…Decry State of Youth Development Fund Bill, Scholarship
….Insist AKHA Taking Youth for Granted
By Ekemini Simon
15 youth groups in Akwa Ibom State have rejected the budgetary proposals made for the building of Akwa Ibom State Worship centre and the expenditures for Youth prayers.
Akwa Ibom Youth drawn across Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the state made this known during a roundtable discussion organized by YIAGA Africa and held at Luton Park Hotels, Uyo, last Tuesday.
YIAGA Africa is an NGO working on issues around elections, legislative engagements, governance and development.
It could be recalled that for 2021 fiscal year, the Akwa Ibom State Government has proposed N6.750 billion to be sunk into the Worship Centre project under the item tagged ” Building Work”.
In the approved revised budget of 2020, the Akwa Ibom State government budgeted N2 billion for “Design and Preliminary Work” for the building while N3 billion was budgeted for “Building Work” during the fiscal year. This summed up to a total of N5 billion for the 2020 fiscal year. For 2020 and 2021, Akwa Ibom State Government is planning to spend N11.750 billion for the project.
For quarterly Youth Prayers meeting, according to the Annual Report of the Accountant General with Audited Financial Statements of the State ended 31st December, 2019, N22.5 Million naira was spent in 2019 for the item. N20 million was subsequently budgeted for the item in the revised provisions for 2020. No amount is budgeted in 2021.
The youth drawn from Youth Alive Foundation, Tax Justice Platform, Activista, De Joseph Society, WICAT, CODE, WOCH, RTL, JDPC, NLC, YOFU, NUT, ATSI, P4P and LITIGANT said they do not support State Government expenditures and budget proposals for the Worship Centre Project.
While noting that N11 billion planned to be spent on the project is outrageous, they wondered the economic benefits the project will have on the youth and the State at large.
One of the Group leaders noted” It is disturbing that the State Government will choose to spend our resources on projects like the Worship Centre which does not have any direct bearing on the lives of the common man.”
He called on the State Government to act as it promised by using donated funds to build the project instead of funds from the State coffers.
Another Youth Leader, Ukeme Anwan from CODE decried the expenses made on Youth Prayers in the State.
He said” The N22 million spent in 2019 for quarterly Youth Prayers meeting is questionable and should stop. In 2020, they have continued with the prayer meeting. We all have our churches that we pray.
“There are no funds allocated for scholarship. Instead of directing the money for scholarship to the less privileged, the priorities of this administration for the youth are prayers. This is saddening and we reject it”.
The youth wondered why the State Governor has not given assent to the Akwa Ibom Youth Development Fund (AKYDF) Bill 20 months after its passage into law by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
The AKYDF Bill was passed by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly in March 2019 but Governor Udom Emmanuel, has withheld assent to the Bill.
The Governor has not said why he withheld assent to the Bill. This has drawn much concern from youth across the state.
One of the youth representatives had asked the Chairman, House of Assembly Committee on Youth, Sports and Security, Rt Hon Nse Essien after he ended his keynote at the event what the fate of the AKYDF Bill is.
Another participant asked, “Honourable, please tell us some of the specific plans we can point out and say this and this are the intentions of the state government for the youths”?
Yet another participant asked, “what is your committee doing about security and youth inclusion in the effort at securing the state”?
The lawmaker glossed over these questions, and that caused a rowdy session at the event.
Nse Essien who represents ONNA state constituency, the hometown of Governor Udom Emmanuel was represented by Barr Linus Ukpong.
To the first question, the lawmaker’s representative said “the Bill has passed the House of Assembly level, so it is left for His Excellency the Governor.”He pleaded that he can not provide concrete answers to the other questions because he was not told that it was a roundtable.
“I was not told about this part,” the lawmaker’s representative exclaimed.The failure of the lawmaker who was keynote speaker at the event to address questions asked by the youths raised strong emotions of disappointment from the participants.
One of the participants said “if we can not get answers to basic questions from the Honourable member who is directly in-charge of youth matters, then there is no point continuing with this meeting. At a time like this, the government should take the youths seriously.”
Another Youth stated ” From all indication, we can clearly tell that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is taking us for granted. They do not want any commitment to the youth. They do not want to give answers to our question that is why no the Chairman of the Committee ignored the invitation.
” If he was not chanced at the last minute, why did he not ensure another lawmaker from the Committee represent him? This clearly shows how the youth are regarded in this State. The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly are taking the youth for granted”.
A female participant at the event added emphatically, “we will continue to engage the committee until we get adequate answers.” Other participants chorused “yes” to her remarks and clapped for her.
The moderator of the event, Carolyn Gordian, said the roundtable was planned by YIAGA Africa in close consultation with Hon Essien, Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Youth, Sports and Security.
“The chairman of the committee is aware of this meeting. In fact he chose this date for us when we met with him last month. We reminded him about this event few days ago, he promised to be here.
“We wanted him to come and speak to the youth. We understand that he could not make it eventually. But from the reactions we’ve got, we will get back to him for further engagements.”
Program Manager (Governance and Development) of YIAGA Africa, Ibrahim Faruk, said the youth roundtable sought to discuss “legislative actions, youth and responsive development”, “youth mobilisation, legislative actions, responsive development and accountable governance”, among other themes including the AKYDF Bill.
About 100 youth representatives from 14 NGOs attended the roundtable meeting.Recall that a coalition of NGOs and CSOs working in Akwa Ibom state under the auspices of Youth Advocacy Clusters has repeatedly appealed to Governor Udom Emmanuel, to sign the AKYDF Bill since last year.
The AKYDF Bill seeks to create a fund to be called Akwa Ibom State Youth Development Fund with the objective of tackling youth unemployment and anti-social activities the state by creating job and economic opportunities through an independent institution.
Part ll, item 13 (1) of the AKYDF Bill says, “at least three billion Naira (N3billion) shall be set aside by the state government for the Fund established under section 1 of this law, to be progressively increased annually and managed by the tenets provided by the law.”