Professor Attahiru Jega, immediate past Chairperson of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) bounced back into the Nigerian public sphere at the weekend insisting on placing the youth at the centre of politics/public life in Nigeria, saying it is a contradiction for the youths who are a demographic majority to be a political minority. Jega who has returned to his base at Bayero University, Kano as a Professor of Political Science has been in and out of Nigeria on intellectual reflections in a few universities around the world after presiding over the 2015 elections.
Delivering the 5th Convocation Lecture of Nile University in Abuja Friday, Prof Jega argued that the role of key stakeholders such as the youth in shaping the future of Nigeria is the question to pose at a time of vociferous calls for “restructuring”, “true federalism”, “actualization of Biafra” and accompanying unconstitutional hate-inducing ultimatums as additions to the humongous cases of corruption and the executive-legislative imbroglio over budgetary appropriation and its implementation.
Placing his contribution in on-going discourses such as the African Union’s thematic focus on “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in the Youth” in its 2017 Summit and the notion of a “Youth Bulge” in Africa, Jega drew attention to the danger “in allowing the youth to be disconnected, or to dissipate energy in divisive politics, or get preoccupied in criminality and self-serving pursuits”. He is sure such is a recipe for national disaster and doom for any country, particularly a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria. The earlier Nigeria realized this and focus attention on addressing the concerns and predicament of the youths, the better it would be for her, he said, calling for better channeling of into productive engagements of the boundless energy, creativity and resourcefulness of the youth.
Situating the youths as an essential ingredient of politics, the Political Scientist condemned relegation of the role of youths in politics to merely being mobilized as “cannon fodder in the arsenal of reckless political gladiators”, a language usage that shows that the INEC Chairmanship has not affected what some might call the essential Jega as far as principles are concerned. He similarly lamented the failure of educational policies to address youth needs and aspirations just as economic policies undermine their potentials and dampen their spirits while, in his words, national development policies ignore their input, engagement and roles.
Insisting on the importance of seriously interrogating ‘Why this is so’, especially here in Nigeria and ‘why it shouldn’t be so’, Prof Jega stepped out of rigid academic protocols that envelopes such presentations, to put seven of what people in the policy mill would love to call practical or concrete suggestions on the table regarding how to go about deliberately adding value to the youths in Nigeria.
Among these are the adoption of a “positive youth development approach”, which recognizes youth as active participants in societal development rather than passive recipients of largesse doled out by anybody; an urgent review of the National Youth Policy towards serious programs targeted at satisfying the needs and aspirations of the youth, with their active participation; review of youth employment and empowerment programs and projects for greater effectiveness in meeting objective goals and efforts towards systematic removal of all barriers to effective youth participation in the Nigerian political economy.
Others are the creation and, with time, institutionalization of a Nigerian Youth Interactive Forum which meets annually or biennially and through which leading public officials would meet representatives of the youth, enable voices of the youth to find expression into the center of governance and to drive change; the introduction of internship schemes by the three arms of government (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) for youth, especially those in tertiary institutions during long vacation periods, the sort of thing going on around the world in favour of youth exposure, development of self-confidence as well as acquisition of gainful skills and, lastly, the implementation by the Federal government of all AU resolutions/ decisions for youth engagement, empowerment and employment, particularly the Resolution of the AU Summit of heads of States, which required member states to endeavor to reduce youth unemployment by 2% per year from 2009 – 2018.
Jega argued that the marginalization of youth and their disempowerment cannot be adequately addressed unless and until more and more young people, both men and women, engaged in the political, legislative as well as policy and governance processes, a process for which he demands reconnecting with the youth, empowering them, mentoring them responsibly, giving them responsible leadership roles and enabling them become the key change agents for Nigeria’s stability, unity, progress and development. “Young people cannot afford to be apolitical, apathetic and indifferent to what is happening in governance and in the larger political economy”, Jega maintained, asserting the need for them to get engaged and involved and for which he further called for effective mechanisms and platforms to be established to nurture and mobilize youth engagement in the wider political and policy-making processes.
For those who might be thinking of sneaking into the youth age range in anticipation of what this powerful advocacy might achieve for the youths in spite of their age last birthday, they will be disappointed. Jega’s conceptual framework of who qualifies to be there would not admit them if they are older than 35 years of age. Relying on African Union and United Nations definitions and other texts, Jega said no matter how all such definitions were stretched, “youths are primarily those in the age category of 15 – 35 years”. Bad luck for potential generational hustlers.