The Young and the Restless

If there is one demographic group that really needs urgent attention from Nigeria’s leaders and educators then it has to be those born between 1980 and 1999, otherwise known as the millennial generation in other climes.

I have never found a group of young people so disillusioned, discouraged and easily brainwashed as I have found among this group of young Nigerians in the few months I have been here.

The nation’s leaders have to endeavor to go beyond “stomach infrastructure” to providing meaningful jobs to ensure this group feels they are a priority, if the future of the country needs to be salvaged.

You read all the time about grandeur programs aimed at improving the lot of Nigeria’s youth, but you wonder about the success of all these empowerment programs after you encounter the general malaise, and drift on the streets among Nigeria’s millenials, who obviously form the highest demographic group amongst the unemployed.

Two encounters in one week this month provides a telling picture of this sad situation.

The first occurred as I and my sister got ready for a journey originating from Calabar recently.

The sagging pants and garb of a young trader setting up shop for the day’s trade was an unusual sight in the busiest area of the metropolis.

I was so shocked at how brazen this man was dressed for his day at the office that I summoned the courage to approach and ask him why; reminding him that this style of dressing was meant to demean African Americans prison convicts. And I simply could not believe his response when he retorted that he chose to dress that way because he had been in prison.

Talk about reverse culture shock on the streets of Calabar!

Another example was another youth on my street called Davido, who chooses to dress almost every day in the colors of the United States. Well, being partly American I am glad he holds the USA in such high-esteem. But the sad truth is the only thing he knows about America is that Barack Obama is the president. He did not even know where the capital of the USA is, when I asked him.

Perhaps, outfitting himself almost daily with the stars and stripes is a form of escapism from the frustrations that abound here for the young.

The fact is this general drift among the millennial is a problem that not only the government can solve. The churches, schools and especially the family unit have to be involved as well.

And at a recent service in a local church in Eket I had the opportunity to address the gathering on how the erosion of family values is contributing to this problem.

My speech at the Qua Iboe church focused on the essence of family unity, which I told the audience had changed from when I left the country more than 20 years ago. I emphasized that unlike other climes where wealth was quantified by financial status, our wealth in Africa used to be gauged by how united the family structure and alliances are, but that this was being quickly eroded by pursuit of material wealth and other myriad influences.

I mentioned that even other cultures used to be amazed by the strength of Africa’s extended family system, which was one of the reasons for Hilary Clinton’s book “It takes a Village” and encouraged the people to do everything to retain the family structure and unity, otherwise the nation will continue to drift.

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Ben Edokpayi

Ben Edokpayi is a strategic communications consultant with more than 25 years experience in the USA and Nigeria. His most recent corporate assignment was as Media Relations Officer with the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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