AYOOLA DAMILOLA, UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN, IBADAN, OYO STATE, NIGERIA
Youth are the most vital fragment of any society. The youth, represent a human capital resource that, if effectively engaged and deployed in the process of nation-building, would drive a nation to a higher and enviable economic height in the community of nations. However, there is a predicament that can be found in different areas and this is the level of youth participation in politics. Young people are fast becoming highly professional individuals in sectors such as the entertainment industry, the business world, and educational sphere, among many other things. In Africa, youth participation in politics is relatively low. Older politicians have monopolized the political system that it becomes difficult for a young person to break the barrier. Statistic has shown that youth participation in Nigeria is relatively low compared to other sectors like business or the entertainment industry. In 2019, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, signed the Age Reduction Bill also as the Not Too Young to Run Bill into law. This law reduced the age requirement needed to run for a political office in Nigeria. It brought down the age qualification for President from 40 to 30; from 30 to 25 for the House of Representatives and the State’s House of Assembly. However, the age qualification for governorship and that for Senate remained at 35 years. One year after the introduction of the Age Reduction Bill Youths had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest against the unjust implementations by the government as well as the unlawful police brutality. The protest ended terribly with Nigerian Armed Forces shooting at unharmed protesters killing and injuring many. It however did revive the dampened spirit of political participation in Nigerian Youth. This project will dig deep to the grassroots to understand why youths in Nigeria have low interest in politics, hurdles of a young politician in Nigeria as well as the effect of the Age Reduction Bill and the General Protest of 2020 on the Nigeria youth.
SOME FACTORS THAT PREVENT YOUTH PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS
There are different factors that prevent political participation among youths. Some of which includes family orientation, poverty, environmental beliefs, civic orientation and the erroneous belief about politics. Charity it is said begins at home. Youth who grow up in homes without political awareness tend not to participate in politics. The environment also determines the political participation of such youth on a long run. In societies where the civic orientation speaks against the government, the products of such society therefore see no reason to participate in politics. Apart from this, Nigeria politics is believed to be a dirty and dangerous affair. This caused youths to gear away from the course of political ambition in Nigeria. These challenges are further compounded by the limited financial resources available to many young people due to other structural factors like unemployment, poverty, and the lack of sustainable sources of livelihood. In a country with millions of youths unemployed and underemployed, it is thus no surprise that the youth have no interest to be involved in politics. Also, the government does not encourage youth participation in politics. In Nigeria, youths continue to face what sociologist Johan Galtung describes as structural and direct violence manifesting as political marginalization, exclusion, and low representation in government due to factors such as the high cost of elections, socio-legal hindrances, exclusionary legal framework, and the stereotypical narrative of young people as being politically immature and perpetrators of political violence.
LEVELS OF POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
During to my research, I discovered that participation in politics can be of different forms. Political participation includes registering and acquiring the permanent voter’s card, involving oneself in political parties, engaging in political discussion, volunteering as an agent during elections as well as attending political rallies. According to Dr. Lafenwa a political scientist at the University of Ibadan, there are three levels of political participation. Firstly, there is the spectator level of political participation. At this level, political participation involves engaging in political discussion and registering to vote. The second level is the transitional level. This level involves joining political parties and rallies. This level also involves the act of mobilizing others to join political affairs and participate in political matters. The last level is the gladiatorial level of political participation. This involves contesting for elections and attending political meetings.
SOME CHALLENGES FACED BY YOUNG POLITICIANS IN NIGERIA
There are different challenges faced by young politicians trying to break in Nigeria’s political terrain. Political marginalization, electoral acts, tribalism and ethnicity, a highly monetized political system, and lack of support for unpopular political parties are some of the challenges of young politicians in Nigeria. The political affairs had been long regulated by older politicians and the youth have little experience in leadership. The intentional seclusion of youth from politics has made it difficult for young politicians to be morally and technically skilled with adequate knowledge about the political system. Apart from this, the electoral acts and legal frameworks restrict young politicians from aspiring for greater positions. For instance, to contest during elections, one must belong to a political party. A young politician in Nigeria cannot contest an election as an independent candidate. In Nigeria, there is little or no support for political parties that do not enjoy nationwide popularity. Young politicians who belong to smaller political parties with support find it quite difficult to burst out fully into the political picture. Attention is usually on political parties with nationwide influence and anything short of that is not considered. In Africa, the political system has become highly monetized which hinders the level of youth participation. To contest for a political office, the candidate must be financially buoyant to bear the cost of the expensive campaigns and electoral preparations. Tribalism and ethnicity affect several aspects in Nigeria including youth participation and young politician. A young politician can often be rejected because of where he or she belongs to a particular ethnic group. Opportunities are denied and discriminatory acts are perpetuated to youths because he or she belongs to a particular ethnic group.
Despite these challenges, several young politicians were able to break the chains in the just concluded 2023 General National elections in Nigeria. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, declared 26-year-old Rasheed Kashamu as a new member of the State House of Assembly election in Ijebu North Constituency 1 of Ogun State. A similar achievement happened in Kwara State when a 26-year-old Rukayat Shittu was declared as a new member of the State House of Assembly. Muhammad Adamu Oyanki won the State House of Assembly seat for Doma North Constituency in Nasarawa State. Those are but a few of the youth achievements in the 2023 National Elections in Nigeria.
In conclusion, the lack of political participation among Nigerian youth stems largely from the dissatisfaction and unfair treatment by the government in the recent past. As I have shown in the paper, factors such as poverty, family orientation, economic instability, environmental beliefs, and civil orientation had dampened the spirit of youth regarding politics. Young politicians also find it difficult to attain higher political positions due to the challenges they encounter in the political system. Before 2018, Nigerian youths were constitutionally unable to participate in politics due to the age qualification restriction. However, the Not Too Young to Run bill and the protest of 2020 changed the tides of things. To some, the protest is said to be unsuccessful but I believed it achieved something much greater. It awoke the dampened political spirit of the youth. It also increased the level of youth participation in politics. In the last 2023 General Election, Nigerian youths wrestled back and registered their presence as a new generation that set out to overcome the political marginalization set by older politicians for decades past.
Interview with Dr Lafenwa, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ibadan on 26th of June 2023.
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