By Ejiro Umukoro
Nigeria’s large youth population offers great opportunity. However, recent Presidents have neglected their responsibilities to create jobs and better future for young people. This situation will only get worse, unless we elect fresh leadership in 2023 which can change the course of the nation. Dr Bukola Saraki is the only candidate who has proven his ability and resolve to be a leader for young people, and all of Nigeria, writes Ejiro Umukoro.
Nigeria has one of the largest youth populations in the world. Around 60% of the population is estimated to be between 18 and 35. This makes Nigeria more youthful than all of the top three global economic powers – the US, China and Japan.
Our youth population provides an opportunity to create a strong, flourishing workforce, bolstering a strong economy that enables Nigeria to reach its potential.
However, years of poor, unenterprising leadership has led to the neglect of our young people, and the betrayal of Nigeria’s potential. Nearly 40 percent of Nigeria’s youth is unemployed. Hard-working young Nigerians are barred from success because of lack of job opportunities, a poor education system, and the absence of protective measures against crime and drug abuse. By neglecting our youth, leaders have fed other problems in the country, creating effective recruitment pools for criminal groups and gangs.
If we continue to be led by the same type of leaders, with the same old, tired ideas of leadership, this situation will only get worse. Particularly as we face the worst recession in 40 years due to the pandemic, there is more pressure than ever to put Nigeria on the right track.
That is why the 2023 election is so important. We have the chance to elect a leader who can provide real solutions and give young people the future they deserve.
Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki is the only candidate with demonstrated support for young people. Former President of the Senate from 2015 to 2019 and former two-term governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011, Dr Saraki’s record of achievement for young people is unrivalled by any other presidential aspirant.
While governor of Kwara State, Dr Saraki introduced the Clean & Green Initiative in 2003. This waste management and environmental beautification project took care of surface-level sanitation and drainage protection to prevent flooding and erosion from rain. The initiative played a role in quelling women and youth unemployment by creating 2000 jobs for youths.
Vocational activity is a key means of keeping young people away from lives of crime and violence. This is why Dr Saraki led the Kwara State government’s establishment of the first ever football training institution in Nigeria, namely the Football College of Excellence, now the Kwara Football Academy (KFA), to identify and train young talents.
Dr Saraki has always realised the importance of keeping in touch with the voices of young people. When Senate President, 75 percent of people working under Dr Saraki were under the age of 35 – from special advisors to legislative aides.
This pro-youth mindset is reflected is his legislative action when Senate President. Dr Saraki has always shown commitment to improving Nigeria’s education system as a means of bettering youth prospects. The Universal Basic Education programme was first introduced in 1999, aiming to provide “free universal and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child aged 6-15 years.” Dr Saraki led the Senate’s amendments to the 2004 UBE Act. These amendments made primary and secondary education free and compulsory across the country, eased pressure on states in accessing funds for infrastructure development, increasing the budgetary allocation to UBE Commission by the Federal Government from 100 percent to 10 percent and provided for stiffer penalties for parents who fail to enrol a child in school.
Drug abuse is one of the worst afflictions facing young Nigerians. To tackle this, the Senate under Dr Saraki passed The Drug Control Bill, which seeks to clarify the mandate and strengthen the capacity of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), as well as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC). The bill also seeks to establish a central mechanism to facilitate collaboration among law enforcement, regulatory and public health authorities in line with the National Drug Control Policy.
The Senate under Dr Saraki in 2017 passed the ‘Not Too Young to Run Bill’, to remove barriers to politics for youth. One of the greatest, and boldest, actions to open the political space to young people to air their views and become a positive force for national development. The bill reduced the age qualification for president from 40 to 35, governor from 35 to 30, senator from 35 to 30, House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and state house of assembly membership from 30 to 25.
Nigeria is at a crossroads, where our choice at the ballot box decides the future of Nigerian youth. Dr Saraki is the only choice who will provide a better future for young Nigerians, and steer our country in the right direction.
Umukoro writes from Warri.