By Milena Rampoldi and Denise Nanni, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Dr. Oti Adepeju of the Global Youth Leadership and Girl-Child Foundation in Nigeria, engaged against youth enemployment, and for girls and women empowerment in Nigerian society. Dr. Adepeju explained us the reasons why there is so much un-employement in her country, and presented her projects and strategies to address the phenomenon. Would like to thank her for her time and the photos she sent us. To know more you can visit youtube and facebook. For a healthy society we need educated women and girls. This is the future we have to dream about and struggle for.
What are the main causes of youth un-employment in Nigeria?
There are many causes and reasons for youth unemployment in Nigeria. One of which is lack of planning; the actual population of Nigeria is still hinged on speculations and not actual figures. A nation that does not know how many people it has, how the people will be catered for in the annual fiscal budget, social policy and other developmental indices. One other cause is lack of political will to put in place key policies that will ensure industrialization in all sectors of the economy. Nigeria is said to be a consuming nation and we are living up to it. Other nations dump their finished products on us, therefore, creating unemployment for our citizens.
On the other hand, few goods made in Nigeria are not purchased by Nigerians because Nigerians have exotic taste for foreign products, and some of the products cannot compete favourably with imported products. The international markets have high standards so much so that many of our products cannot be exported. One major area that cannot be ignored is power generation. Successive government has expended so much resource on electricity to no avail. The nation struggles with power outages, this makes it difficult for industries to thrive, in fact many industries have shut down in recent time and many have relocated to Ghana, China, and other neighbouring small countries where they can get power and other logistics which will make their products come out at minimal cost.
As companies are downsizing, relocation or shutting down, people are sacked, left redundant or resort to work for several months without pay. In most countries of the world and in Nigeria of the 40s, 50s and 60s, agriculture was the major employer of labour especially in less industrialized nations like Nigeria, but as soon as Nigeria discovered oil, the grundnut pyramid disappeared in the north, cocoa from the south, coal from the east, other natural deposits like bitumen, iron ore, rubber, oil palm also went into extinction. Crude oil became the main stay of the Nigerian economy. As if this was a curse rather than a blessing, Nigeria could not sustain refining its own product; imagine if all the four refineries in Nigeria were working to full capacity, how many youths would have been employed. In the Nigerian civil service; which is the largest employer of labour, people often come in with falsified age, so the aging workers refuse to leave and the younger ones cannot come in.
I must commend this present government on its fight against corruption and the agriculture policy which is focused at making agriculture enticing to the youths, but more still needs to be done. We (the youth) cannot be expected to go back to cutlass and hoe subsistence farming. Government have to provide the enabling environment with the provision of land, equipments and tools, machines and tractors, security , farm to markets roads, capacity building, and readiness to buy the produce off the young farmers.
One other great shortcoming in our agricultural processes is wastage, we lack the capacity for adequate food preservation, crops are cheap and affordable while they are in season. Furthermore, our universities and other institutions of higher learning need to be proactive in training graduates for self-reliance, the school curriculum teaches more of abstracts without relevance to the immediate needs of the community, hence there is a wide gap between society’s needs and what the institutions are teaching, many graduates are unable to apply what is taught in the classroom to the realities in the work place and in the larger society.
How was GYLGF founded?
Prior community service activities cumulated into the establishment of GYLGF. The journey started in 2001 with Action Research Training and Development Centre. It was established with the aim of building the youth and adolescent capacity to make informed decisions and choices regarding their sexuality and careers; myself and few other friends were in the vanguard, we organised talks in schools, educational/career excursions and sexuality education talks in schools. The year 2005 signaled a detour and the exclusive focus on youth and women empowerment. This arose as a result of my engagement as a volunteer worker in a church of over 1000 population, where about 40 percent of the youth population were either unemployed or under employed. So I took the burden of organising soft skills acquisition workshops, where they were taught how to construct winning Curriculm Vitae, prepare themselves for job interviews. We also organised entrepreneurial skills workshops for those who wanted the self-employment option. Thereafter, I started free placement services for applicants, linking them with potential employers. About 30 percent of our applicants got employed in various organisations. Meanwhile, school based career/sexuality talks continued in selected schools in Ibadan Metropolis. All these activities were carried out under the aegis of Leading Edge Global Resources Limited. Even though our work was charity based, we could not muster the funds to register as a charity with the government, so we faced several challenges when asking for partnership and collaboration form international NGOs. However, that did not stop our work of alleviating the suffering of the unemployed youths and vulnerable girls and women. In 2014, GYLGF was registered as a non-profit with the Nigerian government, giving us full capacity to function as a nonprofit.
Our Vision: GYLGF envisioned a society where the potentials of youth and girl-child are fully developed and supported to become socially responsible, responsive, able to lead self and contribute meaningfully to healthy society.
What are, according to your experience, the best ways in order to empower girls and women
Empowering women and girls is not a straight jacket approach. Nigeria is a multi ethnic, multi religious society; therefore, it depends on the environment in which one is operating. However, we know that poverty is synonymous to women and poverty is not a respecter of religion or ethnicity. I think the best way to empower women is to tackle poverty in their lives, by enhancing their capacity to be economically productive or enhance their existing business for them to earn more. Poverty is not just about money, I believe there is also cultural poverty, because some women have the where withal to send their children to school, but they will not because to them, education does not yield immediate reward. Therefore, they need to be sensitized on the importance of educating their children, especially the girl-child. The best way to empower girls is to encourage them to finish each stage of their education to the highest possible level, because that is the beginning of emancipation of the mind and intellect. Although education is not a panacea to all social problems, but its power to liberate, equate and illuminate cannot be over emphasized. Therefore, we encourage girls to shun all distractions, face their studies and finish well. Radio programmes and drama series is another way, but we will need partners in this regard.
Is child labour the main reason of school dropout? If yes, how do you address this issue?
No, child labour is not the main reason I will bring it to the doorstep of poverty again. Parents who are well to do would not put their children to labour in such a way that it will affect their education negatively. African parents and indeed Nigerians have always involved their children in their farm work or petty trade and it is not even considered as labour. It becomes labour when the child’s survival as a young family member depends on that labour, when children would be on the street hawking during school hours, when the labour becomes primary and the child’s education secondary. Another reason which is also connected to poverty is early marriage of girls, traditionally the suitor will bring bride price and other gifts and of course that is minus one or two mouths to feed. Teenage pregnancy is another reason for dropping out of school. In the part of Nigeria, where I live, among rural and urban poor; children are encourage to start trading very early, and once they start earn little money, they drop out of school because of the immediate financial gratification. We educate and inform girls on what they stand to lose by falling prey to early marriage or teenage pregnancy in our seminars and workshops. Right now, we are under studying a semi-rural community of Akinyele Local Government in Ibadan Oyo State, we are studying the marriage pattern and economic activities of women and how these impacts on their families livelihood. The other method we employ to solve some of the problems is through our Adopt-A- Girl Project, where partners donate to cover school expenses of vulnerable, but brilliant girls they adopt.
Attached is a video recorded at one of our outreaches on child labour.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
Yes we do, we are registered in the state we operate in, with the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Ministry of Education. When we need to work with the schools, we go through the Ministry of Education. At the grassroots, we are working in collaboration with some local government and federal constituencies to train youths in entrepreneurship and self reliance. We will be working with the Akinyele LGA very soon as machinery is being put in place. We work in cooperation with INGO like the British Council Active Citizens Programme, United Nations Information Centre, Lagos and Association for Reproductive and Family Health. One major setback we have is funding, we need partners and collaborators who will help fund some of our lined up projects.