In the name of youth empowerment, the Federal Government of Nigeria, state governments, local governments, and even NGOs have done ridiculous things like gift them tricycles, motorbikes, sewing and other machines, interest-free loans, skills acquisition trainings, etc. It also includes programmes and initiatives like YouWin, N-Power, NAPEP, etc. A visit to an NYSC orientation camp will reveal how annoying this empowerment drive can be. A young lady spends good time training for journalism, for instance, and the government, through the NYSC officials, calls her certificate useless, could even brand her unemployable, and then makes her the offer of a new skill, say sewing, and promises her a loan of say N300,000 at the end of service year, her certificate being the collateral. Why did she even attend university in the first place? Let me be categorical here, this is empowerment improperly called. We may be tempted to class these moves under what we may want to call ‘financial empowerment,’ but the problem is that ‘financial empowerment’ is actually the tip of the iceberg of empowerment.
What then is empowerment? Does it no mean to give power, to enable? Is power not ability to do work? What is ability and what is work – in the human context? The temptation is to approximate work to job, and to reduce ability to skill. Falling into that temptation is inappropriate.
Let’s paint a bigger picture. What is life about, what is its supreme goal? Aristotle called it eudaimonia, a Greek word that loosely translates to happiness, well-being, human flourishing. Suffice it to say that to be unhappy, poor, or disoriented is to be short of life. And empowerment must be understood as a drive to helping one realize this supreme goal – of life. The so-called ‘financial empowerment’ is a problem because it entirely focuses on wealth acquisition and accumulation and, pitiably, nothing more, accounting for why the number of rich fools around town grows by the day. Of course, you can already see that the trouble with Nigeria is not poverty, being abundantly blessed in human, natural, and other resources. The trouble with Nigeria is exactly the fact that wealth and the key to the door to wealth is in the wrong hands. And what we’ve been doing all these years is produce more wrong hands, by making wealth acquisition the be-all and end-all of life.
And so, we must understand power in the light shed by the English Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon. For Bacon, and I concur, knowledge is power. Let me immediately stage an attack on the lousy and misleading commentary on that statement in circulation. Knowledge, they claim, is only but potential power. This error was sired by the thinking that knowledge does not translate to power unless utilized. I ask, Isn’t it so because, in possession of knowledge, we always retain the freewill to act or not, and that sometimes ignorance is paraded as knowledge? To say the least, knowledge is always power; it’s left for the wielder of it to decide what to do with it.
We can see that to empower should mean to give knowledge. What knowledge? We mean the knowledge with which to set out on the pursuit of happiness, which is one of the basic and unalienable human rights (alongside life and liberty). And this knowledge must be whole and not fragmented, informing Plato’s equation of knowledge to virtue. There is yet another problem here, since one can make a case for education and skill acquisition and trainings as attempts at knowledge transmission. Yet again, education is not equal to schooling. The argument can go on and on and on, but let me stop here.
In my search for the most reliable medium of empowerment I found books. And what do you do with books? Read them, right? Of course. And so, I’ll be making a case for youth empowerment through readership promotion.
Story 1: I just sat there gazing into her eyes as she narrated the story of her failed relationship, a relationship she’d not only given her best but her all. She told me how far they’d gone and how much she was in love with him. Sadly, it became crystal clear to her that she’d been living in a fool’s paradise, given that he was also seeing someone else, so much that he’d already proposed marriage to the other. Then came those killing words, “It’s over between us.” To merely say she was devastated is to say it lightly. To say the least, her life caved in, collapsed, and fell apart, such that nothing made sense anymore. She couldn’t work, couldn’t study, and just couldn’t do anything.
Things dramatically turned around when a friend of hers got her to read Joyce Meyer’s The Confident Woman. Needless to say that that book was all she needed to bounce back, to realize that happier days are ahead of her, such that she could now look back at that hitherto grounding experience with gratitude.
And I dare to ask, what was it about Joyce Meyer’s The Confident Woman that orchestrated such a turnaround?
Story 2: My friend Nene (name changed for privacy) got broken, too. Hers was even worse. Already engaged with her fiancé and was all set to head for the altar safe one thing, to confirm their genotype at a designated hospital. Imagine that her AA turned AS. Also imagine that her fiancé’s AA also turned AS. Their genotypes didn’t change because someone from their respective villages pulled a black string on them; it turned around because the medical personnel/facility that did them previously erred. And AS + AS = No marriage. She was broken into pieces. It was that bad.
At the time of our discussion, she could already tell the story amidst laughter and nostalgia. She had read a book, one her brother lent her, Harold Kushner’s Overcoming Life’s Disappointments. She told me the book did the magic and dared me to give it a read. While I read that Kushner’s book, I clearly saw what the book had done to her. In it, she had seen how Moses the servant of God picked up the broken pieces his dream, boxed it in the Ark, and moved on.
How could a book do that?
Story 3: In a very memorable TED talk she gave in 2009 titled The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie related that, “Things changed when I discovered African books. …I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.” And she’s gone on to write her way to the global stage with such imposing titles like Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, etc. Recall that the opening of her talk was, “My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader…”
Needless to say that Ms Adichie owes it all to books. What was it about books that did this much for her?
Story 4: Bill Gates first became the richest human being on the planet in 1995, and has been the richest person in the world for more than half of the 30 years FORBES has been tracking wealth. To be somewhat precise, he’s been the guy for 18 out of the 23 years now. How did one man become so rich? Needless to say that his net worth is directly proportional to his investment in literature. Interestingly, Mr. Gates still reads at least 1 hour every other day. But it started long before he had a dollar bill to his name, a fact we can glean from his father, Bill Gates, Sr., “Just about every kind of book interested him — encyclopedias, science fiction, you name it. I was thrilled that my child was such an avid reader, but he read so much that Bill’s mother and I had to institute a rule: no books at the dinner table.” Bill Gates himself had this to say of himself, “I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot.” Gates himself doesn’t think he owes his wealth to his IT craze; he thinks he owes it to such books as Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor. Visit gatesnotes.com to have a taste of his avid readership.
Story 5: Elon Musk. Growing up in South Africa, he was fascinated by rockets and wanted to build them when he grew up. How did he start building rockets without having taken a course in that field of endeavor? Musk says he read books. Right now there are five (5) organizations that have launched rockets to space; four (4) are countries and one (1) is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a space transport company he founded with his payout from the sale of PayPal to eBay. He’s also the guy behind Tesla, Neuralink, SolarCity. Jim Cantrell, Aerospace consultant has this to say of Musk, “You know, whenever anybody asks Elon how he learned to build rockets, he says, ‘I read books.’ Well, it’s true. He devoured those books.”
Story 6: Warren Buffet. The world has not seen a better investor; Warren Buffet is the man! In an interview on how to succeed he advised, “Read 500 pages like this [pointing to a stack of nearby books] every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” How did he and his Berkshire Hathaway become world’s No.1 in the game of stock picking? He read between 600 and 1000 pages per day when he was beginning his investing career, and still devotes about 80% of each day to reading.
Story 7: NG (name changed for privacy) is my mentee. I met her broken, having just dropped out of school in final year university. Why did she drop out? That’d be story for another day. Once she sent me a text telling me she was just a step from giving up on life, that she wasn’t sure if she could see the light of next day. She was in the middle of everything that went wrong and her parents weren’t ready to forgive her any soon. She felt useless; she’d lost the last atom of power in her. On my part, I wasn’t sure what to say to her. All I did was email her a book, got her to commit to reading the book, and gave her a number of assignments to do afterwards, having read the book myself. She complied. Then I gave her another book, and yet another book. The long and short of the story is that she’s now fine, and now clearly understands that failure is just an event and nothing more than that.
Reading and Writing and Speaking. There is an interesting relationship among the trio of reading, writing, and speaking. Reading is the bedrock upon which writing and speaking stand. It supplies the raw materials and proficiency. For instance, to write well Karen Witemeyer, “Read. Everything you can get your hands on. Read until words become your friends. Then when you need to find one, they will jump into your mind, waving their hands for you to pick them. And you can select whichever you like, just like a captain choosing a stickball team.” By getting people read, one stands the chance of transforming them into great writers and speakers. Somehow, the great books and outstanding speeches have come from avid readers – Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, etc.
- To become very knowledgeable about life; to catch uncommon inspirations; to be able to proffer solutions to our problems and those of others; to find effectual ways of getting over daily life challenges; to make headway in our pursuits of success, be it academic, business or otherwise; to truly discover the persons we are and our talents; to cure the disease of ignorance; to form ourselves and grow in our divine and human relationships; to have certain mysteries of life unraveled before us; to actualize our big dreams and realize our noble aspirations, books are simply indispensible. Books continue to open up whole new vistas for anyone who taps into its wonders. Truth be told, books have done so much than I can say for me. ~ Paschal Ezenwaka
- Books! What a generous gift to mankind they are. I love reading books. They have given me foresight and an open mind. They have aided me in self-discovery and also changed my thought pattern. They have also supported me financially because I believe that one’s wealth is directly proportional to one’s knowledgebase. Where do great ideas come from? Books are a sure source. Reading has supplied me with great ideas useful for getting ahead in life. What is more, books, besides knowledge, ideas, finances, serve me recreational purposes. I always carry a book with me; with books there’s never a dull moment for me. ~ Lawrence Orji
Conclusion: When you get a person to read, and really read I mean, you empower them beyond words can capture. There could be other means of empowerment, but reading is unarguably No.1.