Empowering Youths For Good Governance In Nigeria By Comrade Sunny Ofehe

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At a conference organized by Niger Delta Initiative Austria on the 5th of May 2017, comrade Sunny Ofehe spoke succinctly on the topic; Empowering Youths For Good Governance In Nigeria

INTRODUCTION:
According to Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations;

No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.

Structures of governance must be open for youth if they are to contribute to meaningfully to the development of their communities. This access should not be seen as a privilege but a right.


History, have it that young people have been playing key roles in promoting democratic development and nation building before and after Independence. Nigeria’s pre-independence struggle was pioneered by young nationalists like Dr. Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli, Chief H.O Davies, J.C Vaughan, Oba Samuel Akinsanya, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. These nationalists were reported to be in their youthful age when they led the independence struggle. E.g, Anthony Enahoro was 30 years when he moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953. Late Aminu Kano was also 30 years when he co-founded Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) a foremost group that played a vital role in Nigeria’s struggle for independence.

Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels’. — former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

After several years of military dictatorship, young people were visibly active in the struggle for the return to democracy. They played active roles in organizing as civil society activists leading peaceful demonstrations, hosting public debates, writing papers and articles against military dictatorships. The sustenance of democracy has also received tremendous youth contributions especially in the areas of election management, democratic accountability, peace and security.

The United Nations reports that young people between the ages of 15 to 25—most of whom live in Sub Saharan Africa—constitute one-fifth of the world’s population. According to the African Union, about 65 percent of the total population of Africa is below the age of 35 years, and more than 35 percent are between the ages of 15 and 35 years- making Africa the most youthful continent. By 2020, it is projected that three out of four people in Africa will be on average 20 years old. Yearly, about 10 million young African youths enter the labor market. Nigeria contributes a large percentage to the continent’s youth population. In fact, Nigeria has one of the most youthful populations in the world with more than 60 percent of its 170 million population as youth. According to the Inter-parliamentary Union Report on Youth Participation in National Parliament, 2016, countries with the highest youth population do not have the highest levels of youth representation. This anomaly can be corrected through the enactment of laws that permit citizens to run for office at a younger age.

African Union General Assembly declared 2009 to 2019 as the African Decade for Youth due to its recognition of youth identity and politics as a global driving force for social transformation.

WHY AN URGENT NEED FOR YOUTH INCLUSION IN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA

The National Youth Policy classifies youth as all persons between the ages 18 – 35. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria places age restrictions in elective offices despite prescribing the age of 18 as the voting age. These age restrictions create a huge gap between the voting age and eligible age to run for office. Whilst the right to vote is guaranteed, but the right to be voted for is not guaranteed until the attainment of an age bracket that is above the youth age classification. For instance, all those who fall within the youth age category are deemed unqualified to run for the office of the President, Senate and Governors. This in itself is ironical and discriminatory. Whilst the constitution recognizes 18 as the voting age, it denies young people the opportunity to pursue their political aspirations until a certain age. This confers partial franchise on youths and it alienates them from the political process.

At 18, an individual is presumed to be responsible for his/her actions and he/she is capable of understanding party manifestoes to ascertain which party or candidates deserve to be holding public office in trust for the people. Without a doubt, this requires mental capacity, soundness of mind, maturity, integrity and self-leadership. Similarly, these qualities are required for public leadership as well. Therefore, if at 18 an individual is believed to have both mental and leadership capacity, it is logical to allow the individual to seek for political office at the same age. In 2015, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former President of Nigeria, advocated for the removal of the age limit for the Office of the President. He criticized the provision as discriminatory against young Nigerians who have the energy, ideas and other qualities to lead the country to greatness. Recently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, publicly advocated for a downward review of age criteria for running for certain elective offices. In his words “I think it may not be out of place to lower the age qualification for certain elective offices in the next constitutional amendment exercise”.

Globalization and technological advancement has expanded the frontiers of political socialization and capacity development. Most young people have become more aware and politically active through the use of social media and digital platforms. Their ability to engage policy debates on political economy and democratic governance issues is unprecedented. This is also complimented by increased access and opportunities for leadership development and democratic governance programs at the local, national and international levels targeted at young people. This explains the giant strides being recorded by youths in all aspects of our national life like in business, technology, entertainment, agriculture, sports, education etc.

Lack of internal party democracy negatively impacts on youth political participation. Youths seeking political office encounter difficulties in clinching party candidature due to undemocratic primaries, imposition/substitution of candidates and disregard for democratic norms and principles. This can be attributed to the zero-sum nature of politics in Nigeria. (source Not Too Young to Run Position Paper 2017)

THE IMPERATIVE FOR EMPOWERING YOUTH FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA

1. The Need for Constitutional Amendment to Create Room for Youth Inclusion in Democratic Governance :
2.
3. The Green and Red Chambers of the National Assembly in Nigeria should ensure the passage of the NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN BILL that has gone through the second reading at the House of Representative. If this bill is passed, it will guarantee equal opportunity and participation of 60 percent of Nigeria’s population in the political process. For democracy to thrive, a level playing field must be created for all citizens to participate as both voters and candidates.

4. Enabling Institutional Capacity Development for Youth:

There is these saying at the corridors of the politician, that youth are immature, hence they lack the needed experience to provide leadership for the country. There is the need for institutional capacity development for youth, which should help ensure the resourcefulness of young Nigerians getting the needed opportunity to be nurtured overtime to acquire the relevant experience for improved governance both at the local, state and national levels. Community Leadership is all about enabling your constituents (Youths) to turn the resources that they have into the power that they need to create the change they want to see. Change is possible if there are workable institution in place to build the capacity of youth, which will enable them function actively in governance.

5. Strengthen Intergenerational Dialogue Between the Youths and Elderly:

if youth are included in governance, it will change the current narratives of low level performance in Nigeria’s governance. We need the strength of the youth and advice of the elderly all put together to make a better nation. If this is done, it will increase knowledge transfer, development and promote adult-youth partnership in public governance-a model that other developing countries have adopted in their system of government.

6. Instability and political violence can be Averted:

If youth are given the opportunity to serve in democratic governance, it will help divert their energy into a more productive positive venture, thereby reducing the high rate of youth enrollment into militancy in the Niger Delta and terrorism in the North East. Expanding the political space for youth to participate, will potentially increase activity within citizens in governance and instill national pride of belonging, that will reduce the high rate of youth migration to other parts of the world, youth in violence, kidnapping, killing and political thuggery that is currently associated with young people in the country will be a thing of the past. With a separate report on youth radicalization by CLEEN Foundation and Mercy Corps identified the exclusion of youth from political space and economic opportunities as one of the causal factors for violent extremism.

7. Enhance Competitive Politics:
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According to Samson Itodo, once said, the dynamism, energy, innovation and resilience of youth, if the Not Too Young Too Run Bill is passed, it will increase the competitiveness of electoral politics in Nigeria. This I support hundred percent, because It will enhance issue-based politics not misplaced priority or blame game politics, that leaves us behind.

9. Enabling the Right of Youths participation in Governance: If young people are empowered and encourage to participate in leadership in Nigeria, it will fulfill the fundamental human right of all citizens, because if youth are old enough to vote at 18 years, they should also be old enough to be voted for at 18. These will be fulfilling an important aspect required for democratic governance in Nigeria.

CASE STUDIES
Globally, youth are taking center stage in public governance as highlighted in the case studies below;

1. South Africa: Voting age: 18 years, Population: 54,002,000; Voting population: 34,691,652. The South African Constitution aligns voting age with eligibility age. In other words, every citizen who is qualified to vote is eligible to contest for elections.

2. Ghana: Voting age: 18 years Population: 24,652,402; Voting population – 13,682,083; Age requirement: Parliament – 21 years,

3. Uganda: Voting age: 18 years; Population: 38,319,241; Voting population – 17,110,660. Age requirement: President – 35yrs; Parliament: 18 years

4. Rwanda: Voting age: 18 years; Population: 12,012,589; Voting population – 5,918,583 Age requirement: President – 35 years; Senate – 40 years and Chamber of Deputies – 21 years.

5. Kenya: Voting age: 18; Population – 43,013,341; Voting population – 22,177,678. Voting age is aligned with eligibility age. At the age of 18 every citizen is eligible to run for elective office in the country;

6. United States of America: The voting age is 18; Population: 318,892,103; Voting population: 245,712,915; Age requirement: President and Vice President – 35 years; Senate – 30 years; House of Representatives – 30. At the state level the eligibility age varies from state to state. The highest age requirement for Governors across the 50 states is 30 years while state legislature ranges between 25 to 21 years.

7. India: The Voting age is 18, Population: 1,236,344,631, Voting Population: 787,860,328; Age requirement: President and Lieutenant-Governor– 35 years; Lower house (Lok Sabha) – 25 years and Upper House (Rajya Sabha) – 30 years

8. United Kingdom: Voting age: 18 years; Population – 64,088,222, Voting population – 50,780,423. Voting age is also aligned with eligibility age.

Recent facts
1. In 2014, Yusuf Cassim of Democratic Alliance became the youngest member of the South African parliament at 24;
2. The youngest member of the Kenyan parliament is Mr Boniface Kinoti Gatobu, 27. Kinoti represents Buuri in the parliament;
3. In 2012, Ms. Proscovia Oromait Alengot was elected into the Ugandan Parliament at 19;
4. In 2015, Egyptian-Spaniard Nagua Alba, 25 was voted into the Spanish Parliament, making the youngest parliamentarian in Spain;
5. In 2015, Mhairi Black of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) was elected Member of Parliament at 20 making her the youngest member of parliament in the United Kingdom;
6. In 2014, Saira Blair from West Virginia became US youngest state legislator at 18 years;
7. In 2015, Rt.Hon. Aliyu Sabiu Ibrahim 32, was elected Speaker of the Katsina State House of Assembly making him the youngest Speaker of a state legislature in Nigeria
8. Cross River has the youngest Commissioner, Asuquo Ekpenyong was appointed Commissioner of Finance at 30.
9. Recently, Governor Willie Obiano appointed 30 year old Mark Okoye as Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget Development.

Conclusion
The constitutional amendment bill for young people to participate in governance if passed, it will address the legal challenge posed to young people seeking to run in elections thereby guaranteeing inclusion in our political process.
Youth should wakeup and demand for their right, build their leadership capacity, it is no longer news that the place of young people in Governance can’t be overemphasized, so my dear youth there is a lot you can do for our nation Nigeria.
Our government need to be sincere to the fact on ground and invest more on youth development, do less of the blame game strategy, is not heavy for a developing economy like that of Nigeria, if youth are engaged we will have a productive economy that will not be dependent on importation, let’s put an end to television show. let’s amend the relevant section of the constitution and create a level-playing field for young people, it will enhance the competitiveness of electoral politics in Nigeria, it will instill innovation, creativity, dynamism and resourcefulness of the youths to Nation building. Furthermore, the youths will gain access to the political process for more adult-youth engagement and partnership for growth and advancement for the nation.

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