SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, AT THE 2nd ANNUAL AREWA YOUTH LEADERSHIP SUMMIT 2018, HELD AT THE NAF CONFERENCE AND SUITES, ABUJA ON JANUARY 20, 2018.
1.It is my pleasure to be here with you all today. My warmest greetings to the Northern youth representatives here present, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), representatives from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), International partners, Northern community leaders and all participants gathered for this 2nd edition of the Northern Youth Leadership summit.
2.Let me start by saying that I truly appreciate the clamour for youth initiative, awareness, inclusion and empowerment in the Nigerian polity. This, without a doubt, is helping us to lay the necessary foundation for sustained development.
3.The theme of the summit, ‘The Role of Today’s Northern Youth in Shaping Nigeria’s Tomorrow,’ is very apt and germane to ongoing debates about the growth and progress of the country at large. The theme and emphasis of this gathering, I must say, provide an interesting focus because on the one hand, it is a pointer to the inestimable impact and future of the Northern youth – while on the other hand, it posits those factors that can encumber our progress if care is not taken.
4.I have always been a strong believer in the notion that youth empowerment is a necessary ingredient of sustainable development, as I hope is evident in the projects and initiatives I have invested time and energy in, over time. This is borne out of the recognition that talent has to be nurtured, so that when responsibility is passed on to people, they will be poised to make the best possible use of the opportunity. That way, you assign duties and responsibilities to the appropriate person, having had a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Nurturing the youths, who would be leaders of tomorrow, becomes a key component of an administration or a country that desires a prosperous future.
5.Nigeria, with a growing population in excess of 195 million, has a youth population of about 68 million -constituting over 34 per cent of the population. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Northern youth controls an equitable percentage of that figure. This, therefore, means that the country is yearning for the value, skills, leadership and empowerment roles as well as positive impact from you all.
6.At a Special Public Hearing on Youth Development and Empowerment held last month at the Senate, I emphasised that the time for wait-and-blame is over; this is the time to rise to the challenge of leadership and responsibility, and secure yourself a seat at the table. Unemployment, lack of education and entrepreneurial opportunities, hunger and poverty, restiveness, disease, high mortality, drug and substance abuse – are all factors militating against the interest of northern youth. There are many initiatives currently aimed at tackling unemployment, but – as is the case with a hitherto malnourished plant – it would take some time to grow and yield results.
7.Let me take this opportunity, once more, to urge government agencies responsible for job creation to redouble efforts in devising strategies to cut down on the high rate of youth unemployment, which is currently at an alarming rate. 16 million Nigerians were unemployed as at September 2017 – of high number of whom are in the youth demographic. When we can usefully engage our teeming youths so that they grab opportunities for themselves in order to contribute their quota, we would have gone some way towards alleviating some of those societal problems that currently give us concern.
8.I must continue to sound the alarm concerning the epidemic of drug and substance abuse currently ravaging our communities. The severe impact of this is something we can no longer afford to downplay. Many dreams, aspirations, goals and families have been shattered because of this problem. The negative effects of a large number of youths seeking to be under the influence of substance abuse rather than leadership roles, linger on. Decisive action must be taken to reverse this ugly trend; and it is not the responsibility of government alone. Private sector involvement, international partners, CSOs, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and community leaders can have a drop down approach where efforts are aligned with agencies such as NAFDAC, NDLEA and the Nigeria Police Force to cut down on drug abuse and rehabilitate those affected.
9.Last month in Kano, the Senate held a roundtable discussion involving policy makers, the legislature, enforcement and regulatory agencies, community leaders, CSOs, professional groups, caregivers and victims. The roundtable placed drug abuse at front and centre – related issues were brought up, debated and potential policies and strategies proffered. We intend to take the drug abuse roundtable to communities across the country. We will not relent until we have banished this scourge from our midst, because it poses a major threat to our quest for a greater Nigeria where the youth is ready and able to take on the mantle of leadership.
10.To the Northern youth: your ineffaceable inclusion in the Nigerian agenda underscores your importance to this country. At a time when the challenges facing us as a country abound, you have to be pragmatic in taking up leadership and entrepreneurial roles. I urge you to be engaged, be involved in the happenings around you, and be sure to always add your positive quota to your community and society. This is a sure path to politically and economically sustaining the country. Indeed, it is a path to ensuring the development of the region.
11.In the 8th National Assembly, our continuing drive for youth inclusion underscores our zeal as lawmakers, over time, as evident in the legislative agenda. The #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, which has been passed by the Senate, and the SME empowerment projects by my office – including the Made-In-Nigeria initiative – are a few projects that if properly harnessed for permanent inclusion in government, will be a catalyst for youth development. We remain committed to bringing this to fruition.
12.Finally, I would like to commend this forum, the organisers and all participants here present, for coming together for this summit. I pray that the outcome will add even more impetus, for the benefit of the northern youth and Nigeria as a whole.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE