Six young Nigerians on Friday shared their thoughts on the participation of youths in politics and leadership in the country.
They include actress Kate Henshaw; political strategist Moremi Ojudu; anti-corruption activist, Hamzat Lawal; CEO, Sujimoto Properties, Sijibomi Ogundele; Sponsor, Not Too Young To Run Bill, Tony Nwulu; and Lawyer/PDP Member, Anthony Ehilebo.
Here are excerpts from the thoughts they shared about youth participation in governance and politics in the country during a special session with Seun Okinbaloye, aired as part of Channels TV’s Special Programme celebrating Nigeria at 61.
Where did we get it wrong?
To answer this question, we have to go back to, not even 1960, 1958. From 1958 to date, Nigeria has earned over $600bn dollars in oil revenue. Between 1999 and today, Nigeria has borrowed over $25bn, a capital injection of approximately N300tn.
Do we look like N300tn has passed through us? Does our infrastructure, do our health care and many other things look like N300tn has passed through us? We must make those conscious decisions and address the issues of the past so that we can have a future tomorrow. If we refuse to do that, we will continue to suffer these dividends of incompetence, and I strongly believe that the cost of leadership must not be that difficult.
For a lot of years, we have asked ourselves that question. Did we get it wrong with our leadership? Did we get it wrong with our followership? I think we got it wrong by just focusing on one area which is leadership.
I think getting it wrong started from both parties (leaders and followers) not recognising the role they had to play in the future Nigeria they needed to see. And we’ve forgotten that even at the very basic level of the country – ward level, unit level – there is leadership, there is followership and we need to identify these particular niches of our country and say we all need to take responsibilities both as leaders and followers, we all have a place where we got it wrong. Agreeing to that is the very first step to fixing whatever problems we have as a country today.
We got it wrong when we stopped upholding the office of the citizen, which is the highest office in the land; where we took our eyes off the ball and we let things slide, where we stopped holding people accountable including ourselves, where we stopped voting people into office who truly cared about our human resources, our human capital, and the potential of this great country. That is where we got it wrong.
We got it wrong because people in power became selfish. We stopped investing in people and we thought that, without investment, Nigeria could move forward. Our biggest assets are people. We got it wrong because everyone has put themselves before Nigeria.
We stopped investing in people. We always put ourselves first and, unfortunately, our leaders have taken that path of putting themselves before others.
Unfortunately, that has really put us in a very bad light and our value system became a value system of greed and a situation where we just lack focus.
We need to also address inequality. I believe that if you could vote then you should also be voted for. It doesn’t actually mean that at 18 you should go to the Senate or at 20 you should go to the Senate. But if you live in a community where at 20 you are the only one qualified to go to the Senate then, by all means, you should go to the Senate.
I think it is a different thing from the leadership failures that we’ve been having. It is not that we have a dearth of leaders, but several other people have refused to also join (politics) to see what they can do to correct those anomalies that we see in society.
Is our politics “too dirty” for young people?
A lot of people have run away because of the term ‘dirty politics’ and that is so wrong because we need to get involved. We can’t effect any change from the outside. Yes, it is dirty, but we need people to go in there are clean it up.
Politics is not dirty, it’s our mindset.
When you say politics is dirty, it is a relative term. Highly relative. You have to be highly diplomatic.
We are picking people who have not even run a kiosk to sit in the seat of governance. There is a need today, for us to look into those elements that have some kind of internal division and convert those people into internal cohesion.
To run even a primary for House of Assemblies will cost you nothing less than N15 million.
‘Money Politics’: Can young people thrive without money?
No, you can’t. Even with the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ law.
It’s not even just about not having money, it’s about the fact that the Constitution itself does not guarantee equity and justice.
Young people are thriving in everything else except politics. We might debate this till tomorrow but money is important.
What we’ve been doing in Nigeria is giving power to people that haven’t been tested, that have no precedents, that have nothing to prove that they have achieved this and that before they got into power.
The system is skewed. Where is the person going to get the money from?
You need money and that’s the honest truth because all the people that I went to, to consult, the first thing they asked me was, ‘what’s in your war chest?’ I never understood what they meant by that.
I’m putting myself up to help, to serve and you’re asking me what’s in my war chest.
I thought I needed weapons until I found out it was money. I would go to speak to different groups and the language is, ‘you have not landed’?
Alternatives To ‘Money Demands’
We can’t continue saying money is a problem when we are in a new age and era. People have had very complex protests within the last year and have been able to fund these protests and raise money. As it is today, our generation is ready to back people who are ready to run.
I’ve seen people who are willing to sponsor but they have not seen willing people to invest that money in.
I think the first thing you should ask yourself is, do you have social capital?
It is what you build within the society or the community that you intend to represent (that matters). Do they believe you? Have you been able to impact some lives, not necessarily financially? What are you known for and what is your social relevance? We’ve seen politicians come out with a lot of money and still get rejected.
What sort of leaders do we need in Nigeria?
Without identifying the problem we might not have the solution. The number one solution for this nation is leadership. In electing a leader, what are the things we are looking for? The first thing you must look at is competence. The second thing you must look at is integrity… After that you look at other things; what is your love for the nation? M.K.O defeated (Bashir) Tofa right in front of his house because of social capital.
I agree (with Ogundele). I will say character, capacity, competence and empathy. See, you must have a heart for people. It is not going to be about you anymore; it is about making your people better because in them looking better, you look better.
We are at the stage in our country that we need fixers to come and fix things and these people are all over. In Anambra State, I had mentioned Chris Ngige and Peter Obi, when they started out. You go to Akwa Ibom, you see what the governor is doing there. He is fixing Akwa Ibom, from what I have seen that he is doing. Many other governors are doing well. Seyi Makinde is doing well. Fashola did a lot in Lagos. These are people with track records. Until we are able to tell ourselves, ‘look, we can no longer seat in the cosy environment of our office and expect things to go well’, (things won’t improve). You complain that politicians are killing the economy and you have the know-how to correct the system, why don’t you join (politics)?
The turning point could be when we have a 90% voter turnout in 2023. That could be the gamechanger both for old and young people. If we can get a 90% turnout then probably people can understand that power and legitimacy belong to the people.
People need to understand that the selection process for political parties starts at the ward elections. If you are not a member of a political party, how can you present yourself (as a candidate)?
Can the young people step up?
Opportunity is not given. Power is not given, it is taken. You must have to leave the comfort of your bedroom to go and get involved (in politics). You must be intentional. You must be ready and tell yourself, ‘I am ready to be a part of the change-makers in the society’. Until we get to that point where it is very fashionable to have your voter’s card and without your voter’s card, I see you as a problem in society. If you don’t have a voter’s card, you are the reason why the hospitals are not well equipped, you are the reason why the roads are not fixed.
Young people are doing very well in every sector, except politics. We need to consolidate as young people ahead of 2023. The only thing power listens to is power. I think that as young people we need to come together. I said this before 2019 (general elections). I said it was late for us to have a young president. Now it is a bit late because we were supposed to start (the push) immediately after the 2019 elections, but we can negotiate power. That is where diplomacy comes in. Young people can come together and make our demands clear, then have conversations with these politicians. I am a civic leader but I spend most of my time engaging politicians to do advocacy.
One thing we have to get in our minds is that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon and for Nigeria, it is indeed a marathon. We need to have our foot in the mud. So, 2023 for a young president? I don’t see it. It is not impossible but I don’t see it.
Can we have young people step up? I definitely think that we do not just have young people. They are ready to step up. The best time to get into politics was yesterday. The next best time is today and the onus is on us; the future belongs to us. These guys kept telling us that we are the leaders of tomorrow. Even tomorrow they are still going to want to remain as leaders; that’s fine if they are going to deliver a good country. This country has not been delivered to us in a state that we can own it; most of our contemporaries have left the country. We have nowhere else to go. We have no other country that we can run to. So, we are either going to fix this country or burn with it. This is why we are calling on everybody that is able. First of all, get your PVC, participate, look for a political party; it doesn’t matter what they (people) say.
Our leaders are helpless without the young people. They need us and it’s high time we get involved. You cannot effect a change from the outside, you have to effect the change from inside. Many of our leaders cannot even do anything without calling on a younger person.
Leadership and positions have no boundaries and have no age and gender. I have learnt in the past that meritocracy is the only foundation that will lead any institution forward. We must start borrowing from the model of the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, the man that instituted meritocracy (in Singapore) and appoint leaders that know that the position they are in is not a chieftaincy. People that know that immediately you are not able to demonstrate competence, impunity will come and meet you at home and you must get judgement for every wrong decision you make.