A former Commissioner of Education, Science and Technology in Kwara state and an outstanding journalist with ThisDay newspaper, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi studied Mass-Communication at University of Lagos and bagged a Masters Degree with distinction from the University of Sussex. Since his appointment as the Minister of Youth Development by the President Goodluck Jonathan in July 2011, he has earned the reputation of a pro-active, youth-friendly Minister.
After failed attempts to reach the youthful Minister for an exclusive interview, due to his tight official schedule and oversight functions as acting Minister of Sports, the Economic Confidential team caught up with him at a forum with members of Nigerian Youth Parliament in his office where he talked on various issues concerning youth development in the country.
In this report, the Economic Confidential provides excerpts from the interaction.
Addressing the youth unemployment in Nigeria
The Minister identified employment generation, giving voice to the youth and their value reorientation as some of the major challenges facing youth development in the country. According to him “the number one responsibility for youth development in this country is work- we have to create employment for the youth. Number two is voice. We need to give the young population voice so that they can play leading roles in defining the solution to their own problems. The third is value. We have to create enabling environment for the right values that would help the youth to be real leaders and be contributors to the social and economic life of this country.”
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi therefore called on state governments to support the Federal Government’s efforts in tackling the menace. He pointed out that since the youth population belonged to the states, governments at the states’ level must endeavour to rise up to the challenges and effectively address the problem. He said the Federal Government’s commitment to tackling issues affecting the youth could also be addressed through Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE) which was designed to provide 10,000 jobs for youths in each state of the federation.
Qualitative education for the youths
The Minister said that while the Ministry for Youth Development and Ministry of Education closely relate towards qualitative education for Nigerian youths, they have a joint responsibility to ensure that institutions of learning do not churn out half-baked and poor graduates into the job market. He said they are working towards ensuring that youths acquire basic knowledge and skill acquisition that could make them useful to the society. He said “There is direct connection between the two ministries towards ensuring well educated and qualified manpower for the economy.”
Budgetary Allocation for education
As a former commissioner of education in Kwara State, he advised states to judiciously utilize their budgetary allocation for education and target critical areas of need. According to him: “There is no point for a state to vote huge allocation for education while 80% of such allocations are devoted to building infrastructure. That kind of investment may not likely improve the quality of education of our youths.”
He pointed out that tertiary education could not be free if the country must be at the same level with their counterpart around the world; he said the government had devised strategies to support indegent students through scholarships and other endowment. According to him: “There is nowhere in the world where tertiary education is free if our youth must have world class education.”
Managing youth development centres
He also expressed optimism that the ministry’s youth development centres would be well-managed once the ministry concludes its discussion with the private sector over the management of the facilities. He added that the ministry was ready to partner with states that are willing to assist in managing the centre.
New Policy on National Youth Service Corps Scheme
To address the challenges facing the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), as the Minister whose ministry supervising the scheme, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi said a new posting policy was unveiled to revamp the scheme. He said the realities on the ground indicated the need to improve security for NYSC members and make them useful to the society. He emphatically stated that “interference by members of the elite is affecting the equitable distribution of the members of the service.”
Past experiences of corpers
He bemoaned the past situation where corps members influenced their posting to ‘juicy’ places in urban cities where according to him “they do menial jobs like buying recharge cards, providing cheap labour, while the female are sexually abused and after the service year they were not offered employment. We said this cannot continue.”
No more preferential postings
He said the Director-General of NYSC would strictly comply with presidential directive where there would be no preferential posting for corps members to banks, National Assembly and other so-called juicy places. He said they would either be teaching in schools or working on the farm and also working on road construction or working at health care centres especially in the rural areas.
Areas of deployment of Corps members
He said: “Youth corps members would be deployed to four critical sectors for national economic development these are: education, agriculture, rural health care and infrastructural development — where their services were mostly needed. Some of the corpers would be deployed to areas that would help in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the area of maternal and child mortality in every state.”
How NYSC can contribute to economic development
Mallam Abdullahi pointed out that “The possible contributions of NYSC’s new reform include economic development, labour supply, strengthening value system, unity and national integration, patriotism and national loyalty to provide a sought-after experience that brings value to youths and the nation.”
Apart from planning to have a foundation for Agro-business scheme, where a graduating corper could submit a proposal to set up a business, the Minister added that the one year service would be transformed to be like a “Finishing School” where the 12 month of the scheme could be used to improve the abilities and skills of corpers so as to be useful to themselves and the society.