Na big occasion yesterday, 12th August, for di palace of di Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Oguwnusi as youths from every part of obodo Naija gather there to celebrate di International Youth Day. Na di National Youth Council of Nigeria wey Ambassador Sukubo Sara-Igbe Sukubo be National Presido bin organise am.
Di Oga for TalkHealth Real Media Limited, Dr. Laz Eze bin follow for special people wey talk for di event. He blow plenty plenty grammar for im speech but di part wey concern health na im call to government and everybody make dem increase money and other investments for di health sector. He wan make dem make primary health care centres make dem dey work wella. He also tell federal and state government to make sure say all Naija people especially di youth get health insurance because na dem dey work pass.
If you wan read di long speech by Dr Laz Eze for di event as he take write am, see am below. Warning, na grammar full inside am o.
Youth Engagement for Sustainable National Development
A keynote speech for the International Youth Day 2020 event organized by the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) and the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development at thepalace of the Ooni of Ife, Ile Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. Delivered by Dr Laz Ude Eze – a public health policy and management specialist, sustainable development consultant, Founder of the African Youth Initiative on Population, Health and Development (AfrYPoD) and National Strategy Team Member of the Not Too Young To Run Movement.
Greetings with observance of protocols.
It gives me a great joy to stand before the distinguished persons gathered here today to speak on an issue I am very passionate about – Youth and Sustainable Development! My first time at the Ooni’s Palace was in 2006 when we were led by Dr. Tokunbo Awe who was the President of the Nigerian Medical Students’ Association (NiMSA) to pay homage to the Ooni. I was then the Ag. President of the Federation of African Medical Students Associations (FAMSA) and we were at the Obafemi Awolowo University, here in Ife to discuss some very important issues of “medical students’ importance”. J
We received some wise counsels from the late Ooni of Ife – Oba Okunade Sijuwade (may God rest his soul forever) some of which has helped to shape my life. It is heartwarming that the Ooni stool has sustained support for young people, and it worthy to note that Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, has taken recognition and investment in young people to an unprecedented positive level. Kabiyesi, the youth in Nigeria celebrate you. Thank you so much.
Let me start by defining some key terms in the topic of discussion.
Who is a Youth? The United Nations defines a youth as persons (female and male) aged between 15 and 24 years. The Nigeria’s National Youth Policy 2018 defined it as persons aged between 15 and 29 years while the African Youth Charter put it as persons between 18 and 35 years of age. This means that by whatever definition you go with, any person who is 36 years old or more is no longer a youth. This includes me.
What do we mean when we use the language, “Youth Engagement”? I will explain this with the help of some resources I got from ACT for Youth. “Youth engagement is the result when young people are involved in responsible, challenging actions to create positive social change. This means involving youth in planning and in making decisions that affect themselves and others. Youth engagement happens in youth-adult partnerships that are structured so that both groups contribute, teach, and learn from each other.” The event of today demonstrates that youth-adult partnership. It presents an opportunity for us (the adults) to teach and learn from the youths (NYCN) and vice versa. Activities like this should be happening often.
Permit me to ask these questions;
- Are Nigerian youths being engaged for actions?
- What kind of actions are the youths being engaged to do?
- How well are our youths being engaged for a positive action in various communities, states, nationally and globally?
We have a situation where the word “Youth” has been so negatively characterized and projected especially in Nigeria. When the Ayodele Dada broke the UNILAG record at the age of 29 years in 2016 with a CGPA of 5.0, there was no much emphasis on his youthfulness, but when the 32 years old Ramon Abbas (a.k.a Hushpuppi) got arrested recently in Dubai for alleged fraud, the conversation was so much about how the “Youth” wants to make money overnight. When Mr. Osita Chidoka who was made a Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps at the age of 35 years – a position many believed he discharged creditably well, he rarely get referenced as a youth. But when Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole who became Speaker of the House of Representatives at the age of 39 years was accused of corruption in his early 40’s, the media was awash with the analysis on how the “youth” was incapable of leading well. Mr. Donald Duke got accolades for the Tinapa project but not much credit was given to the youth demography, he was elected governor at the age of 37 years. Conversely, many people who disagrees with the governance style of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State use him as a metaphor for the alleged failure of the “youth” in governance. He was first elected at the age of 41 years. I can go on and on.
Sometimes I ask these questions; why same negative generalization not done for the older generation many of whom have performed below expectations? Why do young people who are involved in cultism and drugs abuse find it easier to access political leaders than more responsible youths? My people say, nwata kwochaa aka ya ofuma, o soro okenye rie nri (meaning – if a child washes his/her hands well, s/he will dine with the elders). My experience in Nigerian politics suggests the opposite is happening. In many parts of the country, thugs are more likely to eat and dine with the political leaders than first class graduates or highly skilled young entrepreneurs.
“Youth empowerment” is now a cliché for tokenism. Rather than harness the demographic dividends by investing sustainably in the youth, many leaders have reduced youth empowerment to sharing motorcycles, keke, wheel barrows, dashing out free money to praise singers, and other unsustainable investments. Little wonder the Youth Unemployment/Underemployment rate is 55.4% (Q3, 2018) according to the National Bureau of Statistics. I am sure Covid-19 must have worsened the situation. This is a time-bomb and it has started exploding gradually!
I would not want to dwell so much on analyzing the problems because we know them. Rather, I want to focus more on the solutions.
I want to declare that I see hope for the Youth in Nigeria! It gives me hope that an eminent personality in the person of Kabiyesi – the Ooni of Ife has scaled up youth engagement for a positive action not only in Ile Ife or Yoruba nation but in the entire nation. Just 8 months ago, Kabiyesi gave awards to 100 Nigerian Youths through the Royal African Young Leadership Forum, an initiative created to celebrate exceptional Nigerian youths. Many of my friends like Timi Olagunju and Gideon Olanrewaju were recipients and I’m so proud of them. This demonstrates a proper understanding of the meaning of “youth engagement”.
I see hope when I reflect on the hard work and passion I observe in young people across the 32 states I have been to in this country in the governance and health development activities. I see hope knowing that the youths in Nigeria are responsible for the economic progress in the ICT sectors, Nollywood and music industries. I see hope when I reflect on the outcomes of the strong advocacy we championed for youth inclusion in governance through the NotTooYoungToRun Campaign. Under the leadership of my good friend Mr Samson Itodo and other exceptional persons, the youth came together across the length and breadth of this country, spoke with one voice and achieved a reduction in age qualification for some elective offices in our constitution.
Kabiyesi, your excellences and fellow comrades, it gives me hope that 71% of the 680 Nigerians who have registered so far as members of the #MakeOurHospitalWork Campaign – a citizen-led community-based social movement I started with some young patriots less than 2 months ago are between ages of 18 and 35 years (45% are between 18 and 29 years of age). Recognizing the adverse impact of Covid-19 on our health system, members of the movement are leading actions in their various communities to make the health facilities function optimally for the benefit of their people. Let me use this opportunity to encourage many youths in Osun State and across the country who are yet to join to do so via https://makeourhsopitalwork.org. It is a free youth engagement platform for sustainable development of the Nigerian health sector.
The youth are ready for positive engagement. They are ready to lead. They are ready to use their energies positively for national development. But unfortunately, the goal posts is being constantly being shifted as they approach the existing ones. Some persons in public service are either reducing their ages or pushing for an increase in retirement ages thereby forcing younger ones to drop their birth certificates and swear court affidavits to declare a younger age to enhance their employability chances. The worst among them are more involved in governance.
Kabiyesi, Your excellences, the Hon. Minister and fellow Comrades, the Nigerian economy will witness accelerated growth when government at the local, state and federal levels do these;
- Sustainable investment in Education to improve the quality of education at all levels. This can be achieved by employing quality teachers, ensure they are well motivated and trained regularly, provide a conducive learning environment and making it accessible to all. Scholarships should be provided to encourage academically brilliant students and awards to good performing teachers. Qualitative education shall prepare the youth to work effectively and efficiently in various sectors of the economy and to compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world.
- Sustainable investments in the health sector. Primary health care facilities should be strengthened and health insurance provided for all, especially the youth as a health population is a more productive population.
- Empower young people with innovative skills in ICT – that’s the new oil.
- Provide grants or low interest loans to the youths with business ideas. It will keep them busy and create more jobs. Investment in young girls and persons with disability should be a priority because they are disproportionately affected by the poor economy.
- Provide mentorship for the youth by being good examples. While celebrating the youths in January, Kabiyesi the Ooni said, “If you don’t have it, it is like you don’t know where you are going. Mentorship is very key. You can’t just wake up and say I want to hammer. Nigerian youths have the social media as their biggest tool so we want to hear the success stories and prepare the grounds for those coming behind.” I agree with him absolutely with Kabiyesi. Mentoring from my older siblings and many other mentors inspired a village boy like me from Okposi, Ebonyi State to work very hard and becoming an influencer of national health policies and strong voice in the global health space.
- Establish a good reward system that recognizes hardwork and celebrates the exceptional youths. Kabiyesi – the Ooni of Ife has started this. He didn’t give the awards o the highest bidders but to young people who deserve it. Other monarchs should emulate this.
- Young people should be involved in every level of governance. There are youth in every village and community that are teachable and can be mentored to become great leaders. Let Nigeria stop treating its youth with disdain but make deliberate efforts to harness the demographic dividends. No youth policies should be made without youths on the table.
- Finally, government must guarantee security of lives and properties. The senseless killings across the country are extremely unacceptable. Many youths watch their parents and loved ones being killed and dehumanized in many parts of the country. If these killings are not stopped, many youths may grow with so much anger that the country may struggle to contain in future.
Kabiyesi, your excellences, fellow comrades, ladies and gentlemen, youth development is something I have lots of passion and experience and I can keep talking till tomorrow.
I want to end this speech, but not without a few recommendations to the Youth in Nigeria through the National Youth Council of Nigeria.
- Invest in yourself. If you want someone to help you and the person asks “what can you do?” what will your response be? If your response is “anything”, then you’re not ready. Every youth must have a skill and should market it confidently. Whether is fixing of phones, repairing of shoes, athletics, plumbing, graphics designs, writing, public speaking, community organizing, comedy, social media management, or any of the professional skills acquired in school or other vocational trainings. I have grown rapidly in my profession because I always make deliberate effort to invest in myself and learn from my mentors. From my village primary school with classrooms that lack windows and no functional toilets, I worked hard with support of family and mentors to acquire medical education at the University of Ibadan and Public Health Management training in Kentucky United States. Now, I can sit on any meeting in the health sector not primarily to take young people’s quota but largely in recognition of my professional competence. Now, I’m building one of the most influential health communication platforms in the country known as TalkHealth9ja.
- Every young person should be an active citizen. We must all get interested and involved in governance and participate actively in community development. Start from what you’re most passionate about. I am very passionate about health and education and I have been taking actions in my community and anywhere I found myself. The first step I took was during my 19th birthday when I gave prizes to best students per class in a secondary school in my community. 10 years later, I called some friends together and we started the Okposi Education Initiative in Ebonyi State. About 15 of us contribute money annually to reward 3 most brilliant students per class in all 10 public secondary schools in our community. More than 1000 students have benefitted with lots of positive testimonies. While in Ibadan, I founded the HIV AIDS Prevention Promotion Youth (HAPPY) Club and it helped a great deal in campus-based HIV Advocacy and created lots of opportunities for me and other members as well.
- The youth is more than two-thirds of the total Nigerian population. The youth have the numerical strength and energy to change this country for the better but this will not be possible when there is not unity of purpose. The first step is starting from within. Let NYCN, NANS and other youth groups fight a lasting solutions to the internal fights and factionalisation. If the youth don’t get it right, the country will never get it right. Let every young person join any political party of one’s choice and begin to influence decisions from there. Let the youth become champions for electoral reforms, participatory democracy and good governance starting from the various youth organisations.
- Other youths of Africa expects leadership from their Nigerian counterparts. We are already doing this at smaller levels but there should be an intentional action to push and get things right in the continent.
Finally, I want to give a big shout out to all the young men and women around the country who have been working very hard against all odds; who have been probably insulted or dehumanized because of their poor economic status but they keep pushing; those who may have tried and failed several times but are still keeping hope alive; those who have refused the temptation of engaging in bad habits like drug abuse or criminal acts; those who have refused to join criminal gangs who picked up arms against the state as a means of expressing their grievances; those who are learning skills and using them positively to make legitimate income; those who have adopted older men and women of integrity as mentors and living right to achieve their dreams; those who represent us well and win laurels for the country; those in the armed forces who put their lives on the line, fighting every day to protect the rest of us; and those youths who have paid supreme price in defense of this country.
Greatest Nigerian Youths! Let everyone arise and contribute individually and collectively to the sustainable development of Nigeria – the only country we can call our own!
Arise! Arise!! Arise!!!
Arise o compatriots…… (Everyone sings the national anthem).
God bless the king! God bless your excellences. God bless all comrades. God bless every one of you. And may God continue to bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.