THE MacArthur Foundation has advised Nigerian youths to be actively engaged in the 2023 general elections.
The Foundation Country Director, Dr Kole Shettima, gave the advice on Friday while delivering his keynote address at the opening of a two-day Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria (MWFAAN) LEAD ON conference 2022, in Abuja.
He said that End-SARS protest was really a reflection of the energy, the creativity and the passion young people have for the country, which could be channeled not just as protest but developmental causes.
“The youths were able to mobilise a lot of resources, resources in terms of networks, people who came out and demonstrated. They have shown that they can actually organise themselves.”
Shettima said the challenge now should be that beyond the End-SARS protest, how could youths engage in civic, public service, using the same network and energies that were established.
“How do we use those networks in order to channel it towards public service, towards civil engagement? And what difference can that actually have on the country and other things?
“That for me is the most important story about End-SARS itself. About its own potential to be a change agent for our country,” he said.
Shettima, who said that the foundation since 1989 had invested not less than $200 million dollars in Nigeria, added that the foundation was committed to working in partnership with the country towards the success of 2023 general elections.
He listed some of the areas the foundation was working on to achieve that to include working with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make the elections credible, engaging young people to register, collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), and come out and vote on the day of election.
Shettima advised government, philanthropists and developmental organisations to invest more in education, healthcare system to slow down the country fertility rate as well as create economic opportunity for the youth.
He said that the measures were important to make Nigerian youths, who constituted over 70 per cent of the country’s population, a demographic dividend, and not a burden or disaster.
“We are a youthful country in the sense that about 70 per cent of our population, the median age is 18.1. So, this is a youthful country.
“This youthful age can be a dividend, which means it can be of benefit and profitable for people or it can be a disaster for itself.
“The line between benefit and disaster is in terms of do you invest in their education? Do you invest in their health? Do you slow down population growth and do you give them economic opportunities?
“If you don’t do those four things, that potential benefit then can become a disaster.”
Shettima called on everyone, including the government and philanthropists and group, to invest in areas that would impact the youth.
“Those are the things that we need to do as people, otherwise these our youthful population then becomes a disaster and everyone is going to suffer for it,” he said.
He commended the rate at which Nigerian youths across the world were making impact and progress in the area of sports, entertainment, technology development, innovations, civil and public space and services.
Shettima, however, advised Nigerian youths to develop passion for something developmental, get soft skills, get prepared for opportunities, take the risk, and get involved in what would have positive impact on other people’s lives.
He said these factors were critical for them to continue to make impacts on the country and the globe.
The President of the MWFAAN, Mr Ahmed Kazeem, said that the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF), established by former President Barrack Obama in 2014, has the potential to impact on the unity and development of Nigeria.
Kazeem said that the fellowship provides outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. higher education institution with support for professional development after they return home.
“The Institute’s focus on leadership and skills development in one of three tracks: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management.
“Over 500 Nigerian Fellows, who have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities, and countries have passed through this Fellowship.”
Adetola-Kazeem said that theme of the conference, “Leading Through Adversity”, was carefully chosen to discuss the challenges of the pandemic and global recession and strategies young vibrant leaders needed to adopt to rise above these challenges.
A fellow of the Fellowship, Mrs Esther Nathaniel, said being a fellow of the Mandela Washington Fellowship had helped her to improve her life, networking, impacting more on people and the society.
Nathaniel urged young Nigerians to take advantage of the fellowship, saying “if you think you are a committed person, compassionate, coexistence, deliberate person, please do apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme.
“It is one opportunity that has the tremendous capacity of blowing you up. Functioning as the Communications and Marketing Secretary of the association, I can tell you that the fellowship itself comes with tremendous benefits,” she said. (NAN)