculiarly accepting and “We that God! It could have been worse” Nigerian way, is that there is psychological famine in the land. Nigerians are starving for a nation of light, a nation of “noble cause” that is decidedly shooting for “great and lofty heights.” So what message did Nigerians hint, first to President Jonathan and then to all the politicians out there? What do the recent election results say in essence? Here are some thoughts. To President Jonathan, it sounds like a huge vote of confidence, an astonishing privilege: “If you, Mr. President, are re-emerging with A Legacy of Greatness in mind, here is our mandate for you to heal our land from spiraling ineffectiveness and lead us to greatness. You have all of our trust now, and we ask that you give us all your light this time!” Perhaps Nigerians have finally started to wake up to the fact that Nigeria is theirs and that from now on, they must participate actively in the redemption of their country from the “mental logjam” of both strategic and tactical ineffectiveness. Remember “Arise O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey?” Is that not a call to aim higher as a nation, a charge to put the country and its citizens way up above narrow interests and personalities, even the mighty and the seemingly powerful? What do the recent elections hint to politicians and political parties in Nigeria? “You can be big or you can be small! You can politic and party all you want! You can balkanize and zone positions until you fully enthrone mediocrity and make complete nonsense of the idea of national brand enhancement and integration! You can recycle dead weights all you choose to! And you can plan to slice and dice the “national or state cake” and do your horse-trading all the way! But here is our message.” “We (150 million of us) are gradually beginning to “arise” to the call for active citizenship. If you are clueless on what it takes to lead in this 21st century, you will do well to go fishing rather than seek or remain in public office! If you don’t put your conscience to the task, field competent and credible candidates and prepare to deliver respectable return on the investment we have made in giving you the privilege to serve, you are toast! You don’t get to take our votes and dreams for granted anymore. We will now only root for the welfare of our children and the greatness of our nation - no more votes for bags of rice, not for tribes and tongues, not for religious intolerance, and not for big egos!” A time to run? Is the era of an Engaged Citizenry in Nigeria now under way then? If yes, what must follow quickly is for every Nigerian politician to take note, take a radically revamped oath to really “serve with heart and might” and begin the heavy lifting that will be required from every duty post. Thankfully, President Jonathan now has all of his own four years to complement this momentous up-scaling of citizen expectation with a conscious leadership regime in which the delivery of solid results must become the Acid Test for Legitimacy in every office, big or small. This time, let national leadership upscale to exercising the Proprietary Courage and the Creative Clarity to expressly ask senior office holders for Time-Framed and Measurable Results in public office. Give people set goals and targets as they take up offices, and see who still wants to be, minister, commissioner, DG, or whatever. “When result-driven leaders ask their lieutenants for results, they can quickly tell who has something to offer the nation and its people and who just wants to tag along for the ride, of course at the people’s expense!” What are we saying then? That this is Goodluck Season in Nigeria, and we must not fail this time! This season begs to be stretched and up-graded to become the Good Luck Days of all-round Concrete Return on Leadership Investment. Boy! What a thrill! Isn’t this exciting? Now, let me take you into the thrust of Let There Be Light so you get a glimpse of why this book sees this as a new day for Nigeria. The charge goes like this. “Run Nigeria! Run! Run! Run!” Why run? You ask. Why not? The book returns. Every other serious nation is running! Here is how this is unfolding globally. Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it would starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running. To run, it turns out, is one thing Nigeria must begin to do now in order to stop both the renegades (within and outside) from either eating our lunch or possibly even eating us for lunch. The world is running on all fronts – employment, technology, education, health care, infrastructure, leadership, rule of law, safety, ease of doing business, you name it. Sadly, in too many cases, the fast upgrading world has left Nigeria far behind. Give this some thought and decide if you see any semblance of running for miles in our approach to the welfare of citizens or any aspect of our national affairs. Merely think about it! Just in case you have not checked out Let There Be Light on Facebook, please click the link below. Thanks This dialogue on beaming more light into the Nigerian public arena is certainly something the World Bank can help us accelerate. The case for light on Facebook continues next week….

Submitted by victor on
truth is: it's not like our leaders don't know what to do. In nigeria, everything is all about how much power and influence you posses so they just don't want to close that gab between the poor and the rich. maybe for them, it's a way of preserving the power of influence you might imagine.

The federal Ministry of youth development in the last regime (2007 - 2011) built 7 youth development centres across all zones in Nigeria. As it were, the centres were nearing completion when the regime came to an end in May 2011. One of quick-wins for the present administration (which in some sense is a continuation of the last one) is to turn the 7 youth development centres into a pot-pourri of activities that will train, empower and cater for the demands and yearning of Nigeria's huge army of unemployed youth. Young people are a bit wary of Government interventions, most are politicized and the gains and opportunities usually circulate amongst the few who are connected in Government circles. There is an urgent need to ensure that the youth development centres function in line with national standards and successes (fate-foundation is one good example) and that it is monitored and supported by a wide range of stakeholders including private sectors, institutions like the world bank and non-profits.

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