To many of us, the fact that at 57 years of independence, our unity as a nation continues to be challenged, is saddening. Nigeria’s unity has been a sticking point since the country got its independence from Britain. Right from the days of the civil war, to the countless ethnoreligious unrests that have rocked the country, the question of our unity has always been begging to be answered. Even as it seems to have fallen beneath other concerns with time.
Today, Nigeria’s unity is back on top of our national discourse, thanks to the secessionist activities of the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group. For a country that is already battling a deadly insurgency and incessant conflicts and unrest, the last thing Nigeria needs now is a separatist violence.
Therefore, there is no better time to provide answers to questions of our unity than NOW.
‘far from being united’
To begin with, Nigeria is far from being united as a nation and we should not pretend it is.
Even as an optimist, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if and when we will ever attain a single national identity as a people. A situation where being a Christian or a Muslim, an Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba is set aside for a collective effort towards development. A situation where sentiments play no role in our dealings with one another. A situation where our destiny is not defined by our difference but our shared values.
So, what is the way forward? How do we achieve peace and national unity? How do we set the nation on course for a sustainable development?
Well, any reasonable answer to these questions must entail a pragmatic approach towards solving the problems once and for all. And for me, it must involve the youth as the main players.
The youthful period is a period of lots of emotions, passion, and energy that can be channelled towards positive ends. Being the largest demographic group in our society, young people are best positioned to promote our shared values. This includes brotherhood, peace, and love. However, a lot needs to be done.
‘deeply rooted problems’
Youth in our nation bear the symptoms of deeply rooted problems in our society today: poverty, inequality, tribalism, marginalization, and bad governance.
We have seen how young people have become easily susceptible to extreme ethnic and religious fervour. Youth, who are supposed to be channelling their God-given energy and intellect productively, spend hours on social media spewing hate-filled and divisive languages.
We have seen how they have been manipulated into sowing discord, perpetrating violence and unrest in the society. Many have taken to crime as a way to get by in a tough, unfair and a seemingly hopeless atmosphere. To some others, the only alternative is to risk their lives across the Sahara and Mediterranean into Europe.
Current policies towards youth, have done little to help the situation. They feel left out almost entirely, while their ability to promote peace, unity, and development has been neglected.
‘hungry for better options’
Young people are hungry for better options. They are fed up with the current situation and are demanding a better future. This is where our government and policymakers need to step in and seize the initiative. If youth have the prospect of realizing their full potential, it will increase their desire for peace, unity, and development.
Government and policymakers must increase investment in young people. This includes ensuring equality in the quality of education they are offered, in order to prepare everyone for future opportunities. Youth regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation must have a sense of belonging and an equal chance to succeed.
Right from childhood, young people must be taught to uphold the virtue of peace, love, and brotherhood. This can be achieved by tailoring our education system -through means such as exchange programmes- and shaping the society at large towards this direction.
There must be a provision of employment opportunities for youth. This is the only way to tackle youth unemployment and restiveness. It is an important means to harness the enormous potential and energy they possess.
Also, young people must be allowed in, as part of decision-making process and policy formation on issues that affect them and the whole society.
The youth themselves have huge responsibilities they have to shoulder.
They must learn to be tolerant towards people of different culture and religion. They must imbibe and be ready to promote our shared values as people with differences. This can help to put an end to the “us vs them” syndrome that has created division in the society.
A non-violent and divisive measure of agitation and problem solving must be adopted by the youth. They should learn to press their grievances through dialogue and diplomacy.
Finally, they must hold their destiny in their own hands. By placing themselves in a position to positively shape the society and force reforms where needed. They can achieve this using their constitutional rights -such as through the ballot box and the courts of law. This way youth can ensure positive change in governance and other aspects of the society.
Obviously, we cannot talk about a sustainable development today without the participation of the youth. They form the backbone of the society and are the future of our struggle for development. However, they must be groomed to assume responsibility for this daunting task. A good point of departure will be to defend the peace and unity of Nigeria.
I hope to see a Nigeria that can be truly called a nation with one people, one voice and a common zeal to succeed. I believe the solution to our problems lies with the youth. One can only hope that our current leaders will set the path for youth to tread.