Every Nigerian administration has its obvious stars, even though the proportions have not increased with democracy’s return to Nigeria. The reasons for this are not elusive – with political considerations defining the distribution of ministries more than anything else, it is impossible to curate a galaxy.
Still, even mediocrity has its limits, and a certain Inuwa Abdulkadir went far beyond and beneath those limits.
The Ministry of Youth Development is seen by those who trade in power as one of the ‘less lucrative’ ministries for good reason. It was brought to life, not by political imperatives but by sustained advocacy from local and international interest groups – created in February 2007 with a mandate to promote the physical, mental and socio-economic development of Nigerian youth.
But more importantly, it also has a very limited budget, 90 percent of which – according to the past minister but one, Bolaji Abdullahi – goes to the powerful bloc sustaining the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The minister therefore gets just about 10 percent of a what is already a very small cake, by Abuja standards.
With no capacity for patronage, a sector not particularly important to power brokers, and ‘children’ being the core of its assignment, those sent to Abuja’s version of Siberia are usually the token addition – and mostly forgettable. Until a former journalist who had been commissioner in Kwara took over two years ago.
Bolaji Abdullahi had his faults – but a lack of passion wasn’t one of the them, and through constant engagement, entrepreneurship programmes, the youth service reforms and others, he slowly made, if not a mark, then at least an impression.
The man who took over from him however made an impression only in its absence. It is instructive that ministers like Omobola Johnson, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, even Stella Oduah had become more popular with the youth than their own minister. He was dull, he was uninspiring, and his only claim to fame was insisting that youth corps members should be ready to sacrifice their lives for the country by accepting posting to volatile and violence-prone states.
It was at that point that this board decided he was an aberration to be ignored, and accepted that the administration of the youth population had returned to a familiar tack of irrelevance.
This week, the man was fired by President Goodluck Jonathan. There are rumours of political consideration in line with Mr. Abdulkadir’s alignment with the Benue governor, hostile to the Presidency. But officially, the decision is hinged, curiously, on his refusal to fairly administer elections of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN).
We say curiously, because the NYCN, factionalised in four, has been in crises for at least two years, even before the election of Dr. Jonathan, without intervention. Thus, we find it difficult to accept its sudden primacy in the performance assessment of federal government resources.
But no matter this, because Mr. Abdulkadir had this coming.
Without an actual executive mandate, the ministry of youth is essentially an advocate and coordinating ministry, working with organs across the country dedicated to youth development to build a coalition that delivers its mandate of empowering the youth population.
Therefore, it is impossible to be a ‘quiet’ figure in such a ministry – to justify its existence, the ministry, if not the minister, has to be pro-active, visible, and dynamic. Like Abdullahi showed, it should be in the forefront of issues from the supposed rape of a young Nigerian student to the unpaid allowances of youth corps members; from leading the charge on the federal government’s business plan competition for small businesses to headlining platforms to promote youth leadership.
But Abdulkadir – who has been known to fall asleep during public events – was missing in action. Through the ASUU strike, the iDEA hubs, of his sister -minister, and everything else, not only did Mr. Abdulkadir expose a lack of capacity to lead in his important to-dos, he also displayed an embarrassing lack of interest in his target audiences, standing the online audience of youth up for his first Twitter Town Hall Meeting and then proceeded to tweet about weight loss from that same account made it clear that this time around, the President had, as young people say, ‘entered one chance’.
Dr. Jonathan now has a chance to redeem that awful mistake. With Abdulkadir’s sack, it is heartwarming to see his predecessor back to holding the forte, but this cannot be for too long. The President’s advisers now have a fine opportunity to look beyond the People’s Democratic Party and deploy a far-reaching recruitment exercise to find a star performer.
This is in fact in their own self-interest. If the President finds a minister with his hand on the pulse, he ultimately furthers the interest of his own government and his party in engaging that demographic for policy and elections.
Young people are no longer a disinterested bloc without influence. So, for a government that has reacted with hurt more than once at its portrayal in social media and other markets driven by youth, it is curious that it continues to fashion its engagement with that demographic as an afterthought. – in effect, if not in intention.
So, indeed we congratulate President Jonathan for getting rid of Abdulkadir. But, until we are sure this government has learnt from its mistakes and will now begin to take young Nigerians with the seriousness they have earned, there will be no clinking of glasses.