In the last two decades, the last three years has gone down in annals of Nigeria’s politics as the epochal period whereby the young populations in Nigeria got a heavy dose of attention from the topmost echelons of the national parliament.
The combination of two young Nigerians as the President of the Senate in the person of a United Kingdom – trained medical doctor, Mr. Bukola Saraki, a Prince of the Ilorin Emirate Council and the Tafawa Balewa local government area of Bauchi State- born lawyer, Mr. Dogara Yakubu may have accounted for the significant focus to youth-oriented legislations that have sailed through in both chambers of the Nigerian parliament.
Specifically, the not too young to run for political offices legislation has entered the history book deservedly as the most admirable youth- friendly legislation ever made in Nigeria since 1960. The relevant sections of Nigerian Constitution relating to age qualifications for elective offices would soon be altered to bring them up to speed to comply with the aspects of the Not too young to run for political offices that abridged the age requirements.
Expectations are indeed high that these revolutionary steps would be achieved to create the needed legal frameworks to properly mainstream the Nigerian youth’s participation in the political leadership of Nigeria in line with global trends. Also the National Assembly is looked up to as they revisit the all important issue of transparent and an accountable funding profile of such youth impactful schemes that have the inherent capacities to empower the youth with enterpreneural skills to make them self reliant and wealth creators even as they serve Nigeria their fatherland.
Perhaps the nearest to this piece of legislation which incidentally is the focal point of this reflection is the stop gap after graduation-based scheme known as the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) which has become the most enduring pro-youth legacy ever created by the political authority of Nigeria since Independence.
In both speeches and advocacy activities, the offices of the speaker of parliament and that of the chairman of the National Parliament and Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki have made so much impacts in the areas of promoting policy and legal frameworks that mainstreams youth participation in politics.
To underscore the aforementioned claims, an observer needs to take a quick look at one of the speeches recently delivered by the Senate President at an African continental parliamentary youth event last year September.
This is what Saraki said about his youth agenda as a leader of the National Parliament.
Hear him: “The agitations of Young Members of the National Assembly, youth groups and Civil Society organizations for the inclusion of young persons in leadership and in the decision making process, is not just one of those instruments adopted by pressure groups to attract attention but a demand for initiating and sustaining good governance and development.
Therefore, when these agitations were expressed in form of a request for the reduction in the qualification age for running for Public offices, the leadership of the National Assembly saw it as an opportunity to change the leadership temperament in developing societies, an opportunity to prepare for the future of Africa as a socio-economically and politically developed continent.
It gladdens my heart that the National Assembly reduced the age qualification for running for Public offices to as low as 25 years and we believe this will be enshrined in our Constitution after the entire amendment process must have been completed.”
Saraki also said: “Inclusiveness as it relates to the theme of this Conference is a panacea to achieving peaceful societies, however where injustice, poverty and lack of political will for reform are paramount, political engagement and inclusiveness of youth will achieve very little or none at all.”
He continued: “As members of parliaments, we will have to be more committed to enacting legislations and giving legislative backing to policies that will eradicate poverty, exhume and expunge injustice in our society and help in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
Saraki who has nearly half his members of staff as very young Nigerians further stated as follows: “Obviously in Africa, the concentration of political leadership must shift from playing “politics of perpetuation” to developing the education sector, building a sustainable, localized and industrialized economy that can create jobs for the teeming population of Africa’s youth. It is shocking to note that according to the African Development Bank Report, over 25% of African youth population is still illiterate”.
On his own, the speaker of parliament does also have immense soft spots for pro-youth legislations.
He too has a fair share of young aides working to help him realize his packed legislative agenda.
Dogara is also an advocate of the need to set a functional political agenda in Africa so as to avoid what he termed as dire consequences.
His words: “Any nation that fails to set an agenda for its youth must have wittingly or unwittingly outsourced that responsibility to the youth to set one for themselves and that nation should be ready to bear the dire consequences in terms of social and political costs. This is a luxury African nations cannot afford because Africa has the fastest growing and most youthful population in the world at the moment.”
As aforementioned, the current session of the Nigerian parliament has made law to permit greater participation of the young persons in politics.
From all available data, there are glaring evidences that this political epoch is at a vantage position to deepen the scope and the operationalisation of national schemes that have over the years been established to cater for the young.
Consolidating the functionality, efficiency and effective administration of the NYSC scheme will be the best legacy both the Senate and House of Representatives’ hierarchies can bequeath to generations yet unborn.
One of such notable schemes as earlier mentioned is the National Youth Service Scheme which kick-started in the early 70’s with the national mandate to properly bring about comprehensive national integration amongst the youthful populace.
But the NYSC scheme has faced challenges especially in the area of ensuring that it gets the enhanced budgetary appropriations to drive the process of youth engagement for national service to greater heights.
Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).