UN Holds Constructive Engagement Session With Nigerian Youth
On the heels of global demands by youth for structural socioeconomic transformation, improved governance and intergenerational dialogue, young people in Nigeria has urged for their voice to be heard to meet their concerns, needs and aspirations. The dialogue titled, “From protests to constructive engagement – conversations with young Nigerians about Nigeria”, involved more 2,700 online and onsite participants representing various youth organisations in Nigeria. “Government, donors, international organisations must listen more to young people, and not the other way around. You cannot create a future for people if you do not understand their needs, their aspirations and goals,” said a youth participant during the dialogue session with the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, on Tuesday 17 November 2020, in Abuja. The urgent need for robust discussion and disaggregated data about young people to better understand and meet their needs, participants called on the United Nations, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and other partners to commission urgent data collection to understand the ‘pulse’ of young people. Participants also called on the government to create sustainable jobs that lead to economic growth and increased GDP. The issue of gender equality in the economy, formal and informal was highlighted, with many advocating for quality education as a first step in reducing unemployment.
As one participant explained, “in reducing unemployment, you have to think of education first, both formal and informal and if a woman is not safe, her sexual and reproductive health and rights are not in a good state, and therefore, cannot flourish productively.” On the issue of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, participants called for schools to be safer teaching and learning space. “When we clamour for youth, especially girls, to get educated, we need to ensure that space is safe and ensure adequate support for them [anyone who faces] sexual harassment.” One participant added, “It is important that we diversify power between lecturers and the students. Because there is a current power imbalance. We need to empower more students to step forward to speak up and take power from those who abuse them. On the issue of political participation of young people in the democratic process, a youth called on their peers to be active in the electoral process.
They pointed out the importance of stakeholders in politics that numbers matter thus urging their peers to keep advocating together and to leverage their numbers to drive change. “Politics is a game of numbers. Politicians may not respect anything else but they respect stakeholders who have the number required for them to win elections, and for them to further their political aspirations,” summed up one participant. In her response, the Deputy Secretary-General acknowledged the conversation with the young people was one of the best and the most constructive she has had this year. That the conversations gave her huge hope. “These kinds of dialogue must continue all the time. The conversations need not wait till there is a crisis. We need to keep engaging.” She said, “You are not alone, Nigerian youths. What is happening in this country is also happening across the world. You never get everything. You get some, you keep asking, and getting more and more until you hand the baton over.” On education, the Deputy Secretary-General asked participants: “What kind of education and skill sets does this generation need to drive markets and create opportunities?” She noted that the education of today would not take care of tomorrow, “We need to do something about education for sure, but it is not going to be done in Abuja. We have to ask the States and Local Governments because they have constitutional responsibilities for the foundation of education.”
The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare noted that the major lesson from the protests for him was how to move from protests to guided action, and developing opportunities to listen and engage on solutions. “For the Ministry, there is a care paradigm shift from youth empowerment. The focus now is on youth investment. The time of just mere empowerment is over. Empowerment is not enough. Empowerment just puts stipends in the pockets of our youth. It is not sustainable. We need to invest in them as wealth creators and employers of labour that can contribute to national development while meeting their aspirations”, said Mr Dare. Mr Dare shared that the government has keyed into the idea of setting up a Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) with N75 billion earmarked for young people’s needs. The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, called on the youths to have faith in the country. “There is no country without problems and issues. You must first love your country. You must have faith. From most of the comments I see online during this dialogue, a lot of youths have lost hope in the country. They have lost hope in leadership,” She observed and appealed for peace.