Increasing Youth and Female Political Participation in Lagos through Community Organizing
Despite Lagos State having the highest number of registered voters in Nigeria, it had an overall voter turnout of just 35.6% and one of the lowest youth voter turnouts in the country in the 2019 elections. This low level of youth participation in politics, especially of young women, necessitated the Community Organizing Training for 40 young female organizers in the state.
The Community Organizing Training which was held over a span of four days was designed to equip 40 young female civic activists, community organisers, and members of political parties in direct action organizing, leadership, advocacy, storytelling, public narrative, coalition building, and community mobilization. This is to build their capacity with relevant skills needed to engage stakeholders effectively and lead successful advocacy campaigns.
Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs, Cynthia Mbamalu opened the training by introducing the participants to the community mantras of leadership, identity, action, responsibility, power, relationship, and shared purpose, explaining what each one meant in the context of community organising.
She also spoke about female pacesetters in Nigeria, particularly touching on the stories of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hajara Gambo Sawaba, and Margaret Ekpo.
She also gave a presentation on self-identity and personal identity, quoting Oprah Winfrey who said, “Often we don’t realise who we’re meant to be because we are so busy trying to live out someone else’s ideas”.
Yiaga Africa’s Board Member and Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform, Ezenwa Nwagwu facilitated a session with the participants on why young women’s participation in Lagos is important for building a democracy. He encouraged them to increase their knowledge of politics and happenings around them to become more politically involved.
“What will radicalise you is knowledge. Participation becomes difficult and almost impossible if you don’t take time to acquire knowledge,” he said.
There was also a presentation by Prof. Surajudeen Mudasiru of the Department of Political Science of Lagos State University who provided the participants with the state of women and youth political participation to drive home the urgency to increase participation.
“There are opportunities out there for women these days, but you have to step out and take them,” he advised.
The four-day training included sessions on finding their identity, organizing as a leadership practice, how to mobilise shared values, and building power through relationships. There were also sessions that focused on how to build leadership teams for advocacy campaigns and how to use storytelling and public narratives to mobilise people to action and create a link between how things are and how they will want them to be.
During his session which reflected on social movements and organizing in Nigeria, Yiaga Africa’s Executive Director Samson Itodo encouraged the participants to be adventurous and take risks in their work as activists and organisers.
“Your comfort zone is your worst enemy and the door of opportunities to find purpose is risk-taking,” he said.
Three alumnae of the previous Community Organizing Training held in Lagos State in March also had a session to share their experiences of the training and how they have been applying the training in their work. While Obianuju Precious spoke of how she used the knowledge she had gained from the training to organise volunteers to support the Independent National Electoral Commission in Ikorodu Local Government Area with registering citizens during the just-concluded Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, Akinola Shasanya narrated his experience in organising the young people in his community to push for the establishment of a community health centre by the Agege Local Government Council.
This was the question posed to Charles Onyemachi and Matthew Ayibakuro of the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) who are funding the TurnUp Democracy project under which the Community Organising Training is being implemented, in an interactive session moderated by Mayowa Adeniran.
“A democracy is only as strong as the participation of all its constituent groups. Yet, despite women making up 51% of the population and of registered voters, less than 6% of elected and appointed officials in Nigeria are women. We obviously need to fix that,” said Matthew Ayibakuro.
The participants also had the opportunity to put their learnings into practice as they were grouped and tasked to create names and slogans for their groups and to develop a mock advocacy campaign plan. The plan focused on defining the advocacy issue, the strategy for tackling it, and stakeholder mapping.
These plans were presented before their colleagues and facilitators, who provided them with feedback to improve their organising skills.
The Community Organizing Training is an initiative of Yiaga Africa under its Turn Up Democracy project which is supported by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) aimed at empowering citizens with information and tools for civic engagement, thereby enhancing the quality of their participation in democratic processes at all levels.