Amid Uncertain Future, Gbajabiamila Calls For More Comprehensive Youth Engagement

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Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is currently pushing for a more comprehensive engagement of the Nigerian youth by the government at all levels.

Gbajabiamila says relegating the Nigerian youth to the background by the governments is inimical to the national development of the country being the most critical segment of any society.

The call is coming as hundreds of thousands of young people are uncertain of their future career prospects, with the coronavirus crisis expected to create more obstacles in the labour market and to lengthen the transition from school to work.

Some have already felt a direct impact, with one in six youth having to stop work since the onset of the pandemic.

Many younger workers are more likely to be employed in highly affected occupations, such as support, services and sales-related work, making them more vulnerable to the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Close to 50 per cent of those who have continued to work, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have seen their incomes reduced.

This has had an impact on their mental well-being. A survey by the global labour organisation found that 50 per cent of young people are possibly subject to anxiety or depression, while a further 17 per cent are probably affected by it.

While delivering a keynote address in a webinar for the commemoration of this year’s International Youth Day, organised by the Office of the Speaker and the Nigerian Youth Parliament, he also notes that the Nigerian youth need to show greater interest in government and governance.

Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, former Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen as well as the Minister of Sport and  Youth Development, Sunday Dare, who all participated in the webinar also urged the youth to show more interest in national development.

According to Gbajabiamila, one of the most effective means of participating in government by the youths is to constantly engage their representatives in the legislature at all levels. “In his lifetime, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, asked of citizens and policymakers thus.

“We must recognize the contributions young people make to our society. We must build upon the imagination, energy, vibrancy and talents of these our precious national assets’’, the Speaker says.

Adding, Gbajabiamila said, “this is an obvious imperative, more so in a country like ours with a massive and ever-growing youth bulge. Yet, often when I imagine what it must feel like to be a young person coming of age in Nigeria today, I think about the challenges that limit promise.

“Our country will not reach its full potentials until governments at all levels learn to engage with the changing values, needs, and expectations of Nigeria’s youth.

“All our dreams of prosperity hinge on our ability to provide the physical infrastructure, the legal framework, the cultural and social support required to unleash the innovative potential of our young people.

“To achieve this sort of profound transformation of our governance, all of us in government and politics must commit to opening the political space to allow for greater participation by our nation’s youth.

“Political leaders must act now and consistently to dismantle those practices and systems that serve only to exclude young people from political participation, or that limit them to operating on the fringes as foot soldiers in the battle for spoils.’’

For Governor Uzodinma, the Nigerian youths, being the hope of the country must not miss their steps towards nation-building because doing so would spell doom for the country.

Women Affairs Minister notes that it is incumbent on the youths to take up the issue of gender-based violence as a national question.

Tallen, who was represented by her Special Assistant (Technical), Joan Idonije urged Nigerian youths in communities and schools to establish advocacy groups against rape and other gender-based violence.

In another webinar organised by the youth wing of the Nasrul-Lahi-L-Fatih Society (NASFAT) as part of their programme for the day, Gbajabiamila, who had earlier sent a video message to Nigerian youth, charged them to get more involved in politics.

He said the Legislative arm of the Federal Government has done its own part by passing the Not Too Young to Run Bill, saying the young ones should take advantage of it, pointing out that young people should not sit back, fold their arms and expect things to just fall in place, adding that “Let the youth be more proactive and be more engaged.”

“The young ones have so much to contribute ‎to the development of this country. We must all get involved in politics. We play politics everywhere. So, everybody should get involved.

“The youth must put some action into it. There shouldn’t be a nonchalant attitude on the part of the youth. Let the young ones take charge. Let’s take those little steps that will take us to the Eldorado”, he says.

On Diaspora voting, Gbajabiamila said it is a great idea to have Nigerians living in other countries vote during an election, but he cautioned that the country must get her elections back home right before thinking of Diaspora voting.

On the call to have a limited age for those that run for political offices as obtained in the civil service, Gbajabiamila said it is a good idea but that it has to be in line with the constitution.

While he said Nigerians should be more concerned about merit so as not to discriminate any segment of the society, on climate change, Gbajabiamila said the House is greatly concerned about the issue and that a law on that will be worked on by the House soon.

In the mean time, the COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating effect on the education and training of young people.

Since the outset of the pandemic, more than 70 per cent of youth who study or combine study with work have been adversely affected by the closing of schools, universities and training centres, according to an analysis by ILO.

According to the report, Youth and COVID-19: impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being, 

65 per cent of young people reported having learned less since the beginning of the pandemic because of the transition from the classroom to online and distance learning during the lockdown.

Despite their efforts to continue studying and training, half of them believed their studies would be delayed and nine per cent thought that they might fail.

The situation has been even worse for youth living in lower-income countries, who have less access to the internet, a lack of equipment and sometimes a lack of space at home.

This highlights large ’digital divides’ between regions; while 65 per cent of youth in high-income countries were taught classes via video-lectures only 18 per cent in low-income countries were able to keep studying online.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, says “the pandemic is inflicting multiple shocks on young people. It is not only destroying their jobs and employment prospects, but also disrupting their education and training and having a serious impact on their mental well-being. We cannot let this happen.”

Ensuring that young voices are heard

Despite the extreme circumstances young people are using their energy to mobilize and speak out in the fight against the crisis. According to the survey one in four has done some volunteer work during the pandemic.

Ensuring that youth voices are heard is critical to delivering a more inclusive response to the COVID-19 crisis. Giving young people a say in decision-making to articulate their needs and ideas improves the effectiveness of policies and programmes and gives youth the chance to participate in their delivery, says the report.

The report also calls for urgent, large-scale and targeted policy responses to protect a whole generation of young people from having their employment prospects permanently scarred by the crisis.

This includes, among other measures, re-integrating into the labour market those who have lost their jobs or who have experienced a reduction in working hours, ensuring youth access to unemployment insurance benefits, and measures to boost their mental health – from psychosocial support to sports activities.

Youth and COVID-19: Impacts on Jobs, Education, Rights and Mental Well-Being, is published by the ILO, AIESEC, the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the European Youth Forum, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth.

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