Nigerian President calls for peace talks with protesting youths

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President Muhammadu Buhari Sunday in Abuja appealed to Nigerian youths to end street protests and participate in meaningful discussions with government aimed at comprehensive reforms to end all forms of police brutality against Nigerians.

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The President spoke in his message to the maiden National Youth Day celebration, observed on November 1, coinciding with the African Youth Day celebration.

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 FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, told the gathering that the pleas of Nigerian youths have been heard by his administration.

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He added that the Federal Government ‘‘now wants to hear concrete and practical ideas,’’ from the youths, while acknowledging their constitutional right to peaceful protests.

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”You must realize 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.

President Buhari also used the occasion to express his strong opposition to the wrongful use and imposition of violent force against any innocent, law-abiding persons, particularly young people.

”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 brutalized 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.

Describing Nigerian youths as agents for social change, economic growth and sustainable development, President Buhari said his administration has established no fewer than 25 initiatives aimed at empowering youths across the country.

He noted that these noble 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 – 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 have already been received since the Youth Investment Fund Portal went live on 12th of October 2020.

He listed other youth-based initiatives, consistent with his administration’s policy of positioning youths for strategic leadership in different fields of endeavour, as follows:

”The birth of the 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 an 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, SI and Disaster Management, the Youth Entrepreneurship Support  (YES) Programme , Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation In Nigeria (YouWIN).

The President 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, President Buhari said Nigerian youths are better positioned to drive the indivisibility of Nigeria and collectively overcome whatever challenges bedevilling the nation.

”On this special occasion, we affirm our faith and confidence in the indivisible entity called Nigeria and in its future.

”We face many challenges but, in you, this nation has the collective ability and drive to overcome that which confronts us,’’ he said.

At the event  with the theme: ”Invest in the Youth, Secure Our Future”, the winners of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development organised 60-day App Challenge and Youth Innovators were recognised and received cash rewards.

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