by Atom Lim
The new cool is ‘activists’ accusing the rest of the Nigerian youth population of lacking interest in politics and not being involved, often without any proof.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about youth participation in politics. Every youth campaigner seems to be singing the song. Commentators like Ohimai Amaize have hammered on the need for the youth to be involved in politics, especially as 2015 draws near.
At this year’s The Future Nigeria Youth Symposium, youth participation in politics and governance was again the main issue. From discussions with some of our brightest youth leadership prospects, I got the sense that we (online youths) are very condescending in our approach to the issue of youth participation.
On Twitter and political blogs, the new cool is ‘activists’ accusing the rest of the Nigerian youth population of lacking interest in politics and not being involved, often without any proof.
I don’t know where they get their statistics from. I don’t know why they think numbers of young Nigerians active in politics are not adequate but these activists assume that youth involvement in politics is low. Like with many other issues in Nigeria, they have no evidential basis upon which to build the argument. Yet, they continue to flood the advocacy landscape with condescending calls for youth participation in politics. I would normally not have any problem with these calls if some people didn’t take it upon themselves to make the rest of us look inactive and irrelevant. I am growing sick of our ignorance, and arrogance.
The way I see it, those advocates of youth participation have refused to accept that the 30-year old party leader in Okene is a youth perhaps because he is not on Twitter pontificating Nigeria’s problems and how Jonathan is clueless or how Buhari is a blood-thirsty loser.
They define youth as anyone between the ages of 18 and 35. Yet, they refuse to accept the fact that at any given political rally since 1999, the majority of attendees fall within this age bracket.
They fail to see that young people dominate all aspects of our electoral processes; that in the conduct of elections, an overwhelmingly high percentage of all election staff are young people, corps members in many cases; that the bulk of the security agents who monitor elections are below 35 years old and therefore youth; that the youth vote holds sway in voting; that it is young people who are thugs and whether we like it or not, we cannot disown them. Perhaps the only area where youths seem to lag behind is political leadership but even this is contestable when you look at the amazing number of young people running for office at local and state levels in the north for instance.
It is only when we remove these ‘offline youths’ from the equation that we imagine there is a youth participation in politics problem.
To put it bluntly, I don’t think the advocates of youth participation in politics clearly understand the issue. The issue is not that the numbers are low. It is that the quality of youth involvement is low. This is why the impact of youth participation in politics is also low. But does low impact equate to low participation? Absolutely not.
Instead of focusing on an issue that doesn’t quite exist and in this case low youth participation, I think we are better served if we begin to put our energies and resources into improving the capacity of youths involved in politics and electoral processes.
There is sense in mobilizing the more enlightened youth, many of who are politically active on social networks but are hardly involved in actual politics. But to act as if they are all that matter and worse still to assume that because they are not involved, youth participation is ultimately low, is to be truly ignorant and arrogant. Our real challenge is to connect with the ‘other’ youth who are offline but actively engaged in politics, and in large numbers too.
P.S: My big brother and friend, Alkassim Abdulkadir, wants me to run for elective office in 2015. Alkayy first mooted this when we met in Abuja in February this year. He raised the issue again during the The Future Project’s National Youth Symposium in Ekiti early this month. Now I am seriously thinking about building a political career; but not for2015.
Atom Lim is a Nigerian media and communications practitioner. He worked at NEXT publications as a sub-editor before joining the Africa Leadership Forum as web and publications editor. Lim is a regular social commentator, and a registered member of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and he tweets from @atomlim
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.