Sunday, 13 October 2013

Election Monitor Newsletter takes a look at youth involvement in Nigerian politics

Nigeria is a great country, which is blessed with a very large youth population. According to the 2006 National Population Census figures, Nigerian youths between the ages of 18 to 39 constitute 64% of the nation’s adult population (not inclusive of youths below 18 years). It is however very surprising that the youth representation in government is very low. This is the case for both appointive and elective positions. In the case of the elective positions, the case is much worse.  This is because the law has prescribed certain age limits for prospective candidates to occupy certain positions in government such as president, governor, senator, member of the Federal House of Representatives etc. This is an unfair position and there is no evidence to show that young people cannot succeed in governance.

Distribution of population by Twenty Year Age Groups and Sex

There are many cases of youths succeeding in business, administration of religious organisations, charities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to mention but a few. It seems rather queer that the only area which ‘youths are seen as unfit to succeed in’ is in politics. It is worthy to note that a number of youth initiatives have contributed to fostering national development. 

As a result of this, it is critical for the Nigerian polity to review its stance on youths and youth participation in politics. It is worthy to note that a number of the political leaders in Nigeria today have been in active politics for over thirty to forty years clearly showcasing that they were youths when they were first engaged in politics.  

However, it is my personal opinion that the youths in Nigeria have gone about the issue of youth participation in politics to some extent the wrong way. The approach that is most common is to ask the existing political leadership to give youths a chance. For anybody that knows anything about politics, it is clear that those in power are never willing to release to others except an external force ensures that they do so. For example the president may wish to have more than two terms but because the current Constitution (in this case the external force), does not allow it, every president knows that he can never expect to rule for more than 8 years at a maximum. Were this not to be the case in Nigeria, we would probably be faced with the type of situation in Zimbabwe where an 89-year-old man, Robert Mugabe wins a presidential election after spending decades in power. 

The message is clear, youths cannot expect power on a platter of gold. In order to guarantee political power for youths, there is a need for Nigerian youths to organise and carry out a situational analysis. A situational analysis helps youths to understand their strengths and weaknesses and consequently create a plan of action to seize the opportunities that exist by leveraging on their strengths and mitigating their weaknesses.
For example the graph in the previous page lucidly shows that youths have the upper hand in terms of Nigerian adult population. All the other age groups combined only account for 36% of the total Nigerian adult population. This is not new information to Nigerians but unfortunately this mighty asset has not been exploited by Nigerian youths in any significant way. 

Because politics is a numbers game, it is difficult to side-line any group of people who have a numerical advantage. In the case of youth voters, issues of religion and tribal sentiment must not become an issue. There is a need to look at the fact that youths are first youths and that is the only concern. What this means is that if the youths are to remain united and resolute we would be in a position to negotiate political offices with the current political class and ensure adequate and proportional youth representation in Government. 

The challenge it seems is bringing the youths together in a common front. There is therefore the urgent need to create a forum or special purpose vehicle for youths, which will not be affiliated to any political party, religion or tribe. The movement should be a nationalistic one, which would ensure that all youths are carried along.  A possible name for such a movement could be the National Youth Front (NYF) (this is merely a suggestion). This group will then begin to sensitise youths across the county and come out with a minimum number of youths, which are to occupy elective and appointive offices in each of the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT. Because the body will be non-partisan, it will serve as a pool for political parties to come and select competent youths who can contest and win elections. The body will provide the youths and also the support of the youths on ground who will ensure an overwhelming turnout on Election Day. It would also be possible for political parties to present their youths to the NYF for screening after which the support of the NYF would be guaranteed for that particular candidate. This is critical because most of the existing youth groups are either appellations of political parties or hold no clout and as such are unable to bargain for positions with the leadership of these parties. 

It is important to note that the movement is not a repeat of other youth groups but rather a movement, which encompasses all youths and all youth groups. It should be about ideology and not rhetoric. 

Another significant advantage of the youth is social media and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This is an area that the current political class are no match for youths. Because Nigeria has over 100 million active telephone lines, it is possible to disseminate information across the country within minutes or hours. Youths must leverage this critical advantage to mobilise and remain united when pressing for greater participation in politics. Blackberries, Ipads etc should not only be for sending messages about entertainment or gossip but disseminating youth focussed political information and education. If youths are able to tap into this awesome power of new media effectively, delivering regions and states for youth candidates will be a child’s play. 

Another key advantage for youth is their strength. Young people are naturally physically stronger than their older counterparts. This energy ensures that youths could be on ground to wait and watch the counting of votes to ensure that the results reflect the will of the people. Campaigning also requires a lot of stamina and so many other parts of the political process as well. The youths have what it takes to ensure that they endure through all these and come out victorious. 

Many people believe that youths don’t have money and as such can’t compete. This is a myth. Because youths have the population, we can easily mobilise funds from youths across the country (even if it is with contributions as small as five naira). It is also worthy to note that the Nigerian workforce (in both public and private sectors) is dominated by youths between the ages of 18 and 39. The combined wealth of youths in Nigeria is larger than any group of current political leaders. It should also be said that there are a plethora of young millionaires and even billionaires in Nigeria. The entertainment industry is dominated by youths and this is one of the largest industries in the country. 

The essence of this article is to clearly showcase that youths are not irrelevant politically and can indeed play a significant role in Nigeria’s politics. Youths are not thugs and hirelings who can be manipulated for a morsel of bread. 2015 is an opportunity for Nigerian youths to assert themselves in national politics and ensure accurate and proper representation in political offices at all levels in the country. Though it may not be achieved in one fell swoop, there is always a starting point. 

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