For Nigeria to realise its quest of being among the top 20 economies by the year 2020, stakeholders say that  the full potential of the country’s young professionals must be harnessed.
Demographic experts put the population of Nigeria’s young people (18 years to 35 years) at over 67 million, almost half of the country’s 170 million population.
Regrettably, about 38 per cent of the youths are either under-employed or unemployed; while many jobs in the technical/special areas where Nigerian professionals have the requisite know-how, are given to expatriates.
The Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF), an NGO, at its recent summit in Abuja, appealed for the review of Nigeria’s expatriate quota, in order to create an enabling environment for young Nigerian professionals.
The Chairman of NYPF, Mr Moses Siasia, who made the appeal, stressed that young Nigerian professionals ought to be encouraged.
The theme of the summit was “Fostering National Integration and Purposeful Leadership’’.
Siasia said young Nigerian professionals were in special fields, including chemical, robotic and aeronautics engineering.
“We have built a database for all young professionals globally; we want a situation where we will use young people to build Nigeria.
“As young people, we have been nourished by a generation of broken promises; so, we appeal to the president to give young professionals 35 per cent affirmative action in governance.
‘We believe the president will do justice to this request,’’ he said.
Siasia said that research conducted by the group indicated that no previous president matched President Goodluck Jonathan in terms of youth empowerment programmes.
According to him, Jonathan is empowering  youths through programmes like the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWin), the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (Sure-P), among others.
He said that NYPF had documented 13 million young professionals in 15 countries around the world, and had engaged many of them in activities aimed at providing educational support for the less privileged young people.
“We have been able to reach 2,300 young children in primary and secondary schools.
“The NYPF has given scholarship to these children and we are glad to say that they are doing exceptionally well in their various skills and talents.
“We believe that the movers and shakers of world economy are below 35 years; so, we have organised exchange programmes where Nigerian young professionals can adequately fit into the global space of controlling the economy.’’
President Jonathan, who addressed the summit, urged the youths to rise up to the challenges confronting the nation, especially insecurity.
He explained that government’s education policies was designed to empower the youths.
“We know that education has  power to liberate  people; that is why we have established 14 new universities; we believe that to take Nigeria to the moon, we need young people like those of you at NYPF.
“In addition to our presidential scholarship, there are various schemes to empower youths to thrive in our economy; we have discovered that young people are now interested in agriculture and we are investing more.
“We are also working on our local content policy for ICT,’’ Jonathan said.
On 35 per cent affirmative action in governance, Jonathan said granting such request would limit their chances of advancement, as they had boundless opportunities.
“The youths have no limit in terms of number and capacity to lead this country to greatness.
“The only limit is that for youths to contest as president, they need to be 40.
“If Gen. Yakubu Gowon was able to rule this country at 32, there is no reason why the youths should not be given the chance.
“So, don’t ask for per cent because by that request you are limiting yourselves.
“I think what the youths should do now is to come together, and I will support you, and take a bill to the National Assembly to amend some discriminatory provisions of the constitution in terms of age.’’
Jonathan described the provision as discriminatory against young Nigerians, who had the energy, ideas and other qualities to lead the country to greatness.
He said through programmes, such as YouWin, SURE-P, Graduate Internship Scheme and the Community Service Programme, his administration created opportunities for young people to harness their potential.
“These programmes and many more we are doing is  to make sure we give opportunities to our young people, because we appreciate the young people; they have made this country proud.
“I always say that whenever you read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio, those who preach hate, quarrel and try to divide us on the basis of ethnicity and religion are not the young people but grandfathers.
“The youths live with whomever they are comfortable with regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation; they want to marry whomever they love.
“They are not like those old people who are disturbing us, who want to divide us based on religion and all kinds of sentiments.
“But listening to you here gives me hope that this country is beginning to change, and it is changing for the better,’’ Jonathan said.
On her part, the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that a lot of young people had benefitted from the various empowerment programmes of the government.
According to her, monetary grants have been given to many youths who set up thriving businesses.
“We help them register their businesses with the Corporate Affairs Commission and the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control.’’
She said that more than 100,000 candidates applied in the second phase of the Graduate Internship Programme, where they would work for a year and enjoy monthly stipend of N25,000, while gaining working experience.
Okonjo-Iweala also said that the Federal Government launched a 25-million dollar Information Communication Technology (ICT) capital venture fund for businesses owned by young people.
She said that the government would continue to provide favourable environment to assist Nigeria’s young professionals to harness their potentials.
In a communique issued at the end of the summit, participants recommended the setting up of: “A well-structured entrepreneurial training programme to be included in university programmes.
“ A policy initiative to drive and ensure accessible funding, thereby eliminating the stringent requirements on loans and grants.
“Initiating the formulation of fair employment policies as well as give priority to the employment of young people.
“An efficient programme and project management to increase sustainability and continuity, while reducing the likelihood of uncompleted projects and unwarranted variations,’’ the communique stated.
Observers say that Nigeria has professionals in all fields of human endeavour, spread across the world in search of greener pastures.
They say that the talents of the professionals should be tapped maximally for the economic development and industrial growth of the country.
(NAN).