Editor's note: Aviation expert and president, National Association of Aircraft Pilots & Engineers (NAAPE), Isaac Balami, writes on the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, noting that the period of lockdown in Nigeria should be a precious moment set aside for critical introspection by Nigerian youths on how to move the nation forward.
As we sit home under the COVID-19 lockdown in our various cities across the country (and even in the diaspora 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"...a rethink on where we have been, a rethink on where we are currently and a rethink as to where we should be going to, where we envisage being indecisive matters of Nigeria's sustainable developmental ambitions and future as well as global partnerships.
As 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 US, 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 increased 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 in her youth.
Balami wants the average Nigerian youth to have an impact on society
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Similar success stories are seen across other parts of the world where Nigerian youth 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 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 it.
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 of Nigeria 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 so 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, that they should engage the youth more on 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 such responsibilities on their aspiring youth. It is vital that as Nigeria plans for a sustainable future that 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 the benefit of our population, Nigeria could be mostly 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 youth. It is a known fact that human resources are desperately needed at a time like this and the youth 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% of its population below 35 years is a huge benefit. I can comfortably say that Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa with the greatest youth projection, a growing youth population which by this, one can easily conclude that the future of Africa lies in the hands of the Nigerian youth. 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 in the minds of the Nigerian youth who live here in Nigeria and which needs to be eradicated. The mind of the Nigerian youth needs to be reawakened or "rebirthed" if you may. The mind of the Nigerian youth has to be rebirthed anew to enable her to operate in the new direction the world wants her to operate in, in a manner which would see her catch-up with what her peers are doing as Nigerian youth 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 in spite 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 such 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! The 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 envisions or policies of our government.
Our inability to support our youth and allow them to 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 can 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 after the coronavirus pandemic and help fulfil 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.
So let us use this season of sit-at-home and lockdown to reflect on who we are as the Nigerian youth and what we want to do, and launch with all vigour and vibrancy, armed with stronger ambitions whenever the lockdown is lifted and make our mark! God bless the Nigerian youth. I believe in you.
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