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Reflections from the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s visit to Nigeria


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Rotimi Olawale

I was elated when I learnt that Ahmad Alhendawi, the the UNSG’s envoy on Youth, be visiting Nigeria for three days. I knew it would be an opportunity to put youth development at the front burner of national discourse in Nigeria and amongst development partners, especially the UN. I was pleased to be invited to a few of the events where I joined a few other colleagues in planning meetings as well as speaking on a panel, addressing migration and security during the dialogue with some youth leaders. The envoy, as part of his official visit, had meetings with Professor Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice president; the UN system in Nigeria, met with the Foreign Affairs ministry, as well as the Abuja Enterprise Agency.

At the end of the trip, here are my top four takeaways from the visit:

1.     Nigerians never fail to engage: While speaking during the session, Ahmad Alhendawi mentioned that Nigerians are amongst the top countries who engage with him on social media especially on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. In a country of over 180 million persons and over 100 million under the age of 30 and with 46% internet penetration, it is expected that we will engage! If anyone is in doubt over the utility of the many tweets, hashtags and mentions, Mr. Alhendawi, has given us the confirmation that our social media messaging is indeed getting across. We however, have to move beyond engagements to tangible and meaningful advocacy and action. Many who spoke during the envoy’s sessions, wanted the United Nations to solve all of Nigeria’s problems – but we need to realise that solutions to Nigeria’s problems will largely come from within – and yes, we might receive support here and there from institutions.

  1. Endorsement of the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign: The need for a bill seeking to lower the age requirement for seeking elective office in Nigeria  was an issue laid on the envoy’s table by Mr. Ayodele Obe, Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament when he spoke to the issues of participation and governance. Ahmad Alhendawi firmly  threw his weight behind the #NotTooYoungToRun bill saying that if youth control the entertainment, technology, music and culture industries, why can’t they lead in politics? The #NotTooYoungToRun campaign is a bill proposed in the Federal House of Representatives and now championed by a national coalition of CSOs led by our colleagues, the Youth Initiative for the Advancement of Growth in Africa (YIAGA). The bill has garnered support and the Envoy’s weight behind this bill has further helped to push the advocacy ahead. It is a bill I passionately hope would become law well ahead of our 2019 general elections.

    3.     It is time to rework the National Youth Policy: At different discussions with the envoy, it was evident that considering emerging issues around youth development in Nigeria, there is need for an overarching policy frame to chart the way forward. Beyond reworking the the old policies we have had, we need to also rethink how the policy can be hinged on a water-tight implementation, evaluation and renewal plans. A policy well written but not implemented is only as valuable as the paper it is written on. Reviewing the National Youth Policy was one of the main issues the envoy discussed with the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during their meeting. I and my colleagues at Youthhubafrica eagerly look forward to follow up actions on this.
    4.     Is it time for a UN agency for Youth? At the final half-day workshop a Nigerian Government proposal for the UN to consider and approve an agency for young people was discussed. Styled after similar agencies  for children (UNICEF) or for women (UNWomen), the Government of Nigeria will seek the support of other countries in pushing this proposal for adoption at the UN. In my 10 years of engaging youth development issues at continental and global levels, this is the first time I have read or heard that Nigeria will take the lead in advocating for youth issues, it is a laudable turn of events and Nigeria should be at the fore in global discussions about the youth. While this proposal sounds nice, it should be noted that similar ideas have been mooted in the past and didn’t fly. Infact, the most structured effort to increase youth participation and involvement in the UN is well documented in a well researched report commissioned by UNHABITAT and written by several authors including the well respected Ravi Karkara. The report outlines three potential options for deepening youth engagement with and at the UN. The third scenario recommends the establishment of a UN Permanent forum on Youth, creation of a Youth Platform Assembly and appointment of a Special Representative on Youth.

    While the Nigerian proposal is ambitious, it will be good to consider all the options that have been previously proposed, critically examine and engage with stakeholders, while building a coalition of support for the idea. This coalition should include countries who have been known to support youth development policies and issues at national and international levels, youth organizations in Nigeria and across the world as well as youth development professionals. Curiously, while Nigeria will now lead a global campaign to have a separate agency at the UN level dealing with youth issues, the country in November, 2015 merged its Ministry of Youth Development with the Ministry of Sports. A global agency dealing with youth issues at the UN is possible but charity, like in all cases, should begin at home.

The UN Envoy may already be back to headquarters or away consulting youths and governments in other parts of the world. Yet the lessons of his visit to Nigeria will stay with many of us who work on youth development issues in Nigeria and beyond. It was an honour playing host to the youth who comes in the name of the UN Secretary General and to be able to discuss the youth point of view on such a platform. Many discussions have been held about the youth both in Nigeria and beyond, even as I write, many youth issues continue to be debated on various social media platforms. Will the lessons of Ahmad Alhendawi visit to Nigeria end in beautifully crafted reflections from those who participated, or would there be more concrete outcomes and follow up action? Time will tell!


Rotimi Olawale is Executive Director of youthhubafrica, writes from Abuja and can be reached on twitter @rotexonline


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