Octagon Session: The need for more young people in politics

Welcome to the Octagon Session.

The Octagon: We appreciate your taking time out to join this chat session. We have two moderators in the room who will only offer guidance where necessary. Please feel free to openly share your thoughts and experiences.
Let’s begin with some introductions before going into the discussion. Can everyone let us know who they are and share a bit about what they do? Thank you.

 

Kingsley: My name is Kingsley Ewetuya and I am a Project Engineer and Interface Manager in what’s left of the Oil Industry.

Ishan: Hi everyone. My name is Ishan. I’m a strategy and business development consultant. I have spent a good part of the last 11yrs working in the political sphere, more specifically in and around the presidency.

Seun: I am Oluseun Onigbinde, Lead Partner, BudgIT

Dare: Hello everyone, I am Dare Aliu, I am a power Engr. Team Lead of power at Honeywell group and EA to the chairman. I am passionate about the possibility of a Nigeria where things actually work . I have narrowed that passion to seeing the power sector work.

Banks: My name is Bamikole Omishore, better known as Banks. Special Assistant on New Media and Advocacy to Senate President. Strategist by volition . Been working with Senator Saraki for 5 years. I like to think of myself more as a serial investor.

Gbenga: I’m Gbenga Olorunpomi. A Digital Marketer and political animal. I currently serve at the pleasure of the Kogi State Governor as his Senior Special Assistant on New Media. I’m an incurable optimist and a lover of innovation and dancing.

Tega: I’m O’tega, a passionate Nigerian citizen who tries to know a bit about everything. I’m currently the Group Head for Corporate Communications at one of Nigeria’s largest homegrown conglomerates, BUA Group.

Mark Amaza: *

 

The Octagon: Thanks for the introduction.

Having been taught that democracy is “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, one of the major challenges facing democracy this century is how to translate citizen demands into responsive and accountable politics.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population and yet decreasing levels of youth participation in elections and shrinking membership in political parties. Surveys have shown that whilst trust of government is low, trust in public services is generally high amongst young people.

Why don’t we have enough young people in politics? Has Nigerian politics discouraged the inclusion of young people? Is It important to have more young people in government? How can we get more Young people interested in holding political office?

 

Banks: First we have to clearly define what group or who qualifies as young/youth. I honestly think Nigeria has a different definition for youth than the rest of the world.

Tega: By young people do you mean those aged 15 – 25 like you initially pointed out or are we expanding that to include those aged 25 – 35 years (or even 45 like some of our political parties’ youth reps)?

Dare: “While recognizing that member states use different chronologies to define youth, the United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 with all UN statistics based on this range, the UN states education as a source for theses statistics. The UN also recognizes that this varies without prejudice to other age groups listed by member states such as 18-30. A useful distinction within the UN itself can be made between teenagers (i.e. those between the ages of 13 and 19) and young adults (those between the ages of 18 and 32).The UN also states they are aware that several definitions exist for youth within UN entities such as Youth Habitat 15-32 and African Youth Charter 15-35.”

Gbenga: Young people will only participate in activities they find interesting, profitable and appealing. I think the brand of politics and the quality of leadership before 2011 wasn’t exciting or inviting enough to attract the attention of young people. I don’t think we give enough credit to those who dreamt up and actualized Team Ribadu in 2010. That movement was built and sustained by social media. It had representation in every sate of the country and all the participants shared stories and encouraged each other. Many are still in touch today, 6 years after the launch of the movement. The perceived competence and incorruptibility of the man at the centre and the collective anger at the status quo ensured that young professionals gave up their time and resources to support a political cause. True, many had diverse ideologies and wanted different things but we all agreed that corruption had to go and professionalism had to return to leadership. I often imagine if we had allowed that group to grow beyond that man.

Tega: Haha. Gbenga, people must eat.

Gbenga: You’re right. Poverty and helplessness also play a role. So, what we need is a system that quickly empowers and educates the masses in the shortest time.

Seun: Poverty is a key challenge and politicians use it as leverage. This makes our politics more expensive.

Ishan: I agree with Gbenga. The short cut is a mass enlightenment campaign. The more people that are aware and knowledgeable, the more of a chance guys like you will be elected to office.

Kingsley: There are two institutional barriers to entry, that need to be uprooted.

  1. Financial: purchasing even the registration forms is independently unaffordable for most people. Even our President said he had to take a loan. We need campaign finance reform.
  2. Political: Two subsets here: We have a policy of indigenization which makes it almost impossible for people to seek office in their state of residency rather than origin. That needs to go.

Also, there is no allowance for independent candidacy. This means that the political future youths are subject to the whims of party powers who simply aren’t ready to let go.

Dare: Kingsley, thanks for highlighting those two points. However I must reiterate that finance is the key factor that prevents the youth from engaging in active politics. The United States which represents the most advanced democracy has done its best limit the effect of finance in elections but still have a long way to go. Until we can reasonably separate entry into the political sphere and deep pockets, the youth will remain at the mercy of the older generation.

Seun: Our brand of politics is too expensive and does not appreciate ideas but slogan. This is why I think young people find it hard to enter politics.

Tega: Putting this issue at the doorstep of finance especially is one way we as young people ‘lie’ to ourselves and exclude us from the political process. Who says you have to be ‘elected’ to actually make your voice heard and impact felt in Nigerian politics – as an insider or otherwise?

Banks: I strongly agree with Otega that you don’t have to be elected to make a difference. You can work your way up but it is very easy to get consumed.

Ishan: I believe the biggest turn off to the younger ones is the fact that they feel their voices are not heard. Most feel it’s a waste of time advocating for anything because nothing ever changes. Which is truly as a result of lack of education and knowledge on our system of government and how to go about registering grievances and following up. Secondly, I think we as a people not just in Nigeria but around the world, have become SELFISH. Less and less people understand the concept of sacrifice. More of today’s youth are more interested in what job they can get, how much they can make etc. Very few people are willing to make the sacrifices it truly takes to serve the people.

Tega: It’s more of a mind thing and as @Ishan rightly said, selfishness. The average young person is not interested in driving change from the community level – I doubt they even know where the Local Governments of their residences are.

Kingsley: Ishan, I think part of the problem you highlight is the fact that Nigerian politics has no ideological underpinning. We’re in the heat of the US elections for instance and there is a palpable ideological distinction between the two major candidates  (also one happens to be clinically insane but I digress). In Nigeria, the truth is there is no ideological difference among our parties. It’s a contest of personalities.

Banks: There needs to be a clear definition of youth. During the last election, I remember why a candidate emerged as youth leader was mainly because they said he could relate with the young folks and the argument was age wasn’t a clear definition of youth.

Also, with the present NotTooYoungToRun Bill in the House of Reps sponsored by Tony Nwulu of PDP in Lagos, if passed we will be able to clearly define age requirements for different posts and in most cases reduce the age to contest for different elective post.

Independent candidate is definitely another important hurdle we do need to cross, I read a copy of the Bill by Stella Oduah who is seeking to amend that portion of electoral act, If at all we will get more young people into active politics then we need to find ways of getting these two critical bills passed and assented to.

Yes finance is key, and campaign and election finance reform is key but more importantly we need to find ways to get our elections to be ideology driven instead of money driven, then we can have more young people run for office while other young folks with same ideology can join forces to raise funds to get them elected.

Dare: We as youth also need to find a way to come together. We are all over the place. We need a rally point or a rally person (e.g the Ribadu example).

Ishan: I don’t completely agree with finance being a key issue, simply because there is a starting point for every politician. The big money is spent in the presidential and governorship electioneering process. But most of the other guys holding office were “broke” before they got into office. Most borrowed funds to execute their elections. So funding is not a hindrance because there is always a way to solve that problem irrespective of age or class as the Nigerian polity have taught us. Infact, anybody vying for office that can’t raise funds to execute his plans is useless to the electorate.

Kingsley: Ishan, it’s not about raising funds. It’s what the funds are used for. Only a few people have money to pay for a mass rice distribution in exchange for votes. An act which is illegal in sane climes. Most of funds raised are for political patronage not actual campaign expenditure. That’s a huge barrier.

Ishan: I see what you mean Kingsley. Although I see no difference between a Nigerian politician handing out rice during Sallah and an American one giving out jackets to homeless folk in winter or free turkeys at thanksgiving.

Kingsley: Ishan, Turkeys and the like are given to registered charities not the average man on the street.

Gbenga: We missed the opportunity to do this when oil was selling at high prices. We need a campaign that rewards hard work and ingenuity. Our media must shift its focus from celebrating leaders to celebrating the small miracles everyday people perform.

Seun: Well, the NottooYoungtoRun is our first chance.

Banks: There is nothing stopping young folks from having a strong group to lobby to get anything we want done in Nigeria. If truly we have the numbers. Then if we can agree principles that A and B is standard regardless of political affiliation. Even before campaign, we need to be able to influence process of selecting candidates.

Ishan: Banks is right. But finding people with the same ideological beliefs and values is key. In Nigeria for example. The same guys in the PDP went over to the APC and were elected to office and vice versa in past elections. What does that tell you? There is no clear-cut difference in ideology and thinking. There really are no choices. A republican can’t become a Democrat overnight and vice versa.

Dare: And finding people whose only compass isn’t their stomach or bank balance.

Banks: Last election, we sampled opinions on different candidates for elections in Kwara and I’m as much as most will follow the leadership structure of the state, the leadership knew the importance of having popular candidates so non-politicians like myself were commissioned to gather details of popular candidates. To me, that made ALL the difference. We won EVERY single position.

Tega: If only we could genuinely collaborate in a selfless manner for a greater good. If you have a movement and message that is strong enough, the funds will come  – either from those who truly believe in the vision or those who thing they can piggyback to influence you later.

Gbenga: Our national awards must be used to celebrate community heroes, not exalt thieves in power. I don’t see a problem with the way we select candidates. Probably the presidential, yes, but others – No. I met a man in his mid thirties about 6 years ago in Ojo, Lagos. He was the Community Secretary and had lived all his life in that area. Everyone knew him. He had no car when I met him while doing a story in that area. He was educated and exalted in that area. Nothing happened without his knowledge. When I heard the name Tajudeen Obasa announced as the House of Representatives member representing Ojo, I wasn’t surprised. He contested and won on the PDP platform. He went the hard route, bid his time and ran a solid campaign. Young people should do the same and not expect to be handed power simply because they are young. Power is never served A La Carte.

Banks: I strongly believe we need to move away from an era where few men select candidates. We need to go back to the grassroots and let people select those that will represent them. If I have the sole power to make you the governorship candidate or deputy, your loyalty will be to me and not necessarily to the people. Last election, we sampled opinions on different candidates for elections in Kwara and the leadership knew the importance of having popular candidates so, non-politicians like myself were commissioned to gather details of popular candidates. In my opinion, that made ALL the difference. We won EVERY single position.

Kingsley: I need to ask Banks and Gbenga who are currently serving. It appears that the political class have no vision of political upward mobility for our generation. We are at the age where they were in leadership positions decades ago, and yet today, they don’t see us occupying other meaningful roles beyond being SA’s here and there. As people who work directly with these leaders, can you give an insight into their vision for youth participation?

Tega: @Kingsley, That there, is the problem. We keep waiting for them to ‘have a vision of political upward mobility for us’. The Millenial false sense of entitlement syndrome. They owe us nothing.

Kingsley: I’m not saying we’re owed. Nobody is owed. However my point is if those currently in office don’t think us capable of leadership, they will continue to enforce these aforementioned barriers to entry.

Ishan: I assure you that no matter how small the office is that you start from, a bright light will always shine. I am a firm believer in that. Young folk don’t step forward. They’re not doing the grassroot work to enable them ascend one-day.

Gbenga: I work for a 41-year-old governor, who came to power in the most extraordinary way imaginable. However, he has done so much in so little time, taking advantage of all around him. He’s even taken advantage of his own inexperience to do a lot of things thought to be impossible.

Banks: Gbenga Gbenga Gbenga! Stop campaigning. Let us focus please.

Gbenga: This is not campaign, Sir. I’m only telling a story, to illustrate how being young is not enough but you must add grit and innovation. I’m the youngest appointee in this government. I’ll be 33 on Monday, yet everyone listens when I’m asked to contribute. And that is how it has worked for me: I wait to be asked. When disgruntled with any decision or action, I don’t throw tantrums. I simply go and meet the powers at their quiet time and offer my advice. This is what I believe more youths should do; learn to follow before they seek to lead.

Kingsley: I agree with that Gbenga, but I believe that if we remove certain institutional barriers, we’d have more of a meritocracy.

Tega: What institutional barriers if I may ask?

Kingsley: The ones I mentioned above, financial and political. For instance, let’s even say I want to start at the ward level. I was born and bred in Lagos. It’s all I’ve ever known. However, as currently constituted, my ward is in Delta State where my family hasn’t lived in decades. What exactly do I realistically want to tell the people of Delta? So I’m in limbo. Despite being born and raised in Lagos, I’m not a “Son of the Soil” and in Delta, I’m not authentically one of them. So what are we saying really?

Banks: If you like remove barrier from today till tomorrow. If we still don’t have our 1st eleven at the local level, we are not going anywhere as a nation. If you live in a community and you have the ears of your people you will know what the problem is. The problem is having the political will to do the right thing. @Kingsley, My guy, Tony from Imo is in House of Reps in Lagos. He is a sharp guy and for years was a grassroots guy. Faleke won election in Lagos and he is from Kogi.

Gbenga: Bad example. He never identified with Kogi until the last election. He served as LGA chair twice and House of Assembly member once before. Now, the Igbo guy who won as HOA member in Oshodi, great example.

Ishan: Obama tore down his own barriers. Trump did same for republican party and Hillary has done same. I don’t believe it’s anybody’s job to create an environment for me. I’m smart enough to read the environment in which I find myself, and navigate my way through it. If illiterates can do it, then why can’t I. If a bush man who can’t even use a computer in this day and age can find his way into office, and I can’t, then what does that make me?

Ishan: But Kingsley, in the last election, non-indigenes won elections in their state of residence. There are at least 3 that I am sure of in Lagos.  Two guys in the state House of Assembly and one guy in the House Of Reps – all Igbos.

Kingsley: Ishan this is only a recent phenomenon and they are few and far between. Show me an Igbo man getting elected in Kano despite all the Igbo traders there? ZIK was elected in Ibadan.

Banks: Working with Saraki, if you are interested you must pay your dues, folks from your local government must recommend you and if that happens then you get the chance. Presently over 45% of the work force in Senate president’s office are under 40. I am hoping next election that number will increase not just for appointments but for elective post as well. Nobody will ever give you leadership role, you must take it.

Ishan: Exactly BO. Politics in Nigeria at the grassroot level (which you must pass through to become a leader in future), is left to the failures. Because all those that passed exams prefer to get a job in Lagos or Abuja.

Tega: We owe ourselves a unity of vision, clear ideology and hard work building proper grassroots (not just Twitter) support.

Banks: To get more young people elected, we need to get them to be active in their areas.

Kingsley: Banks, but that’s my point. You’re saying 40% of the workforce are under 40 but Cameron just left Downing Street and he’s not yet 50! Obama wasn’t 50 when he was elected President.  At this rate, how many youths will enter office if that is the process of selection? Over here, the political pipeline starts from University.

Tega: Kingsley, Obama didn’t start at the national level. When he was in the youth bracket, he was busy as a community organizer. It starts from the grassroots as with all things young Nigeria’s these days, we are impatient to follow the process. We want to get to the top without passing through the ranks. In fact, change in Nigeria can only really start at the local level and that is where the youth don’t want to play.

Banks: There should be no process of selection, if you are very active politically in your Ward, you will be a force to reckon with and they can’t just pass you over.

Ishan: I happened to be a part of the screening committee for senators in kano state in the last elections, under one of the political parties. And one thing that send shivers down my spine everytime I think about it, is…..The best WAEC results in that hall was all F’s and one P. And those who had P’s had it in either hausa or Islamic religious studies. These are the only people that stepped forward to be elected. I kept asking “where is the guy that got at least one C in the whole of Kano?”.Why don’t those kind of guys contest? They exist, so where are they?

Gbenga: I believe they do. They just don’t see the big picture. We need to enlighten them to see how it is all connected – The environment, politics, education, respect, ethics. But, we must first be willing to break some unwritten rules. Rules like, Artisans are always crooks or lowlifes. Like any lady who chooses to be a dancer or a singer must be of easy virtue. That wealth is a requirement for leadership. All these rules, must be deliberately removed from our societies.

Banks: My boss says one thing all the time. Politics is local, we must ask ourselves how many of the youths that want to lead will like to start as Ward chairmen or local government chairman in one rural village? Everyone wants to be commissioner of finance but nobody wants to lead community effort in the rural areas. We must make elections about service not about financial gain.

Kingsley: I agree at starting at the ward. Banks, may I ask what local government area or ward your boss started out in?

Banks: You are right, he didn’t start at the local level because his family was already playing the local politics but we are talking of a way of moving forward hence we must start to do things this way.

 

The Octagon: Do we think that young Nigerians understand the problems with their communities and have the ability to proffer solutions?

For those who are passionate about the future of Nigeria but don’t necessarily want to run for government offices, is there a synergy that can be created? How can they support those who are committed to running?

 

Tega: Yes, we do. I imagine myself running for office one day. I don’t sit down and wait for me to be known as the young guy that tips when he passes through at night or that dude that lives there. I make effort to know the influencers around my neighborhood, meet and support community efforts, be genuinely concerned about things that are happening around. These days, if decisions need to be taken concerning the area, they sound me out – not because of who I am or where I work or who I helped but because they believe I have the community’s interest at heart. We have some of the smartest and most driven young people anywhere. We need to identify problems, collaborate and find solutions together. If you want to run and need support, sell your vision and make sure it is backed by action.

Ishan: Everybody in this room should be their community influencer. You have no excuses. If you are genuinely interested in Nigeria and change, you guys need to start positioning yourselves.

Gbenga: Yes. Think tanks, economic teams etc are for guys like this. We have these in Kogi state. However, we are so in need of creative ideas that we need everyone on board.

Tega: But, how influential are they?

Gbenga: Well, a group like this helped to end the Kogi State House of Assembly crisis and the ASUU strike. So, influential enough. But, maybe we need re-institutionalize them, story for another day.

Tega: That’s great.

Ishan: How influential you are, is down to your knowledge of what you are doing. We need a Nigerian solution for Nigeria and Nigerians. Cut and paste won’t work. Nigeria needs thinkers. REAL Engineering minds. People who see problems as a means to an end. Who embrace the problems because we need them to move forward. And proffer solutions rather than criticism.

Kingsley: Ishan, we have an implementation problem not a solution problem. Take the power sector, there have been many published papers on solutions to diversifying our energy mix which have collected dust. Our problems aren’t new and we aren’t special snowflakes.

Dare: Keyword is collaboration. We need a rally point after becoming influencers in our communities. We have thinkers, they are just quick to Quit. Look at Ransome, who led the formation of NERC . Amazing thinker but was weeded out by OBJ and he also quit on us when the heat was too much. He could have easily added another 10,000MW at the pace with which he started his job at NERC and FMOP.

Tega: I’d like to see a see a situation where the thinkers and the doers collaborate to push viable youth political platforms

Gbenga: Young people should just be unafraid to try new things. See how far Mr. Seun Onigbinde has come in a relatively short time. Government should find a way to reward and sustain creativity. Only way we can get out of the current economic and political problems we face.

Dare: We as the “youth” starting with US, need to continue to influence positive works and ideology in our locality, find ways to rally and collaborate with other influencers and thinkers to make up the numbers we need to make the actual change we desire and not the quack we are currently experiencing.

Banks: My take is, wherever you find yourself make a mark that they will be forced to want to get more young people.  With God, I was able to do that in 7th assembly which made it easy to get the go ahead to bring more young folks to bring innovative ideas into the 8th Senate. Folks that run the NGR Senate social media and the TV we will be launching soon are all under 25.

Tega: Well said. Change that happens on the keyboard (twitter change) without well grounded foot soldiers will only lead to nothing for us. Young people need to put in the hard work to become relevant in the political sphere. A shining light will always find a route of escape in the dark.

Banks: Great pleasure exchanging ideas with you guys.

Gbenga: Bless you all.

Dare: Well Done. Great minds. Cheers.

Kingsley: It was a pleasure discussing with you all, I learned a great deal and we should continue to exchange ideas more frequently.

Ishan: It would make sense to me if this group didn’t die. If this group became the rallying point for youth all across the country and the diaspora. We need to get people to love Nigeria again. Nigeria never hurt anybody. Nigeria gave you all you have. And continues to give.  It’s a few people that have been bad to us. But let us not hate the entity, Nigeria. The land is still among the most fertile in the world. The motherland is still on our side. We need to harness what she has given us and ride that horse to prosperity.

Kingsley: I was about to suggest just that.

Tega: Great exchange! Looking forward to working with some of you in the not-too-distant future.

The Octagon: Thank you for taking time out to be on the octagon. Brilliant conversation. We secretly don’t want it to end.

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