The world stage is changing fast, and Nigerian youth make up an ever-growing proportion of the world’s population.  In fact, led by Nigeria, by 2100 Sub-Saharan Africa will be the only region in the world still growing.

Nigeria is currently the 7th most populous country in the world.  However, it is expected to surpass China and the United States to become the second most populous country in the world by 2100.  Currently, more than 60% of Nigerians are under the age of 24.

However, recently young people in Nigeria protested en masse at how their country is being run.  The protests were in part due to the alleged brutality of the SARS unit of the Nigeria Police Force, including torture and extra-judicial execution which has apparently made earning a living difficult for would-be young entrepreneurs. According to reports, Nigerian youths are often stereotyped and harassed by the police for being in possession of a laptop or iPhone.

Currently 34.9% of Nigerian young people are unemployed, which translates to a huge number of young people in the world with nothing to do, and perhaps even a lack of daily purpose. 

Education is key to taking advantage of the demographic dividend that could result from Nigeria’s youthful population, if growth is managed well.  Yet, there are apparently few opportunities to get a good education. One Nigerian opinion writer expressed his frustration with the continuing lack of progress in these areas:

“Young Nigerians are more connected, dynamic and engaged than ever and the Nigeria’s goals cannot happen without them… At the event, it was sounded loud and clear that young people can no longer be dismissed as the rebel fighters; the terrorists; the disenfranchised. They are the innovators, the solution-finders; the social and environmental entrepreneurs.”

Nigerian journalist Amino Ado writes:

The demographic dividend enjoyed by many countries on their way to economic success is Nigeria’s for the taking if the right policies are implemented and required investments made. The obvious and number one investment is in basic education and vocational training. Nigeria needs to get its large number of out of school children into classrooms and it needs to improve the quality of primary education. 

… Vocational training, both in schools and on the job, is key for increasing the productivity of the workforce. Federal and state governments can make a difference by strengthening technical schools and providing incentives for employers to take on apprentices and interns.

There seems to be frustration from Nigeria’s young people about how change is slow to come.  Many insist that Africa must find and decide its own path forward, particularly after years of colonialist-style population control plans.  This includes calls for stronger African universities and think tanks which give rise to truly African ideas.   The tech sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa, and many argue Africa’s future lies in a healthy and robust digital economy. 

However, first it seems that Africa’s youth need good governance which allows them to flourish and achieve their potential. 

Writing in the The Conversation, Oludayo Tade sees promise for the future because of the way the recent protests were conducted by Nigerian young people:

” …the way in which the protest was organised suggests there is a future for the country. The protesters showed empathy and created job opportunities. They showed the importance of taking care of people by providing food and drinks for protesters. They treated the injured and provided support for the vulnerable.

They also crowdsourced for funding  and they accounted for the money without needing to set up a committee as their government would do.”

Amino Ado argues that the growing desire to hold ineffective or corrupt leaders accountable among Nigeria’s youth will lead to positive outcomes:

Nigerians have the capacity to drive the economy to great heights and create a prosperous and peaceful society. The pervading pessimism by opinion leaders and political opposition is, thus, not the country’s foregone destiny. Nigerians have a lot to be thankful for, while the tasks ahead are tough, they are achievable. Opinion leaders and opposition should give hope, not despair while acknowledging the difficulties ahead. Yes, we can, with the right mindset and actions, create the Nigeria of our dreams.

I hope she is right.

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...