Youth Policy Coordination, Job Creation and reaping the Demographic dividend

I share in this article my thoughts on a number of issues raised during the Youth Development Minister – Mr Inunwa Abdul-Kadir’s, appearance on AIT’s 90 Minutes programme. I also make some recommendations which I hope would be of value to the work of the Federal Ministry of Youth Development.

Definition of Youth
The National Youth Policy defines a youth as any Nigerian aged 18 to 35 and the National Youth Service act recognises every degree level graduate under the age of 30 as youth (no lower boundary is provided although it is presumed that young people would normally complete their studies at age 20 or older). In addition, the African Youth Charter, which Nigeria ratified in 2009, defines youth as those aged 15 to 35. Nigeria as a member of the Commonwealth and the United Nations is also expected to comply with their respective definitions of youth – 15 to 24 and 15 to 29, on occasion.

There is no universal agreement regarding the definition of youth and as a social scientist, I constantly come across contestations of various chronological definitions of the concept. Youth is not linear, and the markers of adulthood are sometimes crisscrossed by young people across the variously defined age spectra: they complete school, marry, return to school, get a job, loose it, etc. Nonetheless, it is important to have a chronological definition which provides a basis for policy and planning. I for one subscribe to a youth age of 18 to 29. This age bracket on the one hand eliminates the possibility of conflicting policies, as the child rights act effectively takes care of everyone aged below 18. On the other hand, it also frees up space for young citizens to participate in development, enabling them to take responsibility for their lives and actions from as early as possible.

How many are the youth?
I always hear or read of statistics like ‘over 70 million youth,’ ‘youth are over 60 per cent of the population’ etc. The census priority tables published by the National Population Commission in 2009, shows the population of those aged 15 to 34 to be just over 50 million. Going by that figure, youth is approximately 36 per cent of the population, but take into account the fact that I have included those age 15-17 (and omitted age 35 at the upper boundary, which sort of balances it out). Using a population growth rate of 2.5 per cent over seven years, the number of youth (15-34) should currently be approximately 59 million. At current national population estimates of 160 plus million people, youth should constitute less than 40 per cent of the population, not 60 per cent.

National Youth Development Index
It was interesting that the panel asked a question regarding the National Youth Development Index. Drawing on the lessons from the Ministry’s previous attempt to develop such a measure, my view regarding methodology is that there needs to be a robust discussion on the indicators to be measured –meaning that the selection of such indicators should not be arbitrary. In part, this is because the concept of youth development is multidimensional and multidisciplinary, and it is important for any process of measuring it to have a strong discussion on what indicators provide a robust understanding of the status of youth. So for the ongoing process, it will be interesting to know what indicators the National Bureau of Statistics (commissioned by the Ministry of Youth) intends to measure, how it chose these indicators and perhaps some expert discussions could follow this. Such an exercise would be beneficial for discussions about measuring youth development, both now and in the future.

National Youth Policy and coordination
The Minister suggested that the youth policy is a guideline for youth development to be implemented by sub-national actors. Towing this line, he tried to absolve the Ministry of responsibility on the implementation of salient aspects of policy. He opined that the function of the youth ministry is to provide models for youth programming. If it is accepted that the Ministry’s work is to provide models, I believe that it will be expected that the Ministry pilots its models in order to provide the necessary evidence that it works. So even at the very minimum, it cannot excuse itself from implementing programmes.

On the question of coordination, while I agree that the tasks outlined in the National youth policy are enormous and cannot be fully implemented by the youth Ministry on its own, I do not believe that the Ministry has the mandate to coordinate policies either. Interestingly, the Ministry of Finance is more visible in the implementation of the two major youth employment initiatives of this administration. The first is the YouWin (youth enterprise with innovation – which supports young entrepreneurs with capital, training and technical support) and the second is the recent graduate internship scheme (GIS – a wage subsidy scheme) launched by the SURE-P programme. In these two programmes, the Ministry of Youth needs to be more visible and active. Further to this, the Ministry needs to be more proactive in the promotion and implementation of other innovative youth programmes to improve the status of youth in Nigeria.

On Youth (un)Employment and Job Creation
At 38 per cent, youth unemployment should be the single biggest area in which the Ministry of youth development should be involved, particularly given the high number of youth who are not in employment, education or training (NEET – commonly known as street youth or out of school youth). I feel strongly that the Ministry should be at the fore of the aforementioned programmes (YouWin and GIS), with a passionate commitment to ensuring equity, efficiency and effectiveness in their delivery. In addition, the Ministry needs to promote and take a longer term approach to job creation. While the Minister indicated that construction projects are creating new jobs for youth, the challenge is that these jobs are temporary and once the projects are over, the youth are likely to return to their previous situations and could be susceptible to the kind of political exploitation suggested by the Minister.

The Ministry of youth development needs to explore avenues to work with the Ministry of Education in advancing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as a means of dealing with supply side challenges of youth employment and job creation. The Ministry also needs to tackle the questions of creating decent work, youth in the informal economy and social protection for those employed in both the formal and informal sectors.

Furthermore, in order to tackle the difficulty of improving what the Minister described as ‘menial jobs’ the Ministry of Youth needs to promote a system where entry into any of the professions could be standardised, and people required to receive a certain degree of training before they enter. In this regard, the recently launched national qualifications framework for technical and vocational education and training is of value. What does it take to become a carpenter or plumber or bricklayer beyond a period of apprenticeship? What is the guarantee that the standard of training received from the ‘oga’ is enough to enable the youth become a true professional in that area? These are questions that the Ministry could further study and seek to explore.

Still on job creation the Ministry developed an ambitious three-year National youth employment action plan (NYEAP 2009-2011), which among others aimed to support at least 20, 000 youth entrepreneurs and support through several national initiatives leading to the creation of several more jobs. How far were these objectives achieved? Is the Ministry working with other actors like the National Directorate of Employment, Tertiary Education Trust (TET) Fund, SIWES (Students Work Experience Scheme), the private sector, development institutions, etc., to advance the creation of new jobs? Is there a plan to revise the plan? The Minister emphasised the importance of entrepreneurship, one of the cardinal aims of the NYEAP. Could the Ministry of Youth Development institute a process ease the difficulties of youth entrepreneurship? Can the Ministry assist young people through the hurdles of business registration and such other legal processes? The Nigerian Investment promotion council established a model regarding this – by centralising and accelerating business registration processes as a means to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI), which the Ministry of Youth could adopt or adapt.

The Minister spoke extensively about how young people’s values need to change and how the Ministry has created programmes to achieve this. It would be interesting to know what programmes have been instituted in this regard, the constituents of values being referred to and the indicators by which the Ministry has measured or intends to measure such change. If any studies have already been carried out, it will be nice if the results are shared. The question of value re-orientation is one that is required on a national scale and there is no doubt that in many spheres young Nigerians could benefit from value reorientation. Within the framework of the national economic empowerment and development strategy (NEEDS), the government aimed to promote such values as a thrift culture. It will be interesting to learn about the aspects of values that the Ministry intends to or is promoting and advance in order to anticipate the potential outcome of such a programme.

National Youth Service and youth centres
The Minister stated that the National Youth Service Corps programme is still relevant because it supports national integration. Integration was interpreted to mean that young people are marrying across cultures as a result of their participation in the programme. I think though that with growing urbanisation, there are now many avenues through which young people socialise, and in fact intertribal marriage is a growing phenomenon, and will happen in spite of the youth service rather than because of it. The other argument was that youth service affords the country cheap labour by way of recruiting corps members as ad hoc staff for elections and other such purposes. These may seem good. However, the question is: do these reasons justify the billions of naira annually invested in the youth service? I am all for National Service and thoroughly enjoyed the experience participating in it. But can the service be voluntary? Can it take another form that yields better returns on investment for the nation and young people? The youth service needs reforms and I hope that the Ministry of Youth development will follow through with the reforms initiated a few years ago.

On youth development centres, why build them when we currently have the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centres (CLTC) and the NYSC permanent sites in States? This to my mind is a duplication of efforts which appears to be resulting in the Ministry overstretching itself and creating a difficult situation whereby multiple youth centres are created but with limited room or capacity for utilisation. Why not conserve the funds from building new ones to renovate and improve the facilities in CLTCs? The other questions are: what is the function of these centres? Is there really a need for them? Should they be owned and run by the Ministry? Does the Ministry have the institutional and human capacity to effectively run them and achieve needed outputs and outcomes? Are there options rather than directly run them? Is PPP (public private partnership) an option? If the Ministry opts for a PPP strategy, at what cost to the government will this be in the long run? On a cost-benefit scale, is it better to sell the centres already built or contract them out for private sector management or run them directly? If the centres were to remain in government’s control, can they contribute to the development of a strong middle level manpower pool through ongoing vocational and skills training?

Going forward
I believe that the Ministry of Youth Development needs to be engaged in a strategic discussion about how to meaningfully advance to youth development and empowerment in Nigeria. The strategies adopted should include those that address job creation, skills development and sundry issues affecting youth, including their reproductive health. It also needs to provide a clear long-term strategic direction and a roadmap from which other national and sub-national actors can draw.

The strategies for youth development need to take a long-term outlook. This means that in this era, the strategies need to compliment broader national frameworks towards national transformation and the attainment of vision 2020. Perhaps an even longer term outlook towards the 2030s can be taken in order to reap the so-called demographic dividend. According to a 2010 report by the British Council and Harvard University, ‘by 2030s…youth, not oil, will be the country’s [Nigeria’s] most valuable resource.’ But the demographic dividend is not a given. We have to plan and invest towards reaping its benefits. What better way to do it than pursue strategies that take a long-term view both in articulation and implementation.

Perhaps, the recently launched youth development strategy could inform the basis to stimulate a more robust discussion on advancing youth development programming and improving the status of youth in Nigeria. The time to act is now. I hope the Minister and his team will take up the challenge.

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