Ndigbo: Challenges of youth empowerment



Nnamdi Azikiwe

Nnamdi Azikiwe


WHEN the elders and leaders sit down and talk in any forum like this, “the challenges of the youth” as a subject of symposium and interlocution it is because it is both a concurrent matter in the agenda of Town Hall meetings and the substance of living with the present and future generation of her citizenry. This is what is called “sagacity” in African philosophy. As members of the autochnotous intellectual class, our leaders and elders ought to be sages who construct the future with emphasis on building and creating wealth, capacities, entrepreneurship and sagacity among the youth who are the leaders of tomorrow. We, therefore, appreciate this workshop as epochal imperative for a sustainable development of Ndigbo, connoting Igbo speaking population spread out in Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia and some parts of Delta and Rivers states.

Philosophically speaking, we recognise that the southeast or Ndigbo is an emerging society, developing society in search of identity in a multi-racial Nigeria state and in the world. This “identity” question is not only omnibus but also a logical challenge because you an Igbo or you are not an Igbo. In this wise it is difficult for an Igbo to deny that he or she is an Igbo because doing so would amount to a contradiction. Identity does not brook any contradiction in the logical sense of the concept. Again the fact that it is existential and encompasses a whole personality presupposes that it is defined by the history, culture, economics, politics and education of the people which again logically entails that the challenges of youth empowerment among Ndigbo are the challenges of history, culture, economics, politics, leadership and education.

Youth question
The youth question since after the defunct Biafran and Nigerian war is an unfortunate historically necessitated experience that has left Ndigbo like a rudderless both on Nigeria, Africa and the world. The traumas, alienation, economic, subjugation, discrimination, political marginalisation and the consequent psychological dislocation of Ndigbo by successive Nigerian governments until the dawn of the second republic is worse than colour dissemination in United States now and before.

As it were, the youth is a historical phenomenon in Igboland since after the war. The youth age of 35 or 50 years as a working parameter, if applied from 1970, after the war, would suggest that millions of Igbo Youth might have been wasted between 1970 and 2015 by hunger, unemployment, lack of education and frustrations.

In what Professor Mercy Anagbogu of the Department of Guidance and Counseling, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, Nigeria, captured in the metaphor of zero empowerment, the Igbo youth is in “a black box”, a state of mental, psychological tabula-rasa and moral, religious, educational economic degeneration and alienation. The challenges that immediately faced the youths after the war were to get jobs and get married, but only few who had opportunities and right political connections were able to make it. Majority was wasted, yet the future of the youth remained bleak till today.

The historical phenomenon of “black box”, state of doldrums and darkness is still with Ndigbo youth in this regime and dispensation. The youth at zero empowerment has no place in the political, economic and educational calculation and space in Nigeria. An Igbo youth is one who is in search of job without end to the toil. He engages in hired labour as a disposable commodity even in his own Ndigbo land. He is a ready servant mentally and morally devalued even in his own state because of his or her lack of moral and intellectual self-confidence as threatened specie in Nigeria.

This scenario has brought a kind of flux where nothing holds and somewhat state of nature where wickedness, jealousies, confusion, disrespect and loss of Igbo and family values become the other of the day. The consequences or indicative factors again are negative disposition, ritual moneymaking, individualism and lack of corporate business, which are not conducive to the corporate, cultural and political existence of Ndigbo. Unfortunately, inability of Ndigbo leaders to confront and address the historical, existential, cultural, educational, political and economic challenges led to the dispersal of Igbo youth, in search of means of livelihood in Diaspora.

History as an oral or written objective story of the past is epistemologically, cosmologically and scientifically omnipresent and indicative of the positive and negative speculations about the future. To what extent do Igbo leaders cognise and recognise this phenomenon in the sustainable development of Igbo society?

The development of any society, nation or state is not equidistant from its history. Asian Tiger or the resurgence of technological prowess of Asian countries like Japan, India, and Malaysia among others is unarguably based on their history of independence and culture of technology. These countries who were AID recipient suddenly became AID donors from the 1980s. Their progress and development is historically driven because with a sense of history people know where they are coming from and where they are going. Suffice it to say that experience as the best teacher cannot be recycled without good knowledge of history. The history of Ndigbo is certainly a predicate of her sustainable development and youth empowerment. Knowledge of this should be the credo of economic and political empowerment both in the comity of nations and in the multi-racial plural democracy of Nigeria.

Ndigbo leaders have a duty to propagate Igbo history in the curriculum of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, such histories as the histories of Nigerian independence and Nigeria’s political history. Biafran and Nigerian war, histories of Ndigbo in Nigeria and governance among Ndigbo are indispensable epistemology of Ndigbo youth empowerment. Histories of great minds and personalities like Nnamdi Azikwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chinua Achebe, Lewis Mbanefo, Onyema, Akanu Ibiam, K. O. Mbadiwe, Ebitu-Ukiwe, Alex Ekwueme, Laz Ekwueme, Arthur Mbanefo, Sam Mbakwe, Professor Nwabueze, G. C. M. Onyuike, Nwakama Okoro to mention but a few, are the personalities whose biographies will serve as guide and encouragement of our youths in their struggle in life. To be included in the history empowerment of the youth are knowledge-based citizenship oriented in literature religion, culture and values. Apart from the History of the Biafran and Nigerian war, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart should be compulsory for the youth who ought to be equipped with Igbo cosmology and literature in defense of Igbo identity. Suffice it to say that Ndigbo youth will be ideologically and existentially empowered if the biographies of great men and women of Igbo land are acquired and read by them through library documentation of biographies, literatures and culture of Ndigbo. Indeed efforts in this direction will not be complete without imbibing and sustaining a reading culture among the youths. It is this culture that will facilitate knowledge based social actions for the emancipation of Ndigbo. Reading culture, writing and research are the modus operandi and means by which various histories of the origin of Ndigbo will be reconciled and their values and philosophies rationally synthesized and preserved.

The place of culture in national development has never been in doubt given the histories of developed nations and societies like United States, Britain and France and more recently the Asian Tigers; Japan Malaysia, and India, to mention but a few.

An Algerian scholar and anti-racist, Franz Fanon, in his books, White Mask, Black Skin and The Wretched of the Earth, warned that each generation of a people must out of relative obscurity discover her mission, fulfill it or not. Suffice it to say that the west and Asian countries discovered themselves in their cultures and fulfilled themselves in their technologies. It is not too much an expectation on our governors who waste Ndigbo resources in donations, self-aggrandisement and white elephant projects to adopt the culture of fiscal and monetary discipline of addressing generational problems and gaps like youth zero empowerment. It is also possible for our leaders and governors to invest on cultural re-enactment and revolution to exhume latent and decaying Igbo technologies, which suffer from primordial sleaze, financial paralysis of youths, who are possessed by their knowledge and lack of attention being paid on them because of corruption.

Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that the beginning and end of governments is marked by the legacies they left behind in term of values and normative principles of existence that undergird the youth creativity, responsibility and sustainable development.

Our leaders recognise the place of education in the overall scheme of things for the happiness, fulfillment of goals and aspirations of the youth. Education is the springboard for integral progress and a complement and buffer to sustainable development. Without education the youths will not be able to face the challenges of the globalised world and the flux in our societies. The youth needs to develop his essence and universal formation” in a response to Socratic dictum that “unexamined life is not worth living” Universal formation and the examination of life in relation to the human spirit is formed in interaction with culture, nature and universe.

The content of the knowledge, which we extol our youths to seek, is “truth”. The youths must examine their lives and socially spearhead the campaign for universal education and values in the globalised world. The human spirit forms itself in the search of these: the man’s truth, truth of society, truth of nature, truth of the universe. Youth’s education is useless if it is not critically and rationally based and is not usefully applied to fight against the ills of our societies for individual and collective salvation. We need to be guided by Karl Jaspers’ principle that thought without action is blind and action without thought is empty.

The challenge of the youth in this 21st century is universal formation, which is a condition for humanity’s integration and human identity. This identity subsists at three levels: individual, social (cultural) and human identity (universal). Ndigbo will be better and dynamic if the youths live examined life for their freedom and personal salvation and for social, cultural and universal identity of mankind. Salvation is not possible for any individual or society that wallows unexamined life.

Education teaches us to be reflective, speculative and critical so that you can know yourself, your history and possess the virtues to be somebody and be useful to yourself, your parents and your society. Socrates told his accusers and executers during his famous trial in 349 BC to give him philosophy or death, that is, knowledge or death instead of ignorance.

Socrates challenges the youths who maimed and destroyed themselves in institutions of learning or allow themselves to be used as thugs by politicians to eschew ignorance and pursue the ultimate goal, which is knowledge of the good, the truth. Great men in all professions from the distant past to the present heeded this creed and virtue. Yet this creed and virtue is diminishing in Igbo culture and gradually being replaced by the sub-culture of get-rich quick, the end justified the means or categorical imperative, the subculture of cultism, suicide and die quick.

This subculture of cultism has unfortunately crept endemically and epidemically into the high institutions of Ndigbo since after the war leading to the death of Ivory Towerism and the growth of ivory violence. From ivory blood towers in Igbo land today flows a lamentation, cries and hues of parents and guardians whose sons are murdered routinely, whose hopes and expectations are dashed, who were suddenly sent to untimely death on mere news that their sons have been murdered in the vicious circle of bloodletting and the ritual killings. The root cause of this menace is the loss of values in our society and the consequent destruction of the universal formation and Igbo culture as well as values of knowledge.

The youths of high institutions, by the evolution and institution of the name, polytechnic or university, have the calling to pursue noble, universal and humanitarian ideals for self-fulfillment and the betterment of the society in which they are. The youths beyond examining themselves and their lives for their self-fulfillment have the responsibility and duty to contribute positively to instituting good governance in the society. The youths collectively and individually must eschew and condemn cultism in order to move the society forward.

Political violence
The youths must campaign against political thuggery and violence. Political violence is a phenomenon that is gradually spreading all over the world even encroaching on the celebrated political traditions of Igbo values. The phenomenon manifest in various forms like physical fight, kidnappings, political thuggery and assassinations. Political violence although less in magnitude compared to those of Western Nigeria should be resented by Ndigbo. The only way to avert this ugly trend is for the youths who are more often used to perpetrate this political thuggery to re-examine their lives on the foundation of universal formation and turn against the elites and politicians who use them, instead of their children for suicidal missions. Igbo youths in town and in gown must eschew from being used as means in elections to meet or satisfy the ambitions and goals of the elites and politicians. Education is one means and cultivation of virtue is another in the emancipation of the youths in town and in gown against first, their being used as means and second, the concept and practice of political violence and thuggery. In this crusade and agenda, the concepts of “refusal” and “action against” will respectively constitute the negative and positive reactions to political violence and thuggery.

Corruption and governance
Corruption seems to be the mono-causal factor or the bedrock of all societal ills like kidnapping and hostage taking, murder, ritual murder, cultism, robbery, political violence, thuggery and bad governance. It is the single most important factor working against universal values and formation.

Democracy is a mode of governing people, by the people and for the people. But democratic praxis demands rigour and discipline. It also demands openness, pluralism, secularism and commitments of the people. Interestingly, a keen study and observation of Ndigbo’s civil society shows that corruption has militated against experiment in democracy. It lowers the level of rationality, rigour and discipline of Ndigbo and distorts the universal culture of openness, pluralism and secularism. It is, therefore, important for youths’ bodies eschew the vices like religious or sectarian bigotry.
Democracy is a social action, for the society and for humanity as well as against tyranny, oppression, reaction and retrogression. Similarly, Ndigbo experiments on democracy are a social action against society’s ills especially as they relate to politics and power. Paradoxically, however while democratic process tries to check the exercise of power, corruption turns out to be an incubus or succubae. It means, therefore, that when any democratic process is embarked upon, a serious concerted social action on the part of governments, youths and individuals has to be waged against corruption. A serious effort in this direction can only be fully appreciated only with a good understanding of the meaning and effect of corruption on the body politics, universal values and formations of Ndigbo.
Corruption has since independence assumed endemic proportions in Igbo land. There is a basal belief that with money you can easily acquire power and clout. There is also the belief that you have to be corrupt in order to be rich. An Igbo politician believes that money determines one’s electoral victory. Corruption, therefore, has endemic, cancerous and oracular tendencies. It is endemic because it has caught up with Igbo nation. It is cancerous because it is now a subculture. It is equally oracular in nature because the Igbo tend to believe in it just as people of ancient time believed in and worshiped oracles. In a corrupt society people tend to think that no one can be successful without being corrupt. Therefore the youths must invigorate a strong and strident campaign against corruption to conserve cultural identities and the universal formation.

Political economy
A state of social absence, in terms of even development, popular leadership, industrialisation, community development, education, communal harmonies, social order and security demands ideological and pragmatic corporate governance.

Corporate governance is a propositional and ideological guide in leadership and business. The youths must lead a campaign for education, popular leadership and democratic governance among Ndigbo. Economic and social development of a people depend very much on corporate governance, the beliefs and actions of the government with respect to the right to life and property, the right to basic social amenities, right to education, the right to painful employment, the right to freedom of expression and association with respect to groups, persons, political constituencies and local government areas.

These basic rights will ensure individual, collective and organic economic development of the society. Hitherto, all these rights are either non-existent or abused. Mass education and public enlightenment by the youths will restore these universal values to the society as indispensable rhythm and melody of existence and universal formation predicated on jobs and wealth creations, capacity building and educational reforms. Suffice it to say that there has been corporate job and wealth creation deficit in Igbo states.

Unemployment in Nigeria is endemic but that among Ndigbo is both endemic and epidemic. Employment workshops among successive states and federal government in Nigeria as well as Ndigbo leaders have gone down the dustbin or ended as mere talk-shops without the will and capacity to rekindle light and hopes among the youths. Government intentions have hitherto been on policy papers, white papers, circulars and political manifestos without translations into concrete actions. The cultural, economic and religious environment have not helped the matter as the scenario is the state of “the winner takes it all” where employment opportunities are doled out to select few as favour or right.

Favoritism, nepotism, sectarianism and statism are the major challenges of government of Ndigbo in tackling the youth unemployment. Absence of statesmanship corporate governance, political sagacity, will and capacity to serve and corruption, self-enrichment, unaccountability have derailed Ndigbo leaders in doing the right thing towards the empowerment of the future leaders. Igbo leaders under the auspices of Ohanaeze, to save the Igbo race from extinction, ought to compound the totality of Ndigbo predicaments, with special emphasis on the youth dimension, into concrete and actionable agenda of the race geared forwards achieving the U. N. Millenniums Development Goals in eradicating unemployment, poverty, investment on women, children and youth and national and global partnership of private and public sectors.

The ideological and intellectual superstructure of the youth empowerment are history, politics, governance, culture, education and socio-economic including the legal but the existential structure is entrepreneurship or skill acquisition without which the Igbo youth will not be able to realise his or her personal ambitions and aspirations and be free and treated fairly among national and global citizens. Like the Asian Tigers, the Igbo nation has a rich culture of technology to fall back in this 21st century. This culture of craft and innovation is more latent and immanent than obvious, experimented and utilised in the global scientific community.

For Professor C. C. Nweke of Psychology Department, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, the Igbo youth is disparaged and alienated economically and psychologically because of the traumas of the war and long years of military dictatorship in Nigeria which is lopsided against Ndigbo development, hence Igbo youth’s skills and entrepreneurship evident in Nnewi, Onitsha, Enugu and Aba indicative are under developed and utilised. Apart from the challenge of the youth during the war that led to the manufacture of Ogbunigwe the present socio-economic challenge of Ndigbo has given rise to Aba, Obosi and Coal City techno-crafts like auto-parts, shoes, cottons and cloths.


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