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Opinion ED: Why The Nigerian Youths Are Not Ready to Run for Office

Posted on: April 18th, 2018 by The Moderator No Comments

This article was written by CHINEDU GEORGE NNAWETANMA

 

The 2019 Nigerian general election is less than a year away and preparations are predictably in top gear for the country’s fifth democratic transition since its return to civilian leadership in 1999. The atmosphere is politically charged and pre-electioneering buzz has taken over the print, broadcast and social media.

Among the issues on the front burner of conversations across the country is the role of the youth in Nigerian politics or, more specifically, the need to integrate the youth into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. The youth (persons between the ages of 18 and 35) make up about 30% of Nigeria’s population, but occupy a negligible fraction of its elected offices.

On the 26th of July, 2017, the Nigerian Senate passed the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, a historic move that will lower the ages of candidacy for the presidency from 40 to 35, the House of Representatives from 30 to 25 and the state houses of assembly from 30 to 25.

On February 15, 2018, it crossed the constitutional threshold of an endorsement by two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 state assemblies and it is now expected to be signed into law by the President in time for the 2019 polls, thereby creating an avenue for more youth to vie for elected offices in a political space that has been dominated by the older generations in recent times.

The youth have not always been on the periphery of Nigeria’s political landscape. In fact, Nigeria’s independence from Britain was won by the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike, Obafemi Awolowo and Anthony Enahoro who utilized their youthful exuberance to agitate for Nigeria’s emancipation from colonial exploitation in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Upon this independence, youths were immediately propelled into political leadership positions across the country. Remarkably, Mathew Mbu, Mbazulike Amechi, Maitama Sule and Shehu Shagari became cabinet ministers in their 20s and 30s.

Nigeria’s first democratic experience would be brutally cut short by a military coup d’état in 1966, but even that ushered in 6 (out of a total of 8) military juntas that were led by generals in their 30s and early 40s. However, the marginalization of the youth in Nigeria’s political space can be traced to this era of military rule.

It is for this reason that the youth are often called upon to assume the mantle of leadership. It is believed that they possess the innovation, radicalism, and virility needed to transform Nigeria from its state of despondency to accelerated and sustainable development.

But, with the imminent amendment of the Constitution to accommodate the recommendations of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill – which will make all elected offices in Nigeria accessible to the youth – are they really ready for this responsibility? Do they possess the resources needed to wrestle power from the old guard?

I have no atom of doubt that there are capable, well-experienced and eminently qualified youths across Nigeria who can embrace this responsibility and provide the country with the digital leadership that it has so sorely lacked. What worries me is that there are so few of them.

For starters, a great deal of the youth in the country are not interested in politics. They are not politically conscious. They know next to nothing about Nigeria’s political terrain or its history or the recent developments therein and would rather talk about football, showbiz or fashion than engage in meaningful politics-themed conversations or make sense of economic indicators like the GDP, inflation rate, and interest rate. I daresay that the number of youths who will watch Nigeria vs. Argentina match at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia will be far greater than the number of those who will turn out to vote in the 2019 Presidential Election.

Out of the few Nigerian youths who are politically conscious, many of them are inexperienced, ill-equipped and unprepared for political leadership. On the one hand are those who see politics as a livelihood and a fast track to financial security. They are ready to toe the established line, kowtow to the kingmakers and propagate the status quo. When in power, they will be no different from the present ruling class. On the other hand are those who are genuinely interested in utilizing politics as a vehicle for creating positive change and rendering selfless service, but lack the requisite experience and skill sets to make a meaningful impact in government.

Out of the very few Nigerian youths who are adequately experienced and prepared for leadership, many lack the wherewithal to muscle out the moneyed older politicians, who have looted the country’s treasury dry, and their cronies. While the Not Too Young To Run bill addresses the age barrier to running for elected offices in Nigeria, it does not address the financial barrier.

Electioneering all over the world is an expensive venture. In Nigeria, the nomination forms for the presidency, governorship, Senate and House of Representatives are sold for 10 million, 5 million, 2 million and 1 million naira respectively, while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) estimates that political parties in the country spent about ₦11.65 billion on traceable media and other related expenses in the 2015 elections.

By contrast, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in a December 22, 2017 report, revealed that the combined youth unemployment and underemployment rate in Nigeria stood at 52.65%. Due to the dire economic state of the country, most youths are still struggling to find their feet professionally and financially, make ends meet and take care of basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. How then can they run for election without soliciting the sponsorship of wealthy individuals with vested interests or the same crooked older politicians that they are so eager to dislodge?

This captures the predicament of the youth in Nigerian politics. The Not Too Young To Run bill may be on its way to becoming a law, but it is not yet Uhuru for the youth in Nigeria’s inhibiting political space. However, it is a huge step in the right direction that must be optimized.

Firstly effort should be made to conscientize the Nigerian youth so that they can become more interested in politics, gain a deeper understanding of the political and economic terrains of the country, demand good governance and accountability from their leaders at all times and participate actively and effectively in the democratic process. This will harness the power of the youth and make them a powerful, active bloc in Nigerian politics.

Secondly, the youth should avail themselves of opportunities that will build their capacity and enhance their leadership exposure. Among other things, they should explore leadership training, mentorship, an internship at public sector and civil society organizations, volunteerism, community development, and entrepreneurship.

Thirdly, pro-youth and pro-democracy civil society organizations (CSOs) should coalesce around and mobilize financial support for credible young aspirants in a bid to help them surmount the financial hurdle of running for office in Nigeria.

Finally, young aspirants must endeavor to embed themselves in their local communities. They must be visible at the grassroots level and not just on Facebook and Twitter. The power of the social media cannot be overemphasized, but it can only go so far if it doesn’t engage the grassroots. Less than half of Nigeria’s population use the internet and even far less are reasonably active on the social media. Consequently, young aspirants must make their campaigns visible on the ground as well as virtually.

Can you share your thoughts? we would love to hear from you

The Need for more Young People in Politics

Posted on: August 15th, 2016 by The Moderator No Comments

Welcome to The Octagon.

See the profile of our guests in this Octagon room conversation.

The Octagon: We appreciate your taking time out to join this chat session which will end at 4pm. We have two moderators in the room who will only offer guidance where necessary. Please feel free to openly share your thoughts and experiences.

Let’s begin with some introductions before going into the discussion. Can everyone let us know who they are and share a bit about what they do? Thank you.

 

Kingsley: My name is Kingsley Ewetuya and I am a Project Engineer and Interface Manager in what’s left of the Oil Industry.

Ishan: Hi everyone. My name is Ishan. I’m a strategy and business development consultant. I have spent a good part of the last 11yrs working in the political sphere, more specifically in and around the presidency.

Seun: I am Oluseun Onigbinde, Lead Partner, BudgIT

Dare: Hello everyone, I am Dare Aliu, I am a power Engr. Team Lead of power at Honeywell group and EA to the chairman. I am passionate about the possibility of a Nigeria where things actually work . I have narrowed that passion to seeing the power sector work.

Banks: My name is Bamikole Omishore, better known as Banks. Special Assistant on New Media and Advocacy to Senate President. Strategist by volition . Been working with Senator Saraki for 5 years. I like to think of my self more as a serial investor.

Gbenga: I’m Gbenga Olorunpomi. A Digital Marketer and political animal. I currently serve at the pleasure of the Kogi State Governor as his Senior Special Assistant on New Media. I’m an incurable optimist and a lover of innovation and dancing.

Tega: I’m O’tega, a passionate Nigerian citizen who tries to know a bit about everything. I’m currently the Group Head for Corporate Communications at one of Nigeria’s largest homegrown conglomerates, BUA Group.

Mark Amaza: *

 

The Octagon: Thanks for the introduction.

Having been taught that democracy is “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, one of the major challenges facing democracy this century is how to translate citizen demands into responsive and accountable politics.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population and yet decreasing levels of youth participation in elections and shrinking membership in political parties. Surveys have shown that whilst trust of government is low, trust in public services is generally high amongst young people.

Why don’t we have enough young people in Politics? Has Nigerian politics discouraged the inclusion of young people? Is It important to have more young people in government? How can we get more Young people interested in holding political office?

 

Banks: First we have to clearly define what group or who qualifies as young/youth. I honestly think Nigeria has a different definition for youth than the rest of the world.

Tega: By young people do you mean those aged 15 – 25 like you initially pointed out or are we expanding that to include those aged 25 – 35 years (or even 45 like some of our political parties’ youth reps)?

Dare: “While recognizing that member states use different chronologies to define youth, the United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 with all UN statistics based on this range, the UN states education as a source for theses statistics. The UN also recognizes that this varies without prejudice to other age groups listed by member states such as 18-30. A useful distinction within the UN itself can be made between teenagers (i.e. those between the ages of 13 and 19) and young adults (those between the ages of 18 and 32).The UN also states they are aware that several definitions exist for youth within UN entities such as Youth Habitat 15-32 and African Youth Charter 15-35.”

Gbenga: Young people will only participate in activities they find interesting, Profitable and appealing. I think the brand of politics and the quality of leadership before 2011 wasn’t exciting or inviting enough to attract the attention of young people. I don’t think we give enough credit to those who dreamt up and actualized Team Ribadu in 2010. That movement was built and sustained by social media. It had representation in every sate of the country and all the participants shared stories and encouraged each other. Many are still in touch today, 6 years after the launch of the movement. The perceived competence and incorruptibility of the man at the centre and the collective anger at the status quo ensured that young professionals gave up their time and resources to support a political cause. True, many had diverse ideologies and wanted different things but we all agreed that corruption had to go and professionalism had to return to leadership. I often imagine if we had allowed that group to grow beyond that man.

Tega: Haha. Gbenga, people must eat.

Gbenga: You’re right. Poverty and helplessness also play a role. So, what we need is a system that quickly empowers and educates the masses in the shortest time.

Seun: Poverty is a key challenge and politicians use it as leverage. This makes our politics more expensive.

Ishan: I agree with Gbenga. The short cut is a mass enlightenment campaign. The more people that are aware and knowledgeable, the more of a chance guys like you will be elected to office.

Kingsley: There are two institutional barriers to entry, that need to be uprooted.

  1. Financial: purchasing even the registration forms is independently unaffordable for most people. Even our President said he had to take a loan. We need campaign finance reform
  2. Political: Two subsets here: We have a policy of indigenization which makes it almost impossible for people to seek office in their state of residency rather than origin. That needs to go.

Also, there is no allowance for independent candidacy. This means that the political future youths are subject to the whims of party powers who simply aren’t ready to let go.

Dare: Kingsley, thanks for highlighting those two points. However I must reiterate that finance is the key factor that prevents the youth from engaging in active politics. The United States which represents the most advanced democracy has done its best limit the effect of finance in elections but still have a long way to go. Until we can reasonably separate entry into the political sphere and deep pockets, the youth will remain at the mercy of the older generation.

Seun: Our brand of politics is too expensive and does not appreciate ideas but slogan. This is why I think young people find it hard to enter politics.

Tega: Putting this issue at the doorstep of finance especially is one way we as young people ‘lie’ to ourselves and exclude us from the political process. Who says you have to be ‘elected’ to actually make your voice heard and impact felt in Nigerian politics – as an insider or otherwise?

(Continue on next page)

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