By Luminous Jannamike
IN May 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the “Not Too Young To Run” bill into law which provided a legal framework for a wider spectrum of young Nigerian to run for political offices.
Great jubilation trailed that Executive action, because there had been a growing perception citizens at home and diaspora that the “old dogs” of Nigerian politics have nothing more to offer towards development of the masses.
According to some analysts, the much-awaited time for younger bloods and fresher hands to assume political leadership in 2019 to inject new ideas into the system had come.
Like wonders that last in the human mind only nine days, the euphoria quickly fizzled out. Three months down the line, the challenging reality of playing party politics in order to emerge as flagbearers in the 2019 general elections has dawned on many young aspirants.
With party primaries expected to commence in the week, many young aspirants are faced with the challenges of high cost of nomination forms, lack of political mentorship, non-inclusion in party hierarchies, lack of functional party websites for information flow among others barriers which make political watchers ask “is there really room for youths to emerge as party flagbearers in 2019 general elections?”
It is against this background that Youngstars Development Initiative (YDI) with support from the Ford Foundation organised a one-day stakeholders’ forum in Abuja for political parties and about 159 youth aspirants from the North central geopolitical zone to discuss and proffer solution to those challenges with a view to increasing youth emergence in the 2019 general elections and beyond.
The Executive Director of YDI, Kingsley Bangwell, said the forum was a follow up to an online survey conducted by his organisation to ascertain what the key barriers to youth emergence as party flagbearers in 2019 elections were.
He revealed that a focused group discussion with over a 100 young aspirants in the northern parts of the country was also staged by YDI to get to the heart of these issues.
“So, we decided to bring the parties and aspirants together to discuss these issues and reach some sort of consensus on the way forward.
“In the course of our deliberations, we stressed the importance of youth political participation in Nigeria and reaffirmed our belief in inclusive governance.
“We underscored the strategic importance of enhancing and increasing the emergence of youth in 2019 general elections and look forward to the support of the entire country,” he said.
The Senate on March 30, passed the Electoral Act No 6 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017 and one of the things it will do when signed into law, is abolish arbitrary fees for nomination forms fixed by political parties.
Before now, the parties demanded high fees for nomination forms from aspirants, fixing a price as it deemed fit even to the embarrassment of President Muhammadu Buhari, who in the build up to the 2015 election that he won, claimed he borrowed money to pay for his APC nomination form which cost N27 million at the time.
The question that begs for an answer, in the context of youth emergence as party flagbearers in 2019, is “how many young Nigerians can afford N27m in order to stand a chance of running for the highest political office in the land?”
All hope is not lost as six political parties during the stakeholders’ Forum pledged to give incentives to young Nigerians between 18 years and 35 years who are aspiring for different elective offices in the 2019 general elections.
The parties include Accord Party (AP), Action Alliance (AA), Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP), Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and the National Democratic Congress Party (NDCP).
They made the pledge in a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting. Among the signatories to the statement are the National Chairmen of AP, ACPN and BNPP, Lawal Nalado, Gani Galadima and Nnaji Godswill, respectively.
Others are Adama Adama, Harirat Yakubu and Anas Hamisu Lawal, representing the young aspirants.
The six political parties said in their bid to encourage inclusion of more young Nigerians in political leadership, they had decided to reduce cost of purchase of their forms.
They also urged all political parties to give free tickets to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and come up with policies and initiatives to increase their emergence as flag bearers in 2019 and beyond.
The statement reads: “We are committed in supporting young aspirants and have agreed to reduce the cost of purchasing party interest and nomination forms, and will leverage on other source of raising funds and put in place measures to control , to increase youth aspirants and candidates participation in general elections.
“Political Parties should give free party tickets to the Persons with Disabilities and create and implement Persons with Disabilities (PWDS) friendly policies to increase their emergence in 2019 general election and beyond.”
Youth inclusion and Mentorship
The stakeholders also called for more positions for Nigerian youths in leadership composition and decision making process of the political parties to ensure their inclusion in party hierarchies.
“It is recommended that Political Parties should reserve quotas and have certain age range for positions within parties for youth to contest certain positions, as a party policy to increase youth participation in general elections,” they said.
Gaps in political sensitisation
The Forum said that the gaps observed in voter education and political sensitisation of Nigerian youths and people living with disabilities especially in the rural parts of the country would be bridged through grassroots initiatives in collaboration with civil society organisations to reach a wider range of young people.
“On the challenge of low voters’ education and political sensitization, we understood that there is a gap in the sensitization of the public and youth including persons with disability and have agreed to adopt grassroots initiatives and collaborate with Civil Society organizations to reach a wider range of young people. We are determined to create and implement several initiatives and leverage on new media like social media, political jingles. We have also agreed that political messages should be translated into local dialects.
“The young aspirants and political parties have agreed that political parties should have functional websites that are user friendly and mobile apps for e-registration and easier access to Party information .We are committed to increasing membership and will adopt having a functional members support services at party ward offices to increase membership registration within political parties.
“We reiterate our commitment to implementing the solutions proffered at this forum and will continue engagements with different stakeholders to increase youth emergence in the 2019 general elections and beyond.”
As noble as these resolutions appear, some analysts expressed fears that they were Utopian.
An Abuja-based public affairs analyst, Ken Nwuka, said six out of 91 registered political parties in the country was not enough to ensure emergence of many a youth party flagbearers in 2019.
“More so, none of the six political parties possessed the kind of appeal, membership, national spread, general acceptability and goodwill the PDP and the APC bear which can make desired impact in the political landscape,” he added.