The population of Nigeria's youth is estimated at 70 million, with thousands seeking to make crucial inputs in the national process and also make ends meet in the face of joblessness, poverty, and swelling anger. Damilola Oyedele examines the tenure of the current Nigeria Youth Parliament (NYP) and the impact it has made on youth development in the country
Emulating other climes such as England and South Africa, late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, instituted the Nigerian Youth Parliament (NYP), to train the young persons of Nigeria in governance, especially in legislative practice and procedure.
At the inauguration in August 2008 at the National Assembly in Abuja, Yar'Adua, who was represented by the Minister of Youth Development, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkami, had promised that resolutions passed by the NYP would receive Federal Government attention and would influence policy decisions on youth development in Nigeria.
The current parliament was dissolved last Friday and a new one would be inaugurated soon. There are 109 parliamentarians from all the 109 senatorial districts and just like members of the National Assembly, they debate national issues especially as it affects the youth and pass resolutions, which are then passed on to the President.
In the last two years since its inception the NYP has been able to legislate on education, employment, disability, amnesty, agriculture and others. It has also led by example on gender balance as it has over the prescribed 30 per cent women representation among its members.
At its first sitting in 2008, the NYP had passed a resolution that a certain percentage of the budget of local governments should be made available for youth projects aimed at agriculture. It also asked the Federal Government to use its planned N200 billion agriculture loan in a way that young people are involved. It had suggested the establishment of modernised farms and equipment in all the senatorial districts to be managed by youth grouped into clusters.
Also, the parliament was among the first group of Nigerians to realise that an amnesty package in exchange for disarmament might be the way to go with the then restive militants in the Niger Delta region. That eventually turned out to be a good suggestion as it was echoed by other Nigerians and adopted by the late President.
The parliament had insisted then that inclusion of youth in core electoral processes would also help to curb and eliminate the use of young people as political thugs during electioneering. It had therefore kicked again the National Assembly intention to jack up the age of eligible candidates into the House of Representatives and Senate to 35 and 45 respectively. The idea was eventually dropped by the Federal lawmakers.
At that inaugural sitting, the NYP had called for more decisive steps towards curbing unemployment among Nigerians. This was part of the processes that led to the birth of the Nigerian Youth Employment Action Plan (NIYEAP) by the Ministry of Youth Development, which was later adopted by the Federal Executive Council in 2009.
NIYEAP, planned for implementation between 2009 and 2011, recommends the diversification of the country's economy from its focus on the oil sector to other sectors such as agriculture.
It also advocates the establishment and funding of vocational/entrepreneurial skill development centres in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. This is to provide avenues where students of tertiary institutions can undergo Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) for a period of six months.
Another recommendation of NIYEAP is the restructuring and strengthening of job creation oriented institutions such the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) and the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) to enhance capacity building in entrepreneurship training.
THISDAY attended the sessions of the NYP at its third sitting in Abuja last week. The members debated on the spate of insecurity in the country especially after the jail break by the Boko Haram sect members at the Bauchi prisons.
While applauding the recent change of service chiefs by President Goodluck Jonathan, they reached a resolution calling for enhanced review of the Nigeria's internal security system by equipping security agents with modern gadgets, ensure they receive proper training and enhance welfare of security personnel.
They also resolved that the judiciary should be called upon to review cases of prison inmates who are awaiting trial with speedy dispensation of justices as a means to decongest the prisons.
They however blamed the Nigeria Police Force for the alleged summary execution of the sect's leader, Yusuf Mohammed, saying his interrogation would have provided an opportunity to quell the group, as 'you cannot kill an ideology'. They called for a reorientation of security personnel and prison officials to realise that because a person has been accused for/or jailed for a crime doesn't amount to denial of his fundamental human rights.
The same call has been echoed by concerned Nigerians, as the prisons are not supposed to be grounds for violation of human rights, but corrective centres where rights are still upheld.
Hon. Agida Tari Motimi moved a motion for a call to the government to ensure that the physically challenged persons are given a sense of belonging in Nigeria. This, she said should be done through the provision of scholarships for the physically challenged who have their intellectual capabilities intact, and who wish to get education or become entrepreneurs.
The parliament passed a resolution for slots to be allotted to the physically challenged in the NYP, and for relevant agencies to ensure that all plans for buildings to be constructed are approved with provisions for the physically challenged. They also called for their inculcation into Nigeria's electoral process to ensure that they can vote or be voted for.
Hon. T. Haruna, representing Kogi North Senatorial district, called for enhanced community policing as local communities are usually aware of criminal elements among them. He added that there was a need for collaboration among all security agencies in the country.
The House however stood down the prayers of Hon. Chris Valentine for automatic provision of scholarships for all 109 members who desire to further their education. The Speaker, Hon. Onofiok Akpan Luke, said the members should not be seen as legislating for personal gains especially since they had also kicked against the allowance increase demand by federal lawmakers.
President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Comrade Ini Enemobong, was allowed to address the Parliament on the various challenges with the learning environment in Nigeria's universities, which are not conducive for learning and has resulted in lower results for students.
He also called on the parliament not to silence on issues of factionalisation, which is currently plaguing the association, and commended the parliament for raising the bar of activism and for having remained true to the ideals which set it up.
The Speaker, Onofiok Akpan Luke, in an interview after the valedictory session in Abuja told THISDAY that while some of the resolutions of the parliament have received backing of the Federal Government, some have not been given serious attention.
He listed those that have been attended to as the issue of amnesty, almajiris in northern Nigeria, review of security and some others.
"We also asked that a committee on youth employment be set up and this was done two months ago by the Ministry of Finance headed by Aliko Dangote. It was inauagurated and set up by the Minister, Dr. Olusegun Aganga."
He also noted that it is necessary for all agencies charged with employment generation to work in collaboration with one another since they all have the same goals. He however said the idea of simply training people on skill acquisition without providing them with soft loans and equipment to start off makes nonsense of the whole process of employment generation.
Another bad idea, he said is when a person who has theoretical knowledge of micro-biology is trained in skills acquisition for welding or carpentry.
"We also believe that if someone has a theoretical knowledge in micro-biology, he should not be trained in welding, that is totally abnormal. He should be equipped with a sophisticated microscope, blood testing equipments etc so he can excel in that field, which he already has a practical knowledge of.
"If someone already has theoretical knowledge of welding, then you can now proceed to training him in pipeline fitting or underwater welding and then give him the tools needed. Don't look at the numbers being trained, but the impact being made even if it's a less number of beneficiaries."
The resolutions, which were passed at the 3rd sitting, would be passed on to President Goodluck Jonathan at a meeting with the NYP, which is expected to be facilitated by the Ministry of Youth Development.
It is commendable that the NYP has not been transformed into an award issuing organ like other youth institutions, where awards are issued to politicians in exchange for money. It is also laudable that it has received the support of the National Assembly, as the staff of the NYP are drawn from the National Assembly.
The out-gone parliament has not performed badly when one looks at it critically. The idea of young Nigerians already acquiring practical knowledge of governance, politics and lawmaking would help enhance the country's political future. One can only hope that the incoming parliament would uphold the ideals of the NYP and not become a jamboree institution where members focus on their own selfish interests only.