This is the first in a five-part series that will explore the megatrends that will shape Nigeria’s future and how we can respond to them today.
The concept of megatrends can be traced to the 1982 book, Megatrends: The Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives by American futurist John Naisbitt. Since then, the concept has been used by think tanks, corporations, governments and intergovernmental organizations to analyze long-term radical tectonic shifts that have trajectory implications.
This series will explore five megatrends in Nigeria and how they affect us all. These are the youth population growth; climate change and resource scarcity; hybrid religiosity; limited access to quality education; and increasing cell phone ownership and Internet access.
These megatrends are mutually reinforcing through various interconnections. Climate change, for example, poses complex threats with potentially disruptive effects on economic growth, health, food security and peace. The growing youth population has implications for economic growth as well as food security, migration, peace and stability. How Nigeria handles these megatrends will determine the future of the country.
This first article focuses on youth population growth and its implications for Nigeria.
In just over a decade, Nigeria will have some of the highest concentrations of young people in the world. Currently, 43% of the Nigerian population is between the ages of 0 and 14, compared to a global average of 25%. This presents significant opportunities and threats.
The youth population of our important neighboring countries is of related interest. Niger, Mali and Chad (in that order) have the three highest percentages of population aged 0-14 in the world, at 50%, 47% and 46% respectively. The increasing pressure of climate change and the scarcity of resources in the Sahel region will lead to a mass migration of young people in search of opportunities. Nigeria will be the likely destination given the cultural similarities between these countries and northern Nigeria as well as the economic opportunities relating to Nigeria.
Moreover, political instability and insecurity in these countries will further push the massive movement of people into Nigeria. Migration is not necessarily a bad thing, however, when it comes to the migration of uneducated, unskilled, unemployed (and potentially frustrated) youth, the consequences can be disastrous. Niger, Mali and Chad have some of the poorest educational outcomes for young people in the world. They are also expected to have some of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world.
The link between youth population growth and insecurity
Since the Maitatsine Islamic revivalist movements of the 1980s, various Islamist groups have emerged in northern Nigeria and the wider West African Sahel. However, Boko Haram and its splinter group Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP) present three fundamental threats to Nigeria that previous sects lacked: (1) a well-defined ideology; (2) a sense of group identity for members, and (3) a strong community that provides a place to belong. These have important and interrelated implications. A well-defined religious ideology blends with a strong religious identity to create a community of like-minded believers. This will have a strong appeal to young people in a country where notions of citizenship and national identity are both meaningless and dubious.
When millions of young men and women are robbed of economic opportunity and the dignity that comes with earning a decent living, they will seek their sense of purpose within a community of like-minded others. They will seek an identity around absolute religious beliefs and a religious “hero” who symbolizes those beliefs. It doesn’t matter if the hero is a healer or a terrorist.
The coming new character of violence in Nigeria
The ongoing “Boko Haram” insurgency may fade away, but with the growing youth population, the insurgents will not. The insurgency will evolve into a much more complex and decentralized web of violence. The “war front” will inevitably move from the fringes and forests to society itself.
This will involve spreading and sometimes outsourcing terrorist attacks, banditry and kidnappings to an emerging network of young entrepreneurs and criminal entrepreneurs. Indeed, this new character of violence is already emerging in Nigeria. With high youth unemployment in the country and a very difficult economic outlook, it is not difficult to witness a drastic escalation.
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A possible feature of such an escalation will be a systems disruption campaign. This could involve targeting critical nodes and systems such as power grids, cell towers, key bridges, pipelines and flow stations, airports and other critical infrastructure that allows the country to function. This phase will involve “overpowered” young people, educated and technologically savvy, but unemployed. Kidnapping will evolve into state hostage at critical economic and technological nodes for ransom with threats to trigger cascades of system failures.
Two revolutionary solutions
The above scenario is not inevitable. Although Nigeria has a National Youth Policy, it has yet to demonstrate its commitment to its grand vision. Where youth population rates are high, more investment is needed in young people to harness their potential and human capital. However, when this is not the case, youth population growth can mix with other megatrends to create a deadly Molotov cocktail.
Two important areas of focus can be game changers for Nigerian youth and the future of the country: radical investments in youth education and youth employment. There is an obvious connection between these two solutions. Nigeria must accelerate inclusive and equitable access to quality education for all its young people. This is the only guarantee for youth employment and the only way to ensure that the demographic growth of young people is a blessing and not a curse. This will require a whole-of-society approach – with coordinated efforts at national, state and local levels in partnership with civil society organizations, educational institutions, heads of households and religious leaders.
Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob is the Dean of Graduate School and Research at the American University of Nigeria (AUN).
This article is part of the AUN-Premium Times Data Hub project. Read more articles here.
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