YOUTH AND POLITICS IN NIGERIA

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Youth and politics in Nigeria is a topic that has been discussed in many quarters. The reason for this is that many are not pleased with the roles the young people are playing in the country’s politics today. As statistics shows us, the largest population segment of Nigeria belongs to the young people, as nearly 70% of Nigeria’s population are aged below 35. Hence, the youth should ordinarily be playing key roles within the polity in the country. In other words, this demographic strength is enough to instigate political change—to determine the direction of policies and socio-political discourse and outcomes of democratic projects in Nigeria. However, the facts on ground show that this is not the case as the youths are virtually nowhere to be seen in the corridors of power today.

YOUTH AND POLITICS IN NIGERIA PRIOR TO INDEPENDENCE

Historically, the Nigerian youths have played important roles in the country’s political space, especially in the struggle for independence and immediate post-independence political formulations. But from the 1980s, Nigerian youths face enormous challenges. Prior to 1960 when Nigeria got her independence, the Nigerian youths have been the prime agents of change. This goes back to the period when the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) was founded in 1936 by J. C. Vaughau, H. O. Davies, Kofo Abayomi and others. Indeed, NYM was the first political party with national outlook and with a major aim to foster political advancement and enhance socio-economic well-being of Nigerians.

This starting point, championed by the youth, paved way for the emergence of other political parties such as National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) in 1944, Action Group (AG) in 1950; National Element Progressive Union (NEPU) in 1950; Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in 1950.

It is noteworthy that the vibrant figures in all the parties were mostly youths who later became the nationalists that fought for independence. For instance, late Anthony Enahoro (1923 – 2010) was less than 30 years old when he moved the abortive motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 and when he later served as Federal Commissioner of Information.

Sir Kofo Abayomi, one of the founders of NYM

YOUTH AND POLITICS IN NIGERIA AFTER INDEPENDENCE

In the immediate post-independence era, the youth played significant roles in national development. It was the youths especially who took over the government from the colonialists. This period was remarkable in the history of the country because of groundbreaking development projects undertaken and relative stability. In the post-colonial era, the youth especially, the students have been in the forefront of radical political change.

For instance, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu (1937 – 1967 [at the age of 29]) led the first coup d’état in Nigeria (January 15, 1966). In the early history of the post-independent era, the youth effected a macro-level change from democratic to military rule. At a critical period in the history of Nigeria, a youth (General Yakubu Gowon born in 1934) was the head of state that prevented eastern region’s secession through a three-year protracted civil war (1967-1970). This also shows that the youth believe in the oneness of the country. Looking back at the civil-war era, the commendable strives of former president Obasanjo (born in 1937) who was then youth cannot be overlooked. The “youthful” good leadership of Gen. Murtala (1938 – 1976) is still part of the great history of Nigeria.

Nigerian Youth Movement member Nnamdi Azikiwe

YOUTH AND POLITICS IN NIGERIA IN THE SECOND REPUBLIC

However, the Second Republic (1979 – 1984) marked the beginning of the decline in youth participation in Nigerian politics. The Second Republic was led by politicians who played active roles in the First Republic but could no longer be regarded as youths.

It was observed that the roles of the youth were relegated to the creation of “youth wings” in political parties. This development was partly responsible for the escalation of the youth political violence, which contributed to the demise of the Second Republic

YOUTH AND POLITICS IN NIGERIA TODAY

The history of youth involvement in Nigerian politics is that of gradual dissipation: it is a gradual movement from the forefront to the backstage of politics. As a matter of fact, one can say without mincing words that, politically, being young in Nigeria today is a sobering experience as the youths have been isolated from the country’s political system. This is evident first of all in the minimum age required to run for public offices, which gives no room for the young people to be eligible. The average age of the Nigeria cabinet is usually over 50 – with a substantial number in their 60s and a few in their 70s. For instance, between 1999-2016, no minister of youth has been a youth. In principle, and with the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ law signed in May 2018, the minimum ages required to run for public office are 35 for presidential aspirants, 30 for governors, 25 for members of the House of Representatives. In reality, however, even with that law been signed, those occupying political positions in Nigeria remain basically the old people, and the system is still so hard to breakthrough. True indeed is the saying that ‘it is not easy working through a system that is set up against you.’ It becomes more difficult considering the fact that running an election in Nigeria today is highly expensive. Imagine that during the last election (February 2019), a presidential nomination form with a party in Nigeria was available at an exorbitant cost of forty-five million nairas (N45m, about $115,000), a price that is beyond the average 35-year-old Nigerian. The young people, therefore, lack the finances or a “godfather” to boost their campaign. Hence, with the current situation in Nigeria, it is impossible to argue that our elections are free and inclusive to the country’s young people. The young people are nowhere to be seen in the corridor of power.

THE RESULTANT CONDITIONS OF TODAY’S YOUTH IN NIGERIA

Youth condition, as it is known, presupposes the existence in young people ‘of a strong collective identity, of an equally consistent ability to produce autonomous culture (i.e. alternative projects and models of man and society) and a strong propensity for social mobilization.’ Looking at Nigeria as a society today, one cannot but ask if there is still a youth condition, especially when one remembers the analysis of the youth world of the pre-independence and independence period discussed earlier. In those years, young people appeared to many observers as a new political subject, capable of influencing social change. The post-independence, however, ushered in slow and progressive evaporation of the young people as a force or a unitary body in Nigeria. This evaporation left them scattered and fragmented, incapable of influencing any social change in society. To this effect, the Nigerian youths are locked in perpetual violence or its possibility; which transcends physical violence to socio-cultural and economic violence – uncertain employment, material loss, inequalities, gender discrimination and poor infrastructure to support their aspirations. At the socio-political level, they have been relegated to the background as the elderly politicians use them for various vices.  Some of them are better used as political thugs and touts during campaigns and election periods. “There are now numerous youth associations that are employed by the political class to perpetuate violence in all parts of Nigeria.”

POSSIBLE WAY FORWARD

Everyone reading this article is admonished to suggest a possible way out in the comment section. However, the following are considered to be part of what should be done.

Moral Sanity among the Young People: If we are to make any way forward, there is a need for young people to uphold certain values such as integrity, dedication, selfless love, and high moral standard just to mention but few.

Say no to political Violence: Youth must not allow themselves to be used for vices. Remember you have your life to live. Ask yourself, how many of the children of the politician you are fighting to join you in the fight? Again, after the election, are you still of importance to them?

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

Is it still possible to find in young people today a strong collective identity, and equally consistent ability to produce autonomous culture (i.e. alternative projects and models of man and society) and a strong propensity for social mobilization?

What, in your own opinion, can the young people do to influence social change today?

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