In this blog by Deborah Sabinus for the #MakeEducationWork campaign, the young creator explains how young Nigerians are vying to earn a seat at the table in policy-making and their success and frustrations so far.
Shedrach is the youngest councillor in the history of his local government. He is also a graduate of engineering and works as a construction Engineer. He took an interest in politics at the age of 8, and was always with his father who was a party chairman at that time. He was one of those individuals you just knew that was born with leadership skills and it was easy to see that politics is in his DNA.
Politics is not just about governing, it’s about using the platform for developing the community, and empowering people. As much as one seeks to build the future, one needs to build their interest and ensure credibility.
As the Nigerian population continues to increase, so does the number of youth. In spite of the prospects that this number holds, young people in Nigeria are largely marginalized from governance, leaving them to counter their continued exclusion. This is evidenced by the lower percentage of youth that hold political and leadership positions in the country.
Meaningful youth participation and leadership require that young people have opportunities, capacities, and are able to benefit from an enabling environment and relevant evidence-based programmes and policies at all levels. It is about having the wherewithal to influence decision making as well as engaging in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society.
Making room for young people.
It was largely because of this that Shedrach took up different leadership positions during his tertiary education and was one of the respected student leaders. His active participation in the student’s union government formed a very good foundation for his political career.
After completing the compulsory NYSC service, he was ready to serve his country with the leadership skills he possessed. To his dismay, he quickly found out that there was no room for him at any level in government as past and present leaders in government didn’t make efforts to accommodate young people or incorporate them into active leadership.
The Department for International Development (DFID) submits that there is a major gap that is evident between youth who have been offered services as beneficiaries and when they have been politically engaged as true leaders and drivers of their own development and that of their community. The latter has consistently resulted in the greatest impact.
As the National Youth Policy would have us believe, Nigerian youth are faced with a myriad of challenges including poverty, multidimensional discrimination, unemployment, barriers to education, and limited opportunities that constitutes a bane to their political participation and inclusion, thus leading to a lower percentage of youth that hold political and leadership positions.
However, most of the present political leaders became exposed to politics during their youthful years but have refused to hand over power. It is evident from the foregoing that young people in Nigeria are marginalized.
This was one of the challenges Shedrach faced when he contested the position of a councillor in his region. His belief that politics is open to everyone, especially young people spurred his tenacity to pursue his ambition.
It is no news that people under the age of 35 are rarely found in formal political leadership positions and it is very common practice to refer to politicians as ‘young’ in Nigeria if they are below 40-45 years of age.
Non- participation in active politics is the sad reality of the Nigerian youths living in Nigeria. It is a situation that virtually every young Nigerian can relate to. This is fast becoming a source of worry to many young people who are interested in politics and leadership.
There is sufficient evidence from around the world to argue that young people have asserted their role, influence and importance in governance by championing political causes and making giant strides.
Shedrach insisted that “the hindrance to the active participation in government is ‘the fear of becoming.
He said “young people are usually afraid of the outcome before they even take a step. Taking a step is the best way to garner support and young people need to be prepared and get involved in full-time politics”.
He equally reiterated that “the change we desire to save our country will happen when there are more youths in government as no one knows the issues of young people in this generation and how to tackle them if not the youths”
He then ended by saying that “young people are the leaders of today & tomorrow and should not be afraid to take up space where they belong as this will ensure the achievement of development”.
The focus of youths in terms of their engagement in the political world is a relatively new priority particularly in the recent events of the end-sars protest held in October 2020 by Nigerian youths all over the world. This marked the start of a new era of Civic awakening for young people in Nigeria.
Despite the efforts of the government to silence them, the Nigerian youths have begun with their innovative strategies to put young people at the Hem of affairs for the 2023 elections. It is time the future leaders became the future and be represented in active-decision making.
UNDP supported a youth-based CSO coalition to actively participate in the constitution review process, including submission of memorandum to the constitution review committees of the National Assembly. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on Political Participation is being developed ahead of the election together with a Nigerian youth party Forum. The forum will be used to deliberate on issues of common interest and challenges among other things.
Just like the popular saying ‘Rome was not built in a day’ the active participation of young Nigerians can only begin with a step in the right direction from the grassroots before expanding the frontier for political participation. A certain young man from a marginalized region in the southeastern part of the country has even indicated his interest to run for the presidency!
This is evidenced in the number of young persons vying and contesting for political positions ahead of the 2023 general elections. I think this is a welcome development and long overdue because if the Nigerian youth keep waiting for a seat at the table, they might have to wait forever.
We may not have gotten there yet but we are definitely on the path that will lead us there as young people are breaking out and carving out seats for themselves at the table.
Deborah is a young ambitious leader who aims to make impact with one step at a time. She is passionate about furnishing young people with the skills they need for assessing opportunities and development for their future. She is equally passionate about women inclusion and representation.
She is a social media creative who uses the power of story telling to advocate for change. She loves to volunteer and has volunteered with both local and International organizations such as Nigerian Red Cross, 360 awareness, we make change, iAscend, ONE and Care2people. She became a Commonwealth leader and Women-at-risk-foundation campus ambassador in 2020. She is currently a global youth ambassador for theirworld and has participated in virtual workshops for driving youth and development campaigns.