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Youths And Political Participation In Nigeria

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Kenya Presidential Election: Comparing Notes

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

It is always sweet news to hear of how youths and young people get into prominent political positions in other climes, especially in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada and many European countries. Even in Saudi Arabia, the crowned Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman is a young man at 37. In these countries, there are no limitations to the heights that youths can get. These are not just in appointive positions but in many highly competitive political offices. More interesting is the fact that, these youths and young people who get to these positions are not indigenous people alone.

Many of them have their roots in other countries, including from Nigeria, in Africa. There are those who migrated personally and have naturalised there, which make them qualified to hold such positions. There are others who were born there by their parents who migrated to these countries. Others have many generations already part of the countries. Despite all of these, they are given equal opportunities to compete, to win and to serve their countries and their people. Why then do we have difficulties having youths like them get similar positions, whether elected, and even appointed in Nigeria?

Here, youths are only majorly given non-executive positions and less important roles like Personal Assistants (PAs) and Special Assistants (SAs). They are most useful at times like this; during campaigns, for mobilisation and voting on election days. Who is to be blamed for all of these? The system and the youths themselves. Ironically, it is in this same country that we have had youths and young ones led the country, up to the highest office as head of state when the young Col. Yakubu Gowon became the Nigerian military Head of State in 1966, at age 32! He was not even married at the time. Where is our 32 or even older youths today? Many are wasting away.

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Our founding fathers, who fought for Nigeria’s independence, were in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. They also governed the country at such ages. Same thing as the military boys who took over power one after another since July 1966 in various coups. They were youths. Our current President Muhammadu Buhari was just 24 years at that time as a young officer. Same as Babangida 25, Obasanjo 29, Ojukwu 33, Muritala 28, Danjuma 28, Musa Yar’adua 23, Abacha 23 and a host of others. Ironsi was far older at 42. That was when they hit the limelight and began to be prominent. What then went wrong?

I put the blame on the system first. Why? This is because the system, which is the totality of who we are as a people; the society, people, culture, education, training, discipline, values, politics, and so on, that the young people of that time were availed, are not the same as we have now. Let me not start with this. Now, things have completely changed. The training and discipline that children got as they were growing up then, which moulded them to who they became, have been lost. We now have bunch of kids who lack discipline, home training, focus, ambition and are lazy. They want things to come to them with little or no effort at all. Who is to be blamed for this? Their parents ofcourse, who happened to be the same older generation who had the training and discipline their children lack.

Why should we still be mentioning the names of these old people today when leadership of the country is being discussed? Why should they still be participating in our elections? Why should such old people be the ones, who the aspirants and candidates still seek their supports and affirmations to get to political offices? Why should they still influence, manipulate or dictate who leads us at this time after almost six decades they sprang to national limelight themselves? Is their time not supposed to have gone by now?

Moreover, whatever decrepit state that Nigeria has gotten to, they laid the foundation for it. They contributed to it. They were part of it. How then can people who created a problem be the ones to tell us who can solve it and how it can be solved? Yet, we listened to them, we accept their counsel and followed their direction. But, where has that led us? Perdition. Journey to nowhere! You cannot do the same thing over and over and expect different results. That’s insanity. But, can we blame the old generation alone? No. As the Yorubas will say; “agbara ojo ko ni oun ko n’ile wo, onile ni ko ni gba fun”. If our “living ancestors” refuse to leave and are sitting tight in political arena, it is the duty of the youths to push them out, any which way.

In an interactive session with some youths last year, the presidential candidate of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who himself, is an old brigade who is supposed to be out of the picture by now, while answering the usual question by the youths about giving them chance to lead in Nigeria, he replied frankly, but his traducers deliberately misrepresented him. He said that “power is not served a la carte”. That no one gives another power freely. He counselled that if they want power, they must work for it, fight for it, snatch it, and run away with it. This is the bitter truth about political power.

I hope that those youths present and others who watched the video, actually got the import of what he told them and understood it, and will implement it. Unfortunately, his critics deliberately twisted what he said to mean that he asked his supporters to go and snatch ballot boxes in the coming presidential election and run away with them. How irresponsible can people be. In the furore that followed, the message might have been lost on the youths.

In today’s Nigeria, what do our youths and young ones really want, particularly as it concerns political leadership of the country? In my many interactions with many of them, I see a state of confusion and lack of clarity of want and purpose. Many cannot define precisely what they want. Majority are simply led by the nose like cows. The herd mentality of following the crowd, irrespective of whether right or wrong.

About five years ago, after a sterling effort and relentless pursuit of a constitutional amendment to change some constitutional impediments to youths getting elected because of their age and to accommodate youths in elections, the “Not Too Young To Run” bill was passed by national assembly and signed into law by President Buhari. It was welcomed with a lot of pump and pageantry. It was well commended. The promoters, who championed it, were appreciated. But what happened after? They went to sleep. This was the way those who fought the military for our democracy went to sleep in 1998/99 and allowed charlatans to highjack the political space, consequences of which we are all suffering now. “Ajogun ewu etu, ko moyi agabada nla”. That’s by the way.

Since 2018, we have not seen significant impact of that new law which reduced the age barriers against the youths from political offices. The age limits are as follows: president and vice 35, Senator and governor 30, House of Representatives and House of Assembly 25. How have these influenced the demography of the aspirants, and eventual candidates that are vying for various positions in 2023 general elections? At the presidential level, we have “gerontocrats” as leading candidates. Those who followed are in their 60s. Those in their 50s stand no chance.

I got some ludicrous basis that some of these youths and young ones give as reasons for supporting one particular candidate. Something like; “we want new order, someone who does not belong to old order, someone young, someone clean, etc”. My question simply is: who among the leading candidates fits these bills? Some say Peter Obi. These are those who have constituted themselves to Obidient movement. So, to Nigerian youths, a 61-year old is one of them. Laughable.

It is height of ignorance for anyone to claim that Peter Obi belongs to any new order. Someone who has been enmeshed in Nigeria politics for two decades. Someone who was in the same highly disparaged PDP, by them, for eight years. Someone who was the vice presidential candidate to another old brigade, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of PDP in 2019. Someone who had wanted to fly the ticket of PDP in 2023 had it been handed to him on the platter? I often asked Obidients what their thoughts about PDP would have been today, supposing Peter Obi is the party’s presidential candidate? I only get some mumble jumble incoherent jargons as answers.

In my thought, I would have expected the youths, with all their agitations for power shift to next generation, to have chosen from among themselves, a youth or young person of less than 50 or just over fifty, among the existing candidates, even if their choices are constrained to choose among the 18 presidential candidates. Or, are they saying none of the candidates in that age brackets is qualified or has the competence and capacity to govern this country? So much for the #RevolutionNow!

Some might argue about inexperience, well, that’s valid. However, when you demand new order, fresh ideas and new Nigeria, you can’t simultaneously expect experience in governance in Nigeria. Such experienced persons would have also been tainted one way or the other. You can’t eat your cake and keep it. These are confusions that youths and young people get themselves sucked into. I expected more clarity from the ‘gen z’ who often claim to be ‘in thing’, given that the world is in their palms. Don’t they learn anything from that? That is to show that politics, leadership, governance and the likes, are beyond being hippy! It’s not cake. They require vision, serious strategy, consistent hard work till results are gotten.

When a party called Young Progressives Party (YPP) was registered some years ago, I was elated. I told myself: this is it!. Unfortunately, I might have celebrated too early as the party has been struggling to remain afloat. Its saviour from being deregistered was Senator Ifeayin Ubah, who chose to contest on its platform for the slot of Anambra South senatorial district in the senate, for whatever reason I have not been able to pin down. He won in 2019 election, not because he was propelled by the youths but by his own sheer determination and political dexterity. Surprisingly, he did not defect to the ruling party APC, as speculated at early stage or the main opposition party PDP. He has remained a lone ranger in the senate. Impressive. Can he repeat that feat in 2023? Time will tell. YPP has few others elected at state assemblies too.

So, one would have thought by now, that YPP would be controlling the politics and political space of the country, considering the raw power and influence that the young people weild by their number, both within the national population and registered voters. Nigeria is considered a youthful population with over 65% below the age of 50. INEC recently released the final breakdown of all registered voters. Age 18-34 (youths): 37,060,399 (37.65%), 35-49 (middle aged): 33,413,591 (35.75%), 50-69 (elderly): 17,700,270 (18.94%), and 70+ (old): 5,294,758 (5.66%).

It is clear from this delineation that the demographies that determine who leads the country and occupy various political positions are the youths and young adults. They totalled 70,473,990. That is 73.4% of the total registered voters. The INEC Chairman, Professor Muhammud Yakubu alluded to this fact while delivering his address during his appearance at Chatham House, London, this Wednesday. He said that 2023 is for the youths.

However, that is only in the sense of voting for other demography, possibly, and not in the possibility of dominating the leadership positions that will emerge after the elections. Even if they have conceded the presidency to past generation, what about other offices? Why can’t we have all governors within their age bracket of less than 50? Babatunde Fashola (SAN) was 44 when he govern Lagos. He was phenomenal and the best. Same for members of houses of assemblies, representatives and senate, within the age permissible by the “Not Too Young To Run” act. This is how to start taking power from older generation, not to be shouting up and down promoting them. How ironic.

This year’s lacklustre involvement of youths in actively participating in the governance of their country by not presenting themselves for elective positions and not supporting their own, is inexcusable and unacceptable. In 2019, I excused them that the act was passed and became law, too close to the general elections. So, there was no time to organise themselves into a power block. But four years after, such excuse is not tenable. If the youths truly want power and want to takeover from this old generation, they will do more than being cheerleaders to the same set from whom they hope and want to snatch the power.

I don’t know if this is an opportunity for them as some supporters of Obi will want us to believe. Voting for Peter Obi is not taking power from old order by new order to me. Just like Tinubu also said he will represent the interest of the youths this time and that it will be their turn after him. Where does a 70 year old represent youths’ interest, if not in Nigeria? The youths and young people need to better organise, create necessary vision as to what they want, where they want to be and how they intend to achieve them, in the political scheme of things in Nigeria.

The importance of leadership that will give such vision the needed direction as they execute their plans, cannot be overemphasised. This their “we don’t have a leader, we don’t need structure” and such gibberish don’t cut it in this clime. They must build a formidable, enduring and endearing structure, if they ever wished to achieve anything politically in this country, just like anywhere else in the world. Power is never served a la carte!

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:
Twitter: @lateef_adewole
Facebook: Lateef Adewole
Email: lateefadewole23@gmail.com
Whatsapp: +2348179512401

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January 21, 2023.

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