Youth engagement in politics: The third alternative
IT is becoming certain that, having escaped the prophesied disintegration with the 2015 general elections, Nigeria is bound to exist as a Federation for a long time to come. This new chapter of our national life, however, calls for sober reflection by all, but more importantly, the youths who are defined as people in the 15 to 40 years age bracket.
The desired product of politics by every patriotic citizen is a polity which we are all proud to identify with and which stand tall when adjudged by the various indices of human development. The fundamental human rights of citizens and the socio-economic outcome of such idealistic politics are guaranteed, not just on paper, but in ordinary daily life of the society. The desired product or outcome of politics such as good governance however depends on variables which include the people and the process.
The political process in Nigeria is improving with each election cycle, at least since the inception of the current political dispensation from 1999. The recently concluded general elections adjudged as largely peaceful and apparently credible by many is an eloquent testimony to our blooming electoral process. The fact that electoral mandate was freely sought and given in a process midwifed by an adroit electoral umpire is enough re-assurance that our political process is indeed maturing. Can we say the same about the “people variable” in the political equation?
It is no longer news that the campaign in the last election was dominated by hate speeches from gladiators across the political landscape which unfortunately diverted attention from the real issues that concerns the Nigerian masses. Such show of shame by the political class not only borders on moral and intellectual corruption but also calls to question the quality of people engaged in the political affairs of our dear nation. What is equally shocking is that the social media was also awash with divisive comments and counter-comments which made mockery of modesty and civility. Having improved on the political process this much, we must now be concerned about the quality of participants in the political system, in order to get better outcomes in subsequent election cycles.
With an estimated 53 million population, the Nigerian youth constitute a powerful voting bloc in elections. The youths are however missing from the political space as active players, though many are active spectators as indicated by the high level of activity on social media. The head count of youths in the executive and legislature in the newly elected government in Nigeria is unimpressive. The question is why are there so many young internet political warlords than there are in real life? The political gladiators who fired salvos in the last campaign season were not youths but arguably enjoyed partisan support from online young minions who were active in their defence on social media.
How can the youths mutate from such active virtual followers to calling the shots and shaping the destiny of this nation as leaders in real life? What structures are on ground to accommodate youths in the existing political parties beyond using (abusing) them to commit electoral fraud and allied infamous acts? How can youths play in a game where money is still a major influence in the electioneering process even at the party level? Can youths aspire to political leadership on an alternative platform inspired by similarities of sound progressive ideology and shared commitment to salvage our collective future from the mistakes of the past which have brought the nation to this sorry state? These are some of the questions we must answer to achieve the necessary renaissance among the youths for political emancipation. The struggle to arouse this sleeping giant from its prolonged socio-economic coma has started and today’s youths should heed the call of the season to purposeful political action both online and offline.
History is replete with the positive and negative impacts of engagement of youths in our national life. It is known that Nigerian youths were active in the struggle for independence from colonial Britain. Youths also led the early military incursion into governance. Youths led the civil war and serial coups (many of those yesteryear young military actors continue to frustrate the desires of Nigerians for a better country till date). Youths hold the key to the bright future of this country. Youths must someday lead the political struggle against the current political class which has attained the status of internal colonial masters.
Unfortunately, youths bear the brunt of the misdeeds of the present crop of politicians. How so? Youths are the poorly educated, unemployed or unemployable, and poverty stricken chunk of the population who resort to any means available to survive no matter how ungodly. The privileged youths scattered in the Diaspora know too well that ajo ko da bi ile (there is no place like home), but can’t just come back to homeland due to the harsh economic realities which are the legacies of our neo-colonial masters. Many are victims of racial discrimination and xenophobic attacks in foreign countries as recently experienced in South Africa.
Many impressionable youths without adequate means, but with enough determination, embark on perilous journeys to escape the desperate conditions in the country only to end in the belly of the Mediterranean Sea! Nigerian youths have had enough of the oppressive rule, greed and mismanagement of our commonwealth by the over-recycled political class- mostly self-serving gerontocrats. We need a new generation of visionary and energetic leaders, period! Nigeria is bursting at the seams on all fronts as a complication of this “over-wash syndrome” like it is with old fabrics that have seen better days with use and over-wash.
That the vote of the electorate counts with the improvement in the electoral process is a reason to look to the future with hope, especially by the youths whose shoulders will ultimately bear the responsibility for the redemption of our commonwealth. Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old female student of the University of Glasgow, defeated a veteran parliamentarian in a quest for change in the United Kingdom recently. How much money did the final year university student have to match the financial muscle of her heavyweight political opponent who she unseated at the ballot? Closer home in South Africa Mmusi Maimane, a 34-year -old black man was also recently elected to lead the main opposition party in a strategic move to rein in the ruling party. These two are instances of youths taking a stand in modern day politics. Nigerian youths need to seize the moment and form critical alignments that will enable them to harness their numerical strength for political advantage in the near future. After all, politics is a game of numbers.
The numerical strength of the Nigerian youths, however, needs to be combined with good character, high sense of patriotism, and responsible leadership to be of any meaningful contribution to the redemption of the country. Youths are not immune from the prevalent corruption of values in the nation today. It is however not too late to commence massive re-orientation of our youths so they can take their rightful place in the political affairs of our dear country. This should be a major deliverable of the change Nigerians voted for in the last general elections. Nigeria is not in short supply of the means to do the needful in this wise. From the civil society organisations, to students associations, religious bodies, community youth associations (street carnivals by youths are commonplace in many parts of Nigeria) and the national youth council, enrollment of youths for purposeful political activism is a no brainer. Social media should also be deployed as a powerful tool to rally youth to their responsibility, not only for entertainment and idle gossips.
The Nigerian youths must engage in politics now for many reasons. The politically complacent youth of today will soon be a middle aged person who may have to contend with shortages of decent housing, energy, good education for the next generation and efficient qualitative health services if the malady of youth political disengagement is not remedied now. The time to act is now and the discussion must gather momentum everywhere to advance the struggle for political emancipation of Nigerian youths, if need be, on a third platform – an alternative youthful platform to the floundering All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of today!
• Olatunji wrote from Ibadan.