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Steering Youths from Violence to Peace promoters, My speech at 2017 Youth Summit in River State

2017 Edition of Nigerian annual youth summit witnessed massive turn up with some notable names in attendance. The event was held in Ignatius Ajuru University of Education to realize the demographic dividend and promote peace in Nigeria.



I was privileged enough to be given the chance to air my opinion on what I think the youths needs to do in a bid to promote peace in the country.

Below article was culled from my speech at the event.

"it is a great honour to be here with you all on the commemoration of the annual youth summit.
As you all know, the increasing participation of youths in violent activities in Nigeria in recent times is a source of worry to both policy-makers and researchers alike. Most violent activities, ranging from armed robbery, cultism, rape, street fighting, electoral violence, to violence during crises moments in Nigeria are being perpetrated by youths. Yet, the very future of this country depends on the kind of youths the present generation is able to nurture. This negative trend, obviously, is a product of a myriad of factors which this article will attempt to discuss shortly, and also suggest ways by which the menace can be tackled.

Since Nigeria attained political independence in 1960, one of the most challenging issues bedeviling the country is that of youth involvement in violent conflicts; whether they are ethnic, communal, religious, ethnic religious or political. Youth participation in violence is either a direct or indirect product of the structurally violent nature of our society over the years.

Indeed, this trend has become a very common characteristic of not just the Nigerian society, but several African countries; to the extent that Africa has come to be tagged “a conflict endemic continent”. In Nigeria, apart from the Civil War earlier mentioned, which threatened the very fabric of the country’s existence, the country has witnessed several other conflicts in its different parts and at different times, leading to the emergence of youth militant and insurgent groups. The the Niger Delta Peoples’ Volunteer Force (NDPVF); the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MOSSOB); the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND); and quite recently, and very viciously, the dreaded Boko Haram, among others. These militant or insurgent groups are largely comprised of youths who adopt violence, mainly, as a strategy to drive home their demands. The negative effects of their activities are better imagined than said.


WHO ARE THE YOUTH?

A very crucial question we must answer at this juncture is who is a youth? In answering this question, it must be acknowledged that there is great difficulty in arriving at a common universally accepted definition of the term. However, the United Nations defines youths as “those persons between the ages of fifteen and twenty four years, without prejudice to other definitions by member states”. The African Youth Charter defines youth as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35”. Many countries also draw a line on youths at the age which a person is given equal treatment under the law, often referred to as the “age of majority”, this age is often 18 in many countries. In some countries, the age limit extends to between 30 and 40, in others it extends up to 45 years. The Nigerian National Youth Policy 2001 Document on its part defines youths as “people between the ages of 18 and 35”. However, the operational definition and nuances of the term youth often vary from country to country, depending on the specific socio-cultural, institutional, economic and political factors.

 The categorization of youth in my view would inevitably depend on the vacation in relation to which the definition is being proffered. While a forty years old athlete, for instance, is definitely aging and has long passed his prime, he would still be a spring chicken if he was a politician. Therefore, it is safe to posit that from a political perspective, anyone who falls within the bracket of 18 to 50 years could be regarded as a youth. Some are even prepared to further extend to bracket to accommodate the young at heart.


Looking at the Nigerian society, one can see a prevalence of all the forms of violence described by Galtung. First, there is widespread direct violence. This comes in the form of armed attacks during crises moments, armed robbery, and rape, among several others. Structural violence comes in the forms already described above also. It is crucially important at this juncture to comment on some dimensions of structural violence, and I would like to begin with corruption, because most others are deeply rooted in it. It is mind-bugling when one considers the amount of foreign exchange Nigeria earns per day just from the sale of crude oil, yet, most of Nigerians are still wallowing in excruciating poverty. The overarching effect of this is the general lack of basic necessities of life – food, shelter and clothing by most Nigerians.

In addition, basic infrastructure such as functional health care, good drinking water, and good road network, among others, are near absent, compared to what obtains in other countries which cannot be placed at per with Nigeria, in terms of resources and manpower potentials. Where some of these facilities and services exist, their cost is often beyond what the ordinary citizen can afford. Most of our roads have graduated from being ‘deathtraps’ into ‘graveyards’, while most of our hospitals have also graduated from being ‘mere consultancy clinics’ into ‘transit camps to the mortuary’, due to corruption and mismanagement. We shall discuss the relationship between this scenario and the rising trend of youth participation in violent activities shortly.

Peacebuilding on the other hand refers to the steps taken by multiple stakeholders towards establishing positive peace in the society. Within this context, the role of critical stakeholders such as the state, international organizations, top .


 Youths, just as they are very active in perpetrating violence, they can equally be effective instruments of peace building in any society. Viewing youths as agents of peace challenges the traditional conception of youths as agents of violence. How can youths be effective agents of peacebuilding?
To start with, for the fact that virtually all our schools are dominated by youths, the school therefore, can serve as a breeding ground for both war and peace. When peace virtues are inculcated in the youth, they will certainly grow up to be peaceful in the society. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs, 22:6).

Again, youths can utilize the opportunity provided by a democratic system to build peace in the society. In this regard, associational life can bring youths together for the purpose of peacebuilding, rather than violence. They can organize themselves and make their voices heard on matters that affect them, and indeed, the entire society. By this, they can influence positive action on such matters from government and other stakeholders.

Moreover, the opportunities provided by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can serve a very crucial role of mobilizing youths for peacebuilding in the society. The use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Blogger, through the internet or mobile phones can help youths spread peace messages, rather than hate messages.

CONCLUSION

Youths are very critical to the development of any society, the world over. Without a well-educated and therefore, empowered youth, no society can have the needed peace and stability to fast-track development.

Most Nigerian youths today, have increasingly become perpetrators of violence, not because they are naturally violent, but mainly, due to the structurally violent nature of the society within which they find themselves. We noted in this paper that under this circumstance, the future of the Nigerian youth has been hijacked, and unless the measures which we suggested are carried out by all stakeholders, we will only be raising a generation of militants, insurgents, drug addicts, and armed robbers, among others.

In all, let's hope that there will be rejuvenation and the expected change which would come so the nation could breathe in the fresh air we've long waited for.
Thank you all for your applaudable audience!!
Still your humble servant, comrade Onyekachi Divine.
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