By Ekanem Itoro

May 24th 2019, was a remarkable day for adolescents and young people in Nigeria: This was the day the Revised National Youth Policy was launched at Royal Birds, Alagbaka, Akure, Ondo state. The Ministry of Youth and Sports invited non-governmental organisations, youth-led organisations and other development partners whose invaluable input has contributed to the wellbeing and development of young people in Nigeria.

 

The biggest development of the Revised National Youth Policy (2019 – 2023) is the redefinition of youth age from 18-35 to 15-29. This is a tough call and critical step in targeting investments which will promote the appropriate desired beneficiaries of interventions for young people rather than adults posing as youths. According to the policy, it categorises the target population into three groups: low-risk youth, especially vulnerable youth, and most at-risk youth. The policy goal is to provide an appropriate framework that protects the fundamental human rights of all youth, promote their optimal development and wellbeing, and enhance their participation in every sphere of national development processes. In addressing peculiar issues, the revised national youth policy has five strategic thrusts, 11 thematic areas, and 23 objectives and commits to the evidence-based approach.

 

National statistics in Nigeria show that 65% of females and 42% of males below the age of 18 are currently sexually active (2013 NDHS) but one of the policy barriers to HIV/SRHR information and services remains the minimum age requirements and the request for parental consent for information and services. The revised national youth policy recognised SRH issues are amongst the biggest health challenges for youth in Nigeria and the poor quality and unfriendly nature of the orthodox health care system is contributing to the poor utilisation of healthcare by youth. The policy provided strategic effort needed to enhance the health of young people which include training an adequate number of health workers on youth-related health friendly services, the provision of adequate infrastructure and materials for optimal services, and, the institutionalisation of quality assurance systems in health care services.

 

The policy says that the implementation of the National Health Act is another key strategic intervention that can ensure appropriate quality of the health service and also mentioned the full implementation of the National Standard and minimum package for adolescents and youth-friendly health services nationwide. Although the policy did not make a commitment to reduce the age of consent for adolescent and young people from (18-14 Years) to access HIV/SRH services but it did make it an obligation to implement the strategic efforts and available policies that support/create an enabling environment for youth in Nigeria to have access to quality health services which include adolescents-youth friendly health services that are confidential, non-judgmental and non-threatening.

 

It is a good thing that the policy also recognises that efforts need to be made to ensure that every group of youth have the opportunity for meaningful engagement and participation in development processes, including community development, governance, and politics. In order to leave no one behind, the policy says the government should create an enabling environment that concedes 10% full participation of physically challenged and other disadvantaged groups in governance but does not recognise the participation or involvement of young key population female sex workers, people who use drugs and LGBTQ. One of the strategies provided by the policy is the advocacy for the full implementation of NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN law and that 25% political appointment for qualified young people from national, states and local governments

 

The national youth policy provided an appropriate framework and strategy that is passably respectable for developing and acquiring required skills for youth. Young people will be able to get involved in decision making, policy making, and implementation processes. It is also a great way to empower them by sharing decision making spaces with them.

 

Since the passage of the NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN bill into law, the participation of youth per se has been selective and inclusion in decision making remains low. This accentuates the stereotype describing Nigerian youths as incapable to lead, especially when only a small percentage of this age bracket have access to information on government policies and programs. I fear that the implementation of the National Youth Policy will witness a weak and not sustainable implementation of programs.

 

It is a fact that young people have inadequate access to institutional systems and structures within the government, private and civil society sectors where they can vantage positions to influence decisions.  For a successful implementation of the document, there is a need for creating youth-friendly opportunities and structures for their effective participation. The National Youth Policy mentioned the full implementation of the NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN bill which will build full youth engagement from the grassroots to the national level with young people taking responsibility and actively participating on key issues.

 

The National Youth Policy Implementation plays a central role in the wellbeing and development of adolescents and young people as such some aspect of the youth policy should be made a law which will protect the rights of the youth, provide necessary backing for the policy and ensure that all stakeholders make sure that young people are the ones driving the implementation from the national level to state level. The policy needs to be domesticated by each state and relevant ministries should partner with other key stakeholders who hold the wellbeing and development of young people at their core. Youth must be at the fulcrum of the process of critical steps in ensuring that it meets the needs of adolescents and young people without leaving anyone behind. The policy recognises the needs of marginalised youth. Therefore, it should develop and enforce gender-sensitive laws and policies that will protect the rights of young women and men in Nigeria to have improved coverage of health care services for youth and also there is great need for a costed implementation plan across the various ministries and financial investment across the various financing mechanism – Global financing facility (GFF), Basic health care provision funds (BHCPF), Development partners, Sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

 

There is an existing platform for youth participation like youth councils both at the local and national level. We also have youth parliaments and youth-led organisations that need to disseminate and increase access to information about government policies and implementation programs. They should make sure, all government strategies are based on concrete evidence, experience, and knowledge. I recommend that young people establish a mechanism for regular reporting and assessment of the implementation of the National Youth Policy which should be carried out both at the state level and fully reported at the national level. Youth should create a structured dialogue that will involve consultation with young people to reflect on priorities and key issues

 

Involving young people not just in the programs and interventions of the implementation of the National Youth Policy but also in the design, monitoring and evaluation aspect of the policy implementation will enhance their understanding and will inspire a generation of leaders. Young people will create a responsive system that takes advantage of new innovations and technologies. They are in the best position to implement the national youth policy and programs to ensure youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services are free from coercion, discrimination, and judgment.

 

#HaveYourSae

 

Ekanem Itoro Effiong

Program Officer, Advocacy/Policy Influencing Unit

Education as a Vaccine (EVA)