A Tale of Young People Organising Around Power.
Law making and policy influencing under the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitutional system is rigorous. The amendment process as prescribed in the constitution is cumbersome. It requires substantial efforts, time and resources to delete a word or insert a clause in the constitution. The constitution or laws of Nigeria are regarded as official documents with legal force and therefore the inability to meet the conditions of constitutional amendment or law making may imply a waste of resources, time and effort. It was under this amendment process that the Kogi State Youth Development Commission bill was passed and assented into law.
The Kogi State Youth Development Commission Bill, as supported by ActionAid Nigeria under the “System and Structure Strengthening Approach against Radicalisation to Violent Extremism (SARVE) Project in Kogi State, Nigeria” with funding from the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), is the first privately sponsored bill ever assented to by an Executive Governor in Kogi State. On the 14th of November 2018, after passing through all prescribed stages of law making in Nigeria, the Kogi State House of Assembly passed the bill with an overwhelming majority. It was reported that all 25 members of the Kogi State House of Assembly voted in favour of the bill.
History was made on the 24th of April 2019 when the Executive Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Adoza Yahaya Bello, after extensive consultations with his cabinet members and advisers, signed the bill into law and remarked the bill as laudable and timely for transiting the Kogi Youth from “vice prone” (violent extremist) activities to value adding activity such as technical work, agriculture and information technology.
The advocacy for the establishment of a youth development commission, using the bill as a vehicle was conducted in response to available evidence from the SARVE project baseline study which indicated among many things high youth unemployment, illiteracy, extreme poverty, lack of social cohesion and sense of purpose, resulting to youth restiveness and violent extremism. Out of the 1.8million youth population in Kogi State, only a very negligible proportion are meaningfully engaged through sports under the Kogi Ministry of Youths and Sport. The Youth Development Commission Bill was therefore pre-meditated to address the drivers of youth restiveness and violent extremism as a result of idleness, unproductivity and underutilisation of human resources which bedevil the young population within the state.
In addition, the bill was well thought out to address youth neglect in political and democratic process, unemployment, youth empowerment, gender sensitivity and sustainability of ad-hoc youth interventions and initiatives. Lastly, the bill is anticipated to open up shrinking political, economy and social spaces for the youth of Kogi State.
The road map to the successful passage of the bill into law was hinged on two major strands; formation of youth advocacy clusters (youth organising), where youth focused organisation came together to develop a movement and campaign to push for the bill. Secondly was the capacity building for these youth organisation to actualise their purpose through effective advocacies. Key stakeholders, power holders and gate-keepers who may have influence over the passage of the bill were identified; profiled and engaged all from the conception of the bill, until it was assented to.
For focus and shared goal, the entire youth led organisations supporting the bill came under an initiative known as “the Kogi Youth Advocacy Cluster.” While previous attempts to pass bills were limited to organising public hearings and submission of memorandums to the State House of Assembly, the Youth Cluster movement adopted a strategic, disruptive and young-people led approach. They were consistent in organising and building strategic capacities to push for the passage of the bill. There were monitoring and tracking mechanisms as well as evaluating efforts made at every step of the journey. The movement was supported to develop its own leadership, establish values, constituents, identify its oppositions and competitors, and embrace its supporters since there was a similar bill that was being promoted at the same time which did not adequately address youth empowerment and other youth specific issues. Within the Youth Advocacy Cluster, they identified and recruited competent leadership of young people who built movement at both the State and Local Government Levels. While some youth advocates within the clusters were involved in engaging their Constituency Assembly members and elected officials at the local government levels, the State leadership of the cluster interfaced with relevant commissioners of line ministries, special advisers to the Executive Governor and the Chief of Staff to the Governor.
The youth group were consistent and clear in making their demands; creating awareness and helping every stakeholder comprehend the import of the bill. The youth had one demand, and that was “the Establishment of a commission to cater for their needs.”
The Youth Advocacy Cluster approached power as a relationship rather than a right. Therefore, power was regarded as the outcome of interest and resources. As a movement, the youth organised around two forms of power: ‘power with’ and ‘power over’. While ‘power with’ was to identify other communities of interest that were relevant to this bill or whose support were required to push this bill, the media, assembly members and community leaders were considered to possess ‘power with’. Through collaborations, the movement worked with and built strategic partnership with other faith based and community organisations. The advocacy cluster also organied series of road walks, town hall meetings, advocacy visits and round-tables to push for the passage of the bill.
However, the bill met some oppositions from some stakeholders who were concerned about the funding possibility of the proposed commission and possibility of political hijack of the process; especially as this was being promoted by the young people. Furthermore, the Advocacy Cluster organised to challenge ‘power over’ held by decision makers responsible for law making. This includes the Speaker, Kogi State House of Assembly, the deputy Speaker of the House, the Chairman and House Committees on Youth, the Clerk and other members. The Cluster also engaged political appointees such as the Attorney General of Kogi State, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legislative Matters and most importantly, the Chief of Staff to the Governor. Other stakeholders were traditional and religious leaders and the legal team working with the state house of assembly to draft and review bills. However, the power to pass a bill was vested in the state house of assembly and ultimately the Executive Governor of Kogi State for his assent.
With the passage of the bill, it is expected that there will be a creation of a youth development commission in Kogi State. The provision of a legal framework is a condition for effective implementation of progressive youth empowerment, therefore mechanisms for monitoring and tracking implementation will be the next task before the Youth Advocacy Cluster. This bill, if implemented as provided would create job employment for youths, reduce poverty and prevent violent extremism by promoting youth inclusion and sense of purpose.