•Hundreds of young men, women plan summit in Akure, say their voices must be heard
By SEYE OJO
Thousands of Nigerian youths are currently angry. They are very upset with the federal and state governments based on what they perceive as a deliberate effort between the executive and legislative arms to mortgage their future. The government might have drawn the ire of the youths based on some bureaucratic boondoggles, which according to them, have led to massive youth unemployment and poverty in the country. They are lamenting that political office holders have been depriving young people of positions meant for youths in many quarters.
Elderly folks that are no longer in the age bracket of youths, they say, are occupying the offices meant for them. They are now planning a show for next month, which, they say, will stop government from seizing what rightfully belongs to them. This agitation was further strengthened by the submission of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the West African Regional Conference on Youth Employment held in Senegal last year. It was sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as the African Development Bank.
Obasanjo had raised the alarm that Nigeria might experience revolution soon if the menace of youth unemployment and poverty continued, adding that inclusive politics is one of the steps that the leadership of registered political parties and public office holders can use in fixing the anomaly. He noted that the rate of youth unemployment when he became president in 1999 was 72 per cent and it dropped to 52 per cent by 2004. He lamented that the rate skyrocketed to 71 per cent in 2011, saying: “I’m afraid, and you know I am a General.
When a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent.” Last year, an activist lawyer, Festus Keyamo, went to court against the Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and the state government for signing a bill that established the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission into law. He described as unconstitutional Section 4(2) of the law which put the age limit for chairman of the commission at 45 years and members, 40 years. He averred that the new law would scheme majority of youths in Delta State out of the position. While saying the constitution of the country stipulates 30 years, Keyamo argued that the Delta State government had no power to increase or decrease the said age limit.
Also, the youths are not happy that they were not represented on the merger committee of the newly formed All Progressive Congress (APC). The parties that merged are the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). These and some other factors are why hundreds of youths will converge on Akure, the Ondo State capital for a National Youth Summit on March 28.
A pro-democracy activist, Mr. Idris Usman, is championing the summit, which is expected to provide a platform of engagement with some elderly politicians and leaders on the role of youth in government. Dignitaries billed to attend the summit include the Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Niger State governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu; Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, and Chairperson, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
The list also comprises the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson; a political economy and management expert, Professor Pat Utomi; Senior Pastor of the Daystar Christian Centre, Lagos, Pastor Sam Adeyemi; civil rights activist, Shehu Sanni; Hon. Khadijat Buka Ibrahim, Josephine Washima, Jude Imagwe, Toyosi Akerele and others. According to Usman, “After living through years of a debilitating and humiliating disinvestment in the future, young people are coming together to make a massive collective demand to be part of a future in which justice, democratic values and politics once again matter, where the politics of unchecked individualism, and the collapse of long-term planning for the social good will be a bygone.
“Despite wide-spread misconceptions, the majority of youth in the country, if given the chance, are more interested in contributing to their society and future than being involved in extreme behaviour. Young men and women across the geo-political zones of the federation are expecting to exert greater influence in shaping their societies. “Yet there are too few formal avenues and institutions for the youth to expand their voices so that their activism may positively impact this country. That is the change we seek. The challenge remains with the current leadership to provide an enabling environment for young people to give voice and actively participate in economic, political and social affairs.”
Usman believes that the summit will help define the future of Nigeria even as he noted that young people are emerging as agents of change in many states of the federation, adding that they seek a more participatory form of government where any young person will not have to attain 50 years to become a youth leader of any political party or 60 years to become a state governor. At 60 years, politicians should retire from active politics and concentrate on offering ideas to up-coming ones, he advises. “Through the expansion of civil society and the rise of local social and environmental movements, young men and women can be mobilized to exert greater influence in shaping this country positively. We have seen a few examples and if we are given the right atmosphere we shall help bring back the glory of Nigeria.
“We want to move the country to such a level where the future will be much more important to everyone everywhere, where we will no longer settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that pass for politics today. We want to see genuine inclusion of young people in government. We want to engender a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity. “Yes, there are those who will continue to tell us that we can’t do this, that we can’t have what we’re looking for, that we can’t have what we want; that we’re peddling false hopes. They may even go to the extent of changing the constitution, but assuredly I can say there is just a thin line in-between.
I know that when people say we can’t overcome all the big money and influence in Abuja and all the states capitals, all they need to understand is the strength of our population and of course they should look back into January 3, 2012, the fuel subsidy protests,” he notes. Usman states that the records have shown that many who have refused to leave the corridors of power these days had opportunity to hold public offices when they were just 25 years old. “Now that they couldn’t contribute meaningfully again, there is need for them to allow new ideas.” He makes an allusion to the democratic governance in the United State where President Barack Obama, has re-engineered the political atmosphere. Political inclusion, he says, has now replaced the status quo and power is no longer for the old boys’ network or a country club aristocracy.
He continues: “Instead, it is a democracy built for and by the everyday American, and it is this inclusiveness that is politically energizing young people, women, and communities in that country. We do not expect anything less here. There must be a change. Politics cannot forever be an enterprise for the old who continue to foreclose the brighter future for young people.” If the government will make the youths happy, Usman believes that young people should be allowed to vie for elective offices in the Houses of Assembly and House of Representatives when they are between 21 and 25 years and possibly become president between 30 and 35 years like in some advanced countries with full-fledged democracy.
The youths now want the powers that be to take care of their demands in the on-going constitutional review so that they would become active players and no longer spectators in the political milieu of Nigeria. When these conditions are met, the young people promise that they would sheathe the sword and their anger would evaporate.