Today marks the 20th International Youth Day. The theme adopted this year is “youth civic engagement”, which the UN argues is essential to achieve sustainable human development.
More than half the population of Nigeria is made up of youth, defined as individuals between the age of 15 and 34, according to the National Population Commission of Nigeria. Yet the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent.
Neglect of policies for economic diversification by successive governments means there is an absence of opportunities for employment, training and skills, which disenfranchises youth from participating in the formal economy. This disenfranchisement is cultivating a sense of resentment amongst the most able and aspiring demographic group.
In the 2000’s, many youth across the Niger Delta reacted to this disenfranchisement by attacking the most visible representation of the government: the nation’s oil infrastructure. Militant groups were formed, and youth willingly enlisted to express their anger at being marginalised by the Federal Government in national planning, resulting in waves of violent conflict, kidnappings and destruction of pipelines to cripple the economy.
The Niger Delta Amnesty Programme was brought in by the Federal Government with the aim of providing alternative opportunities for youth. Some were trained, and many have since been paid a monthly allowance.The failure of the Programme to address the underlying drivers of the conflict is likely to be exposed later this year when it comes to an end and payments stop.
“In this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
With this in mind, the Niger Delta Youth Dialogue process was designed with the goal to ensure that citizens of the Niger Delta, supported by the International community, participate in shaping a holistic and sustainable strategy for the region, in order to address the drivers of conflict and lay foundations for stability of the region.
State-level Forums in Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta States, and a Pan-Niger Delta Youth Summit in Port Harcourt, brought hundreds of individuals from across different ethnic, regional and potential militant groups in the Niger Delta together to discuss their concerns and the region’s future.
Working together in the intensive process, the summit was a platform for participants to develop solutions to the major challenges confronting the region, and ultimately to sustain peace and inclusive development.
The voice of the youth has been documented, setting the agenda of governance and development for government at all levels. Speaking in solidaritary, all those participating have expressed sincere commitment towards this process of constructive engagement with the new administration.
The task ahead is to develop this foundation of ideas into an actionable policy roadmap. This will require engagement of the Federal Government in this progressive step towards civic engagement and participation of youth in future decision-making.
“We from Delta will ensure that whatever is discussed does not end here, we have decided on our own to take the initiative; we won’t be disbanded and will continue to pursue the ideas that we have articulated.”
Gibson Ikanone, Delta State