An aspect of Nigeria’s democracy that speaks to the youth population in the country and their involvements in political processes was in focus at the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP)’s August Seminar on Progress, Setbacks and Opportunities for Youth Political Inclusion: A scrutiny of the Not Too Young to Run Act.
The seminar as a strategic forum was headlined by youth and the conversation was enriched by the active participation of the youth who did not only interrogate the Not Too Young To Act Run Act but also probed themselves and did a critical self examination of their capacity, agency and readiness to explore opportunities for relevance and significance in national development.
It highlighted the fervor that promoted the bill and noted the euphoria that greeted its passage into law but established that that was as good as it could be as the youth need to shake off the delirium of the passage into law and accept that the Act is not an end but a means to an end. The youth were reminded that the law is not a silver bullet that cures all. Instead, it has only allowed a ray of hope for the youth especially as it concerns political processes and participation.
Although the promoters of the bill had advocated for independent candidacy as an integral part of the bill with a view to using such to checkmate the issue of money, a factor that is considered a major barrier to youth participation in standing for elective positions, this was not eventually made part of the law but the gathering recognised finance, network and competence as the major barriers limiting youth entry into partisan politics. Some of the constraints that are responsible for voters’ fatigue are still present and most of these weigh heavily against the youth in their path to political inclusion.
On another hand, participants decried the emphasis on the age of young people as proponents of ideas instead of the age of the ideas. The Not Too Young To Run Act as it stands today is not far reaching enough to recognise young persons as critical stakeholders and cornerstone for societal development.
The youth in self examination highlighted that they have failed to show innovation in their style and mode of political involvement as they have continued to use the old paradigms with an expectation to achieve new feats, acting out the scripts of the older generation, who understand and have mastery of the complexities of party politics and electoral processes. The youth admitted the need for new approaches especially in the formation of youth based political parties, mobilization and more importantly, in fund raising processes leveraging on their number and technology.
They recognised that political inclusion is premised on three cardinal principles of being able to vote, being eligible to be voted for and being part of the process that can influence the policies that shape futures. Although, the Act has opened some windows of opportunities for young people especially with the reduction of the age of eligibility, and with a youth-inclusive legal framework which is an essential and primary step in mainstreaming the youth in the political processes, the onus is now on the youth to participate formally and improve their political roles in their societies. This must be actualised through active involvement in political parties, mastering internal party processes, getting visibility and experience, building necessary and strategic alliances and network with a view to influencing internal party policies and practices
It agreed that a lot of youth have the entitlements mentality and this serves as a self imposed barrier to the integration of youth especially into the mainstream of leadership in the country. Nigerian youth were advised to stand up and be counted. The house made historical references to past and older generations who achieved political and social milestones as young persons. So, the problem is not that there hasn’t been political inclusion for the youth in the country but today’s Nigerian youth have kept themselves in the beggarly mode of entitlements instead of rising up to the challenge to make their marks and earn their places of honour.
Reminding themselves that power is not legislated and would not be served with pomp and circumstance, the seminar noted that power must be earned without demonizing the older generation who have built social capital, and must be mindful that today’s young people are tomorrow’s elders. So, it is important for the youth to ingratiate themselves with the older generation for political empowerment and relevance, as the Act does not address the the problems of money politics, nepotism and gender discrimination among others but increased youth involvement in political parties can set changes in motion.
Young people need to build political and social capital because the Act is all about democracy, participation and inclusion. The desire for greater political empowerment for the youth and by the youth will not happen automatically considering the peculiarity of politics. One of the speakers pointed out that there is no retirement age in politics except on the grounds of ill health or death, so the youth must deepen their involvement in political parties, enhance their capacity and build strategic networks even beyond party lines.
However, young people must live with the uncomfortable realities that owing to the factors of experience, wisdom, long standing networks and alliances as well as mastery of the game, it may be impossible to ever find a level playing ground because everyone, like a poker player, will always play his or her best card as an ace. So, young persons will do well to extend their minds beyond vying for elective public positions but instead join political parties and get more involved in civic duties and responsibilities especially as a way of connecting with their communities and environments, building credibility and visibility and be impactful.
Beyond these, youth were enjoined to leverage on its population to build their own structure including parties to offer viable and credible alternatives to the existing and big parties. They challenged themselves to leverage on the capital of time with which they can build experience, relevance and impact.
The euphoria that came with the signing into law of the Not Too Young To Run Act was misplaced because the law has only thrown youth up to the realities of work to be done especially in the political sector. The law should lead to a paradigm shift in the political space. A speaker challenged the youth that if young Nigerians, in the not too distant past, excelled and changed the economic landscape of this nation, then it should not be impossible to replicate same in the political sector. He however added that those who achieved landmark successes in the economic space demonstrated remarkable competences.
It was established that, whatever good intentions that underlie the current vogue for youth participation and ultimately the Not Too Young To Run Act, a limited concept of civic responsibility is very necessary, one that does not exclude democratic participation but draws a correlation between membership and inclusion.
To advance citizenship in a sustainable way, youth must progress beyond “virtual citizenship” to “real” political and civic participation at local and national levels. While youth are enthusiastic about political engagement and associational life, it has yet to be implemented in a fully active manner. In contrast to the idealistic aspirations associated with the youth, they must go beyond engaging exclusively in a virtual public space. Making the transition from virtual to active citizenship will require new associational skills, which are as important as entrepreneurial skills in building effective agency. Youth can benefit from opportunities to learn how to establish and manage associations, including understanding the legal environment for doing so, being financially accountable and transparent, lobbying effectively, handling public relations and communications strategies, mapping democratic internal processes against effective management structures, and engaging in strategic networking.
Political participation is a key pillar of active citizenship. Participation entails taking part in mainstream politics, including voting, joining a party or pressure group, campaigning, or standing for election. Participation encompasses more than elections; it involves participating in the public discourse through organized channels and other forms of expression. Nevertheless, participation in elections is an important indicator of public trust in political institutions and an exercise of active citizenship by young people.
Low levels of political participation by youth reflect the limited space that young people perceive for themselves within established parties. Other socio-economic problems, worsening social justice, and the continuing patronage and other ills associated with the older generation can dampen the optimism ignited by the Act. With scant tangible gains, the level of disillusionment for many youth has intensified to a sense of betrayal.
Relatively low participation in the elections was a clear indication youth of disillusionment and lack of faith in formal political parties The new law opens the possibility of a new phase in Nigeria’s political history, including the potential to increase youth involvement in decision making—a civil society space that youth are keen to fill. The time is opportune to consider interventions to support youth aspirations, to foster their participation at the local and national levels, and to rebuild their trust in policy making as well as explore concrete avenues for youth engagement from the bottom up, starting at the local level.
*Dr. Tunji Olaopa is the Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com)