The United Nations’ (UN) International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12 each year to recognise efforts of the youth in enhancing global society. It also aims to promote ways to engage them in becoming more actively involved in making positive contributions to their communities. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan said, “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”
On September 25, 2015, at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, fighting inequality, building peace, justice and strong institution, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. One of the 17 audacious goals that is central and holds all others together is the 16th goal- peace, justice and strong institution. Sustainable development cannot be realised without peace and security.
In order to build sustainable peace, we must shift our condemnatory perspective of youths as a violent set of people, or better still, easy recruits for violence to a more fulfilling role as agents of peace-building. The starting point is to consider youths as the solution and not as the problem. We must stop depicting youths as victims or villains. The youths must not be seen as a lost generation; rather they are an “angry” generation due to the failure of the nation to address their issues.
Therefore, identifying and addressing the social exclusion of young people is a precondition for sustaining peace. The current generation of youths is the largest in history and young people often comprise the majority in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, therefore considering the needs and aspirations of youths in matters of peace and security is a demographic imperative.
There are a lot of youths building peace across the world. Imrana Alhaji Buba is a young peace builder from Northern Nigeria and founder of Youth Coalition Against Terrorism (YOCAT) who received the Queen Elizabeth Young Leaders Award (2016). The 25-year-old Nigerian has been fighting terrorism over the years without arms! YOCAT is a volunteer-based organisation in northern Nigeria, working to unite youths against violent extremism through peace education programs in schools and villages. Buba hopes that in the next 10 years, YOCAT will be one of the top peace-building organisations in Africa – promoting a culture of peace and tolerance among young people.
It is as if the United Nations specially customised this year’s theme for the Nigerian youths because the issue that is being addressed globally is seriously the issue that borders on the Nigerian youths presently. The theme of the International Youth Day 2017 is Youth Building Peace. The event will draw experts from youth civil society, government and the United Nations to explore and brainstorm on the various ways in which young people are contributing to building and sustaining peace in their communities. This year’s edition is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.
The active and participatory inclusion of young people is a necessary condition for sustainable peace. The inclusion of young people in peace-building processes is bound to facilitate sustainable peace in a society, by redirecting the energies of young people to the implementation of constructive peace projects. This will in no doubt facilitate their transformation from agents of violent conflict, to agents of peace in their societies. The neglect of young people’s current needs and future livelihoods is a recipe for renewed conflict. Post-war societies produce high risks for sustainable peace if the society fails to integrate young people into the political system and to allow them to participate in political decisions and actions. If youths remain excluded from national and international efforts at building peace, violent extremism and instability will remain a threat to all sectors in society. The most effective way to counter extremist movements is to offer young people meaningful ways to make a difference and positively contribute.
Peace has become elusive in a world plagued by youth restiveness and gangsterism. It is poignant to note that some youths from the various geo-political zones -the Middle Belt youths, Yoruba/Oduduwa youths, Ohanaeze Ndigbo youths, Ijaw and Northern/Arewa youths- are chanting discordant tunes that are encouraging and promoting divisive tendencies. We have learnt from history that this kind of trend is a wind that blows no man any good.
Youths are the crucible for peace or violence! The Rwandan genocide gained momentum due to the ignorance of the youths on an ominous propaganda to annihilate a particular ethnic group-the Tutsi. In short, the Rwanda youths were used to drive a selfish, ulterior and destructive propaganda without them knowing it. The youths fell into the wrong hands and were eventually used as weapons of mass destruction and this ultimately culminated into one of the unprecedented genocides in the history of mankind. I have a mentee in Rwanda (Ntawuyirusha Emmanuel) from the National University of Rwanda whom I was appointed to groom and mentor under the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP).
He made me realise that over 20 years after the Rwandan genocide, the after-math is still ravishing the nation. His product under the TEEP initiative is actually porridge flour fortified with vitamins and when I asked whether his product was actually designed with a problem in mind, he answered in the affirmative. My Rwandan mentee made me realise that Rwanda still has one of the largest numbers of malnourished children in the world- a fallout of the genocide- thereby making his product necessary in the country.
In one of my previous publications in The Guardian captioned: ‘GIVE CORRUPTION QUIT NOTICE AND NOT FELLOW NIGERIANS’, I seriously challenged the youths not to hobnob with the enemies of the state. We must not allow the Nigerian elite to hijack the future of Nigerian youths. These are defining and very sensitive times in the nation and we must scrutinise the intentions and motives of our so-called leaders. We must refuse to be used to destabilise the country.
Nigerian youths must not allow themselves to be used as tools in fighting selfish and ambiguous propagandas. I am saying this for the umpteenth time that the present problem in Nigeria is not caused by any ethnic group; the present problem is the result of corruption and corrupt officials. Corrupt politicians, whatever their ethnic group, are the cause of problem in Nigeria. The youths must not allow themselves to be used to act in the enemy’s script.
I would like to suggest that the federal government should design a national youth conference where youths can be properly educated on their role in ensuring a ‘One Nigeria’. It is also important to provide youths with training opportunities to take an active part in peace building. With their youthful energy and capabilities, and ability of adaptation to new technological trends, youths for example, could act as mediators, community mobilisers, humanitarian workers and peace brokers. Youth interventions must be designed in a way to leverage on youth interests- sports, arts, media, informal learning and personal relationships-to teach peace building skills.
I am encouraging the youths to take massive action towards peace. Let us reach out on social media with messages and hashtags that borders on peace and “One Nigeria.” We can organize a youth forum, concert or debate to discuss our cultural background in order to help young people embrace a culture of peace and non-violence. We can also explore the aspects of music, sports, talent hunts and arts exhibitions to create a rallying point and awareness for peace and harmonious living.
If you wish to know more about the work of the UN Programme on Youths, you can log on to https://www.un.org/youth or follow on Facebook and Twitter at @UN4Youth. To all the youths out there, happy International Youth Day!