On August 12, the world marked International Youth Day- a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize efforts of the world’s youth in enhancing global society. It also aims to promote ways to engage young people in becoming more actively involved in making contributions to their communities. Perhaps, even more importantly, International Day of the Youth is celebrated annually for governments and others to draw attention to youth issues worldwide.
With 1.8billion of the world’s population being between the ages of 10 24, it goes without saying that any country serious about sustainable development must create opportunities for her youth to be actively involved in influencing, shaping, designing and contributing to policy making.
An article by the United Nations revealed that in the world’s 48 least developed countries, children and adolescents make up a majority of the population. Too many of these young people see their potential hindered by extreme poverty, discrimination, and inequality.
On the celebration of International Youth Day 2016, Amplified Radio, in collaboration with the World Movement for Democracy (AMD) sought the opinion of youth development expert, Samson Itodo, on the role of youth movements in achieving #Agenda2030. Samson Itodo is the Head Research Policy and Advocacy at the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA).
How has the Buhari Administration fared in youth development in the past one year?
Samson Itodo : In doing a proper assessment, you have to look at several indicators and also stratify your analysis based on different aspects of government. Youth participation in the Buhari administration has been very poor. The youngest Minister in President Buhari’s cabinet- the FCT Minister- is 50 years old. That is completely above the youth age. We have a youth Minister who is about 52 years old. You don’t have anyone within the youth age in the Federal cabinet and that is the highest level of government when you talk about the Executive. The President hasn’t fulfilled his promise of ensuring an increase in youth participation in elective or appointive offices, so to speak. If you look at the political party level, we also have that trend of young people not being engaged playing out.
We are facing dire economic difficulties as a nation. The Minister of Finance said we are in some kind of technical recession. We are recording job losses every day. Although the government has launched a social security program but we await the commencement of the implementation of this program. We hope this program will meet its target of reducing poverty, addressing inequality and enhancing human capital development. So, these are some of the issues. But, quite frankly, if we don’t fix the economy, there is no way to reduce poverty, there is no way to reduce inequality and there is no way to address the unemployment challenge confronting us as a people. Things are quite bad for us as a country. Young people are not happy.
Afrobarometer conducted a survey in 36 countries and the report revealed a wide gap between aspirations set forth in the AU policy framework and the reality of youth political engagement in Africa today. Why do these gaps still exist in spite of the strides made by youth groups like yours and even government at that level? Why have we been unable to hit that target?
Samson Itodo: We will continue to retrogress if the key drivers- those in positions of authority- who have the moral and legal duty to ensure that they harness the potentials of their citizens are resources to enhance development fail to perform their functions creditably well. If there is no political will on the part of the state, retrogression will continue. If the state is not also accountable in the performance of its social contract, you will continue to see this gap widen. And of course, we have corruption which is the bane of our development. As much this government is positioned towards addressing corruption, as much as that it laudable, it is not enough to take Nigeria from point A to B. That is not enough to create those jobs. That is not enough to provide security. That is not enough to address our environmental crisis. That is not enough to address our economic challenges. There is more that fighting corruptions. These reforms have to be introduced.
On the part of citizens, we also have a critical role to play. Young people do have a critical role to play. Joining political parties is one. Being an active citizen and paying taxes is one. Holding your government accountable- local government chairman, Councilor, elected representative- we all have a role to play if we want to close this gap.
What is the status of youth political engagement in Nigeria?
Samson Itodo: Well, to an extent, we are making incremental progress. To an extent, we have recorded increasing number of young people who are getting interested in participating beyond the 2015 elections. We have also seen young people who are getting involved in holding government accountable, who are working in various sectors and holding strong leadership positions. We are seeing that increase. But the level of turnout of young voters during elections is dwindling. And that should be a source of worry for everyone who is involved in this. The level of youth engagement or participation in political parties is also very poor. This could be attributed to lack of internal party democracy, the zero sum nature of our politics where the winner takes all, and of course electoral violence. You also look at the lack of transparency and accountability in the management of our elections. These are factors that undermine young people’s capacity to get politically active and participate. We have a legal environment that is hostile to young people and that ties to #NotTooYoungToRun, where we have constitutional impediments in the form of age restrictions in running for office which excludes young people completely. That also needs to be addressed. We also have things like campaign spending limits that are not in any way enforced. So, there are various factors that actually ensure that young people do not get only politically inactive but are not able to impact or influence decision-making at the party, local government, state or national level.
But what we have also seen is active citizenship on the part of young people. There is the evolution of very strong social movements who are tied around promoting democratic accountability at all levels. I think to an extent, we need to give young people credit for pushing, advocating and engaging. That is the kind of active citizenship you need if you must protect or defend democracy. A typical example is the movement across the universities where young people and students are galvanizing interests to protest against draconian policies of their institutions which are anti-youth. That was how we got our independence. That was how we go our democracy. And that spirit of civic activism needs to be encouraged, strengthened and properly institutionalized. We must evolve with that culture from a very tender age that civic activism is very essential for the protection of democracy.
What is the Status of #NotTooYoungToRun?
Samson Itodo: #NotTooYoungToRun is a campaign that seeks to reduce the age for running for elective offices in Nigeria. Across Africa, we have age restrictions included in policies and constitutional instruments that prevent young people from contesting for elections. So, what #NotTooYoungToRun simply says is that young people are not just numbers. We have the capacity to run for office. It is not about being youth. It’s about the ability and value that we bring. Our innovation and resilience; those are the attributes, the qualities, factors or indicators needed for leadership. Democracy is not government of the elderly by the elderly or for the elderly. Democracy is government of the people. Young people are part of the cohort called the people. So, they should be part of the democratic process, and not be used as just campaign instruments and cheerleaders. They should get active and get into the turf of politics and make an impact; not because they are young but because there is a value young people bring to the table. Nations that have advanced from developing or underdeveloped are nations who have been able to tap into the resource of young people. The Asian tigers are typical examples. In 1970, we had Singapore, Malaysia, China and the Japan. What they did in the 70’s was to tap into the potentials of their huge youth population. What they did was to empower their youth with qualitative education, and made them very competitive. So if you have more that 70 or 80% of our population dominated by young people, then that’s your most productive workforce. You need them to drive the economy which enhances and to an extent guarantees development.
What is the role of youth movements in the actualization of #Agenda2030?
Samson Itodo: First, we have got the SDGs. Our duty is to hold government accountable to perform their duty by implementing the SDGs. The SDGs, if achieved, can enhance development, address poverty, inequality, education, injustice, etc. Our role as youth movements is to mobilize young people, first to understand what the SDGs are and how they are connected to voting and elections. All you do at elections by voting for candidates is to say, ‘hey, I am voting you to take decisions on my behalf and better my life’. The dividends of democracy are basically what we have spread across the SDGs. So, we have to mobilize young people, monitor the implementation of the SDGs and ensure government performs its statutory duty. There is a linkage between SDGs and chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution which is the directive principles of state policy and fundamental objectives. This is the basis for the establishment of government. So, if there is a correlation between the SDGs and chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution, then we have a duty to ensure that the government which is instituted to protect our security and welfare is held accountable. So that’s what principally, we will continue to do- promoting accountability in the implementation of the SDGs.
What is your message for African and Nigerian Youths on #IYD2016?
Samson Itodo: We are in very difficult times as a continent and as a country. We are faced with economic hardships, insecurity, poverty, lack of access to education and health services. In all of these challenges, the solutions lie in us. We have the capacity to develop afro-centric solutions to the afro-centric problems that confront us as a country and a people. The solutions are within Africa and we have the capacity to address those challenges. I am very confident that as young people we have a huge role to play. The future is ours to build and we must start building that future now.
For more on #NotTooYoungToRun, visit: www.yiaga.org/nottooyoungtorun