PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, on Sunday, expressed opposition to the wrongful use and imposition of violent force against any innocent, law-abiding persons, particularly young people, as he asked security agencies to stop violent force against innocent citizens.
The president, in his message during the maiden National Youth Day celebration, observed on November 1 and which coincided with the African Youth Day celebration, assured that he would not lift his hand to stop or suppress the youth in the country.
Speaking against the backdrop of the recent protests against police brutality in the country, leading to the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), President Buhari, who was represented by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Muhammad Bello, at the event which took place at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, told the gathering that the pleas of Nigerian youths had been heard by his administration.
“No one who is obeying the law, whether they are in line waiting for a taxi or in a peaceful protest line, should be harassed or brutalised by law enforcement agencies.
“It is because of my abiding belief in the people’s constitutional rights that we moved with dispatch to abolish SARS and to consider other reforms that will enhance the quality of law enforcement and improve the relationship between the police and public which is a pre-requisite in a just society.
“To allow protests is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and belief in democracy, and faith in the innate goodness of our people.
“This also shows confidence in the ability of our government to work with the people toward a reasonable and practical resolution to any challenge,’’ he said.
He, however, urged the youth to end their street protests and not be afraid to negotiate with government, saying that they should participate in meaningful discussions aimed at comprehensive reforms to end all forms of police brutality against Nigerians.
The president said the Federal Government ‘‘now wants to hear concrete and practical ideas,’’ from the youth, while acknowledging their constitutional right to peaceful protests.
“You must realise that protests cannot last indefinitely. My government will not lift a hand to stop or suppress you. ‘’However, the fact of the matter is that other forces and actors will seek to take over your protests that they may redirect them in ways you did not intend and perhaps do not agree with.
“Every successful protest movement the world over has understood that there comes a time when activity must move from the street to the negotiation table. That time for you has come. Do not be afraid of this reality. You should welcome it.
“It is important that we all strive to use this moment constructively. Too many people have already sacrificed too dearly. It is our duty to use this fateful situation to move ourselves to a more just and caring society.
“As youth, you have a nation and a future to build. My government will always be your faithful partner in this essential and patriotic endeavour,’’ he said.
Describing Nigerian youths as agents for social change, economic growth and sustainable development, President Buhari said his administration had established no fewer than 25 initiatives aimed at empowering youths across the country.
He noted that the initiatives, ongoing in the last five years, were aimed at placing Nigerian youths on the path of career development, entrepreneurship, skills development and direct employment.
“Today we will unveil the official logo of the N75 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund for the period of 2020 to 2023.
“This novel fund is dedicated to investing in the innovative ideas, skills and talents of Nigerian youths and to provide our youths with a special window to access much -needed financing, business management skills and other inputs critical for sustainable enterprise,’’ he said.
The president announced that over one million applications had already been received since the fund portal went live on October 12. He listed other youth-based initiatives, consistent with his administration’s policy of positioning youths for strategic leadership in different fields of endeavour, as Nigerian Youth Policy in 2019, the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund in July 2020, Young Farmers Initiative, Digital Skills, Entrepreneurship, Employability and Leadership/Mentoring (DEEL) programme, which recently received approval of N4 billion naira for implementation, and the Not Too Young to Run Act. Other initiatives, according to the president, include the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme (P-YES) , the N-Power, the Youth Entrepreneurship Support (YES) Programme, Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation In Nigeria (YouWIN).
President Buhari also added the $20 million Technology Fund for Young Innovators as some of the major initiatives empowering youths across the country. Restating his call for national unity, the president said Nigerian youths are better positioned to drive the indivisibility of Nigeria and collectively overcome whatever challenges bedevilling the nation. At the event with the theme: “Invest in the Youth, Secure Our Future,” winners of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development 60-day App Challenge and Youth Innovators were recognised and received cash rewards.
In his remark, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, said the occasion was to showcase to the world 10 winners of the 60-day app challenge competition and five young innovators in different fields.
Speaking on the #EndSARS protests, Dare said: “Already, that change has begun. What is needed is to deepen the youth initiatives and accelerate the onboarding of beneficiaries in a transparent and effectual manner. Nigeria must license a new tribe of youth investment banks with single digit loans dedicated to our youth. Through the NYIF, the Federal Government has set the tone and leading the way.”
On police brutality, the minister said: “In my opinion, no institution meant to protect Nigerians should be allowed to be distorted in too many instances to torment Nigerians. Once a good and functional ideal, SARS became a burden on the people.
“Police brutality is neither a hallmark of democracy nor is it the stamp of this administration. Yet, something went wrong. Your courage and commitment to organise and then carry out peaceful protests brought this grave issue to the attention of the highest levels of this government.”
“Here, it is important to continue to act based on the premise that we all want the best for Nigeria and that the other person is motivated by good faith.” The occasion witnessed the disbursement of the sum of N12.5 million to youth innovators.
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