Youth political participation is critical to stable democratic process and governance and understanding its dynamics could help in scientific characterisation and classification of different polities in being responsive and responsible administratively. In other words, democratisation in New Democracies is often strengthened and/or punctuated by the measures of its all-inclusiveness of youth. Specifically, today there is in broader, albeit, ambiguous ways, a general resurgence in youth political activism in political parties, voting, social media political engagement, etc. The focus of this study is predicated on examining the role of political parties, (social) media, trust and domineering influence of godfathers in explaining the general resurgence in youth political activism, especially within the context of increasing voter turnout and voter registration in Sokoto state. The study specifically examines the role of political parties and (social) media in strengthening youth political participation in Sokoto; explores the extent to which trust in political parties and electoral institutions influence youth political participation in Sokoto State; and analyses the factor of godfathers as dominant political actors in youth political participation. Methodologically, the study employs mixed methods research design, in which qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection, sampling and data analysis were simultaneously employed. In the use of qualitative methods, KII and FGD were employed as instruments of data collection, while in quantitative methods; survey questionnaires were used to collect data. Simple descriptive statistics was used in the presentation and analysis of quantitative data. For qualitative data, four stages of analysis recommended by Connolly (2003) were employed. Six LGAs were sampled, two each from the three Senatorial Districts.
Based on presentation and analysis of the empirical data, the study among other findings establishes that political parties as the important pillars of political activities are the platforms for youth political participation in Sokoto State. Majority of youth in the state identify with political parties as registered members and supporters and in participating in party activities such as party primaries, congresses, and membership mobilisation and election campaigns. However, despite their overwhelming support to political parties, youth could not participate as party candidates during elections. This limits the role of parties in driving youth political participation in Sokoto. Other factors that limit participation in party activities include, political violence, lack of internal party democracy, high cost of party activities, etc.; the level of youth political participation in Sokoto is higher. Despite this encouraging finding, however, over 72% of the youth had never contested any election for the very reasons of high cost of politics, domineering influence of godfathers, religious and cultural reasons and lack of godfather support; majority of youth in Sokoto use all the categories of social media (82%)—Twitter, Telegram, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, etc.—for various reason including entertainment, enlightenment, communicate with family members, business, political activities, etc. This offers great prospects to improve youth political participation; there is an apparent low trust in political institutions among the youth. Across the state, INEC, political parties and Government as pillars of political participation are not trusted by the youth. The main reasons for low trust in political parties include, lack of internal democracy, dominance of godfathers and other political elites. While for INEC, the reasons for low trust are poor conduct of elections, election rigging and cumbersome election procedures. And, for the Government, the reasons for low trust include corruption, nepotism, high level of insecurity and not addressing people’s needs and aspirations; godfathers as dominant political actors control Sokoto politics and governance at the detriment of youth political participation. The reasons for their dominance are high levels of education, financial and political influence. They are dominant because they are gatekeepers of political space and the political ecosystem of Sokoto and provide huge financial support to party and Government activities. Based on their gatekeeping activities, such as organising and perpetuating political violence, controlling political party machineries, controlling elected and appointed office holders, denying other people outside their cycles access to politics and undermining politically aspiring individuals, godfathers obliterate youth political participation.
The study thus recommends that parties’ activities should be professionally regulated. Constitutionally INEC is responsible for such regulatory functions. However, such functions should be strengthened in order to ease the tension of dominance and excessive monetisation of Nigeria's political space. This will help in liberalising the political ecosystem to strengthen youth political participation at state levels; there should also be massive advocacy and sensitisation programmes by CSOs and other stakeholders on youth to enable them embrace tertiary education as it provides huge opportunities for economic empowerment and political participation. Overall, it will translate into better and more productive youth political participation in Sokoto. When youth are empowered educationally they will be rational and self-conscientious in their political activities; the social media offers great opportunity for strengthening youth political participation. This is because in Sokoto majority of youth use social media for various reasons. Thus youth’s use of social media should be professionally managed to enable them participate politically and employ social media handles for political reasons rather than mere entertainment. Political parties and Government should established professional Social Media Offices to handle such matters. Adequate training should be given to the officers, including training of youth in different capacities to use social media politically professionally. Through this, the negative effects of social media as instrument of fake new, violence and conflict could be minimised; security agencies managing political activities should be adequately trained. This will enhance their professional conduct and nib in the bud any potentials for violence. Similarly, adequate security should always be provided during the conduct of any political activity, such as campaigns, party primaries and congresses, and general elections; political party management and activities should be reformed in such a way that excessive use of money, for example for the purchase of forms for party primaries and congresses is controlled. Similarly, party constitution should be amended to ease youth political participation. Thus beyond the appointment of a Woman Leader and Youth Leader, certain key political offices in party structures and organs should be reserved for youth. This will help to break the domineering influence of godfathers and ease the tension of control and gatekeeping of the political space. In all these issues, socio-political context is an existential reality that defines historical and contemporary political contours and ecosystem of governance. Accordingly, political culture of Sokoto being predominantly parochial and traditional to a large extent explains the current scenario of youth political participation. In this context, it is important that primary focus in advocacy and sensitisation be given to socio-political orientation on political participation. This would help to further liberalise the political space for youth participation, including women participation in key political activities. The advocacy should also be extended to political elites (godfathers) who strongly control the political space, often, outside the dictate of party constitutions.
In conclusion, the study argues that though breaking the stronghold of godfathers of the political space and political parties seems to be somewhat herculean, however, steady reforms in the structures of political space and adequate regulation of the activities of political parties, which are the mechanisms of the whole democratic system and for youth political participation, could break that stronghold and ease the space and tension for youth to also hold the keys to gates of political activities. The critical reform is to strengthen INCE regulatory functions and to amend party constitutions in order to improve youth political participation in all areas of political party activities, including party primaries, congresses, membership, party finance, campaigns, etc. overall, there is also need for massive advocacy and sensitisation across the state in order to break the social values of parochialism as such political culture directly inhibit functional youth political participation, including women participation.