Kingsley Bangwell is empowering Nigerian youth to be informed citizens and effective future leaders by utilizing e-forums and innovative television programs that educate them about good governance and about their democratic rights.
The New Idea
Kingsley’s first organization, Youngstars Foundation International (YFI), strengthens and trains young people and youth organizations to participate in leadership and governance programs. Kingsley builds on this with an initiative called ‘Democracy Series: Participation—Learning and Active Youths,’ (DESPLAY), a youth program that brings together young people from different backgrounds to deepen their understanding of democracy and encourage active and informed participation in good governance processes. After taking part in the DESPLAY academy, young graduates serve as role models and spread positive messaging through an extensive peer, online, and television network.
Nigeria has an unfortunate history of failed republics and poor governance as well as false starts and dead-ends on the path to economic development, social coherence, and peace. The country has struggled for years to recover from the damage done during many traumatic years of military rule. Even today, the democratic country has not been able to have a process through which young people are mentored and encouraged to take the mantle of leadership. While the pool of adult role models is shrinking due to rampant corruption, the number of young people in Nigeria is growing rapidly. A glance through the World Youth Report (WYR) 2007 confirms that young people under the age of 30 constitute over a third of the world’s population; in Nigeria this age bracket includes over half of the population, the largest new generation ever. Since young people have not been empowered politically and economically, the same elected officials who have let them down are now viewing this large group as a growing concern. Kingsley, however, sees this challenge as an opportunity. He believes that the disengagement of youth from public life will be disastrous in the future and he has developed an innovative multi-media platform to prevent such disengagement.
Most youth-oriented media in Nigeria has little social relevance and is produced with the assumption that young people are only interested in superficial entertainment. Although there is some high quality programming available through public television, radio, and on educational websites, the Nigerian media culture continues to be dominated by violence and inappropriate sexual innuendo. While the statistics are overwhelming regarding the destructive influence of the media on youth, it is clear that this same medium can be harnessed in more positive ways.
Young people offer unique aptitudes and perspectives that must be assimilated into development efforts in Nigeria. Unfortunately, negative perceptions of youth, the failure to help them develop to their full potential, the inability to recognize that investing in youth benefits national development, and the consequent unwillingness and incapacity of the Nigerian government to fully involve young people in a meaningful way, have effectively deprived Nigeria of a resource of inestimable value. Unless a sustained effort is made to ensure that young people are given the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of their societies, the goal of achieving of “a society for all,” as called for at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, will never be achieved.
Kingsley has designed a media strategy in order to engage Nigerian youth in the democratic process and train them to be informed, skeptical, and active citizens. His primary outlets are television and the Internet: television programs that focus on a specific aspect of the democratic process and encourage young people to take part in debate, and an e-forum where young people share their opinions and deliberate on issues currently affecting democracy. Through these forums, young people are recruited into the DESPLAY academy where, over the course of a year, they are groomed for leadership and government participation. Participants are drawn from different ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds but are united by the common goal of improving the state of young people and of their country’s democratic future.
At the DESPAY academy, professionals organize work groups, plenary sessions, and paper presentations, and quickly become role models and counselors for the participating youth. Regular group interactions allow the diverse participants to further deliberate on contemporary issues with the DESPLAY team. Each group work session provides small units to encourage individual thinking and input while settling on a shared understanding on issues that can be harmonized as collective recommendations for action committees. Reflections on leadership include film shows, reviews of leadership impact, and pledges to extol good leadership in their daily lives and endeavors. The platform Kingsley provides also improves access to information in order to enable these youth to make more informed and confident decisions.
An important feature of Kingsley’s strategy is the Pass It On (PIO) element where young participants in the program are encouraged to spread the word, recruit others, and lead an exemplary life. These new young role models inspire their peers to learn about their rights and responsibilities, and they promote participation in social, political, developmental and environmental activities. So far the 180 beneficiaries that Kingsley has trained have reached out to more than 1,000 young people through the PIO component.
Kingsley is also engaging the government to strengthen the involvement of young people in national forums and to potentially include youth representatives in their national delegations at the National Assembly. He currently provides youth with an online platform where they can voice their opinions and concerns—for example, about the President’s proposed 7-point agenda—and sometimes even engage directly with government officials. Kingsley’s goal is for young people to understand how political agendas and policies are crafted and implemented, and how they will affect their lives. The first e-forum attracted 180 members, 108 contributions, and 451 visitors. As the moderator, Kingsley helps all the participants understand how they can support the agenda and contribute towards designing, implementing, and evaluating national policies.
Additionally, Kingsley is introducing a contest on television for young contestants to present their ideas on how to they intend to positively impact their community and government through their own innovative projects. This adds to Kingsley’s current TV offerings—including where he challenges youth to think about governance through songs composed by creative and popular groups—and bolsters his well-recognized, national DESPLAY ‘brand.’
Ultimately, Kingsley has developed his organization’s capacity to reach young people from all classes and walks of life through innovative use of Internet, radio, television, and print media. His programs, to date, have spread throughout Nigeria and will soon begin in neighboring Ghana. As in the PIO initiative, the young people Kingsley works with promote what they learn to their peers by word of mouth and through e-forums, and have begun forming groups of their own in their communities and schools.
Kingsley is a man driven by sheer determination. He has no formal university education but a strong drive to fill a critical gap in society. Though he comes from a less privileged background, Kingsley has always assumed a leadership role among his peers in his local community. His natural ability earned him a scout of the year award by the state scout commissioner as an outstanding member of the Boy Scouts. He was also sponsored for an internship at the World Youth Alliance in the United States. He was encouraged by family and friends not to return to Nigeria as they perceived his opportunity in the United States as a means to seek greener pastures. But Kingsley defied all odds and returned to Nigeria to pursue his vision in his home country.
Kingsley has gained international recognition for his leadership and innovation. Beginning from a weekly youth club in a barber’s shop in 1995 to the present, YFI continues to reach out to rural and urban youth in Nigeria with the message of self-actualization, and strong participation in democracy and political discourse.