A little less than a week ago, I was invited for the EU-Africa pre-Summit meeting at the European Union Complex in Abuja. I was in the Peace & Security panel, where youth violence, youth crisis, and youth unemployment was at the heart of deliberations.
These types of panels are not new to me, but I’m never able to fully shake off the idea that Europeans continue to ask Africa: what can we do for you? How do we help you? How do we help your continent? What do you need? Someone got up and said the EU needs to help Nigerian power sector. Not a bad idea, but it made me cringe. After we must have, as Bob Marley preached, "chased the bald heads out of town", we are now back, cap in hand, begging them to take us out of darkness. An epic tragedy! We need serious help though, and I don't mind where we get it from.
On youth violence, I stood up to give my candid opinion. I prefer to zoom in on problems, as opposed to chasing hundreds of crises at the same time without having a handle on any. 70% of our population are made up of people below 30. Where do these people go for recreation?
There is no Cinema House anywhere in the whole of Abia State for instance. There used to be one in Enugu but it’s been defunct for close to a year now or so. I don't think there's one in Ebonyi or Anambra State. There’s one in Owerri, I think and that’s all. Where are the spaces for creativity for young folks? Its beer bar to the bedroom type of recreation.
Nowhere to take dance lessons, boxing lessons or training, learn a musical instrument, read or share poetry, or review books. Tonton Nelson Raymond tried to start the Umuahia Literary Society (ULS) and it died after a month, because we had no real space for meeting. This is a microcosm for a much deeper crisis happening at the countrywide level.
So we have a bunch of young folks who, in the absence of more rewarding ways of exercising their minds, would end up swelling the ranks of kidnappers, cultists, illegal tax thugs, shake-up artiste, ballot snatchers etc. These classes of actors would soon become veritable elements in the hands of politicians to go and square up against security forces and truncate elections.
In effect, there is this infinite regression back to the Hobbessian state of nature. In fact, the greatest threat to the lives of young people in Nigeria are young people. A writer was kidnapped (though now freed) only recently. The same week, my friend Onyeka was tailed to an Estate in Lagos and robbed of 250,000. Young people it were, in Rivers State, threatening death upon us for the mere fact we were INEC officials they shouldn't like, and there was no telling how they story would’ve ended where it not for the intervention of the Army.
If the EU wants to help young people in Nigeria, they should consider building centres for creativity in various state capitals. I said it there on that day. I’m saying it again. Too many young minds are trained on the wrong things. The European Football season has just ended, and all the 18-30 year old folks with no job or means of livelihood that slept in Bet9Ja or NairaBet are now on the high street. We should all be worried. See more photos.