01 January 2011

Our Time is Now: Positioning Nigerian Youth for Change

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, AIG (Rtd)
Former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC
Remarks at the 7th Annual Nigerian Youth Leadrship Awards organised by LEAP Africa at the Muson Centre, Lagos on 11 November 2010

Good afternoon friends and compatriots, and thank you Leap Africa for this kind invitation. Leap Africa is doing a terrific job and I stand united with your noble goals in the task of fashioning a new youth agenda of promise and relevance to the development of our country.

It is appropriate that in a year that new politics is in the air, the theme of youth and change is the concern of your organization. This is forward thinking and a thoughtful appreciation of the future of our country. Youth matters a lot. It amazes me when people do show compassion for the youths, being that every grown man or woman today was once in that phase of life. It is a phase when the realities of life are best absorbed and it’s rightfully the stage of take off for every person.

In the early 60’s when Nigeria saddled with colonialism relied mainly on exports of groundnut, cocoa, palm produce and cotton, the country was able to place Nigerian youths on scholarships abroad. The reason: that they would be given the best of western education to come back and redeem the nation. Today, the same country is the 7th largest exporter of crude oil in the world, but such opportunities like youth scholarship that existed with limited resources can’t be repeated with even greater resources and independence.

One is forced to ask in anger and protest why we have been so unfortunate with the character of leadership that this country has been saddled with. The conclusion is therefore inescapable that 50 years of independence has left Nigeria with more of a burden than a blessing.

Just look around the whole nation, its like one huge junkyard of failing scores. Most of our businesses are closing down, the manufacturing sector in particular that puts many of our brothers and sisters in job, to keep the family life alive, have all but shut down. Hundreds of warehouses have transformed from factories to empty sheds or places of religious activities.

I take the manufacturing sector for particular illustration not because it is unique, but only because it helps epitomize the sense of failure in a more glaring, more chilling, and more devastating sense. Pity the nation that cannot put its people to work because every other index of human living will fall and invariably turn the people in anger and frustration against the very state, and the very nation itself.

Twenty years ago, this country experimented with a number of innovative development steps. It set up about half a dozen-vehicle plants, a number of fertilizer plants, a number of refineries and a handful of aluminum plants. In addition, it set up about a dozen river basin development projects to turn this arable land to a giant food basket.

Ladies and gentlemen, one simple question please: Where are all these projects today? Don’t let us be cynical at all about it; let us get hold of the bitter and honest truth about it all. They have all gone down the drain, or probably in their worst failing cycle, ready to be wheeled out on a stretcher as evidence of yet another failed national aspiration.

The truth is that this report card is a national score rather than a regional one and that makes it more disturbing. Go all over the country, that is the sad situation you will get. The Niger Delta offers the most bitter illustration.

The bulk of the resources that financed these development efforts come from this one region -- so why would a person from this region not feel a sense of double loss and double hurt?

Yet the deeper truth is that these evidences of failure point in one simple direction: our long history of incompetent, self-serving, and corrupt leadership. To large measure, our past leaders have brought us to this very sorry point and no region has a monopoly of this load of incompetence, corruption and failure.

For a nation like Nigeria to succeed, we need to strategically put our youth in place for development. The Nigerian youth is highly energetic, and ambitious. He or she will take any good opportunity available to attain great heights. The Nigerian youth is perhaps the most viable amongst his counterparts, but with no opportunities to realize his potentials, a lot of these qualities and a spark, which would have resulted to light, die out.

His voice would have been heard from a thousand miles, his eyes that would have seen a thousand sites, his heart that would have had love and care for a generation, his hand that would have assisted in building our Nigeria is shut out by denying him free education, by denying him access to health care, by denying him the tools to develop mentally thereby killing his future and dreams.

The time for change is now. Our time is now. We cannot continue to relegate the Nigerian youths to oblivion. Together as we position our great nation on the path of positive change, we must accommodate the Nigerian youths. We must provide them with tools to develop themselves, we must together reopen locked doors for them to walk through to a better future. This is the position and this is a job for you and I.

We also cannot quantify the impact of a good example for our youths. In our homes, schools, work place, and communities, we should be on the lookout for our youths. We should instill in them good values and assist them to reach their full potentials.

We all have a part to play in youth development from favourable youth development policies by the federal and state government, to scholarship, grants and ICT assistance from private and public sectors. The role of NGOs and other international organizations cannot be underestimated to the very important yet underestimated love, care and compassion for our leaders of tomorrow; and I say with great confidence, they are leaders of tomorrow,

There is so much potentials in Nigerian youths, their rights have to be secured, their visions have to be projected, their hopes have to be protected, their future has to be restored to them for our country to move forward. The norm of leaving them behind cannot and will not get us the change we so much desire.

I challenge our people the young men in this hall to take up the mantle. In this election year I urge you all to register en masse, vote en masse and vigorously defend your votes.

Moving on from this point also regarding the massive sense of failure, the central challenge is that we need to a paradigm shift in the governance process of this country. I strongly believe that leadership matters a lot to the health and progress of every social institution or community.

For me what this ultimately leads to is what should we do now? Dear young compatriots, at this point in our history, I think we need and must come up with a new generation of young leaders whose life and fortune will be defined more by the developments of the next fifty years and more. This is not a generation war, but it is clear that young people have a stake in the future than their parents today, and for that reason we had better roll up our sleeves, and purposefully march forward to design the architecture of that future with reason, and measured judgment in a way that it empowers our communities and our people.

This is the year of the youth voters and I want you to join me in the mission to register at least 10 million young voters. That number can help us create a new Nigeria, a democratic Nigeria. I believe very strongly that a new Nigeria is possible. Ladies and gentlemen it is possible, let us do it and take back our country.

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