Today’s generation of young people accounts for 1.8 billion between ages 10 and 24 (Wickramanayake, 2018), with the majority residing in developing countries and often comprising a huge proportion of the population such as African countries. Africa has the youngest population in the world with more than 400 million young people between the ages of 15 to 35 years (UNDP, 2022). Yet too many youths are unable to participate fully in society due to issues of inclusion, equity and equality; as well as to contribute positively to community and national development (UNICEF, 2020). In UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (2023), it was stated that approximately 17% of young people in Africa cannot read a full sentence and among those aged 15-30, many are living way below the poverty line and are unemployed. However, when youths are empowered and given the right opportunities, they are effective drivers of change and sustainable development (Lynch, 2022). 

Lynch (2022) explained that Nigerian youths, whether by experience, association, or gained knowledge have been disadvantaged, not included in the decision making of leaders & governments, affected by unemployment and poverty, denied access or have little to no access to proper education, healthcare, social and environmental necessities such as clean water, stable electricity and food and exposed to insecurity.

The inability of the government to empower and develop the youth is very disturbing and appalling. This has resulted in increased cases of restiveness and social problems widespread in society. Therefore, this calls for an increase in investment in economic, health, environmental and social factors, in order to improve the development indexes of Nigeria, especially among her youth.  Additionally, Nigeria is at a particular stage in its advancement where the youths have demonstrated that they have the potential to bring about transformative change, by approaching thematic issues of development differently, for a more sustainable future. 

Therefore, it is against these backdrops that the paper attempts to examine youth empowerment and development in Nigeria, the benefits/needs for youth empowerment and development, the conundrums of youth empowerment and development as a strategy for curbing restiveness, social unrest and disorder in Nigeria, way forward and finally, the conclusion was made by giving recommendations that if they are adopted will help to reposition and overhaul youth empowerment and development towards curbing restiveness and other social unrest or disorder in Nigeria.

Conceptualization of Terms

  • Youth Empowerment 

Youth empowerment is the process where youth are given opportunities to lead changes, make decisions with their communities and take charge of their lives and future (Plan International, 2022; Child Hope, 2023 and Sustainability in Action, 2022). The purpose of youth empowerment is simply to improve the quality of life of every young person, regardless of their gender, religion, tribe, sexual orientation, disability/impairment and socio-economic background. 

Youth empowerment encompasses political, economic, intellectual and social power among youth i.e. making the youth have a sense of belonging and contribute towards sustainable development in society. Empowerment avails the youths to be better placed to carry out many functions towards achieving the holistic development goals of society. According to the Journal of Extension (1998) youth empowerment is often addressed as a gateway to intergenerational equity, civic engagement and democracy building. Therefore, with regards to this, youth empowerment does not only mean to providing jobs alone to the youth.

According to Vavrus & Fletcher (2006), Youth empowerment is an attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults. Youth empowerment is seen as the program designed, oriented, or geared toward making youths to be more economically and socially responsible and self-reliant, via business and vocational skills acquisition through technical and managerial training (Kwetha, 2011).

Youth empowerment promotes equality, intergenerational equity, civic engagement, inclusivity, and democracy for young people and every nation benefits from it. Empowering young people can be done in several ways, such as through:

  1. Enabling young people to know, understand and defend their basic rights (right to freedom, healthcare, quality education, stable electricity, clean water and many others)
  2. Taking collective action to improve their own access to resources and to advocate for the voiceless and can be done through community groups, community based organizations, non-profit organizations and non-government organizations.
  3. Giving young people access to positive role models and mentorship that promotes inclusiveness
  4. Providing opportunities for skill development and income security
  5. Promoting self-efficacy so that each youth can thrive to achieve the best version of themselves and teaching young people how to transform their awareness through their beliefs, values and attitudes.
  • Youth Development

The U.S. Department of Education (2007) defined youth development in their mentoring Fact Sheet report as a process in which all children go through to obtain the attitudes, competencies, values, and social skills they need to achieve their full potential as prosperous adults. Rodney (1972), asserts that “development” in human society is a many-sided process thus, at the level of the individual, it implies increased skill and capacity, greater freedom, creativity, self-discipline, responsibility and material well-being, therefore, the aim of youth development is to intentionally promote the building the belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in the youth population (North Dakota State University, 2018).

Youth development can be implemented by organizations, schools and communities using the following approaches:

  1. Offering services for youth that:
  • ensure that the basic needs of young people are met
  • treat youth with respect and involve them in the decision-making process and
  • that is fully inclusive
  • provide a foundation of well-being (mentally, physically or socially)
  1. Providing opportunities for youth to:
  • develop leadership and professional skills
  • be meaningfully engaged in community development and contribute positively
  • network with others on common goals
  • develop positive and supportive relationships with peers and the older population
  1. Giving support that:
  • Create a safe environment for youth
  • Encourage a sense of belonging or connectedness
  • Encourage and support youth to build new skills
  • Engage family, school, and community as partners with youth(The U.S. Department of Education, 2007)
  • Youth Restiveness

Youth restiveness is defined as a situation in which youths who are experiencing feelings of dissatisfaction become incapable of being still or quiet and often display a lack of control (Ejumudo, 2014). In every socio-economic and political domain in Nigeria, youth restiveness has been a thematic and contemporary issue. It is a fact that Nigeria cannot thrive and progress substantially with its youths being restive (Akpokighe& Ejovi, 2021). 

This has become too prevalent in our society and the effects of this can be long-term and damaging to sustained peace, security, and development as a country (Maciver & Igbojinwaekwu, 2019). Some of the causes of youth restiveness are but not limited to the high rates of unemployment, lack of basic education and skill training, lack of opportunities, lack of inclusivity, lack of basic and quality healthcare, lack of equity and equality, inadequate mental health services, discrimination based on tribe and religion, inadequate social amenities, inequitable distribution of national resources among others.

The escalating and damaging effects of this phenomenon have been very noticeable as the levels of insecurity have increased exponentially, along with the increase in riots, kidnappings, armed robberies, and cultism. These causal effects have led to underdevelopment and sometimes failure of systems, policies, programmes in many sectors in Nigeria (Akpokighe & Ejovi, 2021).

Needs and Benefits of Youth Empowerment and Development 

Empowerment and development are very pivotal for the sustenance of youths to continue in the struggle for survival in any society. For example, a society where youths are empowered experiences rapid growth, smooth development and there is phenomenal sustainable social peace to a certain level. As a result, there would be minimal social unrest or disorder occasioned by youth restiveness, demonstrations/agitations, political and religious crises and riots, militancy and terrorism to mention (Undie & Edinyang, 2015).

Unemployment is a big cankerworm that is seriously eating up the youth in Nigeria. Graduates roam the streets in quest for jobs; some are been underemployed; while some would take to very immoral, menial and questionable jobs that deviate from the norms of the society. A good standard of living ensures a healthy state and peaceful mind of the youths. There is a need for empowerment and development to avert the high rate of unemployment among the youth and to increase their standard of living.

Furthermore, youths have a variety of teamwork and network experiences when they are exposed to youth empowerment and development; and through empowerment the youths are productive. The productivity of the youths contributes enormously to the Gross National Product (GNP) of the country. Therefore, the benefits of youth empowerment and development are quite enormous, youth empowerment and development among other factors help youths to explore various opportunities around them. It also identifies and promotes self determination and participation in creative and physical education and learning; assists youths in developing interpersonal, communication and decision making skills. It promotes assertiveness and peer refusal skills; the ability to create healthy relationships among peers and mentors; providing positive role models and other nurturing adults; providing accurate information about reproductive health and sexuality; and providing youth with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss sexual attitudes (Akpunonu, 2019).

Youth Empowerment and Development in Nigeria

Youth empowerment and development has existed in pre-colonial Africa which Nigeria is part of. The impoverishment of Nigerian youth has led to restiveness and social unrest. Nigeria like many other countries in Africa uses youth empowerment to help the youth to develop abilities and skills to make decisions about personal and collective situations, access information and resources for decision making, exercise assertiveness in all facets of development, promote positive ability to make changes in their communities and sectors involved in growth and development. Youth empowerment in Nigeria exists in various forms of training for leadership roles, skills acquisition and the creation of job opportunities. 

President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001 established National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) which incorporates the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), the Social Welfare Services (SWS), among others was tenured to address poverty in Nigeria and other related issues (i.e. youth empowerment and development). This programme was set up to coordinate and oversee various institutions, ministries, and parastatals like the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that are having related functions to poverty eradication, empowerment and others. 

Nevertheless, youth empowerment gained more popularity in Nigeria under the President Umaru Musa Yara’dua’s administration in 2009 when the president signed an offer of unconditional amnesty for militants operating in the Niger Delta. Thus, the use of the amnesty programme was granted to the Niger Delta Youth (i.e. Militant) to cushion the effect of the youth restiveness and agitation as a result of oil spillage that has degraded their environment for years without any compensation by the government. 

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration launched a youth empowerment and development programme on public works and women/youths empowerment (PW/WYE) project in 2012, targeted at generating about 370,000 jobs across the country (Emsamro, 2012). Thus, major emphasis was placed on youth empowerment and development. Thus, there was an introduction of the “SUR-P” programme which is the first youth empowerment and development programme, which unfortunately has no significant impact on Nigerian youth. The programme was designed to target the largest population of unskilled, unemployed and underemployed poor youths as well as other vulnerable groups in our society by presenting them with opportunities in public work programmes and internships in firms for the skilled and educated.

However, in recent years, the Nigerian government has designed and introduced many youth-focused empowerment and development programmes, with the sole intention to psychologically and physically advert the attention of the youths from restiveness, agitations and other social vices.  Thus, such empowerment was made through free education sponsorship abroad, skill acquisition and training on handwork and agriculture among others. 

In recent years, President Muhamed Buhari-led administration has adopted some other youth empowerment and development programme called National Social Investment Programmes (N-SIP), which include the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program (GEEP), the N-Power (N-Teach, Health, Agro, Build, etc.) and others which are newly established under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Thus, when the youths are effectively developed and empowered, they become veritable tools for national integration and development as a result of this, there will be social order, sustainable peace and development. Nigeria’s government has developed so many youth empowerment and development programmes and policies toward the realization of their development objectives but all efforts to realize these objectives has become far-fetched. Despite all these laudable programmes, Nigeria cannot be said to be deriving much potential from her youth toward positive unification, sustainable peace and development.

Conundrums to Youth Empowerment and Development as Strategy for Curbing Youth Restiveness in Nigeria

The Nigerian socio-economic and political environment has been so unfavorable for the youth and this has affected the youths so much that restiveness, social unrest and disorder have become a usual norm across the country. The death of jobs (empowerment) has created a very serious and growing threat to the youth as it is an incidence that has been lingering for years now without any remedial effort by the government and the complimentary others to arrest the trend. 

Therefore, the Nigerian government and administrations have come up with so many youth empowerment and development programmes that so many are defunct whereas some, to some extent failed to see the light of the day i.e. it seems as if nothing was done because the reason for setting it up are defeated. According to Egoboosterbooks (2011), poor monitoring and supervision of youth programmes, lack of funding, inadequate infrastructural facilities, lack of qualified youth personnel (leaders), and poor management of youth recreational facilities, and vocational and skill acquisition centers are the problems of youth empowerment and development in Nigeria. 

Nonetheless, in the course of this study, it is discovered that corruption is a serious problem to youth empowerment and development. Due to corruption, laudable and commendable youth empowerment and development programmes have failed, which means that there is no proper management and accountability (Sheidu & Abdullahi, 2012).

In a nutshell, according to Akpunonu (2019) poor foundation, leadership and monitoring, bribery and corruption, political instability, neglect of the welfare of the citizenry, ethnicity/tribalism, non-adherence to the rule of law, cultural and parental influence, inequitable distribution of national resources among others are most often responsible for ineffective and inefficient youth empowerment and development as they breeds restiveness and other social unrest among youth in Nigeria.

Summary and Conclusion 

Nigerian youths are not adequately empowered and developed towards the realization of their potential. Thus, they feel short-changed and frustrated as this is manifested in the perpetration of their ugly behaviours in society. It seems as if the government that is having direct responsibility for setting policies and programmes that will facilitate youths’ empowerment and development through job creation has failed in that responsibility. As the government is responsible and supposed to empower and develop the youth via allied programmes/schemes has failed thus, this has gone a long way to occasion unimaginable social problems rocking the peaceful co-existence of the people living in the society.

The youths in Nigeria are not well equipped for effective and efficient transformation of society. The poor environmental condition has affected the youths from exhibiting and developing their skills and talents because of the high level of neglect, bribery and corruption in the country which are common characteristics among the political elites and leaders in Nigeria. 

Finally, we recommend that government at all levels should establish youth empowerment and development agencies for the implementation of policies that will benefit the youths(i.e. skill acquisition programmes), create awareness to enlighten the youth against the phenomenon of “restiveness”,  its dangers and implications to the youth themselves, families, communities, state and towards national growth and development. Therefore, there is no doubt that youth empowerment and development are good strategies/panaceas to curb restiveness and other social problems being perpetrated by the Nigerian youth.


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About the Authors

  • Amb. Ezebuilo, Paul Chibuike is a Research Fellow with CEPASD.
  • Hon. Dr. Monique Lynch is a Research Associate with CEPASD.
  • Reviewed by Igweshi Augustine