The biggest challenges that the majority of youths are facing in Nigeria are inability to have access to quality jobs and achieve autonomous livelihood. Worse still the future seems murky and the opportunities limited. Rev. Fr. John Okoro, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Ogudu, Ojota, Lagos, spoke with NETA NWOSU on role of government and Church in enhancing youth development amid other issues affecting the youths.
Why do we have restless youths in the society?
Well, the society is undergoing a lot of tension, hunger is part of it, unemployment, economic disadvantages, factors like lack of good development and policies of the government about the youths. They are sort of being neglected without any provision for them, as those who are growing, and would take over governance tomorrow, and also make ends meet for themselves. So, these are part of why we find the youths trying to force themselves to take over some certain things, and at the end of the day, you see them going the wrong way because of this lack of care from the government. So, we need to at least, put the youths into focus, so that they will be able to achieve whatever they have to achieve in life. These are basically some of the things that make the youths go into this restive nature.
From your perspective, what do you think is the most significant challenge the youths are facing, especially in Lagos State?
I think the most prevalent one is unemployment factor because a whole lot of them have finished their studies, they don’t have any employment opportunities, and there is no point of a kind of care for them. Therefore, a whole lot of them go into crimes, in order to make ends meet. So, the policies are not too adequately cared for; the policies that are being promulgated by the government. Some of them are there, but the implementation becomes so terrible when we have some people who don’t know what they are doing. You can see sometimes, you can have Ministry of Agriculture putting a Commissioner who is not an agriculturist, at that point, you find out that we are just deceiving ourselves, and we have nothing to actually offer these children at this moment.
How can the church address some of these challenges?
Well, to the best of my knowledge, the Church has done so well. So, this question will not even arise because the Church has been doing so well in making these youths to be focused. For instance, the Church has set up universities that are of good quality, that also, we can have morality being taught to the children, so that they can be equal to their peers in the world. And of course, with the charitable things that the Church embarks upon; the moves the Church embark upon charitably is also part of what solves the problem for them. Like when we had the COVID-19, most of the people coming for alms are basically the youths. They don’t have anything to eat, they don’t have the finances; you have to go deep into your pocket to make sure they are satisfied. So, I think the church has taken over basically what the government is supposed to take over. So, the policies that the church put in place, is something that the government should also emulate from one phase to another.
I want us to look at the Catholic Church. How has the Catholic Church enhanced youth development?
Well, the Catholic Church actually enhanced the youth development. Let us take the policy of the youth; the youth policy that the Archbishop, Archdiocesan youth chaplain and the members of the Committee have put in place. It’s a holistic move in making the youths realize the fact that they have a mission, and that a provision should be given unto them. And that has been treated in that policy. Every youth must come together, work together, and also see to the fact that they are human beings that are made in the image and likeness of God. And of course, the Parishes have been told to assist these youths, not to leave them orphaned, in order to achieve those basic things that the Archbishop has stated in that policy. So, if we can go through the policy, the rule of the church in the development of the youth will also be a good way of making them achieve what they want to achieve as people.
Do you think that government is laying good foundation for the youths?
The government, so to say, in my own view, some of them are not laying good foundation for the youths. Why am I saying this? Most of the people in office go there to embezzle money, public funds. And when most of these youths see what this government is doing; these individuals are doing, they tend to follow suit. I overhear some of my youths saying, ‘When I get there, I will try and make myself comfortable, since they are using the money that is meant for the people to make themselves comfortable.’ I wouldn’t think that is a good foundation actually for the youths. And basically, even in the universities; when you go to the universities, you will see that they are not well funded. How can the university that is not well funded produce graduates that will be all embracing? No. it’s not possible. You don’t give what you don’t have. And even when you want to get it, if it’s not adequate, there is nothing to be done about it. So, we find out that these youths are just loitering the streets. As it is now, ASUU is on strike. I read the publication that said the youths want to embark upon fund raising activities to pay off their lecturers’ bills, in order to go back to school. What kind of a policy do we have in our nation? It really, really pathetic. So, we need to change our policies, and make sure that we are capable of doing some certain things about the foundation of our youths.
Please compare the Nigerian youths to their contemporaries in other climes?
Well, if the youths of this nation are placed side by side to other youths in other nations, and of course, the same kind of opportunities are given to them, financially and morally, I think our youths will do better than most of them. But, in the event of not putting them on that same pedestal with the other youths from another nation, and our government telling their own children to boost part off the nation, to study and make good use of their own opportunities, then, we don’t see them equally at that same level that they attain out there. But, we can also mention the fact that some of our youths are doing well outside, that they are reckoned with by even other government. For instance, Chimamanda Adiche who is an author, has broken a record of so many degrees. And of course, recently, one Obinna Ukwuani was appointed the Chief Digital Officer of the Bank of Kigali in Rwanda. So, he is also a Nigerian, and he is doing well. So, if opportunities are given to these children, I think they will do better, if not even best than other youths from other nations.
How have CYON and CYAA impacted on youth development in the Archdiocese of Lagos?
Well, they have impacted in no small measure the knowledge of the youth through their prayerful and skillful displays of talents among themselves. And for instance, they organize seminars and symposia at intervals to assist youths, to know who they are, in order to achieve the set goals of their lives. So, I think these youths are trying to make themselves who they want to be, and who they are. Sometimes, they also organize sports, debates, sometimes, they do some kind of fundraising among themselves, in order to help those who are less privileged. So, I think they are trying their best in order to make sure that things work out for them.
Some people claim that the upsurge in juvenile delinquency is majorly due to poor parenting and child abuse, please share your views on this claim?
The answer to that question for me is yes and no, in the sense that some parents bring up their children very well, and you see those children shying away from whatever good manners they have been taught at home. So, it’s a two-sided coin. The parents are also at fault sometimes because they don’t show the children good examples, and the children themselves are also at fault because they fail to accept the examples of their parents and good manners given to them. It’s a two-way thing for me.
The rate at which young people are using drug substance is getting higher and higher with every day, what do you think is responsible for this prevalence of drug abuse?
This is a problem in our society today. Everybody, most of the youths now want to use these enhancing drugs to make themselves feel high. They want to be over and above their difficulties, but drugs cannot do it. There is no way drugs can put them in that perspective or pedestal they want to be. Most of the things that cause these are lack of basic education just as we have said before; no good educational policy, hunger, unemployment, and even the government is not even helping issues. Like this cry for end SARS all those things, children are being harassed here and there, some of them were being shot without committing any crime. So, we need to really go back to the drawing board, and make our society what it’s supposed to be, so that at the end, we see our children coming out in flying colours, and be who they want to be, even without drugs. So, I feel that drugs should not even be the best solution to whatever problem these children have, but hard work should be solution to it. If we don’t have employment, if there is a little place that you can put up a farm, you put up your farm, and by the time you know it, you are making some money that will actually take care of you and whatever needs that you have. So, going into crime and drugs doesn’t pay anybody in any way. But rather, hard work, discipline and also prayer can do it.