Opinion: Importance of youths participation in building Nigeria

Opinion: Importance of youths participation in building Nigeria

Editor's note: In this opinion piece, writer, Rosemary Egabor, writes about the Not Too Young To Run bill which was recently passed as part of the amendment to the constitution.

She writes on the importance of having young Nigerians taking over the reign of the government from the old leaders.

Over the years, I have listened to several non-profit organisations focused on youth empowerment lament on the need for youths to participate in politics, while I agree on this, I also disagree on the perception that there is little or no youth political participation.

Today, campaign rallies, social media gate keeping for corrupt politicians or e-thuggery as the new phenomenon is called are all being executed by youths. So the focus should be about “meaningful youth political participation” For the sake of emphasis, the Nigerian National Youth Policy defines a youth as persons between 18-35yrs of age.

The Not too Young to Run bill recently passed by the National Assembly as part of the amendment to the constitution is a welcome development to the growth of democracy. As laudable as it might seem, there are however, requirements like knowledge, competence, legal campaign funding amongst others needed for any young person aspiring to the position of leadership. There is no doubt that any individual that meets the requirement of the constitution with strong qualities can be a better leader.

When this bill eventually becomes law it will be a great opportunity for the youths. I believe this this is time for youths aspiring to be in governance to start getting their acts together. Governance is serious business. Anyone that intends to go into politics to serve the people must learn the ropes by joining a political party that meets his/her aspirations or vision. and at least be in any public or private establishments that will provide the needed experience

In the past weeks, some Nigerian celebrities flooded timelines on different social media platforms with posters annoucing their intention to run for presidency. It is important to know that governance is no joke and thus must not be treated in a light manner, if they have interest in politics they must start from the grassroot because leadership is not for the gram but for those who are willing to serve in truth.

In spite of the open political participation in the world's leading democracies, only very few countries have their heads of government between the ages of 35-40years old. The reason is because it requires time to acquire the relevant experience and competence to head the government of any country.

It is pertinent to mention a recent few. Emmanuel Macron at the age of 39 years old became the youngest President of France after defeating Marie Le Pen of the National Front on May 7, 2017. Macron started his professional career as an inspector of finance in France Ministry of Economy and later became Deputy Secretary General in President Holland’s government in May 2012. He was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in 2014 and in 2016 formed Centrist Political Movement with which he won the presidential election. Macron holds two Masters Degrees in Philosophy and Public Affairs.

At 38 years Leo Varadkar the son of an Indian immigrant became Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister on the 14th of June 2017. A medical Doctor by profession who launched his political career as a teenager by joining the youth wing of the Fine Gael political party. He worked as a junior Doctor for several years at St James Hospital, Trinity Teaching Hospital and Connolly Hospital in Dublin.

He was elected into parliament in 2009 after which he was made Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sports and later Health Minister.

The United States, which Nigeria models its democracy after had John F. Kennedy as its youngest elected president in 1960 at the age of 43, on the opposite side the oldest elected president in the US is Donald Trump although a successful businessman but obviously learning on the job because of his lack of public office experience. Unfortunately I could not find a Nigerian president to use as a perfect example. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was fifty-four years old even as allegations of corruption continues rock his administration.

What all these examples show is that preparing for any position of leadership requires time, get experience, knowledge and competence. If the Nigerian youths do not acquire the right skills, then I fear passing the Not too young to Run bill into law will be a waste of time and the politics of succession will continue to be determined along premordial lines.

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The youths must begin by organising at ward level, state positions and public/private office positions. They must understand that anyone serving the country in any political position means serving the people that voted him/her into government. Anyone going into power for the sole purpose of money should have a serious rethink. Unfortunately this is the difference between our nation and other countries with prosperous democracy where the rule of law prevails. Thiss is the direction our youths should be aspiring for to effect change.

Another important requirement for those aspiring for political office is campaign funding. No matter how good a candidate’s intention might be; lack of adequate financial support can be an obstacle to a successful campaign. As I flipped through the pages of the newspapers and read the online stories during the passage of the bill, one thing that came to mind was the fear of corrupt politicians sponsoring youths into office and ruling from the backend hence making the candidate a figure head in office.

In many countries they are laws in place to access funds for anyone seeking office through election. In the US, finance laws are enacted by congress and enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Independent Federal Agency. In the UK an independent body oversees election and regulates political finance, the rules are on how much candidates can spend on their campaign and where they receive the funding from, there are limits on candidates spending and controls on the source of funding. These laws are to ensure probity, accountability and ensure those interested in serving the people have the opportunity to participate.

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In our country we must take the sources of campaign funding seriously to enable equal playing ground for aspiring young participants. In Nigeria laws are made but enforcement is a major problem because of the high level of corruption in our public space. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the power to monitor campaign expenditure as contained in section 153 of the 1999 constitution. In my quest for more information, I looked through the 2010 electoral Act as amended, it has the election limit for President as (N1b), Governor (N200m), Senate (40m), House of Representatives (N20m), State Assembly (N10m), Local Government (N10m) and Counsellor (1m).

The problem as we all know is that the campaign expenditure law has never been enforced and the limits never adhered to which is why the media expenditure for the last presidential election was N8,789,685,298 (PDP) and N2,915,846,737 (APC) according to the Centre for Social Justice. INEC has to wake up to its responsibility on this, the use of public funding by public office holders is of great concern and we do not expect the youths to toll this line.

It is important that our Nigerian youths follow the commendable steps of the current president of France, Emmanuel Macron by creating a new niche rather than play the “follow follow” game of standing behind the corrupt politicians and singing their praises through sponsored protests and twitter conversations. Social media has given youths the opportunity to create change and not for showing off wealth and lifestyles that don’t exist in their world, until our youths wake up, I am afraid politics in Nigeria will remain the same.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of NAIJ.com.

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Watch video of how Nigerian youths' protest made the National Assembly pass the 'Not Too Young To Run' bill:

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