In Osun, just like the rest of Nigeria, they suffer from economic disadvantage and unproductive engagements. The number is in their favour, yet their voices are never heard. It has been said that there is need for youth inclusion in government decision making process. However, the worst they get is being used in supporting partisans when elections knock on the door. They have the energy to campaign. They have the passion to convince. They have the power to struggle and sometimes engage in physical assault. But, whenever the elections are over, their grave situations still stare them in the face. Their potential waits for another four years to be tapped. This was the lot of the youth in Osun before the 2018 gubernatorial election. A non profit, Kimpact Development Initiative, had embarked on a good governance campaign tagged the Vote not Fight, a campaign was meant to minimize violence during the governorship polls. The organization observed that the major perpetrators of violence are the youth. Still, their fortunes do not get improved either in terms of getting the highly prized dividends of democracy or even in participating in decision making process. And partisans only see them as instruments of mobilization at election time.
After the hugely successful campaign against electoral violence, KDI saw a gap. A wide one in that instance. If these youths were fully persuaded to shun violence at election time, how are they engaged after elections? If truly the idle hand is the workshop of the devil, the youths must be productively engaged. To stop the youths from being used by politicians during elections, their pre election engagement and welfare matters. It is reasoned that to lure a productively engaged youth to political violence would be a herculean task.
This prompted the organization to roll out a survey – Youth Priority Needs Survey (YPNS)- across the length and breadth of the state. The survey was meant to give the youth a voice in their own affairs and as well identify and validate the areas of their needs. Employment and Wealth Creation; Improved Agriculture; Improved Health Facilities; Quality Education and Improved Infrastructure were the talking points. The outcome culminated in the tagline for the campaign – Osun Youth Agenda. With funding from donor agencies such as National Democratic Institute, United States Agency for International Development and United Kingdom Agency for International Development, KDI began a journey not only to clearly and smartly articulate the voice of the youths on their priority needs but also to make such needs policy driven. This was an onerous task because the aggregated voices of the youths on their needs must be heard by the stakeholders who must be moved to draw them into policy and budgetary frameworks for implementation. In this time and era of dwindling resources amidst rising government bills, it was imperative for the youth needs to align with existing government programmes.
As a member of the 8-man technical committee of experts on Osun Youth Agenda, I was part of the process of smartening the demands of the youths to make them policy driven and implementable. We had a 5-day brainstorming cum engagement session where the mapped needs were turned into workable and implementable points and policy demands. After serious deliberations, it was agreed that the state needs a youth policy as well as a youth development commission. The commission would see to the integration and mainstreaming of youth aspirations and development needs into the policies and planning processes of the state at all levels. The commission would help in implementing the youth policy. Other policy points fashioned out include a rejuvenated youth targeted agricultural scheme, conversion of a popular market in Osogbo to a computer village, establishment of a well equipped youth business innovation hub as well as the review and rearrangement of Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES).
The demand for youth development commission is the umbrella demand of the Osun Youth Agenda. Unlike a ministry, the commission would be established by law, funded through funds and grants drawn from multiple sources such as government, the private sector and development partners. Models of Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, Kogi State Youth Development Commission, Akwa Ibom Youth Development Fund and Oyo State Agency for Youth Development were adopted, adapted and domesticated. It was observed that setting up a ministry is at the discretion of the governor. But, a commission established by law stands. It could not be tampered with except through the instrumentality of the law that establishes it.
There are a number of agricultural or farm settlements in selected zones in the state. Osogbo and Ago Owu are popular settlements. The Osun Youth Agenda advocated that the settlement should be made more youth friendly and conducive for young farmers. In order to harvest the different young talents in the IT world in Osun, it was suggested that a computer village and an Innovation hub be established to enable young Osun IT-preneurs to flourish. There were equally recommendations concerning reviewing the existing Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme. It was recommended that the scheme be repackaged to encourage the participants to become entrepreneurs. This scheme should train the young participants in business development; give them seed funding and as well attached them to successful entrepreneurs for mentorship for a certain period of time.
KDI employed an intensive advocacy strategies and tactics. The technical committee members and the KDI team were involved in advocacy visits, stakeholder engagements, policy brief generation and policy dialogue. The campaign which started with a clear roadmap to the destination culminated in various visits to critical stakeholders and policy makers. The Policy Dialogue was the last of such interaction. The governor of the state was well represented by the Deputy Governor, Mr. Benedict Olugboyega Alabi. The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Timothy Owoeye and the Chief Whip, Hon. Tunde Olatunji were at the dialogue too. The policy dialogue also had in attendance high representations from concerned ministries including Ministries of Agriculture, Health and the then Empowerment and Youth Engagement. Commitments were secured from the attendees and promises were made on the Osun Youth Agenda. Again, I led the team that collated and drafted the outcomes of the dialogue and as well coordinated the communiqué session.
It is seven months down the line when the technical committee first met with KDI for a strategy session on Osun Youth Agenda. The efforts have started to yield results. Few weeks after the policy dialogue in Osogbo, a ministry solely dedicated to youths and sports was created. A 40-year old was put in charge to run the affairs of the ministry. The bill seeking the establishment of the state youth development commission is on its way to the state legislature. The advocacy for the betterment of the affairs of the youth in Osun is yielding result. Special thanks to KDI. We should celebrate soon.