By Lami Adamu
From Bama to Brass, Nigeria has millions of children and youths roaming the streets of every town, village and community. You see them at traffic lights struggling to clean windscreens that have wipers, or plainly begging for a little money to feed.
They are around motor parks, markets, city centres, or wherever else takes their fancy, milling around aimlessly, hopelessly, and sometimes menacingly. They invade our ceremonies looking for food to eat, pockets to pick and so on. They are known to perpetually patronize or break into pharmacy stores, for cough syrups, and whatever gives them momentary highs and escapes. They also find these escapes in dangerously unhealthy substances.
They are almost always fingered in criminal activities such as thefts, kidnappings, rapes, killings among others.
They are obviously a ready source of manpower for militants and terrorist groups such boko haram and ISWAP, which we hear is making some inroads into Nigeria.
We all see them, and know that they constitute social and security challenges for us. Many of us fear that they are a time bomb just waiting to explode, with consequences that will certainly devastate Nigeria.
These youths are (mostly) Nigerians, from our communities, villages, towns and cities. Many of them are brilliant and gifted children who have are helpless because they come from underprivileged backgrounds. They hate their stations in life, and hate even more, the choice options life throws at them. Many of them nurse hopes for change of fortunes. They have dreams and aspirations that die a little with each passing day until they are completely dashed, and then they turn to crime. They are children of our relatives, neighbours and fellow citizens.
Yet we are all largely looking away. Our religious bodies that preach peace and love largely look away, preferring to profiteer from phantom promises for those who can pay.
The Government that should take care of these youths, even if it is just to nip crime in the bud and forestall the eminent danger that they portend, has also chosen to turn a blind eye to this situation.
But can we afford to ignore these youths, their situation or the consequences of a huge population of unemployed, uneducated, disenchanted youths? I don’t think so.
As individuals, groups and as a country, we must take action.
As individuals, we must give thought to these youths. Adopting and training one in your neighbourhood, is minus one street kid. It also makes you and your neighbourhood safer.
Our religious bodies must live their message of love by lending a helping hand in this situation. They can rehabilitate and empower some of them with skills, and engage them in appropriate paying jobs when and where they have openings.
The Government must act. In fact, it is obligated to act. And it has the instrument or organ that can take ownership of the situation and initiate steps to mitigate it.
The Government has a Ministry of Youths and Sports. If a situation such as this, does not pre-occupy the youths component of that Ministry, then what would?
Let us agree that government cannot afford to rehabilitate and give all these youths free education. Indeed not all of us will have the benefit of formal education, especially college education. (Though the exceptionally brilliant ones could be assisted to attain formal education anyway) But these youths can be taken off the streets and empowered with functional skills in diverse areas.
Though the structures which should anchor the skills training, the technical schools that produced great artisans and craftsmen in Nigeria are almost moribund now (Subject for another day), empowering these youths for gainful purposes is a proactive step that must be taken. And it will be a win-win situation for all.
The country will have needed manpower at various segments of the agribusiness chain, skilled artisans, (so that rich Nigerians will no longer have to bring in masons, carpenters and other craftsmen from neighbouring countries), technicians to service our increasingly technology dependent world, etc. In fact, they will become responsible, productive citizens, useful to themselves and the country. On the other hand, there will be a dramatic drop in our crime rate, the manpower warehouse for terrorists organisations will run dry, and whatever future danger we fear they could bring upon the country will be averted. Whatever we do, ignoring the situation is not an option.
▪︎ Ms. Adamu, based in Lafia, sent this piece via WhatsApp