Barrister Solomon Dalung is the minister in charge of youth and Sports development. He is a graduate of the university of Jos and former prisons officer. He resigned to join politics and eventually became the chairman of Langtang South Local Government Area of Plateau State.  
 
In this  interview with Youths Digest Magazine, the minister raised the hope of Youth Corps Members of a review of their monthly allowance and sundry issues relating to Youth development in the country. Gidado Shuaib was there to anchor the interview. Excerpts:
 
YD: How is your Ministry tackling challenges of Youth Development?
Well it’s been quite challenging especially in 2016 when the ministry had zero allocation initially for youth development until President Muhammadu Buhari generously intervened and approved some funds for that sector. Despite that, we had to look outside the box and engage partners into different collaborative partnership in accommodating urgent concern of youth development. We’ve been able to basically review the national youth policy which was due for reviewing in 2009. We’ve also had some youth leadership training programmes in conjunction with some international agencies like UNFPA where young people benefitted from capacity building programmes on Leadership. We will soon sign an MOU with Peugeot Auto-mobile of Nigeria in an effort to  provide youth employment for those interested in transportation sector. We have trained quite a sizable number at the Leadership Training Centre where over 250 young people were carefully selected and given the basic leadership training.  In fact, in conjunction with one of our foreign partners, over 420 young people have also been trained in two different locations in Nigeria. So, despite the challenges we’ve provided some modest contributions that would also keep and sustain young people.
 
YD: What do we expect in 2017 as regards programmes on youth development?
We are looking forward to more robust programmes in 2017 in anticipation of approval for various proposals on  youth development programs. Some of the them will be passed into law by the National Assembly. Meanwhile, I have also designed youth awareness engagement where we visit states and engage the youth in National narratives about the challenges of youth development and perspective of the young people to nation building and the role of leadership on young people. This I strongly believe will narrow the gap between the youth and leaders and will also help in moderating the already established mindset of some young people who are frustrated and bring them back from the state hopelessness to hope through concrete programmes. So far have visited some states including Kebbi, Imo, Benue, Plateau among others. The youths must be engaged in shaping the type of future they expect.
 
YD: What is the Ministry doing to resolve crisis in National Youth Council of Nigeria NYCN?
The lingering crisis in the NYCN is quite unfortunate. The major challenge over the multiple leadership tussle is that: it is now before the court. When issues are in court there are limitations of what government can do. However, when we came on board, we open up engagement of the board of trustees of the council and they met in Benin last year and decided to end the crisis and they set up a caretaker committee. The caretaker committee will now conduct elections for substantive leadership. We also intend to hold a stakeholder summit were we will identify past and present youth leaders including development partners and sponsors of our programs can come together and try to see how we will resolve the issue finally by accommodating all interests and setting the tune of a very credible transition process that will lead to the emergence of an acceptable leadership.
 
YD: When will the election for leadership of NYCN take place?
We are definitely going to hold an election because we are not going to create unnecessary delay to avoid further crisis. We are trying to see how the issues will be narrowed down as much as possible for the leadership of the youth council to emerge. The NYCN is a platform upon which the youth express themselves and also engage development partners, sponsors and also relate with young people across the world. So in the absence of a legitimate leadership this opportunities are denied. There is a Volunteer Corps that is obtainable at both regional and international level and this basically is coordinated by the NYCN. If there is no leadership, then certainly some of these things are unattainable because partners will only interact and engage credible leadership for any supports and assistances. I will continue to appeal to the gladiators to allow peace to reign.
 
YD: On sports, why is it that more attention is being paid to football than other sporting activities?
It’s a conception to argue that attention is more on football. This is because before you arrive at a conclusion you have to take a holistic analysis of the situation. Football has been able to establish itself as a national passion for so many people in Nigeria.  Other sports do not have the same passion, probably as a result of the neglect and poor funding in the past and also the collapse of institutional sports. Many years ago there were school sports and in institutional sports that were adequately funded like NIPOGA games. We have the polytechnics, college of education games. We have the NUGA games, we have the Nigerian Army Sporting Festival, we have the prisons and immigrations games among several others. These institutional sports serve as a pool for coalition of talents and identification. But in the past the neglect of this sporting event affected generally other sports. So also that the national sports festival has not taken place in the last  three years as we are in the fourth year. The national youth games which is also a platform for young Nigerians from the ages of 17 down was abandoned sometime until last year. Even though we had budgetary constrain, we had to engage sponsors and partners to hold the game which took place and over 400 talents were identified. We are yet to hold the national sports festival and we are quite convinced to see that we do everything possible to see that it takes place this year.These sporting events are very key to the progress and development of other sports and if they have been abandoned then definitely is just like trying to sub-circle the process of feeding the federations talents that could boost their performances. We have decided to also change the narratives since we came on board to ensure that other sports are given support so that they can pick up and we have also challenge them to begin to emphasize grassroot sport development against the patronage of the elite and professional sports. If this other sports embark on grassroot development and talent Identification of course they will launch themselves and take their proper places. We are creating the enabling environment.
 
YD: Many members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are complaining bitterly about the meagre allowance in the face of economic recession. Is government working towards addressing that?
Permit me to first start by saying that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was Established in 1973 by the Yakubu Gowon Administration with the primary objective of promoting national unity and integration. The scheme has achieved that objective, especially on intergration and uniting Nigerians. It remains the only instrument that is relevant to the youth development, national integration, national peace and offering opportunity to young people to even know their country and aspire to leadership position. Having said this I think there have been agitations for the review of  the allowances of the corps members, which I agree is long overdue. Looking at contemporary realities, the economic challenges and the high cost of living, I believe that something has to be done to bring the allowances into conformity with the realities of the day. But of course, it is a budgetary question, that has to go through a process and the level of the ministry. We have raised that concern through written memo seeking for intervention but it has to go through the legislative process for approval and once that is done, it will be reviewed and I agree that it is time the allowances for NYSC corpers is reviewed in conformity to the economic reality
 
YD: How is the government trying to address the rising rate of youth/graduate unemployment?
The major challenges we are facing today in Nigeria has to do with the rising level of youth graduate unemployment. This has to do with so many years of lack of attention to wealth creation, job creation, creating opportunities to accommodate young graduates. So we have a cumulative situation where today the figures are quite alarming (Unemployment rate). This administration has taken deliberate steps to contend with the rising unemployment. This is packaged in the social investment program where in the 2016 budget over N500billion was budgetted for social intervention and other packages. We have the ongoing school feeding program which is meant to provide food for the primary school children; we have the N-power which is having three packages targeting deliberately youth employment and engagement of over 400,000 young people to be employed and retained for the period of two years on a monthly allowance of N30,000. The beneficiaries will be engaged in different fields of their specialization and those who might be interested in business are also going to have soft loans facilities to take up businesses of their choice. There are also packages for women and groups. This is the first time there is a concerted effort  of approaching  youth unemployment  with concrete policies that would minimize the number of unemployed young people we have on the street. It is unfortunate that as future leaders much has not been done to engage them into a system which they seek to be leaders in the future, but of course hope is not lost. Young people must appreciate the fact that since the opportunities of today appears to be accommodating they must key into it and prepare themselves for future responsibilities.
 
YD: What is the fate of the Peace Corps?
The Peace corps had been in existent for about 18years now as a non-governmental organization. It has a challenge in trying to fit into the system with other security agencies and this has to do with misconception of roles. But today, the National Assembly had been able to pass the bill for the legislation of the peace corp as part of government agencies under the ministry of youth and sport development . the bill yet to be presented to Mr President for assent. But I’m confident that being a father figure who is passionate about youth development, Mr President will assent to it and that will set the tone for another platform of engagement for young people into rendering services to the country through the peace corps of Nigeria. The peace corps is an international organization fashioned around a volunteer corps in some countries where young people serve their country by acquiring experiences to be able to fit into the system. One of the challenging job requirement in Nigeria is the demand for years of working experiences where some employers would insist on at least three to four years of working experience before hiring a graduate. Therefore, young graduates upon graduation become unemployable due to the discriminatory requirements. The peace corps will address the challenge by getting the graduate youths engaged in working environments to gain the basic experiences. It is only through selected services that they can acquire the required experiences and fit into jobs available. I am a person not disposed to the requirement of experiences imposed on young people while seeking for jobs because the headmaster was once a school boy before becoming a teacher. There must be a take-off point in life.
 
YD: What is your advice to Nigerian Youth?
Well I appreciate our young people because of their capacity to tolerate and their understanding too over the years. We as leaders must not take them for a ride. I wish to therefore appeal to them that they must do everything possible to remain focus towards contributing to national development. The current administration is working assiduously towards ensuring that the youth of today can be leaders today and tomorrow through demonstrations of exemplary leadership qualities. Above all, Nigerian youths should liberate themselves from the current mindset of frustration and hopelessness. They should have the hope and the zeal to contribute to socio-economic development of our great nation through various endeavours of skills, expertise, education and entrepreneurship.
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