By John Mayaki
A common criticism of Nigeria’s democracy and politics is that it is unrepresentative. For a country’s leadership to achieve social justice, its composition must largely reflect the populace. In the case of Nigeria, young people, who account for the majority, are often on the margins of power, if at all they are accounted for.
This exclusion is a significant drawback for the primary reason that denies notable participation to the group that will feel the most impact of leadership decisions and policies, both in the present and the future. Efforts to redress the problem have yielded slow-paced progress. Power is never easily relinquished, not even on the altar of justice.
However, the emergence of progressive and well-intended leaders such the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is changing the tide in favor of young people. In his office and in the dispensation of his duties as the Vice President, Prof. Osinbajo earns the rare distinction of insisting on gender and youth balance.
He not only trusts young people to man important offices, thus giving them enormous platforms to advertise their competence and invalidate arguments put up by those upholding their exclusion, he also singles them out for due praise and recognition. They are not erased or relegated to the background, wheeled out only for propagandist news mentions.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also seizes the advantages of stages – both local and international – to preach the gospel of youth empowerment and inclusion in politics and governance. The case was the same at the APC Progressive Youth Conference staged in Abuja months back, where he exhorted leaders present to commit to the progressive cause. But that was not all, he also had a charge for the youths present, particularly on mobilization and taking initiative crucial to achieving the goal.
His message could be summarized in two words: get involved.
“This is a conference of those who by the natural order of things will be in this party (and country) long after people like me and many of colleagues seated are long gone,” the Vice President began, foregrounding the generational diversity of the country and the unique status of youths as the “present and future” rolled into one.
“On the subject of political participation or political citizenship, it is evident just from voter turnout alone that the vast majority of young people either do not register to vote or do not vote at all. Those who even participate at all would rather engage in the constrained space of social media platforms or join pressure groups. Neither of these is necessarily bad but while media engagements and pressure groups are important for drawing attention to the issues, they cannot transform the lives of millions for good or for ill. But political parties can”, he said.
The Vice President continued: “it is political parties and political actors that can transform the lives of millions of people. No amount of social media engagements or pressure group activities or NGOs can do what political parties in office can do.”
His profound exhortation underscores the need for more young people to make the transition from media activism to political participation and engagement, from policy advocates to policy drafters and enforcers, from agitators to political leaders. This, as evidenced by reality, is the only to impact the lives of the majority of the people and to shape the future desired by the youths.
For reasons obvious, too many young Nigerians decline political participation. “Politics is dirty” is the common refrain and the justification for the inadvertent ceding of power to those who do not mind the sanitary conditions of the affairs and would in fact work to keep it unappealing to groups with competing interests. For politics to change, it requires change agents. And that cannot happen if youths continue to turn their nose at it under the mistaken belief that media agitation could replace or produce the same result as actual leadership backed by constitutional power.
2023 offers a profound opportunity for young people to mobilize and take a stand. And it starts with engaging the political party processes with clear and realistic goals. More youths need to register to vote and actually do so, and they must take care to support with their votes candidates who have demonstrated their alliance with youth interests. Prof. Osinbajo clearly fits the bill and this may yet be another reason he may have no choice but to throw his hat in the ring and run for the office of President to protect the future of Nigeria’s youths whose trust and respect he has earned.