In many countries, contesting as an independent is a legal – though challenging – path to elected office. Though independents miss out on the financial support and name recognition benefits of party members, there are no barriers to their making the attempt. In Nigeria however, candidates must be members of a registered political party in order to be elected.
Despite this fact, many political aspirants are wary of joining political parties. Youth in particular are deterred by the cost and opaque nature of the party system, grudgingly seeking out parties only when it is too late. Despite advocacy around a constitutional amendment to allow independent candidacy, such legislation recently failed at the state level. For the near future, political parties remain a necessity.
For our April Tweet Chat, #ReadyToRun spoke with Bisi Ogunwale about challenges to youth inclusion in parties, how young aspirants can overcome these challenges, and the benefits to parties of having young members. Bisi is an expert on the ins and outs of running for political office. Having been involved in partisan politics since 2006, he recently published a book, Stepping Out: A Rookie’s Guide to Nigeria’s Politics, about his experience running for Kwara State House of Assembly in 2015.
Bisi’s start in politics began as a student, where he contested offices at University of Ilorin and in the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). He was elected as the first National President of the Student Physiological Association of Nigeria (SPAN). He entered partisan politics by becoming a member, and assisting in campaigns, for AC even as it became ACN and then merged into the All Progressives Congress.
“many young people lack interest or understanding of why they must join political parties…we don’t see our place in the parties.”
When asked why young people avoided joining political parties, Bisi suggested “many young people lack interest or understanding of why they must join political parties. No one stops youth from joining political parties…but we don’t see our place in the parties. We don’t see joining parties as part of our civic responsibilities.”
Bisi did feel that political parties were not doing enough to recruit young members: “every party has a youth wing right? Part of their responsibility should be engaging with other young people who are not members and converting them.” He also warned that youth involvement in political parties and choosing the candidates that end up on the ballot is more important than voting on election day.
“#NotTooYoungToRun will derive its most benefits if Independent Candidacy can also be passed into law.”
Bisi spoke on the benefits that independent candidacy would have for young people in politics, but was sceptical about instituting party quotas to ensure youth representation. Instead he pushed for a “level playing field” whereby nothing would stop young aspirants from contesting equally. He specifically championed the idea of direct party primaries as “the only solution” to party interest groups blocking aspirants.
Independent candidacy and direct primary elections would go a long way to solving the problems of youths who are reluctant to join parties. In the meantime however, political parties remain the only road to participating in Nigeria’s elections. Any young aspirant looking to contest in 2019 and beyond should find a party platform that fits with their aspiration and set themselves up to be meaningfully included in electoral politics.