It’s been disappearing in installments, the future. Like dew at the first touch of sunlight. We are witnesses of the exodus, seen in the ever long queues of visa applicants at various foreign embassies. We’ve read about stowaways in ships, braving life in airless containers for weeks, on a sail to uncertainty. We know someone who knows someone who has endured the heat of the Sahara and the stormy waves of the Mediterranean on a crossing to Europe in makeshift boats. Perhaps a friend or a family member has willingly or by coercion, made the crossing to begin a career in sex hawking or drug trafficking. Sometimes, having been denied repeatedly at the embassies, we know of folks who have manufactured their own papers and try to beat the hi-tech security checks to leave. For some others, a short term visa was all they got, but they boarded the flight, without any intention to ever return. The future, our future, has been leaving.
A better life, the need to find a job, the lure of the grass being greener on the other side, used to be the main drive. So the majority were desperate, unemployed or underemployed young people, some hardly with any formal education, hustling and grabbing at anything to stay afloat. It was a little ironic that while that class kept the hustle to go abroad, we had a unique class making a journey in the opposite direction. Young people, educated abroad, some raised there, leaving fancy jobs, and returning home armed with their ivy league certificates, experience, some awesome business idea, an accent and plenty enthusiasm to grab for themselves a piece of the pie in what was an economy growing averagely at 6% year on year for over a decade and with a GDP many other countries can only dream about.
But all that has changed now. Virtually every young person I know is leaving or considering his/her options. I mean people one grew up with, went to school with, met on social media and work with. Young people, educated, professionals, working, running businesses, of childbearing age, heads bursting with ideas…. the future, all in a hurry to leave. This includes most of the people who braved it back in the last five to ten years, persons who uprooted themselves from their lives abroad to sink roots at home. There is a general sense of uncertainty and despair. Nobody seems to be sure about anything and the exit door has never held a greater appeal.
What with the state of the economy and the body language of the leaders which inspires no confidence. Truth be told, no leadership in this country has exactly inspired any confidence since independence but nothing feels worse than being left high and dry as this current bunch have so successfully done. Coming into the last elections many young Nigerians, either out of exuberance, ignorance or a combination of both, had their hopes high that the country was finally going to turn a new leaf. How the government has crushed such hopes and in the process, foisted on the nation an air of cynicism. Like, ah it’s all over! There is no hope left now.
The exodus and the ‘we have given up on this country’ stand of many young people is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. When we talk about what makes Nigeria a possible economic superpower, we boast about the population, specifically, the very young population. This population is only a potential until the right things are done to unleash the power inherent. This we have consistently failed to do. To have this very critical demography on a race to leave presents perhaps the clearest signal that this country is in trouble. Not only does it have a negative impact on productivity and government finances, but it also has long-term implications for the real-life opportunities of young people and the communities around them.
I read a recent PwC report on Young Workers Index which estimated the potential gain from youth empowerment to be over $1 trillion across the OECD economy. This is a huge figure. Imagine what it would be if a similar study was done for Nigeria. The report further explored ways governments, businesses, schools and young people themselves can work together to create economic opportunities in a way that promotes social mobility. These are the things our government should be doing, seeking ways to provide opportunities that empower young people to take ownership of their own future outcomes. But no. We are content with appointing a dozen young people as social media aides and handbag carriers for madam while the rest perfect plans to relocate to Canada.
The reaction by some readers who feel defending the people in power is their eternal duty will be to accuse one of not offering any solutions. To those, I call to mind the words of Chinua Achebe that “Writers don’t give prescriptions. They cause headache.’ But if one must offer an opinion, I will simply point to a country like Germany, a shining example, even in Europe, where youth unemployment rates dropped to around 7% and where Government has been able to improve economic opportunities for younger people. What are they doing right? Is it rocket science?
Before it’s all lost and the much talked about ‘future’ of the country is all gone, contributing to the GDP and good governance of other climes, we must wake up and arrest the tide.
This article first appeared on Olisa.tv
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