Nigerian Youths and the concept of “waithood”

In 2012, the World Bank reported that “Nigeria has lost more than $400 billion to oil thieves since she attained independence in 1960…” and that over 80 percent of the value of Nigeria’s exports – 90 percent of which is oil – is pocketed by one percent of the entire population.

Corruption has become synonymous with Nigeria and its effects are not only evident in the inequality and poverty that surrounds Nigeria, it is also, noticeable in the socio-economic construct of society that forces Nigerian youths to invent ways to survive, by hook or crook.

Nigerian youths may be faced with corruption-driven inequality and an underperforming socio-political structure, but the choice to either be ‘Makers’ or ‘Breakers’ in a society largely depends on the individual.

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Society’s Failure

In an address delivered at The Open University, Professor Alcinda Honwana introduced the term ‘waithood’ to help describe the situation African youths find themselves; “They are living in a long period of suspension between childhood and adulthood.”

She attributes this period of suspension to a breakdown in the socio-economic system that is supposed to provide these youths with access to opportunities which will allow them to contribute to society. Consequently, and in addition to the pervasive corruption present in many African countries, Nigerian youths, in this case, are forced to carve out alternative routes and strategies for entrepreneurship.

This term ‘waithood’ not only brilliantly captures the situation of youth in modern day Nigeria but is also a useful concept for understanding their roles as both ‘Makers’ and ‘Breakers’ of their society. On the one hand, they are “makers” in their survival initiative and instinct that creates these sub-spaces of creativity. On the other hand, they become “breakers” when these alternative strategies stray into more questionable realms, making them vulnerable to criminal activities and giving way to figures like Yahoo boys.

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Ultimately, because Nigerian youths operate within a complex and corrupt social system, their position is a complex one with various secondary drivers that set the tone for how they should be perceived.

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