Urban conflict may arise within the society for several reasons, and when it does, youth are 80% of the time victims and participants of the incidents. This is because young people are most times the first suspect when something bad happens in our societies. They are subjected to stereotypical images of being angry, drugged, and violent and, they are easily profiled and antagonized. Often, male youths in the age range of 16-30 have been observed as the main protagonists of criminal and political violence. What exactly have we done to deserve this?
To begin with, I would like to describe what urban conflict is; it can be said to be any form of unrest or forms of violence that happens in our cities, which can be influenced economically or politically. The following stories on past activities of youth in my community highlight how powerful youths are in making or marring the society:
CASE STUDY 1: Youth serve as bait during elections. Here, national and state elections happen every four years and when it does, young people are used as tools for destruction and power tussle.
CASE STUDY 2: One million boys. Here, a group of young people organized themselves together to steal, kill and destroy the properties of people in certain local communities in Lagos. This happened shortly after Covid-19 pandemic had transpired which led to cases of unemployment and poverty in society.
CASE STUDY 3: Endsars Protest. An uproar amongst Nigerian youth against the violation of their human rights, which later led to the Twitter ban in the country.
All the stories shared above have elements of youth utilizing their resources, showing their creativity, and strength to pursue a cause; whether good or bad. What if we consciously help them channel all of these into peacebuilding, where they will no longer be victims and participants of urban conflicts, but of nation-building and community development. Though the society itself is still learning to accept the fact that youth have a place in nation-building, and must be allowed to take up responsibilities and own initiatives for the betterment of society.
TO POLICY MAKERS: If African countries must move from the state of underdevelopment into development, they must start considering how to invest in their youth through sustainable innovations and create reforms in their educational standards. They must create rooms for negotiations as well, don’t bully us all the time.
TO YOUTH: Young people can volunteer to serve as peacebuilders in our communities, as the positioning of youth in society has a bearing on their leadership potential and their possible role in peacebuilding. The tension between young and old has been one of the key features of inter-generational shifts pertaining to the control over power, resources, and people. I joined Enough is Enough Nigeria in 2015 to contribute my quota to youth peacebuilding and community development in Nigeria.
TO COMMUNITY LEADERS: Community leaders hold incredible power to realize young participation in governance and peacebuilding, and there needs to be a shift in their mindsets toward the youth. They need to start seeing them as catalysts of change and not destruction or some sort of unserious bunch of people, and they need to start trusting them with greater responsibilities.
We can overcome the challenges of urban conflicts among youth by embracing the virtue of patience, and the power of negotiation and positively engaging these young people. In addition, we need to address the issue of generational differences and biases. Otherwise, we might be creating a huge gap in our development as a continent.
A mentor once told me” Power is not given, it is taken” but the question is “how do you take up power without being disrespectful and rude?” I think we can do this by volunteering to serve, we can do this through advocacy, and through our great strides in entrepreneurship, because when we create jobs, we make more youth less idle, thereby reducing unnecessary conflicts in the society.
An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, remember.
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