Our epistle today is aimed at and directed to those very many young people of this country and perhaps the rest of the world generally termed as the youth. Thanks to politics, with its penchant for opportunism and proclivity for sophistry, the term youth in Nigeria has assumed some fascinating and colourful variations and it seems to mean different things to different people and at different times. In fairness to political parties and for the sake of simple honesty, we must note that political parties have done better in the last one year and those called youth are getting younger. Just last week, however, I still met a 47-year-old lady that led a youth delegation to meet me.
Never mind what the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, the definition of that UN agency seems to be limited only to biological considerations while ignoring other factors that influence and define humans. Their definition has its valid reasons but limited it is still. Let us expand the scope a bit. Beyond biological consideration, there seems to be overall two categories of people that can fit into the classification of youth. In one class we have those who are youths for socio-economic reasons and in the second class are those people who can be termed youth for psycho emotional reasons.
Socio-economic youths, generally speaking, are people that are yet to attain and realise their potentials in their society due to societal factors such as access to employment and other forms or empowerment. A graduate living in a country with exceptionally high rate of unemployment and with a 10-year-old unused certificate whilst moonlighting in the hope of getting a proper job or dreaming for a break will easily fit into the category of socio-economic youth even if he or she is 35 years old or more. Mind you, a senior level manager or a successful entrepreneur of the same age that has a company or personal chauffer will probably fit less in the category of youth.
Societies with a culture of open or even institutionalised discrimination like in the bad old days in the USA and continental Europe, offer another example of socio-economic youthfulness with their practice of referring to an adult black man as “boy”.
Psycho-emotional youths are, roughly speaking, those that simply refuse to feel old. This is a very large unrecognised population and to get a quick feel of how large, you are invited to take a swift look around you starting from yourself and you will soon discover how many people you know that are expected to be old but simply do not feel old. The factors for this diffused peter-panism include our life styles influenced by change in cultural values, education or at least literacy, fashion, advance in health care and technology. These lifestyle factors make it reasonable and indeed possible for people who should be in the closing chapters of their book of life to instead feel that they can still hope to open another chapter.
Regardless of whether one is a biological, psycho-emotional or socio-economic youth, one thing most of the living population now have in common is that we can all be regarded as tomorrow people. The less than one percent of the living population that is satisfied with today are free to consider taking the risk of not vetting tomorrow and can leave the room as we say at CIAPS.
The first implication of agreeing that one is a tomorrow person is the way we look at situations and issues. Whilst those who provide or proffer solutions and services to us might want us to focus on the “who”: their brands if they are companies or candidates if they are politicians, conscious tomorrow people will should focus on the “what”. Rather than being carried away by who is talking or promising, tomorrow people should ask themselves what exactly they want from who is promising. Consciousness leads to self-interest and the latter will make consumers and citizens gauge brands and individuals not on the basis on what these can offer or represent but in terms of what consumers and citizens need. What this means is that even before brands and candidates come to offer their inventions and solutions, we the people know what we want and we go looking for it in suppliers that we meet. This way it is the demand that is ordering and valuing supply not the other way round.
Conscious tomorrow people know that their stake in is the future and they know that the only way to get a desired future is to make sure that the process is neither rigged not left to the arbitrium or goodwill of others that will act on their behalf. Another implication for tomorrow’s people, therefore, is their interest in making sure that any process or system that will affect them is run in a way that focuses on tomorrow not today. Optimism and faith are for individuals, effective systems and processes run on pessimism and doubt. Things work where those that put them in place think that they might go wrong, in planning and choosing they assume that human beings might one day lie, cheat, forget become complacent, incompetent or simply go mad. In planning for tomorrow they therefore put in place measures that will not allow the lying, cheating, indolence or madness of the few to destroy the future of the many.
Those who are not satisfied with their today therefore have a duty to self: they need to set an agenda that will ensure that their future is not jeopardised by the needs of others. The youth in the body or at heart need to look beyond the words or symbol of those vying for their attention, they need to insist on processes and systems that will ensure that whoever is charged with managing their private and public lives is doing the biding of tomorrow people. To achieve this, tomorrow people need to set and lead not accept or echo the agenda put forward by gladiators battling for attention.
When warriors call out their opponents and rivals, tomorrow people should insist on not just punishing the culprit of today but demand an amendment of the system that allowed such crime or sin to be committed knowing fully well that the denouncer of today might easily become the culprit of tomorrow.
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•Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.