By Idowu Omisore
We are in that time of the year that the International Youth Day (IYD) is observed. August 12, every year, is a day set aside to draw attention to the myriad of issues that affects young people across the globe. The need to create “Safe Spaces for Youth” is this year’s talking point. A random search on the internet shows that so many countries of the world have decided to make the day memorable in form of events, fun activities and discussion platforms. Considering the fact that the current generation of youth are the largest in history of mankind, and Africa being the continent with the highest number of young people, this year’s international youth day calls for celebration, reflection and implementation.
The United Nations (UN) official website throws more light on the import of the theme: “Youth need safe spaces where they can come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, participate in decision making processes and freely express themselves. While there are many types of spaces, safe spaces ensure the dignity and safety of youth. Safe spaces such as civic spaces enable youth to engage in governance issues; public spaces afford youth the opportunity to participate in sports and other leisure activities in the community; digital spaces help youth interact virtually across borders with everyone; and well planned physical spaces can help accommodate the needs of diverse youth especially those vulnerable to marginalization or violence.”
“Ensuring that safe spaces are inclusive, youth from diverse backgrounds especially those from outside the local community, need to be assured of respect and self-worth. In humanitarian or conflict prone settings for example, youth may lack the space to fully express themselves without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. Similarly, without the existence of safe space, youth from different race/ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or cultural background may feel intimidated to freely contribute to the community. When youth have safe spaces to engage, they can effectively contribute to development, including peace and social cohesion.”
To my way of thinking, this year’s theme, Safe Spaces for Youths, denotes a favourable atmosphere under which young people can make meaningful contributions and unleash their full potential without fear of suppression. With the increasing spate of crises in the country and in the world at large, this year’s theme couldn’t be timelier. Disturbingly, it is the youth that are often used to cause unrest and create unsafe spaces. The number one responsibility of any government is to protect the lives and properties of their citizens. In other words, the government must create safe spaces for its people.
Ever since Security Council Resolution 2250 was adopted in 2015, there has been a brand new perception that young people can play significant roles in preventing conflicts and promoting peace. Undeniably, there is a critical connection between peace and potential. During conflict situations, people just want to stay alive by all means; at that point in time, survival is everything. In unsafe situations like this, creativity is stifled and many young people die with their potential – this is the saddest part. It is only in an atmosphere of peace that people, not just youths, can freely express themselves, unleash their potential and make groundbreaking contributions.
Over the years, the government has made several efforts to improve the lot of the youth, particularly in creating safe spaces. A case in point is what the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development has been doing to provide a fantastic environment for young people to express themselves. There is a youth centre in all the five administrative divisions of the state: Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island and Epe aside from libraries, sporting facilities and competitions. Youth development took on a new dimension under the current administration of Governor Akinwunmi Oladapo Ambode with the creation of the Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment and the empowerment of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development (MYSD). The Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSTEF) was also created. So far, the Fund has disbursed close to 5 billion naira to about 5,500 beneficiaries; promoted entrepreneurship through improved access to financial support, strengthened the institutional capacity of MSMEs; developed programmes to train and place unemployed Lagos residents in jobs; formulated policies to boost business in Lagos State and focused on programmes that can drive innovation within the Lagos ecosystem.
One of the cardinal initiatives launched by LSTEF is “Lagos Innovates” – a strategic effort aimed at promoting technology and innovation-driven startups. It has three programmes: Workspace Vouchers, Hub Loans and Events Sponsorship. Speaking on the initiative, LSTEF Executive Secretary, Akintunde Oyebode said “Lagos has, perhaps, the most exciting startup ecosystem of any city in Africa. The investment case is clear, and driven primarily by the size of the market and accessibility as an entry-point for Nigeria and a springboard for the rest of West Africa. If we get our model for innovation-driven enterprises right, Lagos State has the potential to exponentially increase opportunities and jobs for its residents in the medium- to long-term,”
Last year, for the first time, the Ministry of Youth and Social Development (MYSD) came up with a lofty and laudable leadership development initiative called IBILE Youth Academy that impacted positively on young people across the State. The programme, now renamed Eko Youth Academy 2018, has received the full endorsement of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and will commence in Youth Centres across the State, a day after the International Youth Day (August 13-17, 2018). Unquestionably, Lagos parades more innovative and youth-friendly programmes, living up to its appellation as the nation’s centre of excellence and worthy of emulation.
As rightly noted by Jide Johnson, a respected journalism scholar and social commentator, “Ambode has made remarkable achievements…the provision of infrastructure, revenue generation, public safety and security of life and property. Under his watch, Lagos has a new face. A visit to Berger, Abule-Egba, Ajah, Aboru, Alapere bye- pass and Ojota will convince you…Indeed, Lagos has been moving forward in line with the public pact of the administration to residents as enshrined in this slogan…itesiwaju ipinle Eko loje wa logun.” In keeping on with this ‘itesiwaju’ (progressive) mindset, the state government must not rest on its oars but strive harder to create more safe spaces for youth potential to flourish.
Peace building and creation of safe spaces is a collective responsibility – we are all stakeholders. In particular, politicians, mass communicators, opinion leaders, social media users, religious heads and leaders at every level should be careful not to make speeches that can heat up the polity and instigate unrest. Elections are fast approaching; tension is building up. Young people should not allow themselves become tools in the hands of hideous politicians, instead youths should take responsibility for their future by making positive choices, embracing personal development and participating actively in nation building.
IOmisore, youth development advocate, writes from Lagos.