By Engr. Chinedu Onyeizu
Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa as well as the 7th most populated country in the world. Youths in the country represent over 65 per cent of her entire population and most countries plan towards increasing their youth population to tap into their energy, innovativeness, vibrancy, resilience and ambition.
Countries that invest in their youths witness economic growth and development. Unless deliberate efforts are made in Nigeria to harness the potentials in her youth population, young people will continue to be confronted with growing challenges or barriers to their participation in the country’s democracy.
Apart from high levels of corruption in virtually all facets of the democratic institutions, some other notable barriers to youth leadership are economic, institutional, and cultural barriers.
Economic barriers in my view relate to factors that limit or reduce the willingness of the Nigerian youth to participate in politics. Due to the highly monetized nature of democracy in Nigeria, spending huge sums of money to sway support for one’s political ambition has become unavoidable.
For most young people in Nigeria, the harsh economic and living conditions in the country coupled with high unemployment rate makes their participation in democracy as candidates of a political party almost impossible.
In addition, youths are deliberately excluded from playing key roles or taking up leadership positions in democratic institutions in the country. Despite creating positions for youth leaders in the country’s political parties, most of the time, individuals that occupy these positions fall outside the age demography of youths. Youths, according to UN are individuals whose ages are between 17 to 35 years.
The fact that the national youth leaders of the two leading political parties in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rt. Hon Ude Okoye and that of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji. Ibrahim Dasuki, are 41 and 48 years old respectively, underscores a disturbing trend of youth exclusion in the country’s democratic institutions.
Also, cultural barriers have had profound negative impact on the leadership selection process of political parties in the country. The cultural notion that young Nigerians must undergo many years of tutelage by older politicians before they could become qualitative leaders encourages youth exclusion from politics as candidates of political offices. The practice, in my view, is not only archaic but retrogressive.
While the younger generation look up to my generation and those before us for answers or solutions to questions or problems related to the growing barriers to their future participation in our democracy, we seem not to have found one.
Those in leadership positions today have shown little or no concern to the ugly development and the perils are imminent. When youths are not provided with requisite support mechanism that prepares them for leadership roles in the society, they easily derail. Some become willing tools for politicians during elections.
Those that grow into touts and political tugs are given handouts during elections but turn to nuisance in the society immediately elections are over. It is believed that majority of youths that joined the Boko Haram sect in the North Eastern parts of Nigeria were used and dumped by politicians.
However, when the elections were over and their patronage ceased, the youths turned over to Boko Haram for refuge. Similar trend of events has played out in Southern parts of Nigeria too. Kidnapping, armed robbery and militancy for large ransom are popular notorious activities youths in these geopolitical regions of the country indulge in.
Conversely, Nigerian youths have demonstrated capacity in different walks of life. They can be tenacious during difficult periods and even in areas where young people from other parts of the world will not dare to go. Their show of resilience is second to none.
When I look back at my experience in Aba, I recall growing up with hardworking men and women in their teens, who were constantly innovating and manufacturing products and services in midst of scarce resources. They would put up small manufacturing units at the back of their homes and produce leather shoes, belts and handbags.
These products would later be branded “Made-in-Aba” and shipped out for higher earnings. On a broader scope, if young Nigerians are included in discussions that pertain to nation building, you can produce confident leaders that understand solutions to problems facing the problem.
Thus, the government can solve some of these problems by establishing youth leadership development centers across the six geopolitical regions of the country as well as providing merit based scholarship to deserving Nigerians.
The government must help young Nigerians understand and enshrine the spirit of patriotism towards an inclusive and better Nigeria, and sponsor an affirmative action plan that will give them their rightful place in decision making process at local, national and regional levels.
Following the situation of things in the country and the low chances of increasing youth leadership, going forward, I will urge Nigerian youths to shun any attempts to use them for election thuggery. The political parties and other democratic institutions should reserve over 40 per cent of their party executive positions at various levels to the youths.
The same affirmation for youth leadership should be used to issue political appointments in the country. Again, youths exposed to leadership roles early in their career will end up as future and better administrators of our limited resources. Nigerian youths are currently in the fringes of our society and as a result, concerted efforts should be made to draw them into the center of government.
Emphasis on education, leadership trainings and empowerment should be put on the front burner as an action item in the major political parties. If we continue to ignore them, the consequences might be irreversible.
Onyeizu, a former APC Senatorial Aspirant and Sloan Fellow of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is an expert in Youth Empowerment and Governance.
Source The Nation