Viewpoint - August 14, 2021

Akwa Ibom: Impact of COVID-19 on Youth Development & Empowerment (2)

By Ide Owodiong-Idemeko

The impact of COVID-19 on young people, especially for the vulnerable youth across the world, has largely been felt in the fields of education, employment, mental health and disposable income.
The worrying challenge is that if governments are unable to effectively execute recovery measures, present and future generation of youth may have to “shoulder much of the long-term economic and social consequences of the crisis, their well-being may be superseded by short-term economic and equity considerations.” 
It is therefore imperative that “governments need to anticipate the impact of mitigation and recovery measures” in order “to avoid exacerbating intergenerational inequalities” and rather, “involve young people in building societal resilience….” 
As of March 2021, unemployment rate in Nigeria rose to 33.3%, representing an upward increase from 27.1% for the second quarter of 2020 as contained in National Bureau of Institute (NBS) report.
Bloomberg also reported that Nigeria’s unemployment rate, made her the second highest on a global list of 82 countries it monitored.
This is not surprising as the country has over the last five years witnessed the economy go through two recessions, and now, contending with a pandemic.
A deeper mining of the data indicates that as of the fourth quarter of 2020, unemployment for people aged 15 to 24 stood at 53.4% and at 37.2% for people aged 25 to 34. The rate for  jobless  women was 35.2%, compared with 31.8% for men. Bottomline, young people suffered significantly from the pandemic. Unfortunately, the projected growth for the national economy post-COVID is not encouraging, with 2021 growth seen at 1.5% versus 2020 contraction of 1.9%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that the country will only recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
So, we are in for a very slow recovery and considering that the number of people looking for jobs will keep rising as our population growth outpaces output expansion, the journey ahead is likely to be very tortuous. 
Another area where the youth have experienced significant disruption due to the pandemic is in education. Although the Nigerian tertiary education system is used to regular disruptions arising from students protest, lecturers strike actions, campus violence, etc. the closure of schools and universities during the lockdown as part of the government measure to prevent transmission was unprecedented. Not only did “every week of school closure imply a loss in the development of human capital with significant long-term economic and social implications,” it also significantly changed how youth and children live and learn during the pandemic. Some of the innovative teaching and learning tools and delivery systems schools and teachers experimented with in response to the crisis may have a long-lasting impact on education systems.
But beyond this, is the challenge that this poses for many of our youth and children who do not have access to some of these innovative teaching and learning tools like the internet, especially for the poor who live in rural areas. The digital divide in internet connectivity and access to electronic devices that are suitable for these new form of learning between youth and children from well-off families and those from less well-off families further amplified existing inequalities among young people during the pandemic. In addition, lack of poor power supply across the country compounded the effectiveness of this new form of learning. Not to forget the quality of the home learning environment, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. For instance, how on earth will children from a socio-economically disadvantaged school in my little village of Ikot Okop, Okop Ndua Erong, Ibesikpo-Asutan with its non-existent power supply fathom having a quiet space to study at home or an internet connection, or even afford a smart phone? Absolutely, unthinkable.
During the 2020 lockdown, many youth, especially young females experienced increased sexual and domestic violence. Lagos State reported a 40% increase in rape and domestic and sexual violence in 2020.
Following a string of high-profile attacks, including the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in northern Jigawa state, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency in June last year to tackle the crisis. The Nigeria Police also acknowledged in June, 2020 that reports of rape cases had risen during the pandemic and introduced measures to improve police response to gender-based violence. The police stated that between January and May 2020, it received 717 reported cases of rape adding that this number excluded “survivors who chose to stay silent, afraid of the perpetrator(s) and even more terrified of a society where rape culture and victim–blaming is rife.”
In many parts of Nigeria and the world, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) surged during the pandemic as the home no longer was a safe haven for many women, and in some instances, men.
In acknowledgement of this dire situation, the United Nations also raised an alarm regarding the increase in reported cases of domestic and gender-based violence, directly attributed to forced proximity occasioned by the 2020 lockdowns across the globe.
Akwa Ibom was not let off this scourge and thankfully, on June 23, 2020 the State Government finally “domesticated the Violence Against Person’s Act (VAPP), a key piece of legislation that prohibits certain practices and abuses that infringement on the rights of women, girls and the vulnerable in our society.
The VAPP provides that any person found guilty of rape is liable to life imprisonment without the option of fine, while offenders below the age of 14 are liable to 14 years imprisonment without option of fine,” although the jury is still out there that “putting minors in jail may not be the  best practice and recommend that a more progressive approach would be juvenile justice system.”  
Following the assent of the Act by the Governor, approval was given to establish Gender-Based Violence, GBV, Referral Centres in each of the three Senatorial Districts of the State as part of measures to checkmate rape and other violations against women. This is something that we must commend the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel and his government for.

This is the second of a three-parts series. To be concluded.

Owodiong-Idemeko, a Fellow, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (FCIPM) and International Coordinator, 1001+ Voices for People Empowerment delivered the paper at 2021 Convention of  Akwa Ibom State Association of Nigeria (USA) Incorporated(AKISAN), Atlanta, USA (August 5-7, 2021.

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