After COVID-19 spread across the world, preventing people from meeting up and altering ways of working together, the Chevening Alumni Association Nigeria (CAAN) found itself in need of a change of approach.

Back in 2019, it was known that 1 in 3 young people would leave Nigeria because of national and governmental issues. This prompted a group of Chevening Alumni to gather ideas to combat migration among the Nigerian youth of undergraduate age. In close collaboration with the Chevening Officer in Abuja, CAAN was granted funding through the Chevening Alumni Programme Fund (CAPF) to support the Chevening Essay Competition on ‘Alternative Narratives to illegal Migration Amongst Young People in Nigeria’.

Left to right – John Kane ,CATS Programme Manager (Collaboration against Trafficking and Smuggling), Omoyemi Ayobami (1st), Folaranmi Wande (2nd), Chinelo Aniedo, C.S.S.F Migration Programmes Officer

In discussion with Usie Charles Emmamuzou, Country Director for Christian Aid Nigeria and member of CAAN, we discover that the project started with the concept of fighting migration through ideas for a better future generated by the people who would leave the country. The focus remained on the youth when deciding on the format of the project – when analysing the young generation, Chevening Alumni found that creativity ranked high in their preferences.

Although focused on empowering the youth, the initiative was also meant to encourage alumni to mentor young people, increasing their confidence and improving their submissions. The plan was for all the essays to be analysed by a first-hand committee and each submission to be worked on by a mentor – mentee pair.

The committee first planned to launch the project on 1 June 2020, excited to start working with the youth and giving back to their community. But all their efforts were thrown into uncertainty by the global pandemic. With travel restrictions and social distancing in place, CAAN battled the community’s reluctance to get involved with another digital initiative. In order to achieve the project’s goals and to stick to the CAPF timeline, the team had to make changes and adapt by removing the mentorship phase.

With support from the British High Commission in Abuja and the London Office, they were able to go ahead with the project and launch the competition in December 2020. In the first three days following the launch, over 300 essays were sent, young people showing their appetite for opportunities to connect and get their voices heard.

British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, and the winner Omoyemi Ayobami

After thorough checks and analysis, the select committee chose 50 outstanding submissions and screened the best 10. Then, they selected the three winners who were granted exciting prizes to allow them to further their professional development and spread their ideas to fight migration.

The outcome of the competition was to spark change and the follow-up falls nothing short of that. The winning ideas were shared with the Nigerian Government through the Minister of Youth and Sports. Chevening alumni are holding discussions to create a brochure of the 10 best ideas submitted by young Nigerians and send that to the United Nations. This would continue to encourage talks on the risks of illegal migration outside of their country and showcase Nigeria’s efforts and ideas in dealing with issue.

Chevening Alumni Association Nigeria has big plans for the future of their young community. Because of the strong presence Chevening alumni have in media and television, they want to give youngsters the opportunity to be heard by their entire country through a televised mini-series chaired by CAAN.

The Chevening Essay Competition in Nigeria seemed like a long-way from implementation when it was first mentioned, although through volunteers’ leadership and resilience, it has now achieved and exceeded all expectations set initially.