By Charles Onunaiju
Since the appointment of Mr. Sunday Dare as the Minister for Youth and Sports development, he has visited several sport facilities, hosted meetings of several sports governing bodies, assessed and talked up performances of several athletes and vowed to lift up sports. In the short period, since his appointment, Mr. Dare has elevated sports administration to national visibility but all these seemed at the detriment of his core mandate of youth development.
It is likely that the misnamed Ministry of youth and sports development as is at the root of the misunderstanding since every minister in the ministry view youth and sports development as essentially conterminous. Youth development is broader and reaches deeper to the challenge of harnessing the bulging youth population and creatively tapping their potential dividends in various sectors of national productive endeavors, for which sports is only one among several others. In this regards, the minister of youth and sports development cannot afford to be only the minister of sports. The sports sector actually, only engages a small fraction of the youth population and cannot, therefore, be the only and exclusive parameter for measuring youth development. Since arriving as the youth and sports development minister, Mr. Dare has not visited any tech or digital hub, where youths are active in exploring the vast field of information and communication technologies (ICT). This ubiquitous but incoherent sector in which youths are playing central and pivotal roles is in desperate need for coordination and official incentive. On the surface, it may look like the official brief of the ministry of science and technology but any meaningful effort at youth development must seek wide coordination and outreach to other ministries for effective mainstreaming of youth affairs in national development. The vast field of information technology and the increasing digitization of almost every aspect of lives certainly have youths in the front-line and to harness their exuberance and inexhaustible creative energy in this sector means that the ministry of youth development must play a pivotal and strategic role. Establishing tech and digital hubs in coordination with other relevant government departments and agencies is central to any meaningful effort at youth development. The widespread of cyber-crimes in which many youths are caught in the web means that critical vacuum exists in the information technology sector in which the youth potentials have not been positively tapped, leaving room for them to channel their creative energy in the sector to crimes and other negative undertaking.
No serious and responsible ministry of youth development would watch or look the other way, as the youth-bulge, stream into crimes, while critical ICT sector yawns in under-utilization.
Even though, that sports have become a national festival and stir national emotions, government policy must not be tailored to assuage the vanity of momentary sports victories that do not have any corresponding inputs in raising the material and tangible national aggregates, the ultimate variable in raising quality of lives of the people. Mr. Sunday Dare’s promise to raise the profile of other sports, along with the national favourite, which is football is commendable but his job is not even half done, if he refuses to appreciate the potential dividends if the youths bulge is more widely harnessed in other strategic sectors in which national emotions may not be visibly stirred but concrete outcomes are assured in raising the national aggregates through inclusive economic and development. The quality of education that the youths receive means that the ministry cannot feign ignorance as its trajectories takes a plunge.
Minister of youth development must seek to make vital inputs in designing education policy in which youths are the largest stakeholders. Across the board and in all sectors of the national life from Agriculture, rural development, productivity, employment, youths are critical stakeholders. As Agriculture gets more attention, the ministry of youth development can revive nationwide; the young farmers club, and see in which ways to create the requisite incentive for youth’s robust participation in agriculture. Agriculture can absorb more youths in real productive enterprises with value multiplying effects than sports. The value chain in sports is very marginal and except for the flashes of momentary cheers, that sport victories inspire, its contributions to the tangible national aggregates is modest.
This does not suggest that sports should not be accorded a place of pride in the national priorities but a minister for youths and sports developments, cannot take sports as his only field of endeavor, and while the more strategic and challenging mandate of youth development is left to falter.
For the mandate of youth development ministry to justify its existence, the ministry does not need any summit, seminar or conference but to find ways to create and nurture ICT hubs, agric hubs, Technology hubs that would harness the talents of artisans in automobiles repairs, plumbing, tiling, furniture, ceramics and so many others which youths are making contributions but largely unrecognized and without any official incentive. It is easy for Mr. Sunday Dare to relapse to the comfort zone of sports administration but his challenge is to step out to the uncharted course of providing a constructive road-map to harnessing the bulging youth population into a national resource for building an inclusive economy and ensuring social stability.
The framework of youth development is expansive and can seamlessly integrate into varieties of sectors, where they can play vital roles. Mr. Sunday Dare can break with the simplistic straitjacket that narrowly views sports as the only endeavor in which youth can play roles. This view does not correspond to the existing reality as youths lead the way in the new world of information technology and digitization.
Mr. Dare can visit some of the burgeoning informal tech hubs across the country just like Mr. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook did, when he recently visited Nigeria and it is in these important sectors that is the future of Nigerian youths.
Mr. Onunaiju Director, Centre for China Studies, Utako Abuja.