Let us use this season of sit-at-home and lockdown to reflect on who we are as Nigerian youths and fashion out what we want to do, and launch out subsequently with all vigour and vibrancy, armed with stronger ambitions towards making our mark!

As we sit at home under the COVID-19 lockdown in our various cities across the country (and even in the diasporas where we also find ourselves as Nigerian youths), this time should indeed be a precious moment set aside for critical introspection, a time which we may use to do “a rethink” of where we have been, a rethink on where we are currently, and a rethink of where we should be going to, and where we envisage being in decisive matters of Nigeria’s sustainable developmental ambitions and future, as well as global partnerships.

As it is verifiable and cannot be denied, youths are the ones who run the show in various key sectors of both the private and public sectors of many countries (especially developed countries), venturing at supersonic speed in critical areas such as entrepreneurship and business, aerospace, robotics, medicine, public service, as well as in politics. This norm (mostly the case in developed countries) is different when considering our context in Nigeria, where our youth is said to have become inactive. This “inactive” realism seems to be surprising, especially when considering what our fathers and mothers did in the past, when for instance the founding fathers of our nation’s independence made that possible in their youth.

So where is the Nigerian youth as we consider undeniable testimonies like: 29 per cent of Nigerian-Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree in the U.S., compared to 11 per cent of the overall U.S. population (according to the Washington based Migrations Policy Institute); that among Nigerian-American professionals, over 45 per cent work in education services, while others are professors at top universities. Nigerians are entering the medical field in the U.S. at an increasing rate and have made it big there. Silas Adekunle, a Nigerian inventor and entrepreneur, known for creating the world’s first intelligent gaming robot, has become the highest-paid robotics engineer in the world, after signing a new deal with Apple Inc. in 2018. Chimamanda Adichie, considered to be one of the greatest wonders of the literary world, is a Nigerian who is also a youth.

Similar success stories are seen across other parts of the world where Nigerian youths are making huge inroads and contributing to the success stories of many societies. But what about the Nigerian society where they all emanate from? What is the situation? What is their impact here and where do we go from here? Regrettably, the success stories of the Nigerian youth, as mostly evident in the diaspora, seems totally different from what we have here in Nigeria. The impact of the Nigerian youth is not positively felt in Nigeria as it ought to be and something drastic must be done about this.

Here, I must also point out that there needs to be some form of mentorship from our experienced leaders. There is an old saying by the Igbo people that, “what an elder sees while seated, younger folks will be unable to see it even when they climb a tree”. This saying exemplifies the virtue of seeking mentorship from elders and this as a virtue can never go out of fashion. There is no doubt how vital it is for the African youth to tap from the wealth of experiences of our good leaders. They have done us proud and we ought to learn something from them and build the African continent to our desired height.

I will also like to prick the conscience of African leaders, especially our leaders in Nigeria, for them to engage the youth more in policy formulation, especially the ones which tend to project the future. Concerted efforts should be made to groom aspiring Nigerian youth for leadership positions and entrust such persons with considerable responsibilities. We have this already going on in countries like Finland, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, France, where the leaders of these countries have entrusted huge responsibilities on their aspiring youths. It is vital that as Nigeria plans for a sustainable future, we too should emulate these countries and get our youths actively involved in the duty of running our nation.

Looking at the COVID-19 surprise, it is not selective in its attack. It is no respecter of race, faith, persons and status. More disheartening are the startling predictions that Africa will be hit the most by this disease and by fact of our population, Nigeria could be highly affected. The scourge has come to wage war against humanity, and to win this war, Africa (especially Nigeria) and her youths have to come together as one to give it the blow it deserves. The Nigerian youth have to take lead in this fight! And we can do it. Yes, we can. The good news is that Nigeria can only win the war against COVID-19 through the ingenuity and resolve of its youths. It is a known fact that human resources are desperately needed at a time like this and the youths need to get ready. For Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth, a country with an estimated population of over 200 million people, having over 70 per cent of its population below 35 years is a huge benefit. I can comfortable say that Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa with the greatest youth projection, a growing youth population by which one can easily conclude that the future of Africa lies in the hands of the Nigerian. This is a clarion call on every Nigerian youth reading this to help wrestle COVID-19 off and not give up the hope of the greater things that lie ahead of us as a people and a nation.

I also believe there is a “mindset defeat” that reigns within Nigerian youths who live in the country, and which needs to be eradicated. The mind of the Nigerian youth needs to be reawakened or “rebirthed” to enable her operate in the new direction the world wants her to operate in, in a manner that would see her catch-up with what her peers are doing in various sectors in other countries of the world. The Nigerian youth needs to adopt the “I can Make It” mindset and stand up and begin making impactful strides. Even inspite of the many shortcomings, we should imbibe the “We can do it Spirit” and begin moving forward. Moving forward would not mean that we are oblivious of the challenges but moving forward knowing fully well that those challenges are not insurmountable! When we imbibe this mindset, something unexplainable happens; things begin to change. I know this as I have tried it and it works in my field of concern, the aviation sector. And as we do this we should be good citizens, adhering to the laws of the land and standing against violence and corruption. Without these virtues, we can never become truly successful.

Indeed, one may say that there are better opportunities abroad but the truth is that there are many needs here which require solutions and our talents can be used to proffer solutions for such needs. In entrepreneurship, for instance, when you provide a solution to a need, it translates into a service which is payable or dividend-earning. So, as you identify a need and proffer solutions, you get paid and get relevant! Government also has a role to play in supporting whatever the Nigerian youth will do in this reawakening plan. Government ought to be continually supportive because the youth is the vibrancy of every nation and our future as a nation in the modern world depends so much on the youth and how visible it (government) allows them to be (and partner) in managing and interpreting the developmental envisioning or policies of our government. Our inability to support our youth and allow them display their talents for our sustainable development can become inimical to our existence as a nation. Making our youth relevant will help solve most of the problems associated with our youth, such as criminality, fraud, prostitution, drug abuse, corruption and many others. Our economy would never bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic without a vibrant and participatory youth in the development of our nation. It is the vibrant youth that would reengineer the bouncing back of the Nigerian economy and help fulfill government’s policy. Whichever way one chooses to look at them, the Nigerian youth are strategic enablers of sustainable development, which our country can never do without in critical times like these. I should hope that by the time the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Nigeria, through the wisdom of her youth (against global predictions), will have no significant loss and consequently be found worthy of emulation.

Let us use this season of sit-at-home and lockdown to reflect on who we are as Nigerian youths and fashion out what we want to do, and launch out subsequently with all vigour and vibrancy, armed with stronger ambitions towards making our mark!

Isaac Balami, an aviator, is founder and president of the Nigeria Rebirth Foundation.