Youth Engagement and Why I’m Optimistic About Development in Nigeria

The following article was kindly prepared by Bolutife Fakoya, a communications specialist at CODE pursuing a double major in Anthropology and Biology at Swarthmore College in the US and has just concluded an internship experience with CODE. He is passionate about social development, research methods, youth engagement, and good music.

BolutifeOver cups of coffee and take out dinners, I’ve heard time and time again about how Nigeria is clearly resource deficient and how, as a third-world country, corruption, bad governance, and the fact that Nigeria is still very young are the reasons we [Nigerians] won’t ever be able to compete in an increasingly globalized playing field, and address the social development and physical infrastructure issues that we face. I don’t think that’s true. The way I see things, Nigeria, as the largest and most productive economy in Africa, and definitely not the most corrupt institution in the world, doesn’t necessarily face the same issues that other agencies may encounter when embarking on development projects. I think the main issue behind the stagnation of certain aspects of the Nigerian growth process is  the accurate identification of the resources that Nigeria is truly blessed with, and I believe that’s where engaging with true authenticity comes into play.

First, I think I’d like to augment the definition of authenticity, at least for the purposes of this piece, to include context appropriateness and indigeniety – not only knowing about a place, but actually being from within that context. Being authentic is one of the best ways to ensure accurate identification of pertinent social development issues, and more importantly, identify resources that can be engaged to promote growth and progress within communities.

Authenticity is being able to accurately identify key points of engagement in a situation because the actors involved already have an intimate relationship with the context, a relationship based on history and familiarity. Authenticity is recognizing that, because Nigeria has a youth population of 167 million (Brookings, 2014), we are literally sitting on 167 million points of interface with the government of the future, 167 million individuals brimming with youthful passion, agency, and innovation, and 167 million authentic Nigerians who can serve as resources for development of the future.

Being young isn’t a crime, it shouldn’t be seen as a social problem that needs to be addressed, and it for sure shouldn’t be treated as the reason that Nigeria still faces the same growth problems that it does (youth unemployment was the first hit I got on Google when I began looking for statistics on the population demographics of Nigeria).

I think projections of the future of development in Nigeria needn’t view a large youthful population only with through the lens of youth unemployment, what I consider a pessimistic approach.

Earlier this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work with what I consider an authentic NGO outfit based in Abuja called Connected Development [CODE]. Most CODE employees are young part-time students, and I was inspired and encouraged by the zeal and urgency with which they took on projects and held their own against toxic, regressive thought patterns, based on the assumptions that young people are only good at Facebook and YouTube. They made no apologies for their ages and, in a predominantly gerontocratic society such as mainstream Nigeria, CODE leveraged the innovation and raw passion of its employees to ensure that all projects and initiatives got the full attention and support that they needed. Furthermore, CODE employees, because they are a part of the 167 million young, vibrant Nigerians, weren’t in any way typical development workers; they were bloggers and social media experts, monitoring and evaluation specialists, microbiologists and maternal health enthusiasts, youth activists, and radio personalities, amongst other varied occupations. With CODE, I spent time talking with youth activists and development advocates and learning authentic lessons about youth engagement in good governance and climate change, youth engagement and election monitoring, youth engagement and family planning, and so many other ways in which youth can drive social development. And I think this is why I currently enjoy and am looking forward to getting more involved in aspects of development within the Nigerian situation; there’s so much going on, that can go on in the country that I, as one of those 167 million youths, can get involved with and make a difference with.

I’m using CODE as an example of an authentic approach to development, one that works with the unique Nigerian context full of young people to achieve sustainable progress and actually leave positive impacts in the country. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take innovation, and above all, it’s going to take authenticity to create solutions to address the problems of today and tomorrow, and I think the first step in this process of growth is recognizing that young people can be the nuclear engines that drive the thrust for development for the future.

So how does this all tie together? There’s a poignant quote from a book I read recently that has stuck with me all summer; “Manju looked at her mother with compassion, not comprehension, when Asha tried to describe it” (Boo, 2012). I think Nigeria is at the point in her developmental growth stages where we, as the development community, as youth, and as Nigerian citizens, need to begin to engage with an approach to social development and future planning that is based on comprehension of the actual issues at hand, and the authenticity required to devise solutions that actually work within the unique Nigerian context; authenticity that recognizes the human and environmental resources that Nigeria is equipped with. There’s a lot to do; governance and corruption still need to be talked about, and healthcare, education, and environmental issues still need addressing, but I’m optimistic because, you see, there are 167 million authentic reasons to be optimistic about the future of social development in Nigeria.

So that’s why I particularly like LookuLooku – it’s authentic, and unapologetically so. And, as I embark on my journey of figuring out how I am going to play a role in this youth driven movement towards social development, please oh, no fall for gutter as you are looking at me.