…The good news; we have the overwhelming support of youth votes….The bad news; the youth never bothers to vote- -Anonymous
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Similar to many other Nigerians that demonstrated keen interests in the Saturday 5th December, 2020, legislative by-elections in the Lagos East Senatorial district, organized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I participated in the electoral process for two reasons. The first is predicated on the consideration that democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people and that the power of the state resides in the people who elect leaders from among themselves into positions of authority to conduct the affairs of state. The second looks strange but important as it gave rise to this piece. It has to do with using the by-election (process and outcome) to confirm or contradict opposing comments made recently by a very senior Nigerian citizen and another Nigerian youth, at Ojota, Lagos Centre of the Endsars disturbance sorry campaign that rocked the nation a while ago of which the dust raised has refused to settle.
To this piece, participating in the election was chiefly to confirm or contradict the ingrained seriousness inherent in what Nigerian youths projected during the Endsars campaign, and it did contradict the seemingly youths resolve, It postured it as unsustainable and more than anything else, brought to the fore why youths may continue to find it difficult if not impossible making political progress in the country. On the other hand, the piece as subsequent paragraphs will reveal did confirm the fears of the elderly citizen. It upheld his argument that despite widening steps and the Endsars brouhaha, the factors that impedes youths from making political progress in the country are still alive and active. These factors come in three folds. First has to do with youths apathy toward political participation which in a broad sense consist of those voluntary activities by citizens that are intended to influence the selection government leaders or the decisions they make.The second focuses on youths inability to remain united for a very long time and failure to see anything wrong fraternizing with public officers that lack due care and those with culpable absence of solicitude in meeting or performing their political duties to the people.
The third and very fundamental projects Nigerian youths as a bunch that is medium in vision and ready to abandon collective creed for personal/pecuniary gains. To add context to the discourse, during the said conversation at Ojota, the aforementioned youth among other things stated that their decision to actively participate in the #EndSARS campaign was not taken hastily or rashly. But because there is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truth, and downright ignorance. Noting that the #EndSARS protest was rather a fight against deformed leadership, resource mismanagement and perennial egotism, and fired by the reality that the oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever, submitting that Nigerian youth will draw strength from the accounts of past sufferings such as the sufferings of the Isrealites in Egypt, the massacre of the jews by the Germans, the barbarity of the first and second world wars, enslavement of Africans, colonialism and apatheid.
At a glance, his position looks alluring. It is a position many would have loved to see come to fruition. It is indeed an ‘objective’ concern. Especially as the need for the nation to inject knowledgeable and well foresighted youths into positions of authority in the country to help ameliorate the present blow of inflation and recession, subsidize education, health, and create employment as well as guarantee security of lives and properties has become overwhelmingly urgent. However, while admitting the need for a generational change in leadership of the country from its head, the elderly citizen mentioned above contrary to expectation brought a sidelight dismissing the arguments by the youth. Not only did he described #EndSARS campaign as mere obsession but he went ahead to underline that it is imperative that each of us, whatever side we are on (youth or adult) begins to act like adults who can find real solutions instead of pointing the finger at others or running away crying because someone disagreed with us. Wisdom, he argued is acquired by living purposefully and objectively”.
The individual who knows where he or she is going and is determined to get there will find a way or create one. There is no grander sight in the world than that of an individual fired up with a great purpose, dominated by one unwavering aim. This is the missing link and major factor why Nigerian youths may continue not to make impact in the national sphere be it political or economic. He concluded. Indeed, as someone that will not support a movement based on sentiment or allow sentiment to determine his actions, the #EndSARS campaign was in my views well-intentioned but Nigeria youths demonstration of apathy and lack of support to any of their own (youths) among the bunch that contested both the Lagos state House of Assembly or the Senate in the just concluded by-elections practically laces their quest for new order as vague, uneven and ungraspable. By not using the by-election as an experimental subject (Guinea-Pig) to send signals to political elders of what is to come in 2023, Nigerian youths from the analysis of their recent action have further blurred their political vision and made their goals indistinct.
Even if they (youths) had during the protest enjoyed the support of well meaning Nigerians of diverse background, profession, religion and tribe, there appears in the opinion of this piece, there appear lack of comprehension on their part that the tragic political condition/challenges in the country demands neither luxury of political apathy nor leisurely approach to solution. The question this reality places before Nigeria youth today are: If they are to reform the system, what should be the overriding goals of their reforms? What do they really want to see happen that is quite different from today? How can the youths assist the nation address ‘obsolate team management structure’ called leadership style presently in the country that cares less about discipline and planning but concentrates on the working assumption that ‘doing is more important than thinking, and execution more important than generating breakthrough ideas?
How will they (youths) come up with more thorough leadership arrangement/styles that impose more discipline than conventional, promote successful decision making processes built on a higher quality of information, and create government institutions that collaborate with private sectors and civil society in the race for massive infrastructural development while promoting transparency- the cornerstone of leadership? While providing answers to these questions will be gratifying, the youths must in the interim recognize that to produce change, they must be organized and develop potentials that are politically new, something that is not yet known and not in existence, which will establish new political configurations in their units of powers. More importantly, they should understand that in everything under the sun, there are limits. As insults cannot win arguments, protests on its part neither wins the war nor helps the candidate emerge victorious at elections. For those who know, even if it appears to do so, it is at best temporal. This piece holds the opinion that the only way youths can gain political relevance and effect political change is through active participation in the nation’s political processes using their population and demographic advantages. Failure to do this will continue to render their quest for new order in the country as elusive efforts. It’s up to Nigerian youth.
• Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.