Youth centres in Nigeria are created essentially to help young ones achieve their full potential and also keep them off the streets and out of trouble. It also serves as a channel of empowering the youth in skill acquisition and entrepreneurship training. In this piece, John Oba advocates the involvement of the private sector and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to enable the centres achieve their mandates.
A youth centre is an open access, or universal service, for all young people as opposed to a targeted service/programme for a few young people. At a minimum, a youth centre will have a physical space in a fixed location.
Despite the benefit of such centres to youth empowerment, most have rarely taken off since the coming to being of the youth ministry but succour seems to have come to them as the present Minister of Youth Development, Alhaji Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, has decided to place more emphasise on youth training and is ready to commission nine of the centres.
According to a director, Planning, Monitoring and Information Management, in the Ministry, Mr. F. Abdulkarim spoke with LEADERSHIP recently. The whole nine centres will be commissioned before the end of the year and will be fully operational then.
50 per cent of the youth centres across the country are completed. According to Abdulkarim, they have gotten to the level where they can be put into use. Because of the strategy the ministry adopted, "we segment our work into manageable units to the contractors, so it makes the rate of completion of the centres faster provided there is availability of funds.
The promise of commissioning the centres has been on since the days of Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi. The director said that nine centres were ready for commissioning now but that they would be done in phases because of paucity of funds. "We have to invite outsiders and we must put in place other logistics, six were schedule for the first phase of the commissioning, the remaining three will be commissioned before the end of the year. But nine are ready now for commissioning."
The centres which were solely funded by the Federal government with no private sector involvement might accommodate the private sector later as time goes on.
As a result the budget allocation to the ministry in the past three years that of the centres was, sometimes, as low as N1 Million. This might explain the feeling that the centres look like they were abandoned and forgotten. But the director stated that the projects were not abandoned, and said: "We have re-activated all our centres in such a way that we could gradually commission them. What we did, because the centres have several components was to identify the essential components and get them completed so that we can put them into use, we are not looking at the wholesale completion of the centres, we just pick the critical ones like the administrative blocks, ICT block and the residence for our principals. If we have those three components in any centre completed, the centre is ready for use, because ICT will be used for the training of the youths, the residential block will accommodate our staff."
When talking about the completion of the centres, the question arises as to whether the government is talking about the structures, or the complete installation of the equipment that will enhance training. Mr Abdulkarim explained that there were various types of training that could be carried out at the centre. There is the ICT training, as well as the skill acquisition training. If any of these is ready, the centre is ready for commissioning.
"The moment you have a centre that can perform any of these trainings, then the centre has become functional, other things will come in place because this ministry is not the only one taking money from the federal government. So what we do is to ensure that what is given to us is judiciously used for the benefit of the youths, we don't have to fully complete a centre before it becomes useful to the youth."
The centre, he said, will be run by the ministry while other stakeholders who are interested in making use of it would be invited to come and use the facilities as they come on stream.
On why the commissioning was delayed till now, he said: "It is because of the change of management, it would have been commissioned far earlier than now but suddenly we have a new minister who needed to be briefed about the activities of the various departments and the brief is all over now. So when the minister settles down, he will look into the commissioning, and the department that deals with commissioning is the Education and Youth Development (EYD) department. When we finish our work, we hand over to them. Our mandate is only to develop."
Abdulkarim said that the centres were not abandoned as claimed and said that the erroneous impression that the centre were all abandoned was far from the truth. "The blanket statement that our youth centres have all become abandoned projects is not truth that is why we want to make this correction, because we have been able to identify the core components that are essential for the centres to take off. Attention has been given to them because we have scarce resources so we only pay attention to those core components that will make it to take off as scheduled."
But it is wise to note that those youth centres could not operate in a vacuum, and a key part of the effectiveness of contemporary youth centres is through integrated provision. This is where different agencies and organisations providing services to young people join in a holistic approach. Information is shared to avoid duplicating effort, or missing opportunities to help young people, this is why the private sector, youth related NGOs should be encouraged to participate actively in the centre, to enable it achieve its objectives maximally.