Youth Inclusion In Nigerian Politics: A Panacea To Failed Democracy
Wendy Schaetzel Lesko once said; “If you ever think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito”. This can be aptly described as one notorious disposition beclouding the mindset of today’s youths. The youths themselves are not blameless for their plight. Nevertheless, young people are often excluded from participating in political activities.
Moreover, they are mostly overlooked by voters as candidates during elections. Politics is regarded as a space for older and more experienced people and this is a very erroneous notion. Asides the youth, women are also marginalized when it comes to political participation. Youths are tagged ‘inexperienced’ and unfit to lead because of their young age and a host of other factors. It is common knowledge that the youth constitute a significant part of the global population, hence the need for them to be integrated into every decision-making process. Furthermore, there is a general recognition of youths as ‘agents of transformation’.
However, despite all these, youths are thoroughly marginalized and excluded from participating actively in politics. It is, however, crystal clear that while youths may be seen as rebellious or ‘lazy’, the future belongs to them and the earlier they are integrated into politics, the better for us all.
Trends of Youth Inclusion and Participation in Politics in Nigeria and Globally
A cursory observation of the trend of political participation and training of youths in Nigeria reveals that they have not been actively involved in the political system. It is rather disheartening that with the large population of youths and the kind of influence they can have, they have been relegated to the background. What is more disheartening is the fact they have become tools in the hands of murderous and blood-thirsty politicians who use them to wreak havoc and cause political and social unrest.
A conceptual clarification of the word ‘youth’ is contained in the Nigerian National Youth Policy 2009 which unequivocally states that “the youth shall comprise all young males and females aged 18-35 years, who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The name Chukwuebuka Anisiobishould ring a bell to the ears of any adult Lagos resident. He remains the youngest governor to rule in Nigeria at the age of 16 and he ruled for just a day. He became the governor because he won a spelling bee organized by the then First Lady of Lagos State, Oluremi Tinubuin the year 2001. Furthermore, the youngest Presidential candidate in Nigeria’s history is Chike Ukaegbuwho ran under the platform of the Advanced Allied Party (AAP) in the 2019 elections. He scored a total of 8,902 votes. This speaks volumes of the tide which swings against youths in political participation.
A couple of years back, it would have been absurd to think of, let alone talk up the chances of having a youthful president in Nigeria. However, it would be less absurd right now, given the signing of a bill that reduces the age limit required to seek a political office in the country. It was reduced from age 40 to age 35, giving younger people an opportunity at politics. The original version of the bill sought to reduce the presidential candidacy age to 30. The Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) reports that people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world’s voting age population but only 26% of the world’s Members of Parliament (MPs).
Young people under 30 represent 1.9% of the world’s MPs and more than 80% of the world’s upper houses of parliament have no MPs aged fewer than 30. These trends have pushed many international organizations to study the lack of youth political participation and to train youth activists. In Nigeria, the youngest Head of State/ President is General Yakubu Gowon who came into power at the age of 31. Fortunately for him, he has the longest tenure in Nigerian history. It is however worthy of note that the long-established structures of power, mostly in Africa have persistently excluded and prevented youths from being able to participate. According to the report of the IPU, Ecuador, Finland, Sweden and Norway are the only parliaments in the world where more than 10% of members are aged fewer than 30.
Challenges Facing the Inclusion of Youths in Politics
As ironic as it may sound, one major challenge facing the inclusion of youths in politics is the youths themselves. The first challenge is the youth;. The youths need to wake up from their slumber and realize it’s time to take up the mantle. Most youths have an appalling political apathy. Majority of youths, are more interested in personal development and “making money” than political interest. And, as bitter as it is to say, this is not entirely their fault.
This leads to the second challenge which is the stubbornness and reluctance of older generations to remain in power and their incessant failed promises. As a result of this, the youths may start to lose hope and consider that they have no part to play in politics.
Another challenge facing youth inclusion and participation in politics is the lack of understanding of the benefits of youth engagement in the policy and program of action by the Nigerian government.
The last challenge to be discussed is youth unemployment. Unless it’s managed early, it could be a ticking political time bomb. Most social implosions in Africa were chiefly the result of youth joblessness.
The Way Forward/Conclusion
It is earnestly believed that the inclusion of youths in politics is the answer to the failed democratic system plaguing Nigeria. Some measures which have been taken to checkmate the relegation of youths would be highlighted forthwith.
The African Youth Charter has been adopted by the African Union which has been ratified by nothing less than 20 countries and signed by 37 nations. Moreover, the UN and its agencies, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other multinational corporations are imploring member nations to take into account the youth in their policies, programs, and strategies.
The first solution to this menace is a change of mindset of the youths. Youths should tailor their thinking and radicalism into making impacts politically. They should turn a new leaf, from political apathy to political enthusiasm.
Secondly, legal frameworks should be established for the participation of youths in politics. However, this legal framework should be youth-inclusive as it would allow the youths to participate formally and improve their ‘political intelligence’.
Another way forward is youth empowerment. Once the youth are empowered, they would have more reason to participate in politics. Incidental to this is the fact that the Nigerian government could consider the payment of monthly stipends to unemployed youths.
If the world youth population is utilized effectively, it would be a potential resource to uplift and change the world, making it a better place for all of us to live in. Little wonder Benjamin Disraeli opined; “The Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity”.
Shadare Oluwasemilore is a 500L student of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos with a keen interest in alternative dispute resolution(ADR), energy law, risk management among others. He is an avid writer and researcher and is a recipient of a couple of essay competition awards and has a number of published articles.