Vacancy: Minister of Youth Development (Nigeria) By Tolu Ogunlesi
Let’s start with a quick introduction to the Ministry. Its latest incarnation, as a stand-alone Youth Ministry, dates back to February 2007, near the end of the Obasanjo administration. During Mr. Obasanjo’s first term, Women and Youth matters were handled by a single Ministry. In 2004 Youth Development was taken away and merged with “Intergovernmental Affairs” and “Special Duties” to form a new Ministry. Until ‘independence’ in 2007.
The Ministry oversees two government agencies: National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre.
The NYSC, forty years old this year, was created by then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, to promote inter-ethnic cohesion, as part of a grand post-civil-war recovery programme. It needs little introduction.
The CLTC describes itself as “informal education institution” that aims to be “a world -class provider of quality training that will empower Nigerians for citizenship and responsible leadership.” Apparently it used to be known as the ‘Man O’ War Bay Training Centre’, and runs its training programmes through a number of schools: a Mountain School in Jos; a Forest School in Aluu, Rivers State (the infamous Aluu, where a mob wielded jungle justice that claimed the lives of four innocent youth); a Desert School in Fika, Yobe State; a Sea School in Apapa, Lagos; a Hilltop School in Enugu, and a Rockland School in Zamfara. (I find it strange that until now I’d never heard of the Centre or any of its schools).
The key to understanding the work of a Nigerian Minister of Youth Development is to be found in the interesting analysis done by a former occupier of that role. In an interview I recently found online, Ms. Funke Adedoyin – who supervised the Youth portfolio as Minister of State in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Youth Development (as it was then known) during the Obasanjo era – said:
“The critical thing about the Youth Ministry is that if you are not quick to understand it, you can lose track in the sense that you are not the Minister of Education, so you can not actually make decisions about education. You are not the Minister of Health so you cannot do a special focus on HIV and other diseases. You are not the Minister of Justice, so you cannot begin to do a focus on special legislative issues for young people. But I was very quick to identify what I call my core partner ministries – Education, Health and Justice – and I went to each minister and told them that I would achieve nothing without them, and that they had to work with me.”
My interpretation of this is that the primary role of that Ministry, beyond providing leadership and policy direction to its two parastatals, is to provide a gentle push-and-support combo to all “core partner ministries”, i.e. ministries and agencies whose work impacts significantly on the youth population.
I also think that the Ministry has a vital ‘coordinating’ role to play – serving as a “hub” / “one-stop-shop” – for all government initiatives relating to youth, scattered as they are across several different Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
So, from the Finance Ministry’s YouWin to the Communications Ministry’s Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator (iDEA), to the Agriculture Ministry’s Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), it is the duty of the Youth Development Minister to stay plugged-in and committed, constantly seeking ways to build, support and oversee useful partnerships and collaborations, and to ensure that, amidst the frenzy of day-to-day politicking, the strictures of bureaucracy, and the infinite competition for finite resources, the complete youth development ball is never dropped.
Within the Federal Executive Council, the Minister must ensure that the youth agenda is never pushed to the background.
And then there is the engagement with the private sector, civil society groups, and international development partners, a task no less critical than that of ensuring intra-government coordination. There are several local and multinational businesses operating in Nigeria who have youth development programmes as part of their corporate social responsibility – everything from scholarships to trainings to fellowships, internships and job placements. There are also a good number of international cultural/diplomatic relations and development organisations (prominent examples include the British Council, DFID, US Embassy and USAID) who focus on youth development.
Our new Youth Minister must use his influence as a senior government official to push everyone – corporate, civil society, and diplomatic organisations – to move their work well beyond tokenism, into the realms of strategic impact.
We must understand that youth development work is a very serious business, considering that seventy per cent of Nigeria’s population is younger than 35. The Youth Minister that Nigeria requires therefore ought to be one of the loudest advocates, within and outside Nigeria, for the empowerment of Nigerian youth. The Youth Minister cannot afford to be a reticent public servant.
By now, I hope it’s clear to us all that it ought to be a mistake to regard the Youth Ministry as a second- or third-tier Ministry. I know that within the Nigerian context, that’s how we all view it – it’s probably not the sort of Ministry that anyone, given a choice, would pick. Certainly not when you can be Minister of Works, or Defence, or Petroleum, or Finance.
And that, for me, is even more reason to ensure that the role is not filled on the basis of geographical or political expediency. We don’t want a Minister who will be coming into office wondering why he or she is being allocated a ‘juice-less’ or obscure Ministry, or one hoping to use the Ministry as launch-pad for more lucrative political office.
This also means not appointing anyone who is not a youth – as sensibly defined – to that position. I find it truly absurd to have a Minister of Youth Development whose ‘youth’ is already well behind him or her. (This is of course not to say that age should be the most important consideration for that role). We may have got away with that in the past, but I think that President Jonathan needs to set the right example going forward. The bad habit that sees the PDP appointing fifty- and sixty-year-old ‘youth leaders’ should not be carried over into national governance.
So what is the definition of youth in Nigeria? According to the National Youth Policy, “the youth shall comprise of all males and females aged 18 – 35 years, who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
I don’t see what the big deal is in appointing a 33-year-old Youth Minister, considering that once upon a time 30-something-year-olds in Nigeria were even more likely to be Head of State or Deputy Head of State (Yakubu Gowon, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Muritala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Sheu Yar’Adua) or regional administrators (Hassan Katsina, Ukpabi Asika and Ken Saro-Wiwa – who wasn’t even 30 when he was appointed civilian administrator of Bonny).
President Jonathan has made a lot of noise about his commitment to women matters. Perhaps now is the time to further demonstrate his commitment to youth, by ensuring that the new Youth Minister will be someone who is a bona fide Youth (imagine having a man as Women Affairs Minister), and who will serve the interest of the youth with maximum passion, ambition, intelligence and integrity. The work of the new Youth Minister will of course require, like every other member of the federal cabinet, the full backing of Mr. President.
One of the To-Dos for the new Minister will be a review of the existing National Youth Policy, in light of the significantly disruptive/transformative impact of the internet (especially in terms of the penetration of social media) since it was last revised in 2009. In the age of social media four years is an eternity. It’s not acceptable that the words “social media”, “Facebook” and “Twitter” are nowhere to be found in the ‘Nigerian Youth Policy’. Even “internet” appears only about thrice.
Which leads me to this: The new Youth Minister will have to be a social media-savvy person; one who thoroughly understands the tools and ways of social media, and who will not flinch – or flee – when queried or abused online. This requirement is non-negotiable. A substantial part of the engagement with young Nigerians will have to be done via YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and 2Go and Instagram. This is 2013, not 1993.
Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi’s ambitious NYSC reforms, unfortunately truncated by his redeployment to the Sports Ministry, might also need to be revisited.
Twitter – @toluogunlesi
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