The debate over youth participation in politics will continue until Nigerian youth are given the opportunity and level playing ground to contest political office. As youth are given this opportunity, the question about readiness of young people to compete in the tedious Nigerian Political terrain is gradually being laid to rest. More young people than ever before are engaging in local community advocacy and movement building amongst other political activities in preparation for 2019 general elections and beyond.
Supporting a young candidate therefore is becoming imperative considering the situation of the country and the fact that future of young people is being decided by people other than those that will be affected by the decision. The recent report that 27-year old Maryam Laushi is the National Publicity Secretary of the newly formed Modern Democratic Party goes a long way in saying young people may not despise humble beginning after all. In this vein, the power of number which rules politics maybe the next daunting task to acquire but there is good news.
According to Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, 52% of registered voters are between the ages of 18-35. Youth between those ages are around a third of the population. Young people aren’t leaders of tomorrow any longer, we’re leaders of today. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that Nigeria’s population will be just under 200 million by the beginning of 2019. Nearly two-third (62 percent) of Nigerian population is aged under 24, giving Nigeria one of the youngest demographics in the world.
While the statistics is very impressive, the quality of young Nigerians when it comes to knowledge, capacity and charisma and bringing fresh ideas, innovation and solutions to our democratic system is the reason Nigerians have to take the gamble in supporting youth candidacy in the near future. The participation of young people in governance will ensure that the issues of priority for young Nigerians are on government agendas.
As matter of fact, there is a growing interest around the world in youth and politics. Young people in Africa are an enormous resource for the continent’s developments. It is in this regard that African Union Heads of State and Government declared the theme for 2017 as ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth’.
Most recently and more cheering is the fact that Nigerian youth have scored a major victory towards youth participation in politics with the progress of the Not Too Young To Run Bill. This bill, which would reduce the constitutional minimum ages for running for elected offices, has received the overwhelming support from both home and abroad. Through consistent advocacy, town halls, campaigns, the Bill cleared through both houses of the National Assembly and has been endorsed by 35 of 36 states. Aside from transforming the political landscape in Nigeria, the Not Too Young to Run Bill has inspired a global movement around increased youth participation in politics.
As a constitutional amendment, the Bill only needs President Muhammadu Buhari to sign it into law. Given the overwhelming support from national and state legislatures, the positive impact the Not Too Young to Run movement has had on Nigeria’s international standing, and the benefits of enhancing youth political participation, President Buhari would do well to provide timely assent to the Bill.
The most common argument against youth political participation is that young Nigerians is financially incapacitated and inexperience which has been debunked overtime by Political analysts and Civil Society Organizations. For example, Executive Director of YIAGA Africa Samson Itodo argued that age does not determine the competence of an individual saying exposure to leadership and capacity building opportunities and commitment to self-growth are qualities needed to succeed as a leader. In this vein, what really matters is the competence and character to hold public office as the nation have witnessed many politicians who have spent decades in politics with nothing to show for it.
Indeed, the exclusion of young people from elective offices robs society of their contribution to economic and political development. Young people have skills and capacities that can be transferred to political office. Young people bring vibrancy and innovative thinking to their activities, evident in the way they have built up thriving entertainment, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and e-commerce sectors that are now major drivers of the economy. This same vibrancy and innovative thinking will be invaluable in our political space.
Though young Nigerians may still face other obstacles when it comes to equal political participation, and these must be identified and addressed, President Buhari can ensure that the Nigerian Constitution is not one of these obstacles.
Uzor Darlington is a Passionate Youth Activist and Program Assistant with the Youth Department of YIAGA Africa.