Leadership (Abuja)

18 April 2008

Nigeria: Youth Development And Challenges Ahead

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Abuja — Youths in any society are known to be the leaders of tomorrow, therefore, their role in sustainable national development cannot be over-emphasised. But they have been given less attention by the necessary authorities towards integrating them into the process of national development. SHERIFAT GIWA reports on the relevance of the youth in sustainable development and challenges to be addressed by the federal government.

Over the years, there has been a gradual increase in global awareness about the vital role of young people in sustainable development. The United Nations, in 1985 drew the attention of the world to the important role of young people in the world, by declaring that year, International Youth Year for Development and Peace.

Ten years later, the United Nations strengthened its commitment to young people by adopting the World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) to the year 2000 and beyond as the international community's response to the challenges facing young people, in order to address more effectively, the problems of young men and women and increase opportunities for their participation in the society. WPAY is a blue print for action, which encourages government to be more responsive to the aspirations of youths for a better world.

Providing jobs for the teeming millions of unemployed youths is a challenge facing all modern governments. Statistics from the United Nations and its agencies paint a grim picture of the problem with a forecast that the situation is sure to worsen as more youths enter the labour market. Nigeria like all other nations with young population is not exempted from this employment crisis.

Nigeria has a youthful population of close to 70 to 80 million, about 55 to 60 per cent of her population. Of this youthful population, more than 80 per cent are unemployed while about 10 per cent are under-employed. The estimated 10 per cent in employment are burdened and depressed with near total dependence of relative and family members.

More graduates are entering the labour market, joining thousands still searching for non-existing jobs. Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, recently declared that these Nigerians are largely unemployable due to lack of requisite skills needed in the competitive global employment market. He added that the educational system needs a review and reform to link schooling with the job market.

Access to higher education is declining due to a combination of poverty, dwindling academic attainments and other reasons.

The cumulative effect of loosening graduate unemployment and high rate of out of school youth is a major breakdown in transition chain from youth to adulthood. It produces a disconnection from the mainstream of the society, leading to heightened youth crime, drug abuse, debasement of moral values and a general sense of un-patriotism among the youthful population.

The consequences are deeply negative. As the attainment of the many lofty goals of the state depends on close collaboration with the citizenry, the disconnections of the youth, the most virile segment of the population from the mainstream of the society, is a major impediment. An attainment of vision 2020 thus depends on the resolve of the present administration to tackle youth unemployment through a presidential inter-ministerial initiative.

As at today, several agencies in their own peculiar ways implement policies on employment generation. The National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) has a programme on youth employment. The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) serves as the main employment generation body but the evaluation of its programmes in the areas of youth employment confirms that a nationwide action plan is still needed.

This realisation of the importance of young people in nation building has also gradually taken root in Africa, with the African Union Consultative Act and the African Union Commission's Strategic Plan 2004-2007, giving due priority to youth development and empowerment. Indeed, the African Union Commission states that Africa's renaissance cannot be realised if adequate investment is not made in the youths who constitute about 40 per cent of the African population. To give substance to this commitment to the development of the Africa youth, the Africa Union has since developed a policy framework in the form of the African Youth Charter, which prescribes responsibilities to member states for youth development.

When most of the major global policy changes in youth development gradually swept through the world, Nigeria as a nation was faced with huge political and socio-economic challenges which largely translated to stunted economic growth and national development, with young people coming through this experience, the most scarred.

Furthermore, the youth attrition from the educational system indicates that of the estimated 150 million who enroll for primary education, only 1.4 million complete secondary education. Of this number, only about 750,000 gain admission to tertiary institutions with less than 200,000 graduating. A study in 2006 by the Federal Ministry of Education showed that of the 33.9 million young people eligible for secondary education, only 6.4 million were in school as at the end of the academic session in 2005. Similarly, the study found out that, of the 4.2 million school aged children who should be in primary schools, only 22.3 are in school. The implication is that the remaining – 47.1 per cent, are growing into youthful age without any form of education. If nothing is done to reverse this, by 2015, there will be over 10 million youths in Nigeria who are lost to the attrition from the educational system, that is twice the entire population of Belgium and Poland and four times the population of Sweden.

Young people are agents of change and are essential to sustainability of any national development efforts.

Therefore, the present situation is that, while most countries have made progress in the implementation of international recommendations for youth development and are reaping the benefits of such implementations, Nigerian youths presently have had to grapple with the effects of poor economic growth and unprecedented rise in unemployment, in addition to the huge challenge of finding a place in the political and socio-economic development of the nation.

A number of challenges have risen from this situation, which have to be adequately addressed in order to improve the situation of the Nigerian youth. These challenges include"

Increased incidence of youth crime, HIV/AIDS prevalence, human trafficking, drug abuse, unemployment and underemployment, poverty and hunger, lack of participation of young people in decision making process, lack of patriotism and commitment to nation building, increasing out of school phenomenon

Having identified the situation and challenges of youth in Nigeria in relation to the global community, the appointment of a minister of state in charge of youth affairs in 2002 and the eventual creation of a ministry solely responsible for youth development in 2007 was realised. The ministry proposed a holistic framework for youth development that will encompass various options for resolutions arising from the dominant global there for youth development, which is youth empowerment for sustainable development. Youth empowerment, as defined by the commonwealth, is creating and supporting the enabling conditions under which young people can act on their own terms, rather than at the direction of others.

Therefore, the enabling environment that will facilitate the empowerment of young people in Nigeria, fall into nine major categories;

Youth economic empowerment, Niger Delta youth initiatives, partnership with stakeholders, youth development centres, review of the national youth policy, annual youth development report, youth mainstreaming, youth development index, youth service programmes.

The Federal Ministry of Youth Development requested the advisory services of the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) to strengthen the implementation of its National Youth Development Agenda (NYDA).

In response, DESA undertook an advisory mission to Nigeria in November 2001 and met with government officials, representatives of youth organisation and United Nations representatives in Abuja. Officials at all levels highlighted the importance of youth development as a priority of the government's agenda and at the same time expressed concern about the high levels of youth unemployment and poverty in the country and affirmed that the ministry was well equipped and has substantial human and financial resources to deliver programmes and services to Nigeria's youth population. Therefore, the following recommendations were made by DESA;

Capacity building of staff for implementation of the National Youth Development Agenda, technical assistance for developing a framework for the mainstreaming of youth issues both within government and externally with other stakeholders, technical assistance for setting up the national youth development fund, support for the establishment of a youth development database.

The National Youth Development Agenda (NYDA) contains indicators by which to measure the successful implementation of its nine priority areas. A vital capacity need is to increase the ministry's ability to use participatory approaches to monitoring and evaluation. This would strengthen the overall implementation of the agenda and ensure that the ministry is adjusting its programming to achieve desired outcome and impacts.

Youths must be engaged in the resolution of underlying conflicts (e.g transparency in the flow of development resources) before the activities proposed in the NYDA can be fully successful, there must also be political will among the concerned state governments and a better understanding of the motivations and experiences of young militants.

Funds can be a useful vehicle through which to channel more of the ministry's resources directly towards programmes and services for young people. Moreover, the fund should reinforce all aspects of the ministry's work and take into consideration crossover with other programmes such as the envisioned youth development centres and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

DESA's Division for Social Policy and Development could assist the Federal Ministry of Youth Development in several areas. This includes working with the ministry to develop a capacity – building strategy that targets and works to fill existing gaps in information and skills, identifying and engaging stakeholders both internal and external to the government to form partnerships around the activities of the National Youth Development Agenda, linking the ministry with other countries working on youth development programmes and facing similar challenges, such as the revitalisation of national youth platforms, and facilitating cooperation with other UN entities, such as the Youth Employment Network.

Therefore, the ministry must weigh the benefits and prioritise its next step, as the modalities of DESA's assistance can take place at the request of the Ministry of Youth Development.

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