The reigning ECOWAS Peace Ambassador, Ms Hyeladzirra “Zirra” Banu, has called on ECOWAS governments and institutions to empower and create more opportunities for the youth as part of efforts to promote peace and stability and facilitate the region’s development.
“As young ECOWAS citizens, we implore you, using the capabilities of your office, to create more opportunities for us,” Ms Banu told regional lawmakers in a speech at the closing of the 2013 First Ordinary Session of the Third Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja on Monday, 20 May, 2013.
“We would like to be employed, to get meaningful work after school,” she added. “We would like the opportunity to be educated, to be enlightened by functioning schools and universities. And we would also appreciate the opportunity to be given platforms, avenues to make a difference at various levels.”
The 23-year-old Nigerian beauty queen, who holds honours degrees in International Relations, Political Science and Communications, won the Miss ECOWAS Nigeria and the Miss ECOWAS Peace Ambassador Pageants in 2012 and has been using the platform to propagate youth empowerment and the promotion of regional peace and development.
She told the lawmakers that the number of Africans aged between 15 and 24 years is expected to double to 400 million by 2045, out pacing the current rate of job creation and this means that the majority of young people will be unemployed.
The ECOWAS Peace envoy warned that unemployment fuelled political violence and recruitment into armed groups and militias in the region with one in two young people who join rebel movements citing unemployment as their reason.
“But while today’s youth face many challenges”, Ms Banu said “this should not be an excuse for young people to take part in crimes and propagate violence.”
She therefore urged all youth to “collaborate with governments and institutions to work toward positive change”.
Specifically, she called on young people facing security challenges in countries such as “Mali, Guinea Bissau and Nigeria, to work with their governments toward finding peaceful solutions to these issues.”
“The youth are passionate about our region and we would appreciate the change to work toward developing our region successfully,” the peace envoy affirmed, adding that “young people across West Africa look forward to working with ECOWAS toward making our region stronger, more peaceful and more united.”
She also said that the community youth supported the proposal to enhance the powers of the ECOWAS Parliament so that its decisions would have more positive impacts on the community citizens, while stressing the need to “bring the Parliament closer to the people, especially our young ones.”
Ms Banu equally called for the setting up of an ECOWAS Radio as a platform for citizens to know more about their region and to “understand what ECOWAS is doing” to improve their lives.
In his response, the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament and Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, assured the Peace Ambassador that the regional lawmakers would look into her requests on behalf of the region’s young people.
He expressed his delight that the Parliament in session was able to consider and approve all the five Referrals sent to it by the ECOWAS Commission including the ECOWAS Security and its Administrative and General Conditions on Social Arrangement and the Supplementary Act on Social Dialogue Forum.
The others were the Regional Action Plan on Youth Employment, Regional Action Plan Against Child Labour, and the Draft Supplementary Act relating to the Establishment and Implementation of Joint Border Posts within Member States.
The Speaker also said the Ad hoc Committee on the Political Crises in Mali and Guinea Bissau submitted recommendations which resulted in “courageous resolutions” adopted by the Parliament for transmission to the appropriate quarters.
On behalf of his colleagues, he commiserated with the Government and People of Nigeria over the death of Africa’s literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe, whom he described “as a moral crusader and social critic” who used his “works to correct the wrong images cast on the continent around the world.”