BY ISMAEEL AHMED
Around the world young people are becoming increasingly interested in society’s affairs and its politics. Not just because their involvement triggers vibrant civic engagements coupled with a willingness to serve, but also, and critically, their presence in decision-making brings a mostly unseen outlook to issues.
Despite making up more than half of the country’s population, young Nigerians often find themselves at the lesser end of its governance. This is may be due to the belief that politics should be a space for only politically experienced men and women. Yet there is already a disadvantage in accumulating experience to run for office.
There are also those who believe that until recently, many young Nigerians have been lackadaisical about being active in civic matters; they say young people want and clamour for change yet only a few possess voters’ cards let alone belong to any political party. The view of politics across countries, not just Nigeria, is one seen as a dirty game. Yet, this dirty game is the decider for change, for policy-making and putting in place good governance.
Nigeria runs a multiparty system which means that there is no legal restriction as to the number of political parties that are permitted to exist. Tellingly, a multitude of political parties today exist. During the 2019 General Elections, the country had over 90 parties participating. The ballot sheet, looking like a long note from a fax machine, was testimony to the variation our democracy has offered us. Unfortunately few young people are taking advantage of this variation.
Being part of a political party means that one is most likely to engage in political behavior like voting, marching and rallying, donating to campaigns or expressing opinions in support or reservations for public officers and public policy. More than ever, voices are being heard, as the platform of social media is giving young people greater room for the amplification of their thoughts. But like it is often said, we need to move from passive voices, to active participation.
To make a difference in the longer term, it is essential that young people start getting engaged in formal political processes and have a say in formulating today’s and tomorrow’s politics.
Inclusive political participation is not only a fundamental political and democratic right but is also crucial to building stable and peaceful societies, and developing policies that respond to the specific needs of younger generations.
Thankfully, the Independent National Electoral Commission has announced plans to kickstart its permanent voter card registration exercise in January, more than two years before the next general election. This means that more younger Nigerians, especially those who have never been to the polls will be able to get their PVCs and vote for whoever they want.
It is very okay to be partisan. The best and most efficient way young people can get their voice heard and their proposals implemented is by being part of the political system, and in fact, joining political parties that align with their ideologies, beliefs and goals. Whether APC or PDP or SDP, or whichever.
Political parties motivate political behaviour by providing information, setting policy-making agendas, allow for choosing new candidates for offices, mobilizing members to act, and connecting people who share interests and ideologies. The 2015 general elections provided an example of how political parties can act as a positive, constructive force in Nigeria’s democracy. The All Progressives Congress, APC, my party – then in the opposition – campaigned on an issue-based message centered on corruption, rejuvenating and expanding the economy, and securing the country, shifting the focus of the election to the concerns of the Nigerian people. Our party’s electoral success demonstrated how political parties could build support by responding to the priorities of voters.
Becoming a card carrying member of a registered political party means you are more likely to participate in the decision-making process, to have a seat on the table and tend policy making towards the path that you believe in, and to mobilize and campaign for candidates that you believe in, too. Especially where it matters the most: the grassroots levels.
My party, the APC, will be opening its doors to registration in the second week of January 2021. This would give millions of young Nigerians in their various communities the opportunity to be part and parcel of the All Progressives Congress; not just to bolster and increase the party’s membership, but more critically to improve the quality of the people we call APC members, consequently improving the quality of leaders we produce for elections, from the local government levels to the national levels.
This is a good time to go join the party, by registering, and mobilizing your peers at the ward levels to do same: this is where all politics begins from. Understand that you can effect change at the lowest levels – the most critical and most important levels of governance – by joining and working with like minds through the party system to define and set governance in the right direction.
Nigeria, and the All Progressives Congress, too, needs the best brains and hands on deck . Today’s youth need real opportunities to participate in political processes and contribute to practical solutions that advance development and foster positive, lasting change. The APC is offering a wide open door to make this happen, young Nigerians should take it up.
Ahmed is the senior special assistant to the president on social investment programmes, and the interim national youth leader of the APC