THE ROLE OF THE YOUTH TOWARDS ENSURING SAFE SPACE FOR THE YOUTH
A PAPER PRESENTED TO THE NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL OF NIGERIA, BENIN CITY, EDO STATE
ENGR. DR. (PRINCE) OBANOR VICTOR OSAGBOUWA
The theme for this year’s International Youth Day Celebration, which is titled “Safe Spaces for Youth”, could mean many things, depending on the pedestal from which one looks at it. No matter the prism from which it is viewed, whether from the perspective of the workplace, public arena or even academic space – a safe space must be an environment where the dignity and safety of a person can be guaranteed. Fundamentally, as many of you already know, a safe space is an environment where a person or group of people can share their views without fear of been discriminated or been exposed to emotional or physical harm.
Whether in the digital space (internet or social media), public and civic spaces, and youths need platforms where they can engage, interact, play, learn, develop and participate in governance in productive manners. Obviously, the kind of engagements in safe environments, otherwise called safe spaces – not only develop the individual but helps society in terms of integration. Thus, Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the need for the provision of space towards inclusive and sustainable urbanization.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure many of you will agree with me that some of these safe spaces already exist in our country. Or simply put, since the advent of our democracy in 1999, these safe spaces have been continuously and gradually developed.
Today, my discussion will be on how you Nigerian youths can harness some of these safe spaces for personal and community development, at the same time improving these spaces from the level they are presently in. In this wise, we shall look at the digital space and the public space.
This is the space most of us here are actively involved in. Interestingly, this space has not only helped to create a new crop of millionaires, it has changed politics and governance, as it were, in many countries. It is also the most abused space!
In last few months there has been all kind of news on how fake news, which could spread easily over the internet, has affected free debates, democracies and politics. The role of fake news and illegal data mining by Cambridge Analytica in the last US election has been analyzed by many think tanks. This resulted in proposals by the UK and the European Union in setting up regulations for Facebook and other big internet-based companies.
Many public servants and even private individuals have suffered great pains because of fake news, which have been shared on the internet. This is one of the greatest threats to societies. The ease with which people could spread falsehood by the click of a button has the potential of making the digital space an unsafe space.
As youths, we should not allow this. And since everyone one can publish just as journalist do, it is our responsibility to confirm the credibility of the news we share in the digital space. There is so much more to gain from the digital space. So, we should not kill the credibility of information gotten from this space. Thankfully, Facebook and Twitter are doing many things to halt the spread of fake news.
The digital space has to be safe in order to positively influence governance and politics. Youths can take advantage of this space to interact with public officers and enlighten public debates. Today, many politicians send personal Facebook and Twitter messages – Donald Trump and President Buhari are very active on Twitter. Today, anyone could easily publish an article online, unlike many years ago when you need to send articles by courier to Lagos in order to be published.
And, as a result of the accessibility of the internet, public conversation in my climes is on the internet. Little wonder that many politicians have social media aides who analyze public opinion from the social media. In order to preserve the safety of this space, it is your responsibility, as youths, to be civil online. An arena where people are abused for sharing contrary opinion is not a safe environment.
The effect of positive engagement in the social media space has revolutionize Nigeria’s politics. For example, social media helps in mass enlightenment, viral campaigns and in molding public opinion. This is a fundamental reason why youths should preserve this space.
Governance is not the only reason why we need to have the digital space to be safe.
A safe digital space will also help you improve your business, learn new trades and develop ideas. Today, there are countless skills that can be perfected from watching YouTube videos. Yes, YouTube is not just for watching comedy skits. There are millions of videos on how to cook different meals, sew clothes, repair a computer, play musical instruments, repair machines and even lessons on different languages. In fact, these days you could repair many gadgets by just watching videos on how to repair them on YouTube.
Considering the level of unemployment all over the world, not only in Nigeria – learning new skills and maybe starting a new business could be the surest way to success for most of us. Thus, the platform where skills could be easily perfected – YouTube – has to be made safe.
There are various opportunities that have been made possible as a result of the digital space. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Jumia, Wakanow and Jobberman have built fortunes by exploring opportunities created in the digital space. If you look and try hard enough, you could create your own fortune from this space. But before more millionaires can be created on this space, it has to be safe and attractive to a diverse range of people.
These days the public spaces could even be real or virtual on social media. For this space to have meaningful impact, it has to be safe, peaceful and devoid of all kinds of negativity, abuses, intimidation, harassment or violence.
It is my candid submission that topical issues which help to inform, reform and educate are made on line and not otherwise. For instance, a website called Debate.org encourages participants to debate issues ranging from politics, economics, religion, technology and healthcare. You could be in forum with people from different countries discussing issues. This kind of conversation and space created by social media go a long way in developing people: knowledge and view points can be shared without barriers in the digital space, which is now, more or less, a public space.
Informed debates in platforms like this help develop public policies: people become more informed about contemporary issues. With this information, people are even more informed on how to cast their votes. And the more informed voters are, the better the society becomes.
And for this public arena to be safe, it is your responsibility to make sure you play your bit in informing constructive and intellectual debates. An abusive and irrational participation could chase away other members.
Safe spaces are arenas for all round personal development and public enlightenment. Thus, the more these safe spaces are preserved the more they become attractive to other youths. When people cannot trust the information they receive from an online site, for example, the lesser such space is able to influence, motivate and teach people who visit the site. So, as youths, it is your duty to keep safe spaces safe.
Thank you for listening
ENGR. DR. (PRINCE) OBANOR VICTOR OSAGBOUWA, PGD, B. Eng, M. Eng, M. A. Ph. D, DD, MNSE, FCAI, FIMC, CMC, MNIMN, MPMI, AFP