40 per cent of Nigeria’s population are between the ages of 10 to 24. By 2025, the number of Nigerian youth will have exceeded 57 million, making them a crucial demographic. “Though we are little, we are mighty,” say the winners of The Nigerian Youth Leadership Awards.
Words Diane Lemieux – Photography Adolphus Opara
Winner of a Nigerian Youth Leadership Award, Peter Alumona, explains, “It’s not only being in politics that makes you a leader, it’s doing things like being class governor, how you talk with people, and what you do in your community.” Peter Alumona and Kehinde Ogundipe, both 13 years of age, stand proudly in their school uniforms at the entrance to Lagos’ Muson Centre. They and their classmates from Immaculate Heart Comprehensive Senior High Secondary School had just accepted a prize for Best Social Project in Lagos state.
The students had participated in the Leadership, Ethics and Civics (LEC) class offered at their school. The Nigerian Youth Leadership Awards celebrates the commitment, passion and innovation of young Nigerians, highlighting their efforts in order to inspire other youth to aspire to become change agents in their own communities. This year, the awards recognised the efforts of secondary school students for their design and execution of community development projects.
In the 2011/2012 school year, 27 public schools in three states were selected to participate in the programme. In each school, teachers trained in the LEC curriculum led a group of volunteer students in the first year senior secondary school. During the one-year programme, these young people are introduced to the concepts of youth-led social change. They reflect on their own abilities as individuals and the skills they need to cope with life in Nigeria today. The children involved are then asked to put the theory behind the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be a leader into practice, by designing and implementing a community development project.
In 2012, out of 35 school-led community projects in Lagos, Anambra and Ogun States, one class in each state won top honours for Best Social Change Project. The projects are judged on the basis of their creativity and innovation, their impact in the community and the sustainability of the project.
The LEC is one of several initiatives designed and supported by LEAP Africa, a non-profit organisation committed to developing dynamic, innovative and principled African leaders. Oje Ivagba, Director of Programmes, coordinates the Youth Leadership Awards, and manages the LEC programme.
“We take these motivated young kids and hope to change their mindset, and show them that they can make a difference,” said Oje. “It’s the youth who are taught to lead today, from within their own spheres of influence, that can guarantee effective leadership in public spheres tomorrow.”
At least with Peter and Kehinde, their efforts seem to be paying off.
“I want to become a journalist,” says Peter. “I’ve learned how to cope in this society and discovered my potential.” With the money he will earn, he wants to start a charitable organisation for less privileged people.
Kehinde wants to be a medical doctor. “For me, it gave me self-awareness, what I think about myself. I realise that I have my own weakness and strengths.” What did she learn from the LEC programme? “We see now everybody has their potential, no matter their age group. Everybody can do something.”
Award-winning initiatives by Youth Leadership winners
Immaculate Heart Comprehensive Senior High Secondary School, Lagos State
These students devised a project to provide free eyeglasses to support small traders, mainly low-income, and often illiterate individuals of the Onigbonbgo market, Maryland. The project required them to coordinate with the local council, the market association, religious heads in the community and health professionals who donated their time and professional assistance free of charge. By the end of their project, they had enabled sight-screening tests for the market vendors, as a result of which 15 people were given glasses and 18 received blood pressure checks. Most positively, the awareness created by this project generated a pledge by local authorities to make this project a regular outreach programme. The Chief of the community, the Onigbongbo local council, the Chief Imam and the nearest Redeemed Church have all promised their continued support.
Orile-Ilugun Comprehensive High School, Ogun State
The government-provided borehole in the Ona-Ilu community was out of use and long abandoned, giving residents little access to clean water. The students of the LEC programme mobilised and inspired community members to repair the borehole, clearing the site of debris, repairing the damaged pump, replacing old pipes and repairing the overhead storage tanks. A technician from the Odeda Local Government Authority repaired the power generator and everyone got involved in painting the structure. The project has had a big impact on the residents of the community who wrote a letter of appreciation to the school. Through the project, the residents have become aware of the power of self-help; they are now committed to raising funds locally to maintain the borehole and to use this valuable resource with care.
Community Secondary School Umuokpu, Anambra State
In this environmental protection project, the LEC students acted as a catalyst to bring together parties who could make a difference. The problem they addressed was soil erosion around the Umuokpu community. They approached the Anambra State Ministry of Environment who sponsored the purchase of 140 plant seedlings (80 tea plants, 20 palm trees, 20 ogbono trees and 20 breadfruit trees). The students gained community support in identifying the worst-hit area around their community and clearing the site for the planting of the seedlings. The community is now aware of the impact of soil erosion and determined to maintain the plants that now protect their community, plants that will eventually provide shade, protection and, as an added benefit, fruit.
When asked how the market vendors felt about a project run by such young people, Kehinde answered: “The market people were happy because someone thought of them. Though we are little, we are mighty. They were happy we had free eyeglasses for them.” And when asked what they would like to say to other young Nigerians like themselves they answered, “They should not be ashamed of what they have.”
How to encourage leadership in young people
Support an organisation
Donate to an organisation such as LEAP or Save The Children to ensure that more Nigerian children receive a quality education and the skills to cope with life’s challenges.
Become a Mentor
Volunteer-based mentorship programmes are available at Arik destinations such as London (actionforchildren.org.uk) and New York (mentoring.org).
Children learn best by doing. Organise a cultural outing for kids in your community or engage them in activities that use your skills. Just one day of time will have a big impact.
LEAP Africa recently celebrated its 10th year anniversary and ninth Annual Nigerian Youth Leadership Awards. leapafrica.org