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FEATURE: Kwara, Nigeria – Young women lead the fight for greener and stronger communities during Covid-19

In the Kwara state of Nigeria, two young women have campaigned for resilient recovery from the pandemic and mobilised youth in the fight for greener, stronger and healthy communities. Azeez Abubakar reports. This is the 49th in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.

In Nigeria, young people are leading the way in the fight against the climate crisis and gender-based violence.  In the added context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is increasingly challenging for vulnerable communities to recover quickly. The pandemic has resulted in devastating social, economic and environmental challenges. Without a concrete plan to help the country recover greener and stronger, young people have taken it upon themselves to tackle these challenges.

Baliqees and Salmah from Kwara State are among many young people who have taken the responsibility to fight the pandemic and help vulnerable communities build resilience. Baliqees is a 23-year-old social and environmental activist and the initiator of a social movement called “Pick That Trash” in Kwara State. She resides in the capital city of Kwara State, Ilorin. Salmah is a 23-year-old development expert. She is from Kaiama, a community in Kaiama local government in Kwara State.

“Owing to the low literacy rate in the rural regions of Nigeria, the majority of the people are day labourers and informal workers. They do not have food on their plates if they do not work in a day. The pandemic left a lot of them without jobs, making it very difficult to survive”, says Salmah.

“When the government mandated the closure of schools across the country, as the pandemic first hit in February 2020, we were so pumped to do something to fight for the most vulnerable people. We knew the government could only do so much to address these challenges”, says Baliqees.

“In February 2020, when national lockdowns were being observed, the people of this community living hand-to-mouth were economically crippled, as they were restricted to go to their work. Although movements within the community were barely restricted, the impact of interstate lockdown affected the community members badly”, Salmah said.

Providing communities with information and resources

Information was mainly disseminated via television broadcasts for those with the privilege of affording a television set, at the outbreak of the pandemic. Those who did not have televisions got their information through word of mouth.

To address misinformation during the early days of the pandemic, Salmah shared verified digital real-time information across different social media platforms about Covid-19. She also used community-owned local radio stations to amplify unheard local voices and represent their priorities to the government.

Salmah commended the efforts of the state government’s attention to expanding radio reach to this community. She believes in women and youth participation in politics and governance. She actively advocates for the development of the next generation of citizens; to shape what it means to be an engaged and active citizen in the 21st century.

Baliqees also played a critical role in providing vulnerable communities with updated information about the pandemic. As a young media and communications professional, she leveraged innovative approaches to keep people informed about the pandemic. Her article, “10 Climate Actions to take in a Global Lockdown“, available across different platforms, reached a lot of people, encouraging them to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle.

“Through digital activism, I have co-created awareness in my community on the pandemic, and addressed misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. I have also compelled political leaders to help ensure that no-one is left behind in this fight”, Baliqees stated.  As part of her development work, she has mobilised her peers and oriented them about crisis response, and fundraised to deliver support to the most vulnerable people.

In addition to her digital activism, she has empowered young people in her community through a social media movement called the “Unlocking Potential series” to make people aware of their hidden potentials. This has helped reduce depression and anxiety in young people. Furthermore, it has created opportunities for young people to engage with professionals in their industry to help advance their careers.

Both Salmah and Baliqees also distributed reusable masks and hand sanitisers to people who could not afford them. In the process of carrying out their community work, they empowered women. Leveraging their platforms, they raised awareness among people to ensure that Covid-19 safety measures are met.

Tackling climate change impacts amid the pandemic

In the later phase of the pandemic, climate change impacts such as flooding and drought multiplied the effects of the pandemic. About 79% of Nigerian farmers were estimated to have been affected by the ravaging effects of drought and flooding in 2020. The continuous rainfall and poor drainage systems within the communities left areas submerged in water.

Recognising these challenges, Salmah and Baliqees, with their team, conducted cleanups in vulnerable communities and engaged communities in repairing the drainage to allow the free flow of floodwater. Baliqees advocated to people working with the state government and other stakeholders to ensure that plastics were removed from the drainage system. 

“Heavy rainfall and winds resulted in the loss of lives and damage to property, affecting people’s livelihoods. Other challenges faced by my community were around the Police Brutality (#EndSARS protest) in October 2020 that resulted in the killing of innocent youth. This is still something I am recovering from”, Salmah reflected.

“One potential solution is around localising the global environmental goals by communicating in our local languages and mobilising funds and resources to help implement the SDGs in local communities. Another way is properly communicating the needs and perspectives of local communities to the government by listening to them actively. We can work with the government to fill these gaps and ensure the needs of the people are adequately met”, Baliqees emphasised.

Addressing the shadow pandemic

A parallel shadow pandemic also emerged with the skyrocketing of domestic violence against women due to the lockdown. To address this, Baliqees and Salmah have advocated for the domestication/localisation of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill passed by the Federal Government in 2015.

Baliqees and Salmah have campaigned for resilient recovery and mobilised youth in the fight for greener, stronger and healthy communities. Baliqees stated, “Government needs to strengthen our health facilities to better address future pandemics and develop better sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Also, clean drinking water and hygiene materials/kits should be accessible to more people.”

Way forward

“Government and youth-led NGOs need to meaningfully engage in enhancing economic resilience by generating sustainable livelihood options and ensuring financial literacy. Through building community-based organisations, people can better support each other during challenging times by providing access to local resources and capacity building”, Baliqees concluded.

Interviewers’ Perspective: 

Young people are the leaders of today.  This is evident, seeing the number of young people taking immediate action to fight the pandemic and the climate crisis in their communities. Baliqees and Salmah are examples of young people leading the way in this fight. They are both energetic and passionate young women whose voices, stories and perspectives are unheard. To scale their impact and amplify their voices, we must leverage innovative solutions, amplify their initiatives, and mobilise resources to support their development work to build greener and stronger communities. With their creativity and ambition, and support from the government and international community, we can ensure that no one is left behind and that our communities can better recover and tackle any form of crisis.

About the Interviewer

Azeez Abubakar is a 22-year-old young activist and member of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. He is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and technology. He is a Global Citizen Fellow, Pre-COP26 Delegate, Policy & Advocacy Chair of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network, and Global Shaper. He is particularly driven to help vulnerable communities facing the impacts of climate change and extreme poverty.

About Baliqees and Salmah

Baliqees is a 23-year-old social and environmental activist. She works in the media and communications sector and also works with NGOs and non-profit organisations both local and national to help advance the SDGs.

Salmah Abdulrahman is a 23-year-old development expert and an advocate for good governance and women & youth participation in politics & governance. She currently sits on the board of trustees for Millennials Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa Network (MACAA), a youth-led civil society organisation whose goal is to develop the next generation of citizens, to shape what it means to be an engaged and active citizen in the 21st century.

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