In a video interview of a young boy of about 13 years old posted on Facebook, conducted in Yoruba language and summarised by the interviewer at intervals in English language, the interviewer at the beginning of the video said the boy was arrested along with some other suspects at a particular location (Oshodi) in Lagos. The boy had travelled from Ibadan which is about 110 Kilometres from where he was arrested as a result of his parents breaking up coupled with lack of parental care and support according to the young person with which he eventually had to live with one of his father’s relatives. From the interview, the boy said he takes marijuana and has joined a group of cultists and that he was initiated by an adult whose name he doesn’t know.
This pathetic story or occurrence is a trend that has been ongoing and growing in the country for years, particularly amongst vulnerable young people from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, and the government has not been able to significantly minimise the dangers which young people in the country are exposed to, from criminal gangs and syndicates.
The Director-General of National Population Commission, NPC, Ghaji Bello, has said Nigeria’s population was currently 182 million, with more than half its people under 30 years of age. According to him, this puts a severe strain on a nation, with its slowing economy and declining revenue to provide enough schools and health facilities. Bello, who disclosed this in Abuja, said the latest estimate was based on the population of 140 million recorded in the last census a decade ago, using an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent weighed against other variables such as rising life expectancy and a declining infant mortality rate.
This issue makes the federal government’s decision to have a single ministry for Youth and Sports at a time when more than 50% of the country’s population are youths questionable. With such a huge population of young people in the country, the expectation would have been that the government would make special provisions for young people in the country’s annual budget and roll out different programs to engage them with, within and outside their immediate communities.
Unfortunately, it seems that the focus of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Nigeria has always been on sports or to be precise football. As far as my memory can help me with I can’t remember the last time the ministry decided to roll out a national program to engage with youths at the grass root level. The federal government in its history of social engagement (PDF) with young people continuously overlook young people in hard to reach poor and vulnerable communities, this continued disengagement by governments at all levels with disadvantaged youths in the country may not have been deliberate but the onus lies on the policy makers in the country to consciously and conscientiously address such a fundamental social phenomenon.
Nigeria’s level of educational development ranks No. 152 at the bottom out of 187 countries in UNDP’s (2015) Human Development Index – a ranking below that of Kenya, Ghana, Botswana and Rwanda.
Hence, there is the need for government to move away from the model of short term solutions to youth related issues in the country, which is usually in the form of ‘youth empowerment’ programs, and address the challenges that youths are facing today by providing the requisite social support for them. Today a lot of hardworking and educationally qualified young people in the country are unemployed or underemployed while those with little or no formal education have little or no access to outlets that can provide them with alternative learning opportunities to become educated or better educated individuals, as well as, develop necessary life and employability skills. And in a society that is becoming significantly unequal in terms of access to opportunities in life based on people’s social economic backgrounds and educational attainment level (PDF) government has a key role to play in addressing the problems and providing equal opportunities to everybody. Although, the federal government in recent times have engaged unemployed youths with programs like Sure-P and N-Power but such programs target young people with higher education, hence, the government is not providing for those that are most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the country.
One half of the population aged 15 and above are classified as illiterate. Nigeria’s 41 million adult illiterates are a major negative contributor to the world’s literacy league. Out of them, 10 million are young people aged 15-24 – a dismal statistic not auguring well for generations to come.
Going back to the video interogation that prompted this post, the child interviewed in the video couldn’t speak in English language despite the fact that he has completed six years of compulsory education in the Nigerian public education system; a system that uses English language as its medium of knowledge and skills transmission. Does it mean that for those six years the child was accessing primary education little knowledge and skills or in a worst case scenario none was acquired by him? Because without an understanding or the ability to communicate at a basic level in the language of teaching and learning in the classroom he probably would have been disengaged from learning most of the times while he was in school. At a time that literacy is important and in a country like Nigeria that has over 500 languages, English language as the official national language is the main means of communication amongst people of diverse backgrounds in the country. While it is important to be literate in one’s native language(s), it is also compulsory for schools to make sure that they deliver what they are meant to do, which is, educating children to be able to engage with others without being or feeling disadvantaged or inadequate due to the failure of the education system to provide them with self-liberating education.
…it can be said that broken or unstable homes significantly contributes to juvenile delinquency among other factors.
Another issue raised in the video interview was that the young person is a ‘product of a broken home’. However, divorce is not unique to poor families but it seems children from poor families bear its brunt more than any other group in the society, and without understanding and having the knowledge of the multiple and multifaceted factors that could have contributed to the separation of the young person’s parents, it is almost impossible to understand where things might have gone wrong. As the social structure (PDF) in the country evolves coupled with other challenges that individuals and families are facing, it is important that governments at all levels start providing necessary social support services by tapping more into the organic support systems that are already existing in different communities in the country.
The findings from this study serve as a renewed call for developing African countries to urgently address the economic and social empowerment of families, eradicate poverty, and provide free, compulsory quality education and health care services for children. Mass public enlightenment programmes in areas such as family values, child discipline and parental skills need to be invested in, and the laws protecting children need to be reviewed and implemented so that children’s rights are protected both within the family and whenever they may come into contact with the law.
Hence, the Oyo state government through its local education authority in which the child had his primary education should in the first instance have been able to identify that it has a non-returning student and carry out due diligence to establish – if such a young person is still in education or not? This calls for state governments to engage more with young people, communities, religious organisations, motor park operators, National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), institutions of learning and other stakeholders with regards to how best to support disengaged or disadvantaged young people through education, social support networks, sports and alternative learning opportunities.
And when the interviewer asked the boy ‘how many people have you killed?’ My heart sunk.