Zimuzo

Kikelomo Taiwo; The Youth Advocate

Kikelomo Taiwo is a young woman whose passion for ensuring that youth voice is heard at policy level has taken her to high offices in Nigeria, and forums around the world. It has also made her more confident in the belief that Nigerian youth can contribute to positive change.

Kikelomo, 25 is a sociology student at the University of Abuja. She is also a volunteer project coordinator for non-profit body Education as a Vaccine.  She has experience in working with the federal government to create policies, carrying out advocacy campaigns and presenting research at both national and international conferences.

Kike Taiwo

Kikelomo Taiwo

We caught up with Kikelomo, who had just returned from attending the International Conference on Population Development(ICPD) Global Youth Forum in Bali, Indonesia. In our interview, she shared her advocacy experience and discussed how young people can become involved in policy processes.

So, how was Bali, and more importantly why did you attend the conference?

Bali was fun. The Global Youth forum gave young people the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to creating policies that affects their social development.  I was selected to  participate as a Youth Resource person. I attended because I recognize the power young people carry especially when given the chance to bring about change in their communities and I felt that participating in the forum would give me the opportunity to influence some change at a global level.

The main themes discussed were staying healthy, comprehensive education, transitions to decent employment, youth rights and well-being including sexuality, and fully inclusive civic participation.

Do you think that big policy bodies take young people seriously?

Not quite!  They really don’t take young people seriously especially policy makers in Nigeria. Take for example, our minister for youth development- how old is he? How many young people do we have in key decision making bodies?  When key policies are being made especially those that directly affects young people, we are usually marginalized or misrepresented.

But the question also is this, are young people willing to commit to the process? I know young people like Dayo Isreal, Esther Agbarakwe, Samson Itodo, Rotimi Olawale, who have committed themselves to the process and they are making themselves relevant.

This isn’t to say its been a smooth ride for them but they have taken time to study the terrain. More young people need to take policy-making processes serious too so that policy-makers will take us seriously. Having said that, policy makers need to know that any decision for us without us is just a waste of time and resources.

Can you tell us about some of the policy campaigns you’ve worked on?

I have been involved in several campaign projects but the most recent is the HIV/AIDS Anti-Stigma Bill Campaign Project. It is being supported by Education as a Vaccine and Open Society Initiative for West Africa. The drive of this campaign is to influence policy makers to pass the HIV/AIDS Anti Stigma Bill not the way it is but with specific language that covers the rights of young people as well.

The bill as it is only speaks of stigma and discrimination in the workplace but the fact is that young people account for the height population of people living with HIV/AIDS(PLWHA) and you will also agree with me that this key population are mostly unemployed. So, for the bill to be inclusive and effective, this campaign was designed to ensure that it seeks to provide for the rights of young people and that young people are in fact carried along.

As part of this, I anchored a five week radio program- Youth Voices on ASB(Anti Stigma Bill) and the essence was for young people to become more aware of this bill as well as make their voices their voices heard as well.

Campus events are also key strategies in ensuring meaningful youth participation in policy making processes. So far, I have engaged young people at universities in Benue, Nasarawa and the Federal Capital Territory(FCT).

Hopefully in the second phase of the project, I’ll be going to the South West, East and the South South. It’s important that youth voices are amplified.

Do you think the recent attempt of the Nigerian government to legislate against same-sex practices in Nigeria is counter-productive to health policy?

Of course it is. Based on international standards, young people should be able to get access to sexual reproductive services and rights to freely express their sexuality. I think the bill was just a distraction.

Sometimes our policy makers amaze me. They actually consider same sex marriage an issue that requires a bill for it to be addressed!  Lebian Gay Bisexual and Trans youth in Nigeria have a huge community and are doing well for themselves.  Who and when you want to have sex are personal decisions any individual should be able to make.

I am not an advocate for the LGBT but I do believe everyone has a right to choice, including who they want to have sex with and when or how; and it is wrong to forcefully impose one’s beliefs or personal sentiments on other people. The amazing thing is that some of these policy makers have sexual relationships with individuals of the same sex.

It is high time we stopped being hypocritical as a nation but commit to addressing issues that will promote the development and standard of living of EVERY individual with equality, equity and fairness

How do you think we can sell the idea of getting young people involved in policy?

Very few young people in Nigeria are interested in policy because they’ve lost hope in public processes. How do you explain to someone that their voice counts in government policies when they have no basic facilities? It’s as though the system was designed to frustrate the ability of every person to dream. We just hear of billions and trillions of money being spent but we don’t see where it is going. I feel sorry sometimes for my generation. Whenever I try to get young people to sign petitions, they just go, “what difference will it make if I sign this petition?”

I believe that one way is for people like me to become role models and mentor other young people. Young people out there need to understand the key principles of leadership and responsibility. The truth is that policies can be boring and its even worse when you are engaging legislators in Nigeria since it takes them forever to pass a bill.

Young people don’t have time for that. However, when the youths understand what leadership really is or what responsibility is all about, they will be able to appreciate the reason why policies exist and perhaps come up with innovative and beneficial policies that will move this country forward. Our legislators make their work look like rocket science and its not. Its just common sense but sadly, common sense is not that common.

As a young female advocate, I am involved because I love Nigeria and I have a sense of responsibility to my nation not because I love engaging in policy-making processes.

I believe that if every young person has that same sense of responsibility, they will be able to rise to a position of influence and authority, discard all these old men in governance who have refused to leave and show Nigerians what nation building looks like.

How did you get involved in the policy sector?

After I left secondary school, I was at home for four years before getting part-time admission in the University of Abuja. I was doing a little bit of event management on the side and I also got a job at a day-care but I knew in my heart that I wanted more. I really wanted to do development work even though at that time, I didn’t fully understand what it was. I spoke to a lady at my church who worked with one of the UN bodies and she suggested working with Education as a Vaccine.

Since 2008, I have worked  as a volunteer in Education as a Vaccine and  I’ve gained expertise in leadership, policy, advocacy and new media. Its been such an amazing experience- having people who believe in me, giving me  responsibilities to manage projects. I have also had several opportunities to travel nationally, regionally and internationally representing Nigeria and advocating for issues that affects youth health and development. How better does it get as a volunteer?! I know what I am worth even though I am in my final year in school.

So, are you planning for a career in public policy?

Actually, I am keen on exploring theatre arts for social development; and using it as a forum for community engagement, educating young people and addressing social issues with specific focus on the family unit as an agent of socialization.

The family needs to rise up to its responsibility of nurturing individuals because at the end of the day, the family plays a huge role in determining what habits, tendencies or culture we cultivate as adults. Teenage girls getting pregnant in thousands everyday, the question is where are their mothers, who is responsible for mentoring the male teenager who is sexually active? what information is available for these teenagers to make informed decisions? We need to go back to rebuilding our families.

Are you working on any side projects?

I started a group called Passionistas at the beginning of the month. It’s a platform for passionate young women like myself to have safe spaces where they can come together and be empowered, motivated, and inspired to grow as productive citizens and leaders. Its also a platform to mentor the next generation of teenage girls in our different areas of expertise to bring about a proper transfer of knowledge and skills, so as to ensure sustainable change.

9 comments

  1. Ayomide Fadipe

    I love auty kikelomo so much … She is really cool and nice to everyone …. Don’t forget my fashion thingy … 🙂 ….. Love you :*

  2. michael

    I’ve followed your activities silently and I must say you certainly one of the light of this generation causing positive change!

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