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Itodo: Five young Speakers a remarkable feat

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Itodo

Youth Representation Still Very Poor
Co-convener of the Not Too Young To Run movement, Samson Itodo told ENO-ABASI SUNDAY euphoria that greeted the emergence of five under-40 lawmakers as Speakers is not misplaced, considering how the political space has been dominated by a political minority since 1999.

The desire of most Nigerians to see youths play key role in governance is gradually coming to fruition. At least five speakers of state Assemblies are under the age of 40. What value does this add to lawmaking as an important aspect of governance?

The quest for increased youth participation in government is fuelled by the desire of citizens to participate in the democratic process. As a form of government, democracy is underpinned by values and institutional systems that recognise participation as a fundamental political right. Therefore, when exclusion and marginalisation become the order of the day, always expect a push back from citizens.

Over the years, public leadership has been designed as the exclusive preserve of a few elite who use elections and electoral contests to settle elite power struggles, and not to deliver development to the vast majority of our people. There comes a time when a people rise up to say enough is enough. #Not Too Young To Run was that moment. Nigerian youths rose up against their frustration with politics and leadership crises to say they wanted to be active participants in order to change the business of governance for our common good.

Today, we celebrate the emergence of five young Speakers of state assemblies. While this is a remarkable feat, the fact still remains that youth representation is very poor. The new young Speakers bring their vibrancy, energy and intellect to legislative governance. They also appreciate the importance of the legislature in public governance. Most of them have been equipped to lead legislative reforms that will improve lawmaking, oversight and representation at the state level. It is worthy of note that the young speakers acknowledge they bear the burden of a generation that is determined to build a new leadership paradigm that promotes accountability, responsiveness and innovation.

Beside the euphoria of having five under-40 years presiding over states’ assemblies, can they change the present narrative of self preservation to public service?

There is nothing wrong with euphoria of having young Speakers in state assemblies. Absolutely nothing considering how the political space has been dominated by a political minority since the return to democracy in 1999. Running for public office in Nigeria requires huge financial resources; a godfather, thugs or militia to intimidate your opponents and rig elections on your behalf etc. These young legislators navigated the toxic political space to clinch their parties’ tickets, win elections and emerge as Speakers of their state Assemblies. It is a feat worth celebrating, especially considering their ages. It takes courage, determination, resilience and leadership to attain such heights. It is this courage and dynamism that we expect the young speakers to deploy in managing their state assemblies.

We are confident in their ability to positively disrupt the legislative governance space with demonstrating character, competence and capacity in their management of legislative business. YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run movement provided technical support to the youth candidates and young elected representatives. We invested in preparing them for leadership through training and mentorship. They’ve been imbued with the right set of values required to enhance the quality of legislative governance and representation.

As much as we support these young legislators, we have also designed mechanisms for accountability. We will hold them to account for their campaign promises and leadership decisions. The YIAGA AFRICA Centre for Legislative Engagement has developed a Legislative Peer Review Mechanism to support the young legislators and monitor their performance. We are also supporting these young speakers to develop a legislative agenda for their states’ Assemblies. The young legislators can’t afford to fail or disappoint because they represent the present and the future. We will continue to support them, but won’t hesitate to hold them to account when they derail from the serving the interest of their constituents.

Is it too much for Nigerians to expect these young speakers to stand out from the crowd?

Nigerians are desperate for a new crop of political leaders that care about them. Nigerians want to see new faces and fresh ideas in government. This explains why they voted young legislators in the last general elections. Based on data released by YIAGA AFRICA, there are 22 legislators in the state Assemblies aged between 25 – 30 years. For the first time in our history, we have 13 under 35 in the House of Representatives. Whilst expectations should be high, we must recognise the environment the young Speakers will be inheriting. We are confident that they will stand out by protecting the poor and vulnerable in our society and remain in constant communication with their constituents.

Most importantly, we expect them to standout in providing effective legislative oversight on the executive; we expect them to stand out and shine as beacons of legislative governance and not rubberstamps or appendages of their state governors. At the end of every legislative year, we will recognise the best performing young legislator and young Speaker with a prestigious award.

As youths, would it be out of place for them to take specific interest in areas affecting their peers, and what generally are they capable of bringing to the table?

It would not be out of place to have them take interest in areas affecting youths. It is important to reiterate that they are not representatives of only the youths, but representatives of the people, both old and young, men and women, Christian and Muslims etc. Incidentally, issues such as poverty, jobs, health, environment are cross cutting development issues that affect most members of society. The speakers will justify the support they receive from their constituents if they take special interest in issues affecting youth, women and persons with disability. It is imperative to recognise the Nigerian youth as stakeholders; policies should not be haphazardly conceived and implemented without input from critical stakeholders such as youth.

Historically, Nigerian youths have been change agents and drivers of societal transformation, but the society seldoms appreciate or recognise their efforts, instead they are subjected to all forms of exploitation, exclusion and abuse. These young legislators have a unique opportunity to reverse this ugly trend by using their offices to provide excellent public leadership and social accountability.

How will the success of these young lawmakers spur the interest of more youths in lawmaking in particular, and politics in general given the fact that because of their sheer number, they are worst affected by bad laws and policies in the society?

More than ever, youths are beginning to engage as responsible social actors, therefore, it becomes paramount that policies are prioritized in youth specific areas such as education, employment, health and political representation. Nevertheless, the success of young legislators in the 9th Assembly will inspire more youths to aspire for public office and increase youth participation during elections.

The voter turnout in the 2019 presidential elections was 36 per cent. This is unacceptable as it raises questions on political legitimacy of a government. The success of these young legislators will spur youths to turnout and vote during elections because democracy is delivering development through the leadership provided by these legislators. We are at a pivotal moment in history and the youth are unarguably set to leave an indelible mark on the political space; the resourcefulness of these young Nigerians would be harnessed for improved governance that delivers development.

Checking the excesses of the executive can be a daunting task for an Assembly led by a youth given the emperor status most governors enjoy. Are we not setting the stage for lame-duck Assemblies with youths being at the helm?

By virtue of the recent constitutional amendment, state legislatures have been granted financial autonomy. This amendment is expected to embolden state legislatures to assert their independence. State legislatures are essential for democratic development and good governance. The young legislators in state assemblies must recognise that their loyalty is to the people they serve, and not governors. As a constitutional democracy, the doctrine of separation powers guarantees institutional independence, therefore they must limit the powers of the governors within constitutional provisions. The goal must, however, be in the overall interest of the public, and not personal objectives. It is important to note that separation of powers is not separation of government, therefore both arms of government must maintain a cordial working relationship guided by the principles of mutual respect, accountability and transparency.

The weak relationship between the executive and legislature has evidently stifled growth, undermined democracy and governance over the years. What are the factors that would count in favour of these youths-led states’ Houses of Assemblies, and what value would all these add to the not-too-young to run campaign?

With the exception of Plateau and Kaduna state, the other three state Assemblies have first-time governors. This presents an opportunity to set a tone for a cordial and constructive working relationship between the executive and legislature. I think the lessons from the frosty and episodic relationship between the 8th National Assembly and the Presidency are apparent. The young Speakers appreciate power dynamics and would ensure they maintain a good working relationship with the executive in their states while not compromising their independence. The twin principles of separation of powers and checks and balances are aimed at promoting good governance and accountability.

So, with the level of their capacity, professionalism and commitment to democratic principles, we are confident they will perform well in office. The success of the Not Too Young To Run campaign will be measured by the quality of governance and how many people are lifted out of poverty as a result of this new leadership paradigm that the movement promotes. What remains constant is the fact that the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign being a citizens-led, citizens-driven campaign has ensured that youth inclusion is placed higher on the national and global agenda than ever before.


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