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Nigeria’s teeming youths, politics and social change

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It is really a curious reality that in a country that boasts of a preponderance of youths, the political landscape is still one that obeys a largely gerontocratic will, with the teeming youth population being continually confined to the side-lines in politics and policy formation in Nigeria.

It is disturbing that even with the percolation of political consciousness that resulted in the Not-Too-Young-To-Rule movement, widespread poverty and mysterious miseducation have ensured that the youthful mass remains in political oblivion. So the Nigerian society has managed to maintain, with regards to politics, the same manner of irony that it has manifested in other areas – filled with youthful, vibrant energy but ruled by the burnt-out, slouching tepidity of age.

According to a recent report, this gaping inadequacy of representation in politics is the reason “Nigeria’s bulging youth population is failing to move the needle of social and political change in Africa’s biggest democracy experiment.”

Accordingly, in proportional terms for every Nigerian 65 years old and above, there are 16 Nigerians who are 40 years old and below. Two inter-related factors can be pinpointed for the political lop-sidedness against the youth. The first is the structure of Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy, where wealth creation has in the last three decades been largely a function of access to oil and gas mining and production licences and the youths have been shut out of this space. The second attributed factor is the fact that political parties in Nigeria lack clear guiding philosophies and/or ideologies. The result of this is that these parties revolve around wealthy individuals who call the shots and consciously work against building party systems that are robust and give room to the participation of the youth.

The bottom-line of all of these is that the Nigerian political space, being a simulacrum of its social and economic space, has for a long time been hostile to the flourishing of young citizens. The capital-intensive, corruption-rigged nature of society and politics has ensured that good-intending youths do not have the chance to hold on to even the lowest rungs of the political ladder. The odds being so massively stacked against positive values, politics has now become a base arena where it is majorly the greedy and the murderous that can thrive. Most young people would therefore rather be political thugs and acolytes than be young men and women of vision, integrity and dignity. This is a national tragedy.

A cursory look at the Nigerian social media space will reveal the truth of the forgoing assertions. Male and female youth of great promise and potential have become blind defenders of the horrendous acts and utterances of political giants and parties, knowing that this is the absolute closest they can be to political relevance. The need to be a part of their country’s conversations and political processes, coupled with the infestation of greed that poverty fuels, has turned these young individuals into mouthpieces of hate and bigotry. All of these people know that they can and should be better than that. But there is simply no room for such betterment within the Nigerian political space, as it seems to them.

Nigerian youths have been urged from various quarters to rekindle their positive political passion against all these odds and mobilise themselves towards political action. They have been told to form political movements geared towards the delivery (or engineering) of social change. The benefits of these enjoinments cannot be over-emphasised and it is a good thing that the people (youths) to which they have been directed are beginning to take heed and action. The Not-Too-Young-To-Rule Movement, which has given birth to a corresponding act, is a happy testament to this. It is hoped that this political consciousness will continue to build up and get to a critical point where the needed change can be actualised.

We should not get it twisted: the mere participation of youths in politics will not be enough to drive social change if the general goals and practices of politics remain the same.

As this newspaper had earlier noted, “emphasis on age-based inclusiveness will be a disaster if it is not backed up with an equal or even greater emphasis on character development, institution building, and an aggressive education of the masses.” Youths should participate in politics but eventually it is character and wisdom in rulers and politicians that make for the thriving of a nation and the happiness of its people. Which is why we would like the young ones to note a lesson from Bruce Lee’s that, ‘knowledge will give you power, but character respect.’


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