Furera Isma Jumare is a forwarding thinking Nigerian woman and development activist. She tells The Interview about the special initiative her NGO has thought up and implemented in promoting peace, understanding and job creation among the youth of Nigeria.
There have been all kinds of campaigns, projects, talking about peace, unity, talking about development; what makes this different?
What makes this different, I think, is the understanding that for you to be able to achieve peace, first of all, you have to engage with the youth, because the youth are mainly the drivers, or the tools, of violence, extreme violence, extremism. Now, when you know that you need to engage with the youth, you also know that it’s not about just sitting them down every day and talking to them about the importance of peace. It is important to engage them physically for them to be able to have some means of livelihood, or pass those messages through something of interest, something that they love doing.
So, why this one is different, our project, is that the youth are selected. There is a rigorous selection process. They are selected based on certain criteria, which include the knowledge of their immediate communities, the fact that they are already doing something for their communities - whether it is engaging with their peers, being members of some youth association or volunteer group. So we know that they already have some interest in the development of their communities. After that selection, we now give them grants. However, those grants are clearly only for mini projects that we expect them to do, which are simply vehicles or channels through which they will engage with their peers and pass messages of peace, tolerance and the promotion of nation building. So, that’s why this is different.
When you say you select the youth, is it from communities, local governments or states? For instance, how many communities are you dealing with?
Now, the Positive Voices Campaign Project is funded by the British Council-NSRP. NSRP is Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme; it’s all under the DFID. Now, because it is funded by NSRP, we are working with this specific budget, and we are working within states. We are working in states that the NSRP is working in, and those states are Borno, Kaduna, Plateau and Yobe. Initially, with the expectation of - for want of a better phrase - a lot of funds, we planned to select three youths per state from three local governments, but because of budget constraints, what we did was to randomly select three local governments and within those local governments we selected local governments that the NSRP was already working in. We randomly selected youths from a shortlist that we made. Now, this shortlist was made through interactions with community leaders, from youth associations, from teachers. I must add that before we start the project, we would have done a baseline study that would guide us in project design and implementation. So, that’s what guided us in doing the selection.
In all, how many youths are you working with directly?
We are working with 10 youths spread across five states, two per state.
With that number, what kind of impact are you anticipating?
I can give you a total, but if you want me to, I can give you a breakdown. By the time we did the showcase event, the 10 youths had reached a total of approximately, unless I am mistaken, 4,000 youths. Now, what we did was, after the selection, we trained them and we’ve been mentoring them. We did two training sessions with them, on leadership, conflict management, ethics and project management. After that training, we gave them the leeway to decide what projects they wanted to do. It wasn’t like we gave each of them a project and said, ‘This is what we want you to do’. By the time of the first training, we had gone through project management training with them. During that period, they had come up with projects they wanted to embark on in their states. For some, it was a continuation of what they were already doing in their states, and on the last day of their training, they each did a presentation on those projects they intended to embark on. After the presentation, they went back; we gave them three weeks for them to concretise their proposals and send to us, which is what they did, and we gave them grants of up to N500,000 each depending on the project.
Malo, in Plateau State, is one of our Positive Voices. We call them Positive Voices because what we want to do is groom them to be role models in their communities. For some like Malo, for instance, what Malo does in his community is what he calls Football for Peace. Even before this project, he had been an amateur football coach, and he went back and set up Football for Peace. Now this Football for Peace is a football competition he organizes and each team’s name depicts the name of peace in our Nigerian languages. And each team has to have members from various tribes and also the two main religions in the country. You know how we love football in Nigeria, so that, that way they have no choice but to be friends because they need to work together as a team to beat other teams, and they were willing to. In that way, there was a sense of togetherness within the teams and the two religious groups. It wasn’t just the football; after the football competition, they sit down and talk about community, Nigeria, about what it is that unites us as a country and why we are having challenges in terms of ethno-religious crisis. They proffer solutions, bring in experts to talk to them. Before we started this, all the Positive Voices went back to their communities. They embarked on advocacy visits to religious leaders and traditional rulers, to security agencies and to youth organisations as well as women groups. So they already had the support. So when they started their mini projects, there was a lot of support from their communities, to the extent that when they had a session, let’s say on peace, there were lecturers that volunteered to come and give them talks on peace and nation building and things like that.
In fact, the other day, one of our Positive Voices called Abdullahi launched a peace club in Bayero University, Kano (BUK). He is in Bagway local government in Kano. He was able to set up peace clubs in his community. Then subsequently BUK said, ‘OK, come and set up a peace club’. In fact, Malik, one of our officers here, attended the launch of the peace club in Kano. So they have various projects that they are doing; in doing those projects, they reach out to the youth. For example, Malo works with four, five, six teams of eleven players each, so you can imagine the numbers he is reaching. But it doesn’t stop there: when they do have their workshops, other youths come in to sit down. There is somebody whose community engagement project initiative - the mini project - is a barber’s shop. He is Muhammed Akilu in Kujama in Kaduna. He has a barber’s shop and a viewing centre. In the barber’s shop, youths gather around; they do their hair, they bring in other youths, they talk and debate issues that are topical, that impact on their co-existence in their communities.
Most of us agree that the issue of unemployment is a major factor in youth restiveness; is there anything this project is doing to address that?
The issue of youth unemployment is a major one. A huge population of the youth are unemployed; government can’t mop up all the unemployed youth and that’s why I believe the private sector needs to come in. We know that government is helping with N-Power and all that. Why we are doing what we are doing is so that, through these mini projects, some youths can also earn income. So there are some that are doing skills acquisition, but embedded in the skills acquisition training they are doing are not just workshops, talks, seminars, but what they are doing is also teaching other youths to be able to earn income as well. For these youths that we have trained, whose community engagement initiatives we showcased last Thursday, all the equipment purchased now belongs to them. So, they are continuing their activities, earning income. Now, why we also did the showcase and brought in various stakeholders to attend is so that they would look at these projects and hopefully decide to support some of the youth that are beneficiaries of these projects. I know this is just a drop in an ocean, because we cannot address youth unemployment on a large scale.We know that, first of all, it is impossible to address youth unemployment in a month, in a year; so it might take a couple of years for us to have it reduced drastically. But we understand that every little effort counts, so that is why we are doing our little part to support the project this way.
We know it’s not something that can happen even in few years. Some of us believe it is something that will take time, but the important thing is to get the foundation, then you keep on building on it until you get the result you want. But working with this group and also looking at the country, looking at the bigger picture, do you see that foundation being laid?
Yes. I believe the foundation is being laid now.
In what way?
What I am looking at is the fact that, like you said - looking at the bigger picture, I believe that, because despite what we say, despite our belief that the private sector has a lot of role to play, the private sector can only play its role if government does it part - because it is the responsibility of government to provide an enabling environment in terms of infrastructure and other things. Now, if government plays it role effectively through the provision of infrastructure, I believe that the private sector can now come in and play the role it should play.
But you can’t expect much from a private sector that cannot mop up unemployed youths, or cannot itself be as productive as it ought to be. Because when you look at manufacturing, for example, you are talking capacity; the bigger the capacity, naturally the more you can employ. But you cannot increase your capacity if you don’t have the wherewithal. Now, this is where I believe the government is beginning to understand and is attempting to build infrastructure. I know there are challenges, but I believe that government has now understood the situation and is trying to support the provision of infrastructure. And I think that is why now we can see balance in its budget, in our annual budget gradually shifting a little bit more towards capital projects.
Another thing is, even though we keep saying ‘no, it might not happen’ in the area of agriculture, agriculture is a huge employer of labour. Of course, agriculture needs support as well, and despite everything, government needs to provide the support. Now, when you say that, you don’t mean that government is supposed to provide the farms or provide the whatever. No we are not saying that. Despite everything, government needs to provide the enabling environment for the agricultural sector to grow. When the agricultural sector grows, you can now encourage a lot of the youth to go back to the land, because for the youth, they love doing what they enjoy doing; so you are not going to get the youth to go back to some village to set up farms, unless that is attractive to them, unless there is infrastructure. Let’s be realistic: all the youth now use either the internet or other social media. It might seem simplistic, but the provision of just little things across communities might help, and giving them some support, maybe grants and access to finance, because you can’t expect a young man or woman out of school, who graduated a couple of years earlier, to have the capital or the collateral to get financing for projects that they want to embark on.
Working with these young people for some time now, we have identified unemployment as a major issue they are facing, but beside unemployment, can you give us three other challenges facing our youth?
I think, apart from unemployment, I believe we have a problem with regard to our value system. Regardless, there are youths that have the opportunities. I’m going to take Nigeria as a context. The way I see the youth, it’s like they are in a car or in a bus with no driver to take them safely to where they need to go. We are producing a huge number of graduates, we have a huge number of non-graduates who are youths as well, but we don’t guide them properly; they are vulnerable to crime; they are at risk to so many vices. In fact, that is one of the reasons why this project exists, because the main goal of this project is to build the resilience of the youth against negative influences, negative narratives especially. That’s another area. I think there is a need for a lot of reorientation for the youth. But basically, they need to have a lot of support when they come out of school. There should be some stopgap between when they leave schools and when they do get employment.
The other two…
To be honest, I think that’s actually the main one.
In your project in five states, what kind of challenges have you encountered?
You know, the funny thing is we expected a lot of challenges but we didn’t encounter a lot of challenges. Now, my background is development; I have a master’s degree in development management. So from the outside we knew, in designing this project, that there were steps we needed to take in implementing the project. And one area that, I guess, a lot of projects don’t think important is advocacy. So what we did, even with our baseline study before we started the implementation, even with our baseline study, we actually met with community leaders. So, I wouldn’t call it plain sailing, but it was like easy access for us to communities to conduct service. And despite that, we still have a few challenges in conducting activities in some areas. I remember that we experienced that in one of the local government areas in Jos North. There was a lot of suspicion in Jos North. There was push back until we met with one of their traditional rulers there who now spoke to the youth. And that is despite our advocacy. But what we did was, we embarked on a lot of advocacy to various groups in those communities and in Yobe and Borno states. We even met the security agencies, including the Civilian JTF, including the military, including the police, so that they would know we were there and that we were there for something positive. Now because of that, there was a lot of support. That’s why I said we got a lot of support in all the communities. The only thing is, in Kaduna, our Positive Voice, called Christopher, is in Kadarko local government and that is one of the areas where, a couple of months ago, there was a lot of crisis; there was a lot of killings there. So, he had to suspend some of his activities for some time. But the challenge was not a direct challenge to the project, but it was just that the environment was not safe for him to conduct his activities. I think, basically, it’s only in Kaduna; we do not have any other major challenge. Of course, once or twice we have a few, but nothing significant.
How long do you expect the programme to last?
Now, this was meant to be a pilot phase, an 18-month pilot phase which we concluded with this showcase event. We are meant to roll out across the country based on this pilot phase, if we are able to get funding. So we are talking with a few agencies for funding. However, even without the funding, what we are looking at doing is, sort of, replicating it in those states we are working in, with our Positive Voices now becoming like coordinators of the project.
What kind of outcomes are you looking at?
In the short term, we are looking at youths in these communities understanding the importance of peaceful co-existence and understanding the importance of not allowing people to influence them - for selfish interests - to be aggressive to other tribes or religion. Long term, the outcome we want is a critical mass of the youth across Nigeria who are now positive voices who promote tolerance, who eschew negative narratives, hate speeches and all that, and who are able to be change agents and lead a movement for peace and peaceful coexistence in the country.
Is there any part of what you do that addresses women, or young girls in particular?
Initially, that was our intention. We had purposely, in our selection, intended to recruit women but we had a few challenges.
What were those challenges?
For example, in Kaduna, the person that came top of the list in our shortlist, I think, was a female, but she needed to take care of her father who was ill, so she had to drop out. So, we have two females. Subsequently, we still intend to purposely select women. What we are going to do is, our selection process will be a bit more skewed towards women.
What inspired this project?
What inspired this project was actually a discussion with Dr. Fatima Akilu towards the end of 2013, I think. We had been having some discussions around the youth and all these negative things we talked about - the fact that we believe the youth now don’t have role models that they could look up to, and we thought, you know, they needed to have role models amongst them, their peers; that youths could have role models from amongst their peers. And it could be the vulcanizer - it doesn’t have to be somebody like Kanu Nwankwo; it could be somebody local. So, we were having that discussion and, you know, she moved to the Office of National Security Adviser. We kept on discussing. She asked me - because of what I do: I run a consultancy that deals with research, project management on social management and capacity development; so she had this concept and she asked me to design a project around it and she invited NSRP. So we had a series of tripartite meetings where we agreed that we would design and manage the project. And so we worked on that, submitted a proposal and here we are today.
Do you see yourself going into politics later?
Because I think a politician is a politician right from the start. I’ve always been apolitical. But apart from that, I am not diplomatic. I have a sister who always tells me that I will be such a dictator, that I have to learn to be diplomatic. I think the quality is for a politician, to be honest. You have to be an extrovert; you have to be in touch with grassroots people; you have to be diplomatic. Basically, you have to be able to smile through thick and thin, through controversies, through problems. Now on a lighter note, you have to be able to look at people in the face and tell them you will do this for them even when you know you will not be able to. I don’t consider myself an extrovert. I enjoy developing people. I enjoy developing people that are, let’s say, on the lower rungs of the ladder. But I see politicians able to blend in and easily become part of their communities, part of the grassroots and all that. While I say that I love developing the capacity of those at the lower rungs of our economy, I also think that I am an introvert. Some people might not agree but I still think I am an introvert. Another thing I think is that it is just in the blood: if you are going to be a politician, it will be in your blood.
What motivates you?
So many things. I can’t say just this one thing motivates me. One of the things that motivate me is looking at women older than me, possibly in their 60’s, still having that thing in them to work hard, to do whatever it is they enjoy doing. Something else that motivates me is the fact that I have children that are nearly all now working and need me to show them that you can continue to do it for a long long time. And I think that’s my motivation. I also simply do what I enjoy doing.
How do you unwind?
That’s a problem; how I unwind? Because I am too uptight I don’t unwind. But even when I unwind, I unwind by sitting down with my family and friends and having a very good laugh. People wonder how our relationship is – my sisters and I. When I am with my sisters, we just laugh and laugh, nonstop. By the time I am home - we are not always together, we are not all in one city - by the time I come back, I tend to forget every single problem I have. Another thing is, when we sit down and talk and we watch movies together, sometimes I just watch them and just feel happy.