‘FG must dedicate 10% of derivation fund to youth’
FROM Joe Effiong, UYO,
WE have heard of such names as Madam Due Process, Madam NAFDAC and the advocacy by the former first lady of Nigeria for the women to be given 35 percent of all positions in government. Dr Uduak Okon, a youth advocate has equally and gradually assumed the sobriquet of Madam 10 % for the Youth. In this interview, she explains why and how Akwa Ibom State government should statutorily reserve 10% of its oil revenue allocation for the development of the youth. Excerpts
Can we really know you beyond the Madam 10% nickname?
My name is Dr. Uduak Okon, I am the executive director of Youth-Alive Foundation, and have been working with the youth since 2000 in Lagos. This organization started in Lagos many years ago, and since then we have touched so many young peoples’s lives. But I left the country for about seven years to do a PhD and have been working as a development consultant. On returning, I got into my state, Akwa Ibom and I was shocked at the state of the youth in the state. High unemployment rate; the government is the major employer of labour in the state, apart from small-medium skills and companies. And when USAID asked civil society groups and partnership to apply for funding to amplify their voice around the issue, the Youth-Alive Foundation was one of the foundation they got that grant. And the issue that we choose to work on was Policy Development for Youth Development and Youth Empowerment in Akwa Ibom State.
You may ask why policy development; why can’t we come and do a programme?
Because for so many years, different governments had come and gone, done things here and there to try to deal with the issue of unemployment, but it had not had a significant or meaningful impact. We still have a high rate of unemployment. So I’m of the view that we need a multi-faceted approach; we actually need a strategic policy that is in line with the state vision and strategy for addressing this issue; and to address this issue, honestly, the funds going to the ministry of youth are not enough. There needs to be extra resources allocated to the youths hence we started this policy campaign tagged #10Percent4youths. #10Percent4youths campaign is calling on the government of Akwa Ibom State, specifically the law makers to enact a law that 10 percent of the oil derivation fund should be appropriated towards the youth empowerment initiatives; and we are proposing that this money should be used to set up a youth empowerment funds. We have a draft bill known as Akwa Ibom Youth Empowerment Fund Bill ready which we hope to submit to the House very soon.
Can we have an idea how you get your fund?
Like I said, two organizations are supporting us. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Partnership Initiatives for Development in Niger Delta (PIND). So USAID and PIND are supporting us to amplify our voice, raise public awareness and draw attention to this youth employment crisis in the state.
You said you have a draft of the bill, what is the major thrust of the bill?
Yes, the major content of the draft is to set out the institutional frame work for administration of the fund, because when we started talking to the law makers to allocate 10 percent for youths, they said how you will spend this money. There was a lot questions on specificity. This draft bill sets out how this fund will be administered, both from the formation of youth empowerment fund, the board, power of the board even outlines the kind of beneficiaries that should benefit from this fund and the kind of specific youth empowerment activities or initiatives that this fund should consider funding.
Who is a youth to you?
I like that question because when we started this policy advocacy, we realised that the youth is this group of politically active matured people who may not necessarily meet what we think of youths. Some of them are in their 50s and late 40s. But if you go to some communities in Akwa Ibom that we have gone, and say can we see the youth leader, you will see a 60-year old person rise up; they will be using youths to gain political relevance and political space. So youth has become that thing that you struggle for political spacing, and the majority of people in those kind of position are over the age. But really we think the age group that is in crisis is the 18-35-year olds. These are who we should be targeting; the real youth who constitute this number of unemployment are not dealt with. So for us youths are 18-3-year olds. Although this one is targeting those who are not employed, who don’t have any business and any source of income so that is our target.
What are your strategies to ensure that this fund meets the targeted people?
We have some agencies that ideally, have a vision to empower youths and that is why this 10% for youths fund is not a fund that is separate from all the activities around. It is my expectation that when this fund is established and is socialised, we should be looking at how they can make NDE work better to address this issue; we should be looking at how Ibom Science Park can create space for youths to innovate. This fund is not just to be given to the youth to build only their skills; it is about building strong institutions that will equally support youth empowerment. That is why we are not giving this as a proposal to the government to implement. We want to enact a law. The law means that it is a legal document that you can enforce; a law sets out a constitutional frame work for this fund. It will also include durability, transparency and accountability measures. I am hoping that I get to really share what is in that bill. Having it as a law, you can now hold government to what the law says. If this fund is implemented with some of these measures, and I’ll try to give you some of the measures that are in this fund; for example, I spoke of transparency and accountability measures; we are asking that account of the fund should be made public. So whether it is your quarterly report or annual report, those should be available on the website so that people can see. We are asking that they should be an external auditor independent of the fund who will do the yearly audit of the fund.
All this is for financial accountability, but more importantly we are asking that they should be a monitoring and evaluation committee independent of the fund constituted by the member of the public, youths, adult and otherwise, who will sit every quarter or every month as the governor dims fit, to review what the fund is doing and how they spend the money to see if is meeting the goals set out in the establishment of the fund.
And also we are asking that after a year, we should begin to see impact assessment. The government recently sent some youths to learn agriculture techniques. In a year’s time, we should go and interview and survey those 100 youths; what are they doing now? Then we should be able to say that this is the impact that the training has done in their lives. So if you are giving beneficiaries money, after a year of release of fund, we want to see what they are doing with it. So the fund has to be such that is accessible, checks its impact and re-feeds back into it. Then with this monetary and evaluation committee, we can observe what is going on, with the report online, every thing should be open. on what the fund is doing, it will be difficult for them to hide and our vision will is that this fund will be an open and transparent fund that Akwa Ibom citizen can go into the office and ask, I want to see what you people did last year they should be able to print out a copy and say, this is what we did.