Yesterday (October 17), in honour of the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I asked the people of Nigeria to support our young people and the future that lies ahead. In our young men and women lies the capacity to eradicate poverty and to change the path of Nigeria’s future for the better. In our government lies the capacity to help them achieve it.
Poverty does not simply have one solution; rather it requires the concerted application of many solutions. Nigeria has vast natural resources, but our challenge remains harnessing these resources for the greatest good. Our children and mothers are dying, as we fail to deliver our end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The little progress that we have made towards achieving our MDGs is simply not enough, and for a country as rich in resources as ours, there is no excuse for our lacklustre performance.
We have not been able to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, or even come close to it for that matter. Our young people are either unemployed or underemployed. We set the goal of getting our children into primary schools, but still our children do not receive the education they need to effectively participate in a globalised world. Their performance does not live up to their promise due to the combination of under qualified teachers, insufficient funding for facilities and supplies, and lack of job prospects as a result of our decaying infrastructure.
Infant mortality rates are still high. Though our under-five mortality rates have begun to decrease, we still lose far too many of our little ones. Each one is a treasure and should have the chance to live.
The final MDGs tied to protecting the environment and setting up a solid partnership for development have not moved at all. In our efforts to extract oil from the ground and build up our natural resource extraction processes, we are destroying our beautiful countryside and the world around us. We are not developing sustainable processes that will protect our resources for future generations, but rather have focused on the short-term monetary benefit that has seemed only to benefit those in power and not those whose homes have been made uninhabitable.
The international community has reached out to assist us in creating partnerships for development, but we have not met them in good faith. Instead, those charged with these responsibilities have short-changed us by putting their own interest first.
We have created partnerships with other countries for many reasons and in order to reach many ends. One area that the international community has identified as having a significant impact on Nigeria’s economy and ability to trade is our failing infrastructure.
Our country has many roads, but they are not well-maintained and safety concerns prevent people from traveling on them. Potable water does not reach all of our citizens and what does reach them is not always clean. We have an infrastructure, but it is not maintained or repaired. We drive on roads that are unsafe and in a state of disrepair – this is not acceptable.
If we create new jobs, but don’t provide reliable sources of power, water and transportation to help get and keep people there, then it is as if no progress was made at all. The multitude of hours that many of our workers spend waiting for a bus ride is counterproductive. The absence of proper infrastructure is holding Nigeria back.
More and more young people are going to school and learning valuable skills. But they are graduating from university and vocational programs into a country where there are not enough jobs.
Something must be done to combat these deficiencies and bring Nigeria out of poverty. Without change, without concrete evidence of progress, Nigeria will not be able to reach its true potential.
This potential is all around us, but we have to take action. I call upon my brothers and sisters to ask for change and hold our government to a higher standard. I recognize that to effect change in government takes time and effort, but I believe the promise of our country’s future is worth it.
The promise within me has led me down a long path toward public service. While I may have risen to the position of Vice President of Nigeria, I began life just as many young Nigerians have. I had loving parents and a strong religious upbringing, but few true prospects for economic or social mobility.
But because of my education at Adamawa Provincial Secondary School and the School of Hygiene, and finally Ahmadu Bello University, I was able to reach my full potential. But that was a time when education opened doors and jobs were available to everyone. This is no longer the case. Our young people, who take the time and the money to go to vocational schools or universities, graduate into a market already saturated with job seekers.
We have skilled people and nowhere to employ them! This is a travesty, especially because I know we need their skills to build up Nigeria’s roads, waterways, public transportation systems and other infrastructure.
Building up our nation’s infrastructure will do two things. First, it will provide jobs for skilled and unskilled labor across Nigeria. Building good roads and waterways requires all types of workers, the kinds of people that Nigeria has an abundance of. Our government should be working on projects that create opportunities for everyone.
With a proper infrastructure across Nigeria, farmers could send their produce to market faster, ensuring that we have enough food in our cities and adjoining areas. Workers in the cities can get to work faster on safe, well-paved roads. With better roads and public transportation, our youth will be able to find good jobs that pay them and provide stability.
I continue to dedicate my time and resources to advancing education in Nigeria, because I truly believe that an educated population forms the backbone for a progressive and prosperous society. Between 1999 and 2003, I oversaw the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program in which four blocks of three classrooms and a teacher’s room were constructed in all 774 local government areas of Nigeria.
The program was immediately successful and enrolment in primary education in Nigeria increased substantially. This program then jump-started state involvement in providing secondary schools and new federal provisions for tertiary education that would be able to absorb the influx of students graduating from the lower levels. But these programs did not last, and since then these and other initiatives have been set aside and ignored.
Our leaders can no longer ignore the basic facts that inertia, deceit and greed have taken over the affairs of state, leaving the Nigerian people without a structure to provide for the security and wellbeing of its citizenry.
Millions of Nigerians have become disenfranchised – shut out of a system that provides little option or opportunities for advancement – many more have had to relocate due to insecurity caused by a deepening sense of abandonment. It is time for a change in vision. A strong nation builds its future on what it does today!