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“2019 elections demand youth engagement”
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“2019 elections demand youth engagement”

Youth are a majority in Nigeria and could have impact on upcoming elections, writes Oghenekevwe Oghenechovwen, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Warri in Nigeria, who urges youth to rise to the challenge of leadership.

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it” – Frantz Fanon.

In the lead up to the Nigerian general election, scheduled for 16 February 2019, we have seen a groundswell of efforts across the country that are starting important conversations on political participation as well as shaping solutions to some of our mediocre public institutions, laws and policies.

This is particularly historical because most of these efforts are aspirational and led by talented young people – even in the face of strong opposition. For example, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) influenced the #NotTooYoungToRun movement and national bill, which seeks to take on age discrimination for candidates to elected office in Nigeria. This bill also inspires a global inclusion campaign.

Data from the National Population Commission tells us that “Nigeria’s population reached 182 million [in 2016] with more than half its people under 30 years of age.” Today, at roughly 60% of the total population, the youth bulge has doubled. This data instructs us about the quiet existence of gerontocracy in our democracy: the country is consistently led by people who are significantly older than most of the population.

Beware, this observed gerontocracy is not strictly the reason these youth-led efforts and powerful movements are emerging in Nigeria. Rather, the emergence is resulting from hunger for thought and transparent leadership at all tiers of governance. It seeks a leadership that is accountable, free from mediocrity, and possesses intellectual and relational restlessness to drive sustainable socioeconomic development, as well as social cohesion and equity. A leadership that is truly inclusive, respects diversity and is guided by evidence-based research.

Nigeria has never had enough of such brand of leadership.

In Rand Merchant Bank’s 2018 report assessing the economic outlook and investment opportunities in Africa, Nigeria (though with the largest African economy) did not make it into the top 10 countries to invest in. Again, Nigeria did not sit among the top ten African countries rated by the 2017 ICT Development Index, monitored by the International Telecommunications Union. That is not all. In the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, Nigeria, out of 180 countries, was ranked the 148th World’s Least Corrupt Country.  Furthermore, it was ironic to see Nigeria, a governing council member of the Community of Democracies, among the 12 countries – spotlighted by the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2017 Impunity Index – where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

In short, under the watch of significantly senior leaders, our democratic norms keep declining, poverty rates are high, corruption is endemic, and public health challenges endure. These facts debunk the “experience-idea” that posits the elderly best bring political leadership and stability to a country.

Perhaps, as the world dives into the 4th Industrial Revolution, the silver bullet to Nigeria’s deprivation is leadership provided by competent, open thinking, flexible young men and women across the country. They represent something very threatening to the status quo.

No matter the general election results, 2019 will be a defining point and it will also set a precedent going forward. This comes with leadership challenges for Nigerian youth.

In seeking to take power roles in the political process and development of our communities, they must get themselves noticeable and respected and not be intimidated to give in to desperate godfatherhood and tokenism. For this task, they must obey the Adinkra symbol, Sankofa – the Ghanaian writing system that means “Return and get it” – by learning from Nigeria’s past so as to inform our present and build on a deserving future.

The new Commonwealth100 Guiding model, co-created by over 1,000 young people, helps put these leadership challenges into context: Nigerian youth must work to lift each other up, be always accessible, must rebuild trust by being trustworthy themselves, be awake to intolerance and determined to counterbalance it, and finally, be quick to adapt to a world turned upside down by artificial intelligence.

The 2019 general election creates another possibility for Nigeria to cross generational divides and tap into a demographic bond through full political participation by young people. Everyone, big or small, should help Nigeria achieve this goal.

Photo credit: nottooyoungtorun.org

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About me: A B.Tech. student of Meteorology and Climate science (FUTA), I am an idealist, observer, a leader, creative writer and ready volunteer.
I am interested in volunteering, youth and education, leadership, women empowerment, climate change, politics, media and information technology.
My ambition is to make change and cause global reformation with my pen, resources and time.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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