Art allows young people to express themselves in their own way and pace and it can increase their creative skills in advocacy. It helps young people to develop their fundamental cognitive capacities, critical analytical skills and provide learning experiences that have a significant impact on economic and social development. Taking inspiration from this, Inspired Youth Network (IYN), a non-governmental organization in Nigeria founded in 2018, that supports young people to promote accountability and transparency through capacity building and policy advocacy. Despite numerous seminars and forums promoting accountability, the low participation of young people in holding leaders accountable remains a major challenge for good governance. To overcome this challenge, IYN launched an initiative to increase participation of young people in promoting accountability through art and use it as a tool for promoting accountability and good governance.
So far, IYN has trained 225 students between the ages of 10 and 18 to use their artistic skills to promote accountability, good governance and the fight against corruption in their community through the Account Art project, monikered #Art4Accountability, with funding from the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund. The project breaks the barrier of communicating societal messages to young people, including awareness against corrupt practices, to bridge the gap between the expression and comprehension of societal problems. It helps young people to raise their voices through art and prepare them for future leadership roles. Furthermore, the Account Art project increases the participation of young people in the actualization of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and the African Union Agenda 2063 through a platform that is creative, fun and entertaining.
The Account Art project training took place at Oworonshoki community, a rural community in Nigeria, with poor social amenities and high crime rate. The participants drawn from five units of the community were trained for three weeks to develop their artistic skills. The training helped youth to express their minds about the depleting social amenities in their community, the effect of the high corruption rate in Nigeria and the change they want to see in the community.
The participants raised their voices through drawing and painting: 13-year-old Chidiebere painted a girl hawking on the street of Oworonshoki community because her parents cannot afford to fund her education and another showing a girl graduating from school. Chidiebere named the painting “My Dream, My Reality” to showcase the dream and reality of the girl hawking on the street and to advocate for free education for girls in Oworonshoki community. Chibunna, a 14-year-old boy, painted a woman and her baby demanding alms on the street to pay her hospital bills and feed her baby. When asked for the inspiration behind the painting, Chibunna said he had an experience in the community where a nursing mother who could not afford health care had to go on the street for alms-begging to pay her health bills.
He further said, had the government provided social amenities, the woman would not be on the street begging for alms. At the end of the three-week training, there was an art exhibition where participants presented their paintings to promote good governance, accountability and the fight against corruption in their community. This was followed by the creation of an Art4Accountability Centre to serve as a home for the artwork for learning engagement, future advocacy and training with young artists and activists. The project participants would also be exhibiting their artworks at the Art4Accountability Summit with political actors, community stakeholders and civil society organizations scheduled for November 2019.
Although the use of art to promote accountability and good governance is still very new in Nigeria, the Account Art project has gained some recognition. There are two girls who participated in the training and made paintings to advocate for an end to bribery and corruption in the Nigeria Police Force. They were appointed as SDG 16 ambassadors by Complete Knowledge Foundation at the Difference Makers Summit in August 2019 in Lagos. The girls will work with other SDG ambassadors to promote SDGs in Nigeria.
In addition to this, 20 young artists from three schools attended a three-week mentorship session at the newly created Art-4-Accountability Centre where they used their artistic skills to promote a peaceful, just and inclusive society for the actualization of SDG 16. However, the project has few challenges such as the cost of art materials for training and the unwillingness of government representatives to support initiatives promoting accountability, as the initiative increases the consciousness and participation of young people towards holding representatives accountable.
As a result of the Account Art project initiative, participants have increased their knowledge on how to hold leaders accountable in a simpler and more engaging way. The project has also increased Inspired Youth Network’s collaboration with schools, civil society organizations, art societies and media groups interested in adopting a similar model for their initiatives. To increase the participation of young people in the actualization of SDG 16 and the 17 SDGs at large, there is a need for a creative and an innovative approach such as the use of art. It helps young people to use artistic expressions to pass messages in simpler forms that are more accessible to the public and allows young people to express themselves in their own unique way.