The Agbero matter and Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu's pragmatic strategy | #NwokeukwuMascot

 Opinion 

…Lessons Dr. Alex Otti must embrace.

 Dr Alex Chioma Otti | Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu PhD 

It was a friend that first told me that in the late 80's that European countries pay their unemployed citizens monthly stipends and also provide them shelter.

Even people seeking refugee status in most European countries are generally entitled to food, money to buy food, shelter, and medical attention.

For the United Kingdom, the welfare package for individuals included in the social register will astound even a middle-class Nigerian.

The maximum weekly rate policy for 2023/2024 is as follows: £67.20 if you are under 25 years, and up to £84.80 if you are over 25. You may need to do the math for naira conversion for one week and then a month to fully understand this in the Nigerian context.

Interestingly, this social policy also provides support for young people whose parents are unemployed or who wish to live independently from their parents but are not yet employed.

Mind you, this program is not only in the UK. Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, etc., have long embraced this responsibility as a way of catering to their jobless citizens.

Here in Nigeria, our major challenge is not being able to manage the bubbling energies of our youths. With the latest demographic projection about Africa, specifically Nigeria, over 50% of our population will be youths in the next few decades. We must plan and prepare them to be useful citizens instead of regarding them as irredeemable miscreants.

Lagos State is one state that attempted to follow this welfare policy as a way of caring for their unemployed youths, knowing its potential to reduce crime. However, due to the lack of contribution from the informal sector to the tax net, the government found it challenging to raise enough funds to fully implement this policy as a state policy.

In 1999, under Governor Tinubu, the Lamidi Adedibu informal style was allowed by the government to thrive, where these jobless youths were given a free hand to collect daily payments from Danfo, Okada, and tricycle riders who would not ordinarily pay taxes to the government willingly.

That pattern followed an organized arrangement where these youths would collect money from motorists and pass it on to their leader, who would pay them and return a portion to the government.

This is how Agbero became unofficially sanctioned by the government, who turned a blind eye to their activities.

Agberos' pervasive spread has extended to virtually all states in Nigeria, making it a nationwide phenomenon.

In Lagos, it has worked to curtail criminal activities by youths whom we ordinarily would have termed simply as social deviants. It has also exposed the fact that our sons and daughters, whom we call hoodlums, are humans who have been failed by societal inequalities.

How fair are we, then, when we label them as hoodlums, when in fact, the ineffectiveness of the socio-economic and political decisions we have made has contributed to pushing them towards a life of crime?

It was this realization that led the immediate past government of Abia State under Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, Ph.D, to craft some of its youth-centered programs, which included youth inclusiveness in governance. These programs served to curtail youth-related crimes and made Abia State the safest in the entire east throughout that regime.

Dr. Ikpeazu refused to see these youths as miscreants but as citizens who, when well regarded, could start their gradual transformation to decent and law-abiding citizens.

Sadly, this huge benefit seems to have been truncated by recent actions of the Dr. Alex Otti-led government, leading to a new wave of crime in Abia.

It is therefore expected that Dr. Alex Otti must begin to do what Dr. Ikpeazu did by also engaging some of these youths in government as assistants and special assistants. That would include emulating the social safety net programs of the civilized nations who have succeeded in curbing crime through them.

These youths, though misguided, are certainly not morons. They are aware of the governor's significant financial resources and the possibility of receiving monthly stipends funded from the state's security vote.

Enough of the misnomer of the government of Dr. Alex Otti calling our youths hoodlums simply because they are unemployed. These youths can become worthy citizens if we play our own part and allow them to breathe a little.

Dr. Otti must lead this challenge to restore peace in Abia. If Dr. Ikpeazu did it, he can also do it. Our prayer is for Abia to succeed as Gods own state.

—NMN

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