BY Retson Tedheke
The youth of any society are the engine of social transformation. But there is a caveat: When the youth are constructively engaged. However, when they face a bleak future, they could become dynamites that could bring to peril, a prevailing social order.
Like other parts of Nigeria, the Niger Delta is naturally endowed with creative, energetic and socially mobile youths. Alas, disconnections arising from long term government misapplications, misallocations, misappropriation and outright theft of state resources and absence of proper planning have reduced the supposed enterprising and energetic youth of the Niger Delta to miscreants, such as I witnessed penultimate week.
I was in Warri, Delta State last week, what I saw convinced me that the violent future of the Niger Delta and Nigeria is right before our faces. To avoid this uncertain future from befalling us, every state should begin to correct the insanity of yesterday and the wastefulness of today.
The Niger Delta reality is heart-breaking. It is worrisome to explain to any sane mind that governments of a region that have enjoyed 13 percent derivation from oil earnings since 1999 have failed woefully to plan a secure future for its youth is sickening.
By the time the time-bomb we are moulding the Niger Delta youth into explodes again, it may be a no holds bar situation. God forbid, but God must forbid, we must begin to redress the ills now. It was God that made late president Umaru Musa Yar’adua to initiate the Niger Delta amnesty programme. Initially, the programme worked like magic, when hostilities ceased in the Niger Delta. Alas, the same laudable programme has become a conundrum of corruption.
I stand to be corrected, no part of Nigeria is endowed for agribusiness opportunities like the Niger Delta. I was in Warri, my home state last week for a different purpose but what I witnessed fuelled my fears for the future. The scene I witnessed where I stayed was a true reflection of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
The streets of Warri are loaded with young men idling away. I camped at Agbarho and it was a scene that greeted me daily. Over 50 girls probably below 20 years old looking for men to take them for the night at a fee of between N5,000 and N20,000. I saw the future of the Niger Delta right there and it was a horrible one. Those boys will become armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers and violent extremists tomorrow. Those girls will hardly be able to become good mothers tomorrow, as they are giving birth at an alarming rate and dumping the kids with their parents and grandparents in the villages.
Here is my antidote to the growing youth idleness in the Niger Delta: The region is home to unarguably the most fertile land in Nigeria. Treat the issue of youth empowerment with utmost state of emergency and political expediency, knowing that if we fail to engage them positively, they will find place for themselves, and society will bear the brunt of the monster our political elite created.
The state governments should create farm settlements around the Niger Delta where the youths will engaged and trained on how to convert farm produce to finished goods.
Come to think of it, why are our youths running away from farming? Because corruption has not allowed our policy makers to sincerely implement the incentives that come with agriculture. Fully mechanised farm settlements with processing factories will be a major attraction to the youth. They dread carrying hoes and cutlasses like their fathers did and ended in abject poverty. A stitch in time saves nine.
Retson Tedheke, a public affairs commentator and commercial farmer, writes from Keffi, Nasarawa State.