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Youth political participation, good governance and social inclusion

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Let us see what youths authentic participation in politics could achieve.

By Valentine Obienyem

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Let me start by thanking the organisers of this event for their thoughtfulness. The topic is also apt, considering the current development worldwide, which we shall come back to after asking a basic and relevant question: who is a youth?

The Youth

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I find it expedient to start with this question because it has become customary for old people of over 50 to pass off as youths when The African Youth Charter defines youth as an individual between the ages of 15 and 35; while the Nigerian Youth Policy categorizes them in the 18-35 years bracket.

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Daily we are inundated with such declarations as “The future belongs to the youth”, “The youth are the leaders of tomorrow”, “A Nation that neglects its youths is bound to fail”, and so on. As far back as we can pry into history, we read of great philosophers making profound statements about the youth. For instance, Euripides said: “Who so neglects learning in his youth loses the past and is dead to the future”; while Benjamin Disraeli asserted that “the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”. For Benjamin Franklin, “reckless youth makes rueful age”. Embedded in each of this saying is the fact that the youth is associated with the future.

To demonstrate how central the youth are, many Popes have written Encyclicals on the subject-matter. In his Encyclical “Divini Illius Magistri” (On Christian Education of Youths), Pope Pius XI wrote on the need for assiduous care and timely instructions in the Christian education of youths. In 1985 – the International Youth Year – Pope John Paul II addressed an Apostolic Letter, “Dilecti Amici”, to the youth. Among others, he noted that the Church pays special attention to the youth because they define the future. It was also he that instituted the triennial World Youth Day, which has been followed religiously by his successor-Popes. Inspired by this initiative, the United Nations Organization from the year 2000, set aside the 12th of August to celebrate International Youth Day to draw attention to issues affecting the youth.

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As a student in the Minor Seminary, I read voraciously, including the writings of senior seminarians. I recall an article on the youth by Rev. Fr. Hyginus Aghaulor [not a Priest at that time]. He likened the youth to a flood, which ordinarily is destructive, but submitted that once dykes and culverts are constructed, we would have tamed the irrationality of the flood. He also noted that the once ‘mad’ flood could be channeled into utility values such as irrigation and dams. Properly guided, youths are sources of blessings to the society. If they are groomed to discover themselves, they can lead responsible and value-added lives. The youth can provide their own guidance.

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The youthful age possesses a lot of hidden treasures, which, to paraphrase Shakespeare, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Careless living and lack of understanding of what is at stake, bind the voyage of life in shallows and miseries. The youthful age you are all enjoying today is the equivalent of the Shakespearean full sea on which you are now afloat. You must take the current when it serves and utilize every available opportunity, or lose your venture. Seneca observes that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. How would you take the current? We shall also come back to that.

Reading the lives of many successful persons across the world, you will discover they made it when they were still young. Chinua Achebe wrote the celebrated “Things Fall Apart” at the age of 28, and that fruit of his youth is still blossoming. Chimamanda Adichie started publishing novels at the age of 26. In 1986, I was still in the Minor Seminary when Mike Tyson became the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion at the age of 20. At that time one of our teachers known as Mekano would always commend what he came to call “Tysonic Uppercut”.

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At the average age of 34, the Wright brothers invented the airplane; Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at the age of 29; René Laennec invented the Stethoscope at the age of 35. Most people and organisations that are controlling the wealth of the world were founded by the youth. Steve Jobs founded Apple at the age of 21. Bill Gates founded Microsoft at the age of 20. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook at the age of 20. There are several others, for example, the Nigerian Chinedu Echeruo founded Hotstop at the age of 30, which was bought by Apples for 1 Billion Dollars in 2005. The lesson here is for you to discover that now is your time. Those ideas that will make you great in life should by now exist in the womb of time, waiting for the painful midwifery that will usher it into reality. I deliberately used the term “painful midwifery”, to remind you that for a successful birth, you must endure suffering and pain like a woman in labour.

Why have I gone on a voyage of discovery of youths that changed the world? This is to remind you that as a youth, you can also change the world, whether in politics or other spheres of life. Let us see what Youths authentic participation in politics could achieve.

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Youths in politics

Valentine-Obienyem Youth political participation, good governance and social inclusion
Valentine Obienyem

Youths, as could be detected from the tenor of the paper, are essential part of nation-building. If properly guided and directed, they have the capacity to make a nation great because they have the requisite energy and enthusiasm. Limited in perspective, they are malleable, with astonishing environmental adaptability that makes them suitable to flower wherever they are positively nurtured.

More than the elderly one, the youth are more open to reforms. Ask the youth here what is going on around the world, they know more than you and I because they are always on the move, surfing the net according to their selective and general interests. Those that are interested in politics have the capacity for comparative studies; they easily detect what other countries are doing better and how to imitate or surpass them.

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The youth are more liberal. Those of you that have done their youth services can attest to the brotherhood that pervaded the camps. But once you returned back, the elderly ones employ the instrument of religion and ethnicity to divide you.

At this juncture, it is good to observe that the youth’s capacity to change their countries is not just a matter of rhetoric, many youths have or are doing it at the highest levels. Therefore, we note the following:

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1. Gabriel Boric became the president of Chile at 35

2. Giacomo Somoncini became the Captain Regent of San Marino at 26

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3. Sanna Marin became the Prime Minister of Finland at 34

4. Vjosa Osmani became the President of Kosovo at 38

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5. Carlos Alvarado became the President of Costa Rica at 38

6. Jacinda Ardern became the Prime Minister of New Zealand at 37

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7. Emmanuel Macron became the president of France at 39

In Nigeria, we have also had those that became leaders at a relatively young age. Gen. Gowon became the Head of State at 32. During Obasanjo’s tenure as Military head of State, he was 39. Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu moved the country at 34. We may doubt or disagree with their routes to renown, but we would not dismiss their attainments.

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But the tragedy of Nigeria is that most of those old leaders are still around taking turns at the governance of the country. This questions the smartness of our youths. At 86, some of them are still shouting “it is my turn’, without realising that things are changing.

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Have you been to our major markets recently? It is amusing to see those great traders of old come to market as a matter of routine, watching their sons who have taken over use the Android phones to conduct over 90% of the businesses, including importation. This is what leadership should be today. There must be conscious ceding of the space to the youth who are laden with modern ideas that are propelled by technology.

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Now is the time for the elderly ones to realise that the world has changed tremendously and require the young ones. Where they refuse, the world will leave them behind. Thus, the young ones are encouraged to take back their country. What I am saying in effect is that your participation in politics is essentially going to come through your conscious efforts. What is happening today is commendable. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the youth of the country have risen and are united in shouting: “Away with the Old Guards.”

But if the old guards are eventually removed, what are the youth expected to do?

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Like I have mentioned earlier, you are critical factors in Nation building, you are Catholic Youths and, above all, you are Nigerian youths. As Catholic youths, the Church as a mother and a teacher encourages you to participate in politics and even teach you how to go about it essentially according to the mind of Christ. Here you are encouraged to read the Holy Scriptures, the Catholic Catechism (especially 1897 -1927) and the social teachings of the Church.

You would have noticed that some youths take politics as an occupation. Thus, once they graduate, they do not bother looking for job, but would rather get themselves attached to politicians, such that once any political phase ends, they become stranded. It is better for a young graduate to seek what to do, to have permanent work, address and see politics as a vocation or a hobby borne out of the need to make sacrifices for the good of the society and humanity.

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Politics is about service to humanity and the state and is essentially part of life. Thus, Aristotle’s oft quoted remarks about man being “a social-political animal” makes meaning. Man lives in a society and is necessarily guided by man. That guidance defines the nature of politics. Thus in participating in politics, whether as an executive, legislature or in the judiciary, it is essential to ask what is good for the society.

Without active participation all we are saying will come to naught. The first step towards active participation is by doing one’s civic duty, in this case registering for permanent voter’s card if you have reached the age of 18. The only way youths will be effective in politics is by being part of selection process which takes off by an act as small as getting one’s PVC. How many of you are registered? Or do you belong to the tribe that plays football during elections? Or are you among those that are hired as political thugs?

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What the youth are currently doing renews our hope that they have suddenly discovered the effect of bad leadership and have consequently realised that political inclusion demands being part of the electoral processes. In the realm of politics, this saying of Plato has remained instructive: “The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.”

The Peter Obi phenomenon today is mostly the creation of the youth. As important stakeholders, you are unarguably, like all men of goodwill, angry with the way Nigeria is sliding. Your support for Peter Obi is because, having followed him over time, you have come to believe in him through his antecedents. You are fighting for him, thereby fighting for the survival of the country, without asking for payment. This is the way to go. I am sure if he eventually becomes the President, he will not let you people down.

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What you are doing is the way to go. It shows that you are now ready to take back your country from predators. You can actually expand it by doing due diligence on those that present themselves for election and by deciding to support those whose past attest to the glorious possibilities of the future.

What the youth should do?

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Nigerian electoral system is among the most corrupt in the world, because it is manned by corrupt people. We have irresponsible elders that waste everybody’s time in the name of political representation. Knowing full that they would not be elected on the strength of their performances, they resort to vote-buying. It has degenerated to a point where youths are used to buy votes at polling booths.

We have youths whose political positions are determined by how far their palms are lubricated. Thus, you see them changing views and alliances as speedy as one would ever imagine. Sometimes it is not how far we have gone, but how well we have done. I have seen youths that had the opportunity to be in government and of assisting others secure jobs and admissions, but rather than do this in the name of service to humanity, they collect money to do so.

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Politics as often said is about service. The youth must be aware of this and apply themselves becomingly to that. They are called to reflect on the words of St. Pope John Paul 11, that in politics, “Christians should follow their Christian Conscience.”

Even when politics is categorised as dirty, Pope Francis advises Catholics, including the youth to get involved and use their Catholic upbringing to change the face of politics. This is the charge to the youth. Now things are bad, now Nigeria is sliding, the youth are expected to be part of the politics of Nigeria, because the country needs their energy, resolve and enthusiasm to recover the country from the vultures. This is why Pope Francis calls politics one of the “highest forms of Charity”, since it ideally seeks the common good.” He even called it a kind of martyrdom, because, according to him, it involves carrying the cross of the ideal of common good every day “without letting yourself be corrupted”. Since it is in the nature of man to fall, he said that if on a political journey we had fallen, we should not be discouraged, but “ask for forgiveness, and keep going.”

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Conclusion

Nigeria is at crossroads and requires the participation and contributions of all to set her on her feet again. Our fathers, the old politicians, have not been fair to themselves, to the youth and to the country. We witness a situation where those that will be entrusted with leadership appeal to the primordial factors of religion, tribe and region. This is our major challenge that has messed up leadership in this clime. When the negative effects of enthroning incompetence manifest, everybody is affected. Now is a time of awakening, the youth are called upon to greater participation in politics. This is not just by offering themselves for election, but also being part of the election of competent heads into positions of authority.

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Being a paper delivered by Mr. Valentine Obienyem during the Youth Week of Sacred Heart Chaplaincy, Ngozika Estate, Awka on the 3rd of August, 2022.

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