Abideen Olasupo started his advocacy during his undergraduate days in the University of Ilọrin, but little did he envisage the far-reaching impact his work would later have on Nigeria’s governance and policy trajectory.
Today, his Brain Builders Youth Initiative (BBYI) has not only championed several policy changes that have positively projected girl-child education and youth empowerment, the platform has been in the forefront of the several reforms that have changed the political landscape and youth participation in the electoral process, including the country’s attainment of the SDGs.
It is to his credit that the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill was passed following a sustained advocacy that pressurised the 8th Kwara legislature and 9th National Assembly.
From zero number of women at the last Kwara legislature, BBYI campaign in Kwara State has led to the emergence of about five female state lawmakers, including 26-year-old Rukayat Shittu, and the appointment of 9 female commissioners out of 18 that have been announced. Over 100,000 girls and youths have also been trained in digital skills supported with mentors.
Olasupo said, “Many of them are today employers of labour with a 25 per cent success rate on employment. During the COVID-19, we collaborated with the global funds on education in South Africa to develop education policy through which the Kwara State Government improved funding for education and deployed technology to give the students relevant knowledge to compete favourably with their peers abroad.
“We also launched the election fact-check app and violence incident tracker used to counter misinformation and report violence during the last election. Apart from deploying observers across the 36 states to monitor elections in the country, BBYI created a situation room in Kwara State to monitor the process.
“The organisation has also been involved in climate change activities, moving into communities to engage farmers, women, traditional and religious leaders on its evil effect. In other not to leave the teenagers behind, we will be having “Teen Speak Out” titled, “Let the teenagers contribute to national development” coming up next month on subsidy and palliatives in Osun State.”
On what determines his engagement, the BBYI founder said, “Conducting needs assessment and working with data and technology enables us to know the needs of communities rather than intervention through assumption. So we don’t take streetlight to communities that need water, or vice versa.
“Our organisation is also the first in Nigeria to make available $5,000 to a winner in Abuja, supported by one of our foreign partners and used to develop a mobile app that made it easy for people living with disabilities to access polling units on the day of the election.”
Price of advocacy
Abideen said his work had many times brought him at loggerheads with the government of the day but that never deterred him. “That is why we are extremely very careful of getting funding from politicians who want to call the shots.
“We have taken the government to court, asked questions on the issue of budgetary provision and allocation and recently demanded explanation on the bogus amount of some line items in the budget. In return, the government, at times, deploys propaganda to malign us before the citizens we are working for, claiming that we are being sponsored.
“But that has never deterred us. We are not working for anyone and we belong to everybody and nobody, if I may use that mantra. The core of our mandate is that the highest office in the land is that of the citizens”
“That is why we recently developed the citizens’ accountability tool kit for individuals to ask government questions. “Ours is to empower the citizens to know that government officials are employees of the people and need to be accountable. We are still expecting more accusations. But we have made some recommendations the government had implemented, including the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Our work is making a massive impact and we are seeing the results. Whatever anybody says, we have never been perturbed, ours is to keep eyes on the ball and continue to do what we do with the little resources available to us,” he said.
He said it had been extremely difficult getting funding as a young organisation.
“The funding landscape in Nigeria is a little bit tough now, and a lot of non-governmental organisations are doing different things. As a founder, I have always used the stipend of what my parents gave me then in school to fund the organization, and while I was a graduate, my NYSC stipend was divided into two, half going to finance the organisation. I also divert the profits I make from my personal consultancy jobs to it to ensure the smooth running of the organisation. I have youths and female members that are volunteering their time and resources; it should not be fair to them to refuse to contribute. Majority of our funding has been from international donor organizations,” he added.
He said he was motivated by the desire of citizens for accountability.
“Everything should not be about money, let’s look at what we can also do for the government. The fact that we have produced a lot of young people who are now global citizens with international fellowship and scholarship opportunities that have spoken at different global conferences is enough.
“In May, I was at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York through this platform and the kind of work we do with the grassroots community. It has built my capacity and made me to affect young people who are taking charge as far as leadership is concerned. Seventy per cent of our ‘space for her fellowship’ has excelled in international fellowship and scholarships. Providing the platform for young people to excel is priceless to me and makes me extremely happy. Seeing young people holding political post and making impact makes me happy and speaks to the impact of our advocacy and engagement.
“We are expanding to different African countries, collaborating more with different private sectors on issues around education and climate change. We have just launched our climate change flash card to incorporate climate education across different schools in Nigeria, where we catch them young and make them understand its effect, which will also reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, especially on girl-child education,” he also said.
He said he looked forward to a time the government would start to appoint or collaborate with members of the civil society as monitoring and evaluation experts.
Government policies, he noted, “have gone beyond tokenism. There is a need for us to match words with action and I look forward to a time where our organisation will take the front seat in monitoring and evaluation of government policies with a view to giving them constructive and positive feedback that will ensure value for our money.
“We want to see a situation where secondary and primary school students will get to know more about the issue of climate change, corruption, and then become campaigners of anti-corruption and implementation of the SDGs.
“We want them to start asking our political leaders questions on what they have for teenagers and other young people. I want to see a situation where, regardless of tribal background, a son of nobody would become somebody in Nigeria. Until we achieve that, we are not going to rest on our oars.”