The power of the youth

As the debate over #ENDSARS protests rages, KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the role of the youth in the nation’s political environment against the background of a medley of issues bordering on governance.

VARYING demographic details on Nigerian youths indicate they are imbued with immense potentials. Those indices show the latent force and capacity the youths possess, which, if unleashed on the political space, can bring about a phenomenal paradigm shift in the country. At least, the #End SARS protests that have spread across states for almost one week  amply demonstrate such latent endowment and strength among the Nigerian youth. Their agitation against the arm of the Nigeria Police code-named SARS and insistence via street protests have forced the authorities to ban it with a renewed promise and commitment by the federal authorities to a holistic reform in the Police.

The emerging thought in the political circle is that the impact of the youths could be far-reaching in politics if they should exert some measure of pressure in the scene. A high level of lethargy to champion a well-coordinated demand by the youths for serious and enduring reforms in politics to guarantee good governance and accountability by those given the mandate to manage the patrimony of the entire country is described by some observers as part of the bane of Nigeria.

The thought of the Presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in the 2019 presidential election, Kingsley Moghalu, readily comes into focus on the issue. He had lamented the abysmal low level of youth participation in the politics of the country. He had declared in a tweet on August 2, 2019: “Total votes cast on Big Brother Nigeria 2018 = 170m. Total votes cast in general election 2019 = 27m. We need to get serious about rescuing our country from the doldrums, not just wishing away our reality in reality TV shows. We can view @BBNaija AND vote right in elections!”

His message is underlined by some useful information on the elections in the country. For the 2019 general election, half of the 84 million registered voters in the country were between 18 and 35 years, the universal standard age bracket of the youths. What that figure represented was that the youths constituted 51 percent of the eligible voters in the elections. The number of registered voters in Nigeria in 2019 was 84 million that is, 25 percent above the number of registered voters in 2015.

However, the 2019 elections recorded the lowest voter turnout since 1999, as the total turnout of voters was 28,614,190 or 35.6 per cent of registered voters or 39.3 per cent of eligible voters. All those figures did not recorded any remarkable impact on the elections, because, for example, voter turnout in the 2015 general election was 29.4 million, or 44 percent of the 67.4 million registered voters.

 

But who leads Nigerian youth?

At different periods in the past, the youths had relied majorly on some influential individuals, especially activists for leadership in championing their cause on governance and other fundamental rights. Names such as the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, as well as constitutional lawyer and activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba and many other activists that were prepared to stake all that was necessary for the struggle, became the rallying force for the youth. It is apparent that the eclipse of that era of dogged fight and tenacity of purpose by the pro-democracy and human rights community has deprived the youth of the rightful leadership that can galvanise them in the quest for vigilance as the price of liberty. Primordial issue and undue influence by vested political interests among the political class and the elite in general constitute a major obstacle.

At another level, while some expected such agencies of government like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to fulfil their mandate of sensitising the public and galvanising the youths for national development, not much appears being done in that regard. They shirk their responsibility, which is designed to complement the role of political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In fact, the parties sometimes, have persons believed to fall outside the age bracket of youths as youth leader and as members of their National Executive Committee (NEC).

But an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, had expressed disgust over the seeming ambivalence and misplaced priorities by the Nigerian youths. For instance, he was pissed off by reports that millions of the Nigerian youths usually spent cumulatively N2.5 billion on e-voting during reality shows. He believed that such a humongous amount should have been channeled into creating jobs for the teeming youths. His words: “The N2.5 billion could have empowered 1000 youths with a seed capital of N2.5 million to start a business. But who needs a business in Nigeria when you can look at big buttocks?” He decried that the youths hardly think about following the footsteps of many role models in the country that cut across many spheres of life in the country. According to him, “Our youths have not formed #TeamDangote, or #TeamElumelu, or #TeamOtedola, to ask to be mentored so that they can grow in business. Instead, they form #TeamNengi and co, just to discuss big buttocks and big other body parts that I cannot and will not mention here.”

Statistics on the 2019 elections in the country confirm the huge number of the youths in the voting population of the country. Records from the INEC showed that of about 29.3 million out of 82.3 million eligible Nigerians on the voter register, did accreditation, that is 35.6 per cent of the voting population. Of the figure, overall votes cast dropped to 28.6 million. The details also indicated that just 33.1 per cent of the eligible voters elected the President, whereas youths are said to constitute about 63 per cent of the nation’s population. More indices on the 2019 elections revealed that only 1,196,490 voters came out for accreditation, while valid votes dropped to 1,089,567 in Lagos State, despite being the state with the highest number of voters: about 6.5 million. The youths that form the largest chunk of the voting population often stay at home, engage in playing street football or other forms of recreation and games while elections are in progress.  Yet, quite a number of them are deployed as political thugs by politicians during electioneering and even on the day of election to indulge in vote trading, ballot box snatching and stuffing in gross violation of the Electoral Act.

A report once quoted former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as underscoring the prime place of the youth in the country. He said that it was imperative to tackle germane issues that concern the youth in order to improve overall national development, because “Youth constitute Nigeria’s only hope for a real future”. It was part of that vision that warranted the birth of the National Youth Development Policy. It is meant to promote youth development, because the welfare of the youth is vital to the socio-economic development of the country.

Besides, the enactment of the Not Too young to run law was another pragmatic steps to empower the youth with political power. The Act of Parliament elicited much public enthusiasm when President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it in 2018. It was thought that the law could serve as an impetus for the youth who, it was believed, had been denied opportunity to the country on account of age bracket for eligibility. The law reduced the age to run for President from 40 years to 30 years; governor 35 to 30; Senate 35 to 30, House of Representatives 30 to 25 and state House of Assembly 30 to 25 yeras. But as far back at 1964, there was the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) designed to be fulcrum for youth organisations in the country. The council is to pursue democratic norms, promote the principles of accountability and transparency, initiate and execute activities that are in consonance with the goals of the National Youth Policy.

 

The issues

An erudite scholar, Professor Lai Oso, however, gave reasons why it was easier for the organisers of the seeming resurrection against SARS to act steadily. He said: “#ENDSARS campaign is an issue that arose from a problem that affects almost all Nigerians. As a single issue, it is easier to mobilise people to support it. Politics is much more complex, involving the mobilisation on multiple identities, issues and interests.” Similarly, an author, Bankole Hammed Shehu, said that it might be right to say that the youth do not fully participate during election. According to him, they are usually compromised by their own actions.  “I think that the youth do deploy their time and energy during elections, but they may have been heavily compromised by their own actions by the time results are announced. So SARS knows no Yoruba or Bini, no Ijaws or Igbo. Then, you notice that the decision to demand accountability is across sex, religion or any southern tribe. Note carefully that the northern part generally has no issues with SARS,”Bankole stated. But the acting national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Chief Supo Shonibare, recalled that students used to constitute the real conscience of the country by leading such protest against unpopular actions of government and its agencies. “Once upon a time, it was the youth- undergraduates that constituted the expressive conscience of the nation. Students Unions at universities of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello, Lagos and Nsukka were the melting pot. With even more universities, the potential increased greatly, for the nucleus for peaceful and organised protests. This being an essential ingredient in any democratic culture and even a tool to curtail the excesses even in a military dictatorship, when pluralism is prohibited. Gradually, particularly during the military interregnum, security operatives were deployed into our tertiary institutions to infiltrate the Students Union and douse their effectiveness in being a resistance vehicle against bad governance & policies.

The legal practitioner stressed that: “It is heartwarming and most commendable that some young men and women, who appear to be self-reliant and are either gainfully employed or underemployed, seem to be involved in these recent protests. This is a good development. They need to be also politically conscious of the truism that it’s only a political vehicle that is capable of enabling the needed change to many of the multi- faceted challenges in the polity. They need to be conscious of the fact that determination of morales, economic and political choices in any society is premised on the vision and the ideological persuasion of the ruling political group, clique or vehicle. They need to develop an ideological culture in the mix of their aversion to the rudderless and predatory rulers we presently have and be able to join, form, takeover and populate a political vehicle.”  The SDP leader added: “We must not, however, forget that at the beginning of this Republic in 1999, many young men and women in their late 20s and 30s, as well as early 40s did participate. They, in fact, dominated the local governments, state Houses of Assembly and National Assembly. They were obviously the wrong crop. The young men and women who are needed and now wish to lead a new initiative, must however, have their own means of livelihood and must have excelled in their chosen profession or displayed leadership qualities in one form or another. I have met and read about many, who fit that necessary prescription. We will encourage and support their emergence. They are in the majority and the future of this country is theirs to determine.”

Can the #ENDSARs crusade metamorphose into or give arise to an uprising with the tag #ENDmoneypolitics, vote-trading, undue influence of political godfathers?

 

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