Country Director, Plan International, Usie Charles Emmamuzou, in this interview with LINUS ALEKE speaks on the change that Nigerians desire and why the youths have been unable to make it to the presidency despite the not too young to run legislation.
As the world commemorates International Youth Day 2022, what opportunities are available to Nigerian youths, considering the growing number of out-of-school children and graduate unemployment?
The opportunity available for young people in Nigeria has increased. It was quite fewer during our time. I don’t even consider myself a very old person but many years ago as a very young person, the opportunities were slimmer than what we have now. Now, we have more opportunities, more people have become successful and there are many more means through which we can reach them. This means that we can sit in the comfort of our rooms, and identify role models. We can even follow their life stories and listen to how they have navigated some of the difficulties that many young people face today.
So, the opportunities are there?
The question for me and my messages today as we celebrate International Youth Day and talk about intergenerational solidarity is how young people use the opportunity available to them that is what is different. Back in the day, we took advantage of little opportunities. We could travel miles just to spend five minutes with somebody whom we admire and want to learn from.
But these days, we find young people, even among people they could learn from and they would choose not to learn because there is an assumption that they know it all and that all the answers to their questions are actually on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram.
That is not true, so, my challenge to young people today is to use the opportunities available to them in terms of communication modalities, in terms of information available to them, they should use it well. One way to do that is to look for mentors. None of us have made it without mentors, role models, and without coaches. Be intentional about who becomes your role model, be intentional about who is your coach or mentor. And when you do this and have access to these people, use that access very well, use it in such a way that it adds value to your life. And do not be short-sighted in terms of your current predicament.
Many of us even grew up in a more difficult predicament as it were.
I was telling some young people yesterday that some of us grew up as young people during the military regime in Nigeria, where you do not even have any form of freedom. Right now, you have all kinds of freedom, people go on the internet and social media and insult any person they want to insult and they do it without any molestation from any quarter. You could not try that in the military days.
So, how do you say that things were better those days?
But in the midst of that, despite that, we were still able to identify who is a role model and we got access to those persons and we used the access in ways that added value to our lives. So, don’t use your present job predicament, to say Nigeria is bad, things are not working. That is the sentiment we hear, those are the narrative we hear, but in the midst of these, “Nigeria is bad, things are not working,” there are many young people who are becoming successful by the day.
Because the 2023 general elections are around the corner, and the youth are not adequately represented in government at all levels, should they participate in the election that is now highly monetized or go the way of peaceful revolution to rescue the country from total collapse?
You can call it a revolution, or whatever you want to call it. But again, it boils down to how you want to do it or how you want to use that information. For instance, I am aware of not too young to run and move. I interacted with them in the earlier stage, and one of the challenges I left with them was that, yes you are not too young to run but how many young people are aspiring for chairmanship and councillorship positions?
How many of them?
But they want to be president, it does not work like that, it is like not too young to run and you want to be a Country Director of Plan International. It took me 22 years to get here, do you want to take that for granted? So, the thing is, what the young people need to do is to be futuristic. We are too short-sighted with our plans, we want instant gratification, but it doesn’t always work like that. It may work for some people in the short term but go and study any successful company in the world, successful organizations, and successful individuals, none of them short-circuited the process, and none of them leapfrogged the process. Look at rich countries, and look at prosperous countries, they went through a process, they went through a time, they went through learning and they went through pain.
Many young people in my opinion do not want to pay that price.
And of course, I am not saying that you must suffer the way we did many years ago, I didn’t suffer the way my dad suffered, so I don’t expect my son to still suffer the way I suffered. So, yes I understand that things have changed, so, we would not all have the same experience growing up. But the thing is that there must be a time when people need to learn, people need to undergo tutelage, people need to undergo coaching and so even if we look at the political space, we are too fixated with the presidency. Lots are happening in the states, I can tell you for free that the kind of Nigeria that we want to see and the change we want to see is not only going to be instigated by the presidency. Many of us live in states and if the state can get their act right, then we will be on the part of progress because we need one correct state, then two, three, and then we get a significant number of states who are getting it right. It becomes a tipping point for them to compel the presidency to do the right thing.
But how do we get the states to do the right thing?
We need young people in state houses of assembly, we need young people as councillors, we need young people as local government chairmen that is how they can take hold of a state and create a semblance of what it means to have a decent polity. And then, building on that over time, we can begin to aspire to the presidency because let us be honest, a functional country does not depend on the dictate and wishes of just one president. Nigeria is bigger than one human being. But the problem is that we know that today, some of the biggest problems we have are even from governors. Some of the biggest problems we have today are even from state houses of assembly. So, I think that young people should have a long-term plan. Of course, let our strategies for the 2023 elections, and we can chose from whichever movement, whether it is articulated, or the ‘obidient’. Just choose whichever one satisfies your heart but let us know that Nigeria does not end after the 2023 elections. There is still Nigeria ahead and there are still going to be other elections every four years. Let young Nigerians have a plan. I will tell you one other secret, some of the politicians you see today, who are gunning for the presidency in 2023, of them have had this ambition for the last 25 years consistently, but young people today want to have an ambition today and actualize it next year. How possible is that? Where had it worked? Give me an example anywhere in the world where that has worked. So, the point is, are we ready to pay the price? Are we ready to sit down and have a plan over some time and be consistent with it, be dedicated to it, and find the right people who will lead us, who will show us the way until we achieve it? In the end, those who don’t have the patience have left the country, if you want to leave, you are free to leave but those who are here will build it one block at a time, and one step at a time. We will get to that point, but we will need that resilience and we need the understanding that this is not a switch moment, it is not a magical moment, it is a journey, and it is not a sprint.