X-raying the Benue Youth Summit

By Faith Igbudu & Florence Ugbem

In the wake of the #Endsars protest, Benue State government proposed a youth summit and a steering committee made up youths to plan and execute the summit called Benue Youth Summit was set up. 50 delegates were drawn from each of the 23 local governments of the state to represent the entire youths since it was not possible for all the youth in the state to participate.

At the end of the summit, a communiqué was drafted from the three-day gathering which held at the memorable Aper Aku stadium, Makurdi. Some of the resolutions were that: The Benue State Government should establish the State Youth Development Commission and employ youths into the state civil service. Others were: Establishment of Skills Acquisition Centres in the 23 local government areas of the state among several other resolutions.

Welcoming the participants, chairman, steering committee, Pst. Dave Ogbole, said the choice of  Aper Aku Stadium is a very good one because the Late Aku proved, during his life time, that youths can be trusted with leadership roles.  According to him, the remembrance of such a personality who symbolized a working system, would ginger youths and leaders to get Benue working again.

In his address, the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, reiterated the readiness of his administration to implement the resolutions of the summit with a promise to change the narrative by looking into those salient issues raised. The governor warned youths to shun cultism and other vices, which he said, has been a major clog in the wheel of  progress  in the state and advised them to embark on activities that can add value to their lives.

In one of the papers titled, “The role of the youth and government in youth empowerment and development”, the low level of  youth involvement in governance was brought up. A portion of the paper read: “In this same country where we previously had people in their 30s and 40s as presidents, ministers, governors, and ambassadors; people in their 20s and 30s as local government chairmen and heads of agencies and much more, one wonders how it has become a challenge in finding competent youth to fill such positions previously filled in recent time…”.

A look at the breakdown of the current structure of the Benue State executive arm of government for analysis of youth involvement in governance shows that out of the 23 statutory members of the Benue State executive council, none is a youth. The concern is that when deliberations and decisions on policy and programmes are deliberated upon, there is very high tendency that youth issues will not be discussed from a perspective of firsthand experience.

It was a dialogue indeed, youths were given the freedom to dig into the achieves and bring to the table their findings and even appeal for more. The summit is one of the gains of democracy.

Another paper titled “The preparedness of youths for leadership”, was presented. This paper provided guidelines for the youth to prepare themselves for the agitation of more leadership slots.

The event tagged: ‘The future is here’, created an avenue for youths of the state to interface with stakeholders and constructively put forward their demands. “I believe that Benue can redefine her definition of youth. We know that here in our state, by the time people are 35, they are just finding their feet. We may need to extend that definition a little bit more to make it more inclusive. We may need to look at 20 to 45 years so that more of you sitting here can be involved in governance”. This was one of the pleas of the youth as a conducive environment for female youths to come into the corridors of politics since it is not a pathrical society with another plea that political parties should elect actual youths as their youth leaders.

Meanwhile, the summit was graced by the Minister for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, Dr. George Akume, who in a good will message, commended Governor Samuel Ortom for the diplomacy with  which the #Endsars protest was handled in the state, a situation he said devastated many states. He lauded the initiative of the government for organising a youth summit, noting that it is an avenue for dialoguing and charting the way forward.

The minister who was represented by the Executive Director Engineering, Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority, Egnr. Dr. Joseph Utser, also commended Benue youths for a peaceful demonstration and admonished them to always support the activities of government for a better state. “May I at this point appreciate the Benue State government led by Governor Samuel Ortom, for the proper manner in which the #Endsars protest was handled. I want to commend Benue State government for the initiative of a youth summit and urge it’s sustainability for a greater Benue. I want to appreciate Benue youths for not being violent but rather displaying the highest form of maturity during the #Endsars movement, I urge you to remain steadfast and continue to support government at all levels”.

Speaking on the Summit, Mr Gugu Japhet, Senior Assistant Registrar  with the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, explained that, “the summit is a viable venture  by the state government but from the onset I have questioned the organization, the idea is viable but the organization, for me, is questionable because of the calibre of persons that constituted the steering committee. In Benue State here we have young men who are qualify for the real definition of youths globally, young persons who have great ideas and can organise themselves ,the stirring committee should constitute persons with characters that others can emulate. I followed the Benue youth summit, I watched it and also followed that of  Edo State which I even participated online, I also expected that of Benue to be in such a way that people could participate via online, what I saw were persons that lack the ability to handle such summit.

From the feedbacks we have gotten so far, some persons made submissions to the summit. I know of a non indigene in the state who had a very good submission but was never allowed to come in. Anybody living in Benue State qualifies as an indigene to participate and should be allowed to contribute.

At the end of the summit they proposed a Youth Development Commission to be established. We don’t need that in the state, we have a problem of unemployment in the state, the youth summit would have proffered solutions that will help the economy. We already have a Ministry of Youths and Sports Development so we do not need a commission. I don’t think the summit achieved what it ought to have achieved so I suggest the government should go back to the drawing board and bring in programmes that will affect everyone not just the youth”.

In another opinion, Sunday Iduh, a journalist in the state said that “the resolution of the Benue Youth Summit to establish a commission is unnecessary, stating that we already have the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development in the state, he suggested that all the government needed to do was to strengthen the department of the youth in the ministry . Establishing a commission will be capital intensive, create an enabling environment for Entrepreneurship development to strife and also strengthen agricultural value chain. The government should set up funds to be handled by any of the commercial banks devoid of political interest that will give soft loans to youth enterpreneurs who are excelling and are experiencing financial challenges. The loans should be given with strict supervision to be recovered as at when due.

It would be recalled that few weeks to the summit, secretary of the steering committee, Terrence Kaunum, was quoted in an interview he granted The Voice  as saying that the planning and execution of the summit is a litmus test for the Benue youths to show to the elders that they are capable of chewing the tough bone of leadership.

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