Key Interventions by Nigeria’s Youth Development Ministry
Those between 18 and 35 constitute almost 50% of the Nigerian population (NPC 2006). Given its size, energy, passion and creativity, this demographic group should be a critical resource for economic growth, sustainable development, and national transformation in Nigeria. At present, it is not. This is because the potential contributions of our young population is compromised by a host of challenges, including lack of jobs, limited marketable skills, low entrepreneurial bias, limited access to credit, high vulnerability to poverty, limited level of inclusion, and low value orientation etc.
Our present economic growth rate could mask the extent of youth deprivation in the country. Rather than be taken in by seemingly robust growth rates, we should learn, proactively, from the recent experience in North Africa and the Middle East. And now, the United Kingdom. Tunisia, for example, had a steady growth rate of about 9%. But despite this healthy outlook, it was the first to erupt when the simmering anger of its deprived and frustrated youth eventually boiled to the surface.
While many countries are ageing, we are blessed with abundant youth population, and it has been projected that by 2030 our most important resource will be our youth, not oil (British Council 2010). But our youth bulge could turn out to be either a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster. It is important therefore that we do more to harness the potentials of our youth, put in place policies and programmes to unlock the binding constraints on their path, and scale up investment to turn this huge demographic force to a force for good. We shouldn’t do this just because we love our youth. On the contrary, we should do it because it makes economic, social, political, and security sense.
Where We Are
The Federal Government has a plethora of initiatives and investments aimed at addressing the youth challenge in the country. But our analysis reveals that our youth population is underserved for the following reasons:
> Lopsidedness: About 90% of the budget of the Federal Ministry of Youth Development and its two parastatals goes to NYSC alone (N43bn out of N49bn in 2011 budget). This is not to say that the budget of NYSC is too much, but that almost all our resources for youth development go to one year in the life of those lucky to be graduates of universities and polytechnics.
- Limited Coverage: As presently focused, most of the activities of the Ministry serve what can be categorized as the elite youth: university graduates and politically-active youth and their organizations. This means that a majority of our youth are outside the scope of our interventions. However, it is this category of missing and underserved youththat portends the most danger to the country in terms of crime, restiveness, political thuggery and religious extremism.
- Misalignment:The major challenge facing our youth today is lack of jobs and skills. Unfortunately, our major investments in youth development do not tackle this major challenge. The NYSC, the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre and the mainline Ministry do little to prepare the youth for the job market or to expand opportunities available to them. Also, there is misalignment between the available training programmes and the needs of the industry.
- Limited Coordination: Because of the cross-cutting nature of youth development, responsibilities are dispersed in different sectors. This is to ensure that the youth challenge is tackled in a holistic and comprehensive manner. However, due to lack of adequate coordination, most youth programmesdo not serve their intended target or the concerns of the youth get crowded out in the mix.
- Tokenism: A lot is being done to reduce general unemployment, but much more could be done to directly tackle the specific obstacles to youth employment. Our young people could not access the available job opportunities because they are not skilled, do not have experience, and do not have collateral for credit. Most of the existing skills training programmes are either below market standards or too token; and the financial supports/loans offered for entrepreneurship are too paltry to make any meaningful impact. Also, states and LGAs (where most of our youth live) could do much more than they are doing at present.
- Little Engagement: Little is being done to involve the youth in the design and implementation of the programmes directed at them, so most of these youth-targeted interventions fail because they do not reflect the needs of their intended beneficiaries. Beyond opportunistic and counter-productive engagement at election periods, little effort is made to involve the youth in the larger decision-making process or give them stake in the society.
Strategic Priorities & Key Interventions
Given our mandate, the key challenges of our clients, and the need for us to play a key role in the Transformation Agenda, the Ministry of Youth Development after its recent retreat decided to focus on the following five strategic priorities:
- Facilitate targeted skills acquisition, enterprise development and credit access for the youth;
- Reform/reposition key institutionsof the Ministry to improve service and value to youth and country;
- Mobilize, empower, and re-orientate the youth;
- Improve monitoring and coordination of different youth programmes across sectors/tiers;
- Enhance advocacy and communication to make youth issues an urgent national priority.
Arising from the above, some of the key interventions being proposed are as follows:
1. Youth Employment Project
We propose to initiate a Youth Employment Project, which is a short-term, quick-impact intervention that will provide skills and entrepreneurial trainings, job placements, business development services and concessionary credit to our youth. This project is not a replacement for the NDE and other such initiatives, as it will be different in terms of its specificity to the youth, and its scale, execution mode and quality. The Project aims to reach 500, 000 youth per year (NDE’s is for 36,000 Nigerians) and will be undertaken mostly through credible intermediaries in private and public sectors and civil society. It is expected that YEP will become part of the Youth Development Fund once the enabling law is passed.
2. Reform of the NYSC
The NYSC is the singular most important investment in youth development in the country today. But the return on investment to the country and the corps members has been low. While security of corps members has been a major concern lately, it is clear that NYSC is long due for a holistic review that will align the scheme with challenges of the moment. We therefore propose to go beyond the cosmetic reforms of the past and plan to reposition the NYSC to serve as a boot-camp/finishing school for our graduates and to provide real service to the country in infrastructure, farming, and teaching etc. As a starting point, we want to propose the setting up of a Presidential Committee on the Review of the NYSC.
3. “Drive the Future Nigeria” Campaign
Many of our youth have become cynical, disoriented, dysfunctional and alienated. We plan to re-engage our youth and increase their self-belief, agency and voice by initiating an IT-led but multimedia and multi-lingual campaign to put them in the driver’s seat of their future. Led by Youth Champions, this campaign will also be used to mobilize the youth, make them part of the decision-making process and arm them with positive values of citizenship, entrepreneurship, work ethic and leadership. It will be run in partnership with civil society and the private sector, and will serve as a creative vehicle for engaging and empowering the youth.
4. Improving Data for Planning & Advocacy
The youth population is not a homogenous group, and we cannot serve them well if we continue to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. We therefore plan to improve our understanding of our clients by undertaking a number of studies, including: a disaggregated study of the youth population to be able to adequately segment the various sub-groups in terms of location, level of education/skills, size, disposition, challenges etc.; a scoping study of the various interventions by different actors across sectors and tiers for us to have a comprehensive view of the landscape and ensure proper coordination and impact; a database of the unemployed youth in the country; and refocusing of the Youth Development Index, which was first and last published in 2008, to serve as a tool for tracking and advocacy.
5. Repositioning the Ministry
We plan to reposition the Ministry because we need to redefine our role as a facilitator/coordinator, rather than as a service provider. This will entail not just a re-orientation and restructuring but the development of appropriate capacities for policy-making and research, for coordination and partnership, and for advocacy and communication. The Ministry needs to be fit-for- purpose and be positioned to serve the youth—its client—and the country better. This will entail institutional review and re-alignmeant.