Africa’s robust Youth environment and increasing Youth population makes her the most youthful populated continent in the world. According to the United Nations in 2015; “226 million Youths aged 15-24 years lived in Africa, representing nearly 20% of Africa’s population; thus, making up one-fifth of the world’s Youth population”. If one includes all people aged below 35 years, this number increases to a staggering three quarters of Africa’s population. African Youths provide huge social, economic and political capital required to drive socio-political and economic development in the continent and are currently striving to become impact creators. Cognizant of Africa’s youth population, with over 75% of the continent’s population under the age of 35, the African Union (AU) has since prioritized the empowerment of young people as central to achieving the vision of Agenda 2063. The African Youth Charter, adopted in 2006, is a rights-based framework which guides the engagement and empowerment of Youths in Africa; enshrines their rights, duties and freedoms and has spawned the action plans which have guided continental programming, most recently the African Plan of Action on Youth Empowerment (APAYE 2019-2023). The Nigerian government has ratified and adopted the African Youth Charter; however, it is imperative for Nigerian Youths to participate in national advocacy and accountability for its implementation.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, its burgeoning youth population provides a huge social, economic and political capital required to drive socio-political and economic development. Nigeria’s greatest asset lies in its youthful demography, yet, there have been little or no gains towards furthering the youth agenda and harnessing the energy, resilience and commitment of Nigeria’s youth. Although the youth constitute not less than 60% of Nigeria’s population, Nigerian youth’s participation in democratic governance processes is discouragingly low. Even though the youth, who are the backbone of the country, should play the most active role in this process, unfortunately, their participation is reduced to being used as tools for stimulating crisis and violence.
The emerging global and regional consensus on youth development clearly underscores the need to ensure the inclusion of youth perspectives in the development process along with their effective participation in national development practice. Over the years, there has been a gradual increase in global awareness about the vital role of young people in sustainable development. Effective youth participation in democracy and good governance becomes more meaningful when youths are able to express their preferences, aggregate their interests, and influence public officials and public policy, using avenues and opportunities in the political system towards helping to maintain government accountability and demanding government transparency and responsiveness.
Currently in Nigeria, public accountability systems are weak, as lack of Youth’s voices diminishes accountability and leads to reduced delivery quality and impact. A robust system of accountability is essential for youths to monitor progress and hold governments and other actors accountable for Sustainable Development Goals implementation in a transparent and participatory way. As the present public accountability systems in Nigeria are characterized by weak structures and a lack of transparency, there’s need for credible feedback mechanisms, as development investment are usually managed by implementing agencies while communities are unable to effectively hold implementers to account, this in turn results in failures of delivery and reduced impact. Steps need to be taken to provide young people with the knowledge and skills needed for effective civic participation which holds public actors to account.
AfriGrowth Foundation, via its youth mentorship programs, has initiated a platform to reposition the Nigerian youth to take their place as national assets, rather than liabilities. The Foundation seeks to facilitate a formidable youth engagement strategy centered on fostering youth-led accountability and building the capacity of young Nigerians to participate actively in the engagement of elected officials and public officials. Creating safe spaces and productive engagement mechanisms and structures have been crucial in enabling citizens and communities to pursue people-sensitive transformation. On this background, AfriGrowth Foundation in the last quarter of 2018 conducted a survey, which involved 12 youth associations in 6 states (1 in each geo-political zone of Nigeria). The core intent of survey was to assess the level of interaction between youth in the grassroots and their elected leaders in the National Assembly. 180 youth respondents participated in the survey. Preliminary findings indicated that 92% of respondents sated there they had no form of interaction or communication with their elected representatives. 96% sated that there was no form of town hall meeting or organized event, in which elected representatives interacted with electorate within the last 3 years. Currently in the 6 senatorial zones understudied, there was no form feedback system between elected representatives and citizens.
At the heart of this proposed project is the belief that elected office holders and public servants will make better decisions and have greater positive impact on their communities/constituencies when there’s an increase in the frequency, diversity, and level of engagement by youth. Significant gaps and barriers exist to effective citizen engagement. In many rural communities across Nigeria, most youth do not participate in the decisions that affect their daily lives, and there is often a lack of trust between constituents and elected officials. A crucial bridge over this gap is the use of appropriate strategies and tools to encourage youth and elected officials to interact regularly, increase their knowledge of each other, and develop trust.
AfriGrowth Foundation has designed the Illuminate Africa Youth Initiative (ILAYIN), as a signature program to improve the capacity of youths in their quest to bring about knowledge in service delivery through activities and principles of participatory democracy, inclusive governance and accountability. The project will develop mechanisms to improve flow of information and knowledge to the youths in order to foster their participation as equal partners in the decision-making and control of resources in respective communities.
To support implementation of key democratic processes in Nigeria, ILAYIN will increase the capacity of youth across the country to be more involved in democratic reform processes. By fostering an environment of engagement and advocacy, the program will assist Nigerian youth entrench accountability and transparency in public service. The Project will equally improve youth participation and emphasize the importance of leadership and innovation.
Primarily the project will build the capacity of youth led and focused civil societies on the most effective tools and strategies that can be used to effectively engage elected officials at all levels of government and provide them with the requisite skills and knowledge in civic participation in order to engage elected officials more commendably.
The secondary aim of the project is to enlighten youth led and focused civil societies in Nigeria to advocate for incorporation of the African Youth Charter (See full document below) within the working programme and policy of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports and develop a working document for the implementation of the Charter in line with the most recently the African Plan of Action on Youth Empowerment (APAYE 2019-2023) (See full document below). Thus the project will foster collaborate and synergy between youth led and focused civil societies in Nigeria to identify best practices on youth policy formulation and implementation and encourage the adaptation principles and exAperiences sharing.
Youth participation is paramount for the success of democracy. If the decision making process excludes youth, democracy is undermined. For meaningful youth participation, it is necessary that they know their roles and duties in a democracy. Besides this, the task of youths is to nurture institutions and practices that are compatible with local conditions and conducive to democratic aspirations. On this background, the project will build the expertise of youth led and focused organizations to facilitate the demand for service delivery and effective public service; thereby enhancing the accountability of elected leaders and public servants.
ILAYIN will institute a credible, seamless and simple feedback system; in which citizens can veritable communicate issues and problems to leaders and public servants, basically bridging the communication gap.