In November 2020, the British Council released a Report titled Next Generation Nigeria. It had commissioned a national survey of young Nigerians (18 - 35years). The sample covered 34 states and Abuja (Yobe and Borno states were left out due to security reasons). The Report puts together the most important values of the next generation of Nigerians and their aspirations for Nigeria. Five thousand young Nigerians were surveyed: there was an even split between male and female respondents. About 48% of them are rural dwellers and 10% of the respondents were illiterate.
It is important for policymakers and senior managers in the private sector to understand the values, and aspirations of the next generation and design policies and programmes around them for two major reasons. Firstly, young Nigerians are simply in the majority. The 2012 National Baseline Youth Survey, undertaken by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), revealed that there are 64 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 35 (41 per cent of the country’s population are also said to be under age 15). Forty-two per cent of those able and willing to work among them are jobless, according to data released by the NBS this month. Secondly, and flowing from the first point, they are the future of the country and should be part of shaping it.
The top-three aspirations of young Nigerians
The Report explores the goals young Nigerians envision and their aspirations they work to achieve for themselves, their communities and country. The nation-wide survey found that the advancement of positive, values-driven leadership, assurance of economic security and prosperity for all, and the realisation of their potentials through education are the top-three aspirations of young Nigerians.
The next generation of Nigerians believe that the myriad economic, social and infrastructural problems bedevilling the country are a result of successive bad leadership riddled with political corruption and incompetence. 42.5 per cent of Nigeria’s unemployed are youth aged between 15 and 35 and 40.1 per cent of young Nigerians who have tertiary education are jobless. To turn the tide and redirect the future of the country requires “leaders who are honest, selfless and motivated principally by the good of the population rather than themselves” according to these Nigerians. Across all the states and residence types (rural and urban), respondents identify poor infrastructure, water, energy and poor public services as common problems affecting the progress of their communities and limiting the potential of the youth. And since these are primarily government’s to provide, young Nigerians topmost aspiration is for a competent, values-driven leadership across at all levels that can solve these problems.
To these young Nigerians, ensuring economic prosperity and safety and security for all is another important aspiration that should be the priority for Nigeria in the next five years. This is especially important considering the extreme poverty rates in the country. With approximately 95 million people in extreme poverty according to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria in 2019 overtook India, a nation six times its population, as the poverty capital of the world and it is forecast that about 46 per cent of the population will be extremely poor by 2030, with six new people crossing the poverty line every minute. The first step to solving this problem, according the next generation, is for the government to comprehensively and sustainably tackle youth unemployment and underemployment. They say that other societal problems such as “the prevalence of substance abuse among young people, youth’s susceptibility to becoming involved in criminal activities, and homelessness” can be traced to this root cause.
The survey also found that the next generation of Nigerians strongly believe that universal access to quality education is a fundamental right and a means to achieve their aspirations for financial security and a prerequisite to having a voice.
According to the Report, the Nigerian education system prioritises theory and factual-based learning over the practical application of knowledge and development of soft skills. Those who have been privileged to go to school are rarely able to apply knowledge gained and generally struggle with employment-related soft skills such as writing a good CV, interviewing for a job or managing a workplace team. This is worse for those who only attended primary or secondary school.
When asked about how their education to date has prepared them to manage a team of people, the results were 60 per cent, 67 per cent and 87 per cent respectively for primary, secondary and tertiary education. The report added that the promotion of educator or teacher training across all levels in teaching methods of soft skills development, expansion of practical experience opportunities and work-based learning and the support of businesses to create structures that cultivate workplace soft skills development are immediate steps to solve this problem. Lastly, 70 per cent of the young Nigerians surveyed aspire to realize their potentials through education but just 45 per cent of them believe that these opportunities are available to them in the country. The report identifies this disconnect as a source of frustration among them and why government needs to close the gap.
The dangers of not listening to them
The Next Generation Nigeria Report suggests that young Nigerians irrespective of region, religion, gender or residence type (rural and urban) share some common values and aspirations for themselves, their communities and their country. These values and aspirations define their lives and actions. It is important for policy makers and senior executives in the private sector and NGOs to design policies and programmes that put them in focus. If this is not done, the sources of frustration will remain and the consequences, dire for Nigeria.
According to Pew Research, structural problems such as unemployment, insecurity and lack of opportunities are driving the youth out of the country. Young, healthy, educated and skilled Nigerians are leaving the country. A joke on social media says that the Nigerian dream is to travel abroad and write about Nigeria from there, while adding the Nigerian flag to your username on social media as a symbol of patriotism. Over 12,000 Nigerians migrated to Canada in 2019 alone and 11,629 filed asylum claims, twice the number of Indians according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. This massive exit comes at a cost. Africa Development Bank (AfDB) said that the continent loses over 70,000 skilled professionals to migration, “resulting in a huge human capacity deficit in the continent.”
Those who do not leave are either actively agitating to make their voices and frustrations heard or are resigned to their fate. For the former, it is a continuous struggle that doesn’t necessarily promise overwhelming success or robust improvements in governance. For those who seem to resign to their fate, frustration about their current situation and little hope for their future and that of their children may lead them to violence. Numbeo, a crowd-sourced global database of quality of life information, has put Nigeria’s crime index at 63.94%, with violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery; property crimes such as vandalism and theft; and worries of being mugged or robbed scoring 71.82 per cent, 68.82 per cent and 67.65 per cent respectively.
The aspirations (and fears) of the next generation of Nigeria are legitimate. Their highest aspiration is for a positive, values-driven leadership. It is this type of leadership that will provide the economic prosperity, safety and security they desire. Such leaders will deliver an educational system that prepares young people for the future. As Chinua Achebe put it: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” The next generation of Nigerians have said that a positive, values-driven leadership is what they want for their country: “leaders who are honest, selfless and motivated principally by the good of the population rather than themselves.” If this is what the next generation of Nigerians want, surely, there is plenty of hope for this country.