‘Nigerian youths have become more politically aware’
Tony Usidamen is a communications expert, social advocate and lover of music, art and sports. He is the founder of Uburu – an indigenous public relations and marketing communications consultancy that is helping to build strong brands and institutions across. In this interview, Usidamen, an Associate Registered Practitioner in Advertising (ARPA), Member of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and a Fellow of the Institute of Brand Management of Nigeria (FIBM), spoke on the activities of the Nigerian Youth Parliament (NYP) and how the initiative can help young people.
What’s your take on the establishment of the Nigerian Youth Parliament (NYP)?
I think the idea behind the inauguration of the NYP is good; which is to serve as an organised platform for young Nigerians to contribute to political discourse and decision-making, particularly issues that affect them. This will also prepare them to take up critical leadership positions in the country. It is also in keeping up with the rest of the world for more active youth involvement in addressing the developmental challenges that we face, and towards a sustainable future. Whether or not the NYP has lived up to it’s billing, is a different matter.
In your view, what has been the impact of the NYP to Nigerian youths since its inauguration in 2008?
Frankly speaking, though it is now in its third session, it’s still quite difficult to articulate the direct impact of the NYP as it relates to the lot of the larger youth population. To its credit, it joined several youth-focused NGOs and advocacy groups in promoting the reduction of age bill, otherwise known as the NotToYoungToRun Bill, which was eventually passed by the National Assembly in July 2017. But that is as far as it goes. If there are other noteworthy accomplishments, then they have not been effectively communicated. Truly, the NYP is in a position to do much more to advance the interest of Nigerian youths, particularly in sensitizing them about their role in nation building, and contribution to public policy.
For elected parliamentarians, however, the immersion into the parliament set-up and parliamentary-type debates helps foster appreciation of the complex problems confronting us as a nation. On the other hand, the local exchange and international exposure equip them with the knowledge and resources needed to become active leaders and engaged citizens in their respective communities. Some former NYP parliamentarians, the likes of Rt. Hon. (Barr) Onofiok Luke, who is current Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, have gone on to occupy higher offices where they are able to impact more people positively; this is a good development.
Do Nigerian youths really reckon with the activities of the NYP?
Not directly, as many are unaware of the existence of the parliament and its activities. But they, inadvertently, share the ideals of the NYP. Up until the 2015 general elections, the level of political consciousness among Nigerian youths was very low. The election sparked renewed interest in the activities of government and governance, as they could no longer fold their hands and watch as the political elite plunged the nation further into darkness. This shift in attitude is largely due to increased technology uptake and greater social media penetration, which have made online activism possible.
Indeed, the Internet has broken down communication barriers in government-citizen relationship. Today, with a small amount in data cost, young people can weigh in on a social, economic or political discourse through a variety of social media platforms, offering individual perspectives on issues affecting them and proffering solutions to common problems. Unfortunately, it also seems to have sparked off a pervert race to be heard, to be followed etc. The number of Twitter followers, Facebook likes and TRP ratings are being naively used as proxies for popularity and approval ratings. Most commentators, convinced of the “superiority” of their own arguments, are closed to other possibilities outside their estimation. This threatens to cultivate an unfettered, noisy and sometimes meaningless discourse culture where “style” trumps “substance” and “screaming matches” replace “genuine debate.”
And while we are busy promoting our respective agendas, the status quo stays the same, and the common problems that we face as a people remain unsolved. Though we may be seen to score some personal victories, the society as a whole loses! This is why platforms such as the NYP are relevant. Not just in regulating the noise levels and ensuring that the discussions focus on the real issues, but also in generating critical feedback and channeling resolutions passed to the appropriate quarters for concrete action. Like I said earlier, it needs to do much more in terms of public sensitisation, and it must leverage the power of social media for more effective communication.
Do you think Nigerian youths have attained independence?
We still have a long way to go, but we are certainly not where we were some three to five years ago. Thanks to globalization and the relentless work of the youth advocacy groups online as well as offline; Nigerian youths have become more politically aware. They appreciate how much influence they can wield in the scheme of governance and have become more vocal in the demand for public accountability and transparency. The passage of the NotTooYoungToRun Bill is also a step in the right direction, and we must follow through to see that it is signed into law. Unfortunately, for way too long, Nigeria has practiced ‘money politics’ with the biggest spenders calling the shot. The trend is supported by the high level of poverty in the country, which has helped to keep the larger youth population aligned to dictates of the few rich power brokers. The huge cost of electioneering today also means that young people will remain somewhat dependent on the ‘money bags’ in order to be able to actualize their dream of getting into key public offices, at least for a while. As youth sensitisation and mobilisation efforts continue, and as Nigeria’s democracy matures, that chain of over-dependence will eventually be broken.
The CBN governor recently announced that Nigerian youths could now access loans with their academic certificates. What is your take on this?
It is a good development and I commend the CBN for the initiative. Indeed, youth empowerment and entrepreneurship rank high in the agenda of most serious-minded governments the world over. Why not? In Nigeria, young people constitute about 60% of the population and form the bulk of the nation’s productive workforce. Given an enabling environment, and with adequate incentives for small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) such as easier loan access, imagine how much the youths can contribute to economic growth and development? I must say, however, that like all policies and programmes of government, implementation is key. It is not enough to mouth new policies; the CBN must also put in place a structure that would ensure proper implementation and compliance. The financial institutions must be seen to be open and fair so that suitably qualified SME owners can truly access the facility.
What is your vision for Nigeria?
Despite all our challenges, despite all the problems we face as a nation, I still believe that Nigeria can be truly great. The Nigeria of my dream is one where, like yonder years, any Nigerian can live in any part of the country he or she wishes and call the place his home; a truly free and just society where there is absolutely no room for religious and tribal bigotry, or oppression of any sorts; a Nigeria where a man of Fulani origin can freely compete for an elective position as a settler in Enugu (and even govern the state), and a Yoruba man does same in any of the Niger-Delta states or the north; a nation with equal opportunities for all citizens, and more young people in leadership positions using their energy and creativity to better the lot of our people.
Of course, like every Nigerian, I also want to see a country where government actually works for the people’s good, where things work like they should. By this I mean stable electricity; efficient transport system; viable agricultural and manufacturing industry; accessible, world-class health and educational facilities; a place where food, potable water and medicines are in abundance, and most of the people can actually afford them; a clean, beautiful and peaceful land where tourists throng, and is home to some of the biggest business entities globally.
But it is not enough for us to dream, or criticize the government at every turn. No! We must be willing to work hard to turn these dreams into reality. Nigeria is not just some vast geographical expression; it’s essentially you and I. Yes, the government must be seen to show good leadership; but we, the followers, also have a role to play too. And unless we change our nonchalant attitude and value system, and get involved in the process of transforming the nation by doing the right things, nothing really will change. The change Nigeria so desperately needs is its people; the hero Nigeria needs is you!
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