By ‘Femi Asu
Last Saturday, many youths converged on Olive Tree Auditorium, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, courtesy of 1000 Points of Light, an initiative that seeks to raise the ability of youth to effectively and intelligently engage their leaders, government and environment on national and local issue in a peaceful but potent manner. It was indeed a summit for change agents as distinguished public intellectuals engaged the participants.
Delivering the keynote speech at the event, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili said the summit was her first public outing since she relocated to Nigeria after her tenure as World Bank Vice President for Africa.
She told the youthful audience: “I consider your generation a turning point generation for the continent…I love the fact that you consider yourself a point of light…If you are going to be a point of light, you have got to understand what you are up against.”
Speaking on “Confronting Poverty”, the theme of the summit, Dr. Oby said: “Nations are poor because there are constraints and obstacles to growth that they have not been able to tackle. Poverty is a result of an obstacle to growth. When nations are poor, inherently they have a larger colony of poor individuals… Africa has a larger percentage of its population being poor.
“There are three types of poverty. There is poverty of access, poverty of power and poverty of money. Poverty of access means the poor essentially have no access to basic necessities and infrastructures that will enable them overcome poverty. Poverty of power means the poor most often are marginalized in the environment of politics. Even though they are already trapped in the environment of non-availability of useful services…they still are not offered the voice to ask for a new paradigm, a new set of policies, a new engagement from government to provide those services.
“Poverty of money is as a result of lack of jobs or regular stream of income. The poverty of access and the poverty of power lead to the poverty of money. These three types of poverty require a focus at the individual level. At the government level, we have found that nations overcome poverty. With sound policies, nations can support their citizens in lifting themselves out of poverty.”
“The private sector has a role to play in overcoming poverty. Many of you are trapped in a consciousness that should end with our own generation: thinking that a university degree is an automatic access to government. Your generation must understand that you are the private sector.
“Individuals must position themselves to tackle poverty. The individual efforts at self-improvement in order to capacitate himself or herself to take opportunities that are available is critical. There is the effort at improving your knowledge, your capacity, your skills. For many of you, unfortunately, that has not been the case…
She expressed worry over what she called “contemptible life of ignoble ease” which is being celebrated by many youths, adding that “effort, hard work and productivity cease to matter.”
She warned the participants: “Your generation is also the generation that faces the greatest competition…the only way you can ‘rep’ in a competitive world is to be adequately prepared, you must be intellectually sound and competent. Your world is a world where your competitor is no longer the next Nigerian youth, it is the next citizen of the world
“As an individual, you have tremendous opportunities. Don’t complain about the constraints. Access to technology is important for your generation as an opportunity. Technology has democratized know-how. Today what you know is without boundaries… The world of the internet opens you up to the lowest cost of knowledge. Knowledge has never been cheaper and it is to the advantage of Africa.
“You have got to re-prioritise. Your priority have got to change. Information is power; it’s no longer cliché, it’s real. Access to information is the most liberating context within which your generation is growing.
“You should be busy with the most relevant knowledge on how to tackle a problem… There are many problems needing to be solved at the individual level. Develop a brand for being a problem-solver.
“You have greater opportunities than your forebears. The saddest thing that can happen to you is to sit here lamenting and complaining that you don’t have opportunities… You need to unlock your mind. Unlocking your mind is so key at the individual level.”
She asked the participants: “What kind of choices are you making? The set of choices that people make today will determine their tomorrow. As it is with nations, so it is with individuals. What choices are you making with the time that you have been given? What do you invest your 24 hours in? The ones who make the right choices are those who use their 24 hours a day to define a vision for their lives. What is you life vision?
“You are actually a solution to a problem – that is the reason you are here. Have you bothered to sit down and write down what you perceive as your life vision? Your life vision will determine your choices.”
The former Minister of Education stressed on the importance of skill-based education, saying: “Understand your skills, what are the things that stand you out? You have got to know your limitations and know the strengths that are available to tackle the limitations.
“At the individual level, it is important that we should overcome the poverty of power. The most powerless set of people are those who have indoctrinated themselves that they are powerless. You’re not powerless… Build a power base with your colleagues and form a coalition of minds… You cannot work on the issue of accountability until you understand what needs to be accounted for. Educate yourself in basic economies, understand the issue of governance… The budget of a nation is the most important instrument of policy direction.
The role of government in ensuring sound macro-economic policies is key in tackling poverty… It is at the local level that poverty is tackled; so engage… If you do not demand for accountability, they don’t offer it on a platter of gold.
She also noted that government cannot be the answer to every problem.
Said she: “You must be ideas people; what’s your idea? This continent is dependent on you. As you write your vision statement also write your ideas plan. Your idea might just be the solution to a problem. What are your ideas?
“Why wake up every morning waiting for the day to come to an end? We need to be ideas people; Ideas rule the world. Innovation is the capacity to find new ways for doing old things – things that we’ve known. Actualize your thought process.”
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