2019 Is Here!, By Dele Agekameh
Today, the country is at a fork in its road to development, with one road leading to the heights of prosperity and the other leading to the precipice of disaster. One way or the other, the youth will be a big part of where we land in 2019 and beyond.
2018 was a moderately eventful year in Nigeria. It witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly sides of life in the country at different times in its course. This turn of year understandably raises anxiety in the mind of Nigerians and foreigners with interests in the country. One of the reasons for this, and rightly so, is the coming election. However, there are many other major areas of concern as we enter 2019.
Without doubt, the coming general elections has cast a long shadow on other parts of life in Nigeria. As it is, even the possibility of a transmission in political power is causing some effects, especially on businesses. If one is honest, the landmark election of 2015 has caused a change in our politics. Politicians are now forced to re-brand themselves and their image while campaigning. They now pay attention to things that were overlooked in the past – like social media. In 2019, they will have to do even more work in this regard.
In the run up to 2015, many, perhaps, saw Baba Buhari (as President Muhammadu Buhari is fondly called) out of his customary Babanriga or Kaftan for the first time, when he donned a suit in one of his campaign posters. Also, late last month, the christian faithful were serenaded to a popular Christmas song by the trio of Baba Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Adams Oshiomole, chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It was a sight that could not have been imagined in 2007 or even 2011. When politicians begin to respond or adjust to changes in society, it signifies an entry into a new age. In this case, it is an age we are yet to fully understand.
Beyond the area of politics, it will be interesting to see how society adjusts to the changing times. With a population fast pushing on 200 million, over half of this demography is below 35 years of age. The huge economy of Nigeria has struggled to accommodate the bursting number of young adults, raising the rate of unemployment to a record high. With the government responding with social intervention programmes like N-Power, the onus still ultimately falls on young Nigerians to utilise the great potential of Nigeria to their advantage.
Without taking anything away from the good intentions of these government schemes, the social intervention programmes largely serve to tether the youth to the overburdened government purse, while seemingly designed to drag them along the path of development. All in all, it is an unsustainable approach to the problem of unemployment and weak personal development of young Nigerians. Come what may, 2019 is another opportunity to re-appraise this approach to government interventions and instead, create the enabling environment that allows businesses to thrive and for jobs to be created organically.
The economy is in a transitional phase, and as such, patience and endurance may be needed to ensure a proper progression to the next phase, where the originally proposed N50,000 minimum wage may even be possible. 2019 will be interesting, as state and federal governments try to meet up with the proposed amount or burst up the agreement.
Just like the social intervention schemes, the somewhat testy negotiations between government and labour for a new minimum wage of N30,000 may be a band aid for a bigger problem. There is no doubt at all that workers seriously need a raise in Nigeria’s current economic climate. However, to rush into hasty decisions would create greater problems in the future. There is a sense in certain quarters that the time for that raise is not ripe yet. The economy is in a transitional phase, and as such, patience and endurance may be needed to ensure a proper progression to the next phase, where the originally proposed N50,000 minimum wage may even be possible. 2019 will be interesting, as state and federal governments try to meet up with the proposed amount or burst up the agreement.
The changing times are also reflected in the area of security. For so long, there seemed to be little to cheer in this area, and patience is running really thin, especially in the North-East. The nature of the fight there is changing, and because of bureaucratic factors holding up funds and other operational and command difficulties, our military response has fallen short of expectation. If the problems are not addressed in 2019, we risk becoming a country in a permanent state of war.
There has been fighting in Afghanistan between the U.S. forces and the Taliban since 2001 and there is no clear path to ending this war. Although there is some talk of inviting the military of countries like the U.S. to participate in active combat in the North-East, Afghanistan and many other hot zones show that it is no guarantee for the peace we seek. The decision-making of the government and military command in 2019 will be crucial to determining the future of the war in the North-East.
Returning back to the issue of the massive number of young adults in the country right now, it is safe to say that the percentage of working age young people to others in this country is the single most important indice, going into 2019. Young Nigerians are driving change in ways that they do not realise and it will be wise for the government to pay more attention to the development of that section of society. The re-branding of politicians and the videos we all share and abuse today are facilitated by youth driven innovation. Many of the recruits of Boko Haram fall within this age bracket, so also the number of potential voters in the voting register.
With the recent death of former President Shehu Shagari, the only president in Nigeria’s second republic, one is reminded of the generational transition of power from the heroes of independence to the military cohort, and gradually to new age power brokers who are mostly middle-aged and greying themselves. Younger Nigerians are mostly on the sidelines, showing a keen interest in disrupting the the order, if the “Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill” was anything to go by. It is evidence of a restless generation of Nigerians hungry for engagement, and they manifest this hunger in many ways, good and bad.
The new year brings anxiety, but we should be more anxious about the future and how the youth are engaged in this country. Fine men and women have walked these lands and made positive impact, but their hardwork can be undone if we don’t invest more in the areas that matter.
For this reason, managing the young section of society should be a priority in 2019 and beyond, and this will be easier through careful observation of the behaviour of young Nigerians, starting with the elections in February. Although one can say that the top candidates in the coming general elections are from a different age, their successes in the elections and afterwards may depend on their engagement of the youths. The future of the country may hinge on how well-placed the youth are after the next tenure.
Today, the country is at a fork in its road to development, with one road leading to the heights of prosperity and the other leading to the precipice of disaster. One way or the other, the youth will be a big part of where we land in 2019 and beyond. Government organisations and leaders of private business need to have a youth policy, especially in the northern part of the country where birth rates are higher and youth restiveness is sharp. Irrespective of the rumoured foreign fighters present in the Boko Haram camp, the idle youth are their greatest minefield. And this goes for other sections of society.
It is crucial to get it right from the start, that is why we need to have discussions about the future of the country at this time every year. The new year brings anxiety, but we should be more anxious about the future and how the youth are engaged in this country. Fine men and women have walked these lands and made positive impact, but their hardwork can be undone if we don’t invest more in the areas that matter.
Beginning the year with elections will mean different things for different people. One hopes that we do not sell our future for political porridge in 2019. If we neglect the pressing concerns of today, they may turn to gargantuan complications in the future. May we all enjoy a year of good decisions.
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