Since the events of the Arab Spring and its subsequent outcomes, there have been intense conversations around the participation of young people in politics. This is not the typical “register to vote” advocacy, it is the more deliberate and active engagement of youths in the process of seeking political power. Nigeria has also had its fair share of activation leading up to some major movements that have remained a thorn in the flesh of political power holders.
If one looks closely, you will agree that young people were the more potent variable in the formula that led to a shift in Nigeria’s political order. Truth be told, this shift was already silently frothing from the season surrounding the demise of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. What happened in 2015 cannot be clearly understood unless you look through the goggles of youth activation. Many will erroneously attribute that shift to the political wizardry of certain strongholds, the convenient alliances, or simply the response of a fed up public. Those in themselves are potent factors, but clearly not the major determinant of this shift.
As arguably as this may be, the sheer depth of youth conversations around the political process leading up to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria is one that, if quantified, far outstrips that in any other time in our political history after the Nigerian Civil War. Starting from the impact of the ‘Enough is Enough’ rallies to the Generational Voices movement and others, and the use of interactive social media technology tools, the voices of the next generation reached a critical mass that even the organized political party system couldn’t ignore. The only problem is that this mass was never resolved. It never morphed into something resolute, something sustainable, disruptive and deconstructive.
Activism and politics are two clear paths, and both can be effective to deliver desired results. However, it is important to acknowledge the era a given society is going through for one to know which of these two means can best achieve the desired end. This was the clear case and context of how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in India was formed. AAP was the outcome of a long struggle against corruption on the platform of citizen’s activism, through the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement. The two foremost figures in the movement, Anna Hazare, and Arvind Kejriwal later had a difference of opinion about how best to achieve their aim, which was getting a Citizen Ombudsman Bill passed. Hazare (in his 70s) preferred activism, while Kejriwal (in his 40s) chose the political route and eventually launched the AAP on 26 November 2012 with massive support.
Under a year, literally, the AAP had shockingly won 28 out of the 70 available seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly elections of 2013. Later in 2013, the Citizen Ombudsman Bill was passed by the Assembly. Three years later in 2015, the AAP swept the entire seats and left 3 to other contending parties. This is a great example of resolving the purpose of activism. Here, the good intentions of activism were resolved by political power. This is the crucial point to make in hopes that the seeming “critical youth mass” in Nigeria’s political colloquy finds its resting place. The passions, energies, creativities, concerns, knowledge, and strength of the Nigerian youth must be resolved. We are already seeing resolutions in the economic and social space, but nothing thoroughly organized in the political arm except for the #NotTooYoungToRun online/offline campaign.
While the #NotTooYoungToRun has done a thorough and wonderful job of pushing for constitutional amendments to Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177, of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), it needs to be backed by a more organized approached to encouraging young persons to actively join political parties and attend meetings. This is where the political structures can easily be disrupted and postures influenced. If young people organize and besiege these party caucus meetings, perhaps they can begin to determine the outcomes of party decisions.
Already, we are seeing increasing numbers of youths pursuing political offices. What remains to be seen is the structure that makes this a sustainable adventure. Political parties have always preempted the probability of youth agitation, thus they form youth wings. But these are often for political mobilization, settlements, PRO, and anything else but the sincerity of creating opportunities for the youths to step into elected offices. This is why the call for a new political platform cannot be ignored neither can it be explained away as unnecessary. None of the existing political parties have managed to articulate the hopes and aspirations of youths or excite them enough to get their critical mass support. The vote of 2015 was a negative one, an anti-PDP vote as opposed to a pro-APC vote. The short of it is that young people in this country need a new movement, a movement that is majorly owned, funded, and run by them.
The challenge that lies before the youths in Nigeria is how they will come together to create the political machinery of their dreams. Successful attempts have already been made by young people at activism, with several resultant systems and structures present to continue the struggle. But this needs to be scaled to the political system where we already have all the tools, skills, information, and willingness available for deployment. What is left is the call to action; the call to ‘arms’. As decentralized as the centers of youth interests are, there must be a way to swirl this concentric circles into a centripetal force of political purpose and resolve.
It is also important for centers of influence that directly interface with their clients every week to become portals for advancing the call for youth participation in seeking political power. A certain religious body in Lagos was seen to advocate for this and even went a step further in helping members register with the party of their choice. This is a welcome development. Much value can come out of this where such bodies can also help with the ethical empowerment of members who are seeking office. Beyond that, the power of community relevance can shape behavior. This can be leveraged to ensure that such eventual office holders remain credible, transparent, and accountable. It very easy for those who fall short of expectations to be treated as pariahs in such organized communities.
Clearly, several forces are now rolling together, and the stars seem to have aligned also for the reality of youth in active politics to dawn on Nigeria. The season is favourable and the weather is fair to this cause. It will not always be so if one cares enough to understand the nature of social dynamics. As times and seasons change, so also will the needs and interests of people change to the unpredicted point of casting 11 million votes for a reality TV show. Like the legend, Michael Jackson aptly pens in the world-famous hit song – We Are The World, “There comes a time when we heed a certain call when the world must come together as one”. We get the sense that now is the time to heed this certain call for Nigerians Youths to come together as one, translate their potentials and creative passions into a National force for political change.