The political ploy to exclude Nigerian youths
HOW many times have you heard a youth say ‘politics is dirty’ or ‘change in Nigeria is some difficult Herculean task that will take years to accomplish’ or ‘politics should be left to the politicians’. I occasionally hear these statements and get angry almost to a point of frustration with the people who say them.
In recent times, though, I have come to learn that the current crop of Nigerian politicians has conditioned us to think so by adopting policies that actively discourage constructive engagement and putting barriers that ensure we do not understand leadership or our participation in the governance process is ineffective at best.
In Nigeria, it is a tradition to be chosen, endorsed or anointed for leadership. Take our Presidency for example, a group of people approached an imprisoned Obasanjo and chose him to be President. They probably said something like ‘the Nigerian people demand you and the nation is only safe if your wisdom directs it.’ He yielded to their request and led Nigeria effectively for eight years, but greed saw him wanting a further four years. However, all his tenure elongation attempts were unsuccessful. Then there was the case of the very sickly Umaru Yar’Adua whose ambitions probably would have ended with being the Katsina State governor until he was cherry picked by President Obasanjo. The latest is Goodluck Jonathan who rode on goodluck from the office of deputy governor to governor and then vice president under President Yar’Adua and now president. After President Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence and rumoured death he was reluctant to assume the functions of acting president and then president until the Save Nigeria Group practically installed him in office.
This should help us understand why most Nigerians do not feel like they have a right to participate in the political arena until they are called or chosen, this belief gives a wrong notion about what leadership, politics and participation really is. Leadership ultimately is a collective effort, it is an ongoing process; one that most times requires consistency and bold ideals, perhaps most importantly of its tenets is the fact that it must be voluntary; surely it is fine to be called upon, but it must be borne of a personal conviction. As long as we believe that you must be invited to leadership, we are missing the most important part of it which is that it should come from within, that at its very core it should be about following your dreams, most times uninvited and working with others to make those dreams a reality.
Speaking of political parties in Nigeria, ideally they should be the entry for youth into politics and governance but instead they have become means for youth exclusion. Do you notice how every political party has the provision for a youth leader? This ordinarily should translate as a platform for youth who aspires to politics, but it sadly is not as this position is hardly ever occupied by a youth. The People’s Democratic Party, Nigeria and Africa’s self-proclaimed biggest party, has a 60-year-old as its youth leader, even the more progressive opposition party, All Progressives Congress has a youth leader whose age is anywhere between 49 and 52 years, depending on which political party you choose to listen to.
Another popular way in which these political parties discourage engagement is just in the fact that they mostly are uncreative and uninspiring; they offer no creative or bold ideas, nothing that challenges the youth, they are cynical at best and not deserving or worthy of participation.
Finally…elections. If you wonder how elections encourage apathy, I will tell you. You probably would have noticed that elections in Nigeria are a joke. When Professor Maurice Iwu presided over the Independent National Electoral Commission it might have as well been an instrument that ensures the People’s Democratic Power remained in power and then Professor Attahiru Jega took over and Nigerians thought the status quo had changed, but no. It was not long before we had a plate of rice register to vote as a 37-year-old man in Umuerodili township, Anambra State, we heard Professor Jega himself admitted elections in the same state were severely compromised by a staff member of his commission, yet he went ahead to announce a winner. And now, there’s the whole controversy following the distribution of Permanent Voters Cards nationwide, whether the haphazard manner of distribution is a ploy to intentionally exclude and disenfranchise voters from certain regions, we may never know. The main question really is how do we genuinely encourage people to vote when their votes do not count? Is this not simply an exercise in futility? Add all these together and, of course, people will be reluctant in participating in political engagements.
All these can change if we demand that our governance is structured in such a way that only those whose aspiration for political office is borne out of a personal conviction stand for elections. We must also push for internal democracy within our political parties that ensures only youths occupy the youth leader position and see that our votes count. Most importantly, we must see political indifference not as some kind of lazy youth syndrome but as a web of barriers deliberately set up to keep us out of the political arena, if we can identify these barriers and collectively work to dismantle them, then and only then, is anything possible.
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