Inclusive youth policy has become an essential step towards addressing the high rate of youth unemployment that is contributing to the myriad of social problems that bedevils the Nigerian society.
This becomes an important issue considering the rising youth population with a corresponding rate of unemployment. The Nigerian youth (15-35years) account for over 30% of the more than 200 million people in the country and youth unemployment is currently put at about 30% (National Bureau of Statistics (NBS, 2018). In Nigeria, young people aspire for better livelihood and economic outcomes, particularly through decent employment opportunities. However, the reality is that there are only limited employment opportunities available to the growing population.
Several efforts have been made by the government to address the youth unemployment situation through policy initiatives such as the National Poverty Eradication Plan, SURE-P, YOUWIN, promotion of small-scale enterprises, and N-Power etc. These efforts notwithstanding, the impact of such programmes on the youth leaves much to be desired as youth unemployment remains the driver of the many vices that that threaten food security and national development in the recent.
A critical issue that is key to the poor performance and response of the Nigerian youth in national development has been the low status ascribed to them. The existing structures of the government hardly provide an enabling environment for the youth to participate in policy processes at the local to national levels. Poor funding of youth programmes have also crippled the success of youth interventions in Nigeria. The inability of policy makers to ensure youth inclusiveness in the policy process has resulted in a disconnect between the actual needs of the youth and the perceived solutions being pursued by successive government regimes in addressing the youth challenges with regards to employment. Too frequently, the scaling up of policy programmes adjudged potentially sustainable has not been sustained because the ownership status that would have been ascribed to the youth through their inclusion in the design and implementation was not taken into consideration.
Salient characteristics of the youth that need to be understood for proper targeting have not been adequately measured and streamlined into policies designed for youth employment in Nigeria. The generalization of the youth demographics has implication for the sustainability of programmes designed for them; there is a general lack of information on issues that border on gender, educational orientation, household characteristics, proximity to markets, land availability, tenure rights and access to finance. These present situations where intervention programmes are designed to address youth related issues without first-hand information of the situational analysis of the environment in which they operate.
The nature of participation and who participates in the policy processes has also been debated. Lintelo (2012) opined that clustering a wide variety of youth with diverse needs, desires and problems will result in an oversimplification of the youth terminology and that in such a situation, policy risks becoming insensitive to differences in gender, class, geographic location etc. Even when the youth show interest in participating in the policy process, they are constrained by a series of factors. Limited education and training affect their participation in decision making and this is exacerbated by social exclusion and inequality (Maguire 2007; World Bank SPW/DFID-CSO 2010). The social networks among the youth can be harnessed as a means of engaging them in the policy process in order to identify what actually constitute needs from the youth perspective and appropriate policies and programmes that will translate those needs to economic gain for their benefits.
Evidence-based policy process that has implication for enhancing youth employment for national development cannot be achieved without a deliberate effort to engage the youth in the policy process. Youth participation is essential for collective action in problem identification and need-based options that can be adopted for sustainability. Youth participation in policy process will help to address the youth unemployment situation in Nigeria and boost the economy of the country.
A critical concern of the government should be the need to identify and respond to the aspirations of the youth and strengthen their involvement in national development processes. The factors that determine youth vulnerabilities should be identified and adequately addressed for policy interventions to make meaningful impacts in addressing the youth unemployment situation in the country.