According to the United Nations (2012), Africa’s 2011 population was estimated at 1.05 billion and is expected to double by 2050. Africa is the youngest continent in the world with about 70 percent of its population being 30 years of age or younger.

In 2011, youth, who are defined here as those between 15 and 24 years of age, constituted 21 percent of the more than 1 billion people in Africa, whereas another 42 percent was less than 15 years old. Slightly more than half of the African youth population is female, and there are more rural dwellers than urban dwellers.

With such a large proportion under 15 years of age, Africa’s youth population is expected to grow in the years to come while the youth population in other parts of the world shrinks. Hence, one of the greatest challenges facing governments and policymakers in Africa today is how to provide opportunities for the continent’s more than 200 million youth so that they can have decent lives and contribute to the socio-economic development of their countries.

As rightly noted by Ashford (2007), the potentially important role of youth in Africa’s development cannot be overemphasized. Youth could be a source of labour inputs as well as human capital in production, which would improve total factor productivity in a region of the world where capital formation is limited. When employed, youth could be a reliable source of demand for the economy through their consumption activities.

In addition, the youth of Africa could be critical for the development of a new class of entrepreneurs that African countries need to prosper. Furthermore, Africa has an opportunity to harness a “demographic dividend”:

The consequences of not fully developing and harnessing youth’s potential could be dire, including significant economic losses, armed conflict, and political and social upheaval and instability, as demonstrated by the Arab Spring.

Youth are more likely to become frustrated because of legitimate grievances, including a lack of employment opportunities, low educational attainment, little participation in decision making and low social mobility. In this volatile context, Collier and Hoeffler (2004) noted that greedy and opportunistic politicians could even exploit these grievances by involving these frustrated youth in acts of violence as in the genesis of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

In Sierra Leone, Lewis and Lockheed (2006) reported that social injustice and exclusion was the main cause of the prolonged civil war, to a greater extent, than either the diamond trade or political instability. In Central America and Jamaica, youths who feel alienated from society and excluded from job opportunities and decision-making turned to violence, crime, and territorial or identity based gangs.

Defining Youths

The ‘state of youth’ has become an increasingly popular subject of debate in academic, policy and media circles and all over the world. A commentator from Britain fear that British youth are on the verge of mental breakdown, at risk from antisocial behaviour, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse.

Another variable implicated is socio-economic status. It was reported in an IPPR findings that a disproportionate number of those committing antisocial acts, becoming teenage parents and consuming drugs and alcohol hail from lower socio-economic groups.

There are definitional issues concerning the terms youth, young people and adolescents. Youth overlaps with, but is distinct from adolescence, as it extends into adulthood. The United Nations defined youth as persons of 15 to 24 years.

For example, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa define their youth population as those between 15 and 35 years of age; Nigeria and Swaziland define it as those between 12 and 30 years. This may be helpful in capturing many of those who have finished schooling, are sexually active and are facing livelihoods/unemployment issues.

Social Injustice

Before delving into the concept of social justice, it will be expedient to explore the meaning of social injustice. According to Rotimi Ogungbola, several commentaries have been passed by individuals, national and international organizations about the possible causes of the rate of crime and violence in Nigeria, but none seem as strong as “social injustice” as the major cause among others.

Even though, social injustice might exist in other societies at various levels, the situation in Nigeria is apparently different from what obtains in many countries; ranging from the nation’s economy and resource management, to her political and leadership profile, education and human development. In Nigeria, the sounds of the themes of justice and equity are long dead.

The scarcity of justice in Nigeria has essentially increased the threat and danger of crime and violence, assessing the fact that quality education is very expensive to get, admission into federal universities is very tough and the hardship that follows passing through the school is thoroughly exhausting, yet graduates leave school in their thousands annually without job.

Social injustice as reflected in lack of infrastructure stares us in the face. Millions are living in poverty, small scale businesses close down by the day primarily because of high cost spent on generating electricity by the business owners.

Political leaders in Nigeria have practically denied the masses basic needs to survive and the masses are angered. The broad consequence is that the mass of the people must survive through any means available to them, and violence and crime are potential options in this situation.

Social Justice

This deals with the responsibility of both official and non-officials. Non-officials include the extended public. When promises are not kept or there is non-visibility of Government organs, youths can be spurned to do whatever they can in reaction to non-performance of officials. Social justice means all citizens are entitled to the same rights and services. Social justice issues occur globally, nationally, regionally, locally, and within groups.

These issues are a result of unequal wealth and resource distribution, unfair treatment of individuals with differing traits (race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, etc), and laws that support segregation. February 20 every year has been designated the United Nations’ (UN) World Day for Social Justice.

This special day is observed to encourage people to look at how social justice affects poverty eradication, decent work and gender equity. It also focuses on the goal of achieving full employment and support for social integration.

Nigerian youths and the vast majority of Nigerians have never been beneficiaries of social justice. Years of neglect of the education and employment and the agricultural sector (though the fortune of farmers are gradually changing due to increased focus) is indicative of the inadequate attention the federal government is giving to the teeming youths of this nation.

The New Oxford American Dictionary sees Social justice as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. Social justice is “… promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.” It exists when “all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.”

In conditions of social justice, people are “not be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of educational attainment, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership” (Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006).

As noted by Scherlen and Robinson (2008), Social justice is generally equated with the notion of equality or equal opportunity in society. Although equality is undeniably part of social justice, the meaning of social justice is actually much broader. Further, “equal opportunity” and similar phrases such as “personal responsibility” have been used to diminish the prospective for realizing social justice by justifying enormous inequalities in modern society (Berry, 2005).

To Rawls, social justice is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities, as well as taking care of the least advantaged members of society. Thus, whether something is just or unjust depends on whether it promotes or hinders equality of access to civil liberties, human rights, opportunities for healthy and fulfilling lives, as well as whether it allocates a fair share of benefits to the least advantaged members of the society.

Questions Agitating The Youths

Are people in Government Approachable?

Are they accountable?

Can they be probed?

Are they accessible?

Not just numbers

*More than half of all youth survive on less than USD$2 a day.
*More than 100 million adolescents do not attend school.
*Fifteen million adolescent girls become mothers every year.
*Among mothers under age 20, infant mortality rates average 100 deaths per 1,000. Live births; among mothers aged 20 to 39, the rate is 72 to 74 deaths per 1,000 live births.

*Six thousand young people are infected with HIV every day.
Ratios of new female-to-male HIV infections among young people between ages 15 to 24 run as high as 8:1(i. e. South Africa).

According to the United Nations, “these are not just numbers. These are the realities of youths at the crossroads. The gap between the MDG targets and the current state of affairs for young people leaves no time for questions. It is time for action” (UNFPA, 2007).


Functional alternatives

Functionalists believe societies must have certain characteristics in order to survive. Merton shares this view but stresses that at the same time particular institutions are not the only ones able to fulfill these functions; a wide range of functional alternatives may be able to perform the same task.

The term anomie, derived from Emile Durkheim, for Merton means: a discontinuity between cultural/personal or desired goals and the legitimate means available for reaching them. Applied to the United States he sees the American dream as an emphasis on the goal of monetary success but without the corresponding emphasis on the legitimate avenues to march this goal. This leads to a considerable amount of deviance. This theory, like the Strain theory is commonly used in the study of Criminology.


Youth are a heterogeneous group, and their life experiences, cultural background, education, gender, social group and economic status can be very different, depending on where they live. Understanding the dynamics of youth in every local context is therefore essential. Each generation of youth faces different challenges, and so when working with, and planning for youth it is important to ask: which youth?

In their life history, a young person goes through multiple transitions and these include physical, emotional, cognitive and social. Without appropriate investment in young people in accordance with their rights, these transitions are fraught with risks.

The World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1995 and expanded upon in 2007, provides a policy framework and practical guidelines for national action and international support to improve the situation of youths. The WPAY identifies the following fifteen priority areas together with specific objectives and actions:

Education • Girls and young women
Employment • Participation
Hunger and poverty • Globalization
Health • Information and communication technologies
Environment • HIV/AIDS
Drug abuse • Youth and conflict
Juvenile delinquency • Intergenerational relations
Leisure-time activities

Apart from the submission of WPAY, youths problems arise as a result of the various environmental demands the child has to cope with during the puberty periods. The environmental demands may be internal or external. The internal demands include issues such as physiological changes associated with rapid growth, neurological mechanisms, hormonal activities and puberty. The external problems may arise as the youth attempts to relate to peers, adults, parents and other members of the society.

Youths Problems…

Emotional Changes

Peer Group Issues

Sexual Behavioural Issues

Educational and School related Issues

Moral Behavioural Issues

Job Related Issues

Youth unemployment


Disease and


Youths And Social Development

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD, 2011) adopts a broad definition of social development—one that is concerned with processes of change that lead to improvements in human well-being, social relations and social institutions, and that are equitable, sustainable, and compatible with principles of democratic governance and social justice.

The definition emphasizes social relations, institutional arrangements and political processes that are central to efforts to achieve desirable development outcomes. It includes material achievements, such as good health and education, and access to the goods and services necessary for decent living; and social, cultural and political achievements, such as a sense of security, dignity, the ability to be part of a community through social and cultural recognition, and political representation.

A focus on the social dimensions of development is clearly as urgent now as it has ever been. The juxtaposition of immeasurable suffering, whether from natural or human induced crises, alongside unimaginable wealth accumulation for the few; and of vast sums expended by governments to assist financial institutions, compared with the resources dedicated to the crisis of poverty, contradicts any acceptable norms of justice.

Youth-Led Development

The state should encourage youth led development. Youth led development is an approach to drive development. Here, the energy, creativity and skills of the youth can be harnessed to create positive changes. It can be on a small or large scale and this implicitly values the youth as an asset for the society.

Youth Bulge And Security

Provision of security and social justice to Nigerian youths can never be overemphasized. Why? “They are both tomorrow’s leaders, parents, professionals and workers and today’s assets. When given the needed support and the right opportunities, young men and women could play a significant part in lifting themselves, their families and communities out of poverty. Too often, however, youth are considered only or mainly as a problem to be contained; a threat to peace and security.”

Currently, the world is experiencing a youth bulge (Urdal, 2007). Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history. Over 3 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – are under the age of 25 (World Bank 2010). Almost 90% of all young people live in developing countries.

Young people are a valuable asset to their countries and investing in them brings tremendous social and economic benefits. They also face challenges – including violence and crime, unemployment and HIV/AIDS – that undermine their rights and create significant social and economic costs to society. Hence, it is crucial that we engage the youth in the development decisions of today. “We must fulfil our obligations to youth.

Governments should consider the contributions of young persons on all policies affecting them. Governments must honour this commitment. They must also increase the financial, education and technical support made available to young people…It is high time that we stopped viewing our young people as part of the problem and started cultivating their promise and potential.”

The youth bulge represents both a challenge and an opportunity for development. Its duration is a limited window in which to develop a larger and younger workforce who can drive economic development and play a significant role in the social development of their communities and society (UNFPA 2007; DFID 2007, World Bank 2007, UN 2007). A shift in working with young people, and valuing them as assets: as advisors, colleagues and stakeholders is crucial if development policies are to be truly representative and effective


Youths are actors in the social sphere, they should not merely be seen as the passive receptors of state policies or the victims of processes, rather, they should be seen as proactive agents through which innovative discourses and practices can emerge to challenge and reorient existing development strategies. We should not just hear but as well listen to them. It is crucial that we engage the young decision makers of tomorrow in the development decisions of today.

Today, there is growing momentum on youth participation within the development community. Governments around the world are increasingly supporting youth ministries, youth policies and youth programmes, and there is now greater recognition that young people are the future of their countries’ development. Though there is still a long way to go to realise this potential. Are we ready in Nigeria?

“Youths are tomorrow’s leaders, parents, professionals and workers and today’s assets”



Africa Commission (2009) ‘Realising the Potential of Africa’s Youth’; Copenhagen: Africa Commission

Ashford, L. S. (2007). Africa’s Youthful Population: Risk or Opportunity? Washington: Population Reference Bureau.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, International Youth Day 2007

Gyimah-Brempong, K. and Kimenyi, M. S. (2013). Youth Policy and the future of African Development: Africa GrowthI Working Paper 9 | April 2013. Brookings

Lewis, M. A. and Lockheed M.E (2006) ‘Social exclusion: the emerging challenge in girls’ education’

Social Development in an Uncertain World (2011) UNRISD Research Agenda 2010–2014 United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) Palais des Nations 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Urdal, H. (2007). High youth bulges indicate countries ‘at risk’ when combined with economic stresses, but they are not necessarily a predictor of conflict. Research undertaken at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Uppsala University,

UN (2010) ‘World Youth Report – Youth and Climate Change’; New York, UN

UN Population Division (2008). World Population Prospects, 2008 Revision

UN (2007) ‘World Youth Report 2007 – Young People’s Transition to Adulthood: Progress and Challenges’; New York: UN.

UNFPA (2007). Framework for Action on Adolescents and Youth.

Other Sources: UNFPA 2007, DFID 2007, World Bank 2007, UN 2007, and Africa Commission 2009

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