Gideon Ekanem, a consultant with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), trains young people in Nigeria on finance, marketing, and communication.
He spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on the challenges facing the Nigerian youth.
PT: What do you think is the most significant challenge the youth of this generation are facing, especially in Akwa Ibom State where you come from?
Gideon: It about most young people not being able to dream because their minds are not really opened, and so they are not seeing the bigger picture. There is also the problem of the country’s leadership not investing in young people.
PT: Do you think the kind of education the young people are getting have failed them?
Gideon: We cannot have schools that are meant to produce problem-solvers, yet we are struggling and can’t even solve our basic problems. We can’t continue to have department of electrical engineering in our universities, and yet we do not have electricity in our villages. The universities should make students be solution-conscious. The school system, as it is, isn’t designed to help young people solve problems; it is a system that just massages their ego, where they all come out and feel excited and entitled. Our school system is not working.
PT: Do you think it will get to a point where these problems will explode on our face?
Gideon: It is already exploding, and it will get worst with the way things are going.
Agreed that young people have to take up responsibilities. But the question also is, as a young person, who do you really model yourself after? Do you model yourself after politicians with some unexplained wealth? Can young people model themselves after those? But unfortunately, that is what the media present to us daily. Politics is massively distorting our media space.
PT: How do you mean when you say politics is distorting the media space?
Gideon: What innovation is trending, for instance, on Channels Television or Premiums Times in the past six months? Nothing of sort! What is trending in Nigeria are mostly political fights. Young people who are struggling to innovate things in Nigeria do not get enough media attention.
PT: Do the Nigerian youth really understand that they are in a quagmire, going by what you’ve said?
Gideon: I’m a young person. I really do understand that this problem exists, and it gives me sleepless nights.
PT: From your interactions with other young people, do you think they understand that these problems exist?
Gideon: Yes, most of them do. But until young people get to the point of knowing what role they themselves should play in problem-solving, they may never have an expectation of the responsibilities other people in the society should take up in order to help. Unfortunately, so many young people are living in self-pity, which is the basis for the kind of work I do as a social entrepreneur, bringing young people to a place of self-awareness, and from there they will start to innovate. But most of us who have reached the innovation point, are always disappointed where help isn’t forthcoming.
PT: You said the education system in Nigeria isn’t helping matters. How about other institutions like the family and the church?
Gideon: The family is a problem in Nigeria because the economy isn’t helping families to get to where they ought to be. In Nigeria, it is either you are rich, very rich or you are poor, very poor. The poor and very poor people are much more than the rich. So, the family has been deficient in this area, parents who aren’t professionals go out and come back home frustrated and vent their anger on the children, they don’t even pay attention to how the children are being raised, they struggle to send their children to school, they get frustrated with children joining bad gangs.
The church is a bigger part of the problem because in the church you have the people running the economy, you have people who are running the government, making policies and decisions that are affecting the family. The church should be effective enough to know when to give people a pat on the back or a swift kick in the rear to get them into the gear.
PT: Let’s look at youth involvement in politics in Akwa Ibom state. Almost every young person these days sees politics as a career and this is a major distraction, what do you think could be done about this?
Gideon: The system keeps them that way so it can mob them up for political rallies. In Akwa Ibom, young people are involved in politics, not because they want to learn some leadership skill or support credible candidates or even contest elections themselves, but because that appears to be the only means of economic survival for them.
PT: How can we turn the energy, the vibrancy in our youth into some kind of cultural, political and economic revolution?
Gideon: Now, this is where we come in. Through our organisation, Character and Success Social Enterprise, we have been inspiring young people to make profitable growth, creating platforms for them to converge, connect and learn. We design templates on how young people can be developed. There is the YESS brand (Young Entrepreneurs Success Stories) event which we have been hosting in the past three years in Uyo.
The idea of YESS is to bring successful entrepreneurs to share their success stories with young people, students, aspiring startups, startups, and entrepreneurs, to inspire them to launch new enterprises, create and innovate. In the last three years, the YESS event has inspired over 5000 young people. Last year, we hosted Mr Udeme Ufot of the SO&U adverting agency, and young people were so happy to connect with him.
Right now, we are proposing the Enterprise Valley Hub, a workspace for both tech and non-tech entrepreneurs in Uyo. If you go into the streets, you will see young people walking around with laptops, they need a workspace, they need electric power, they need the Internet, they want to work. You see, most of them who go out for political rallies do so out of frustration. If they could just have a workspace, it will go a long way to help them channel their energy into something profitable. Make a support structure available for young people and you will be able to harness their energy, passion, and vibrancy.