“Equipping the Nigerian Youth to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to effect changes in the critical sectors of the economy”, By Senator George Akume

The International Youth Day is a day set aside by the United Nations as day of awareness, recognizing youth across the globe and empowering the world’s youth to make positive contributions to their communities and nations. Year 2020 celebration marks the 20th anniversary of the International Youth Day. Let me use this opportunity to congratulate Nigerian youths and the National Youth Council of Nigeria for a wonderful celebration despite the trying times occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. The youths play a very important role in the constructive process of building social cohesion, economic prosperity and political stability in a nation in an inclusive and democratic way. In order to make Nigeria prosperous, we have to create opportunities for children and youth in which they can feel free to get quality education, learn skills for making the desired level of changes in their economic and social sectors. If the government of Nigeria succeeds in achievine this feat in time, there is no doubt in my mind that the most active, energetic and dynamic group can use their potentials to make a flourishing Nigeria.
3. It is important to state that despite the important roles played by the youths in national development, there are series of challenges still facing them, ranging from access to quality education, unemployment, poverty, access to health care, drugs and abuse of substances, cultism, thuggery, prostitution and human trafficking as well as lack of interest in culture. Of course, these challenges are not peculiar to Nigeria, Africa as a Continent but are also global.
4. May I therefore, use this medium to appreciate the Nigerian youths for the faith and confidence they have in the Nigerian project particularly, the President Muhammadu Buhari-APC led administration. Indeed, previous regimes and administrations had made conscious efforts at evolving programs and policies targeting the youths. Some no doubt, have recorded various degrees of successes while others failed to achieve the desired results.
5. It is pertinent to state that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari since inception on 29th May, 2015, has devised programmes and policies aimed at addressing the problems of the youths in Nigeria. The National Social Investment Programs (NSIP) especially the N-Power programme is target specific. It provides stipends for graduates and since inception, most youths who are participants have established small businesses from the earnings from the Scheme. Also, the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme (P-YES) is also targeted at the youths.
6. Meanwhile, Nigeria, like any other country in the world is currently battling with the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Nigerian economy is devastated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in so many deaths and several job lost. The economy of Nigeria is being undermined by the twin stuns of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related sharp fall in worldwide oil prices. Nigeria runs a mainly mono-cultural economy which relies heavily on crude oil export for foreign exchange. The World Bank has predicted a major global recession which will leave millions of people the world over in poverty as a result of the COVID-19. Nigeria, therefore, needs to brace up to face the challenges and consequences of the pandemic.
7. The Nigerian economy before COVID-19 was and still characterized by 50% to 70% of the economy operating in the informal sector and these employees are living on daily subsistence conditions. Records show that the unemployment rate in Nigeria reached an all-time high of 23.10% in the third quarter of 2018 according to the National Bureau of Statics (NBS). Oil price volatility continues to influence Nigeria’s growth performance. In the same vein, the Nigerian economy is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding manufacturing, financial, communications, technology, services as well as entertainment sectors. It is positioned as the 27th-biggest economy in the world regarding the nominal GDP, and the 22nd-biggest in respect to the purchasing power parity. Also, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa; its re-developing manufacturing sector became the largest on the continent since 2013, and it delivers a huge extent of products and services to the West African sub -region. Additionally, the debt-to-GDP ratio is 16.075 percent as of 2019.
8. Generally, the impact of the COVID-19 on the Nigerian economy is massive and government must do everything possible to stay afloat during this period; for there is no solution to the pandemic in the near future.
9. Nigeria has taken laudable steps such as the employment of 774, 000 Nigerians, who will be engaged in Special Public Works Programme aimed at cushioning the effects of the economic downturn. The Creation of ₦50 billion targeted credit facility through NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households and MSMEs. Also, the Liquidity injection of ₦3.6 trillion (stimulus package in the form of loans) into the banking system, are all policies in the right direction. Recently, the Federal Executive Council approved the establishment of the Nigerian Youth Investment Fund (NYIF). The N75bn fund, which is the brain child of the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development is dedicated to investing in the innovative ideas, skills, talents and enterprise of the Nigerian youths and is aimed at turning them into Entrepreneurs, wealth creators and employers of labour, thereby contributing to national development. This, indeed, is part of the Federal Government plan to combat youth unemployment.
10. Mr. President had made a commitment to lift over 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030. As a result, all federal government ministries have made this proclamation of the President a key deliverable of their ministries mandates. Nigerian youths are therefore, part and parcel of this wonderful initiative of President Muhammadu Buhari.
11. Furthermore, Agriculture was the main stay of the Nigerian economy before the discovery of oil. Most countries in the world got their breakthroughs be engaging in commercial agricultural productions. Therefore, Agriculture and the development of sustainable food value chains has been made made a priority by the President Buhari administration to ensure food security during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Suffice is to say that Agriculture is capable of generating millions of jobs and I therefore urge the Nigerian youths to embrace agriculture for subsistence and commercial purposes. The Central Bank of Nigeria, through the Bank of Agriculture is offering different kinds of loan scheme at very reasonable interest rate to encourage youths to go into farming.
12. Let me reiterate that while some youths are genuinely interested in developing themselves and invariably the nation, others engage in activities that tarnish the image of the nation home and abroad. I urge youths to desist from social vices such as cultism, thuggery, armed robbery, substance abuse, internet fraud, banditry, prostitution as well as child trafficking. Nigeria and indeed no nation can move forward without peace and security of lives and property. Suffice to say that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has invested so much in critical infrastructure in the last five years in order to attract direct foreign investment and other investors into the country for developmental purposes.
13. In conclusion, it is important to state that the role of the youths in nation building cannot be overemphasised. They are problem solvers, have a positive influence on other young people and the nation, and are extremely ambitious. They have the ability to create an identity for themselves and move the nation forward. However, they will not be able to do this without the support of their Government and fellow youths. Therefore, the youths can make the beautiful land of Nigeria flourish and shine in the comity of nations. Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari is very committed to make this happen and I call on all Nigerian youths to support him to succeed.
14. I thank you all for listening and wish you a safe return to your various destinations.
God bless Nigeria.
▪︎Being text of address by Senator George Akume, fnim, Honourable Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Federal Republic of Nigeria as Guest Speaker on the occasion of the 2020 International Youth Day Celebration on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, at the Press Centre, Radio House, Garki, Abuja.
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