The imminent end to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the end of 2015 has generated the question, “What next?” which has also elicited the response, “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being a component of the ‘Post-2015 Agenda”. The SDGs are “structured to build on the achievements of the MDGs while strengthening some other aspects. The momentum of the MDGs must be doubled and sustained under the Post-2015 Agenda. One of the ways is to sufficiently equip the youth through sensitisation and awareness of their roles and opportunities inherent in the framework of development as captured in the Post-2015 Agenda.
It was in the light of the above that the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) New York, in January this year, organised a sensitisation video conference for a number of UN Information Centres (UNICs) including UNIC Lagos. Briefing the UNICs at the conference were the Youth Ambassador of The Netherlands to the UN General Assembly, Mr Jilt van Schayik and his partner, Mr Teun Meulepas, representing the Building Bridges Project. They had decided to ride a bicycle across two continents to promote youth development within the framework of the UN Post-2015 Agenda.
In February 2015, the two Dutch Cyclists, van Schayik, and Meulepas, took off from Amsterdam, The Netherlands and would ride a distance of 17,000 kilometres over a period of six months to arrive in Cape Town, South Africa in August. By that time, they would have ridden their bicycles across 22 countries in two continents. The two young cyclists are members of the “Building Bridges Project”, an international youth initiative, which pictures the United Nations post-2015 agenda from a youth perspective, focusing on the priorities of young people and women at the grassroots level and their vision of the world in 2030.
Interestingly, as they move from one country to the other seeking to improve the relationship between young people on the ground and decision makers at the United Nations, they are engaging and inspiring the youths they meet to aspire to greatness by participating in UN activities in their neighbourhoods and by contributing to their nation’s development. On each occasion the youths were engaged, the cyclists are leaving a footprint of excitement and a group of young people fired up to excel in life and support their communities. This is probably one of the reasons that when scores of young Togolese welcomed van Schayik, and Meulepas to Togo, one of them, Mr Julio Atti, opted to accompany the two Dutch cyclists to Lagos, Nigeria.
Stopping over in Lagos, the cycling team, now three, two Dutch and one Togolese, were received by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lagos and the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Of course, fifteen Nigerian cyclists and over sixty other youths from three higher educational institutions and a secondary school were also on hand to welcome the ‘cross-continent’ cyclists whose triumphant entry to UNIC premises received a spontaneous applause by the waiting audience. No doubt, the young cyclists have conquered weather elements, from snowy Europe to around 47 degree Celsius in the Sahel region of Africa.
In his welcome remarks, the Director of UNIC Lagos, Mr. Ronald Kayanja, acknowledged the resilience and commitment of van Schayik and Meulepas, for channeling their youthful energies into constructive engagement of other youths in Europe and Africa, as well as building bridges between and amongst youths across the continents through cycling. He called on Nigerian youths to reposition themselves for the Post-2015 development even as the global community transits from MDGs to the SDGs. “Towards this end”, he continued, “youths need to acquaint themselves with the seventeen drafted SDGs and the scores of associated result areas”. Kayanja added that “In September this year in New York, member states of the United Nations will meet to agree on the goals (SDGs) we shall use as our target for the coming 15 years.
In his remarks, the Trade Advisor, Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Lagos, Taco Westerhuis, commended the cyclists for the courage to undertake the journey; and their Nigerian counterparts for their team spirits and for daring to ride bicycles on the busy Lagos roads. He urged Nigerian youths to connect with every developmental initiative in their neighbourhoods.
Explaining the rationale behind the journey during the interactive session, van Schayik pointed out that his team sought to involve young people in policy making and bridging the gap between young people and policy makers. The Building Bridges project, he continued, “connects, shares and inspires youths in Africa and Europe through youth consultations, debates and conferences to raise awareness for the urgent challenges that exist around the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda and gender equality”.
Responding to the National President of the All Nigeria United Nation Students Association (ANUNSA), Ms Elizabeth Ukoha’s question on mobilising youth for development, Meulepas, started “But what we have realised is that, in all these things, young people are either not interested or are not well informed about what is going on. So their participation is minimal”.
There is so much in the UN Post-2015 Agenda for youth that it will amount to socio-economic suicide for any young person not to be involved. Nigerian youth must key into global scheme of things and draw inspiration for personal and national development. The laid-back ones cannot excel. Only the hard-working ones will reach the top. The two Dutch cyclists are worthy of emulation by all the youth around the world. Key into Post-2015 Agenda, develop yourself and do something for others.