Despite Nigeria’s NotTooYoungTooRun (NTYTR) bill of 2018, Nigeria’s political space is still run by old men and godfathers.

Globally, it has always been very easy for political movements and lawmakers to overlook the involvement of young people. Young people are systematically underrepresented and underestimated in the day-to-day running of the world they live in. While effective youth participation isn’t a new idea, ageist culture and traditions prevent this. The result is that youths are often sidelined with the excuse being that they are either, ‘too young to care’ or ‘too young to have concrete opinions’.

Never too late to start

But it’s never too late for young voices to matter. After all, youths are the prospective leaders of tomorrow. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:

‘We cannot always build the future for our youth but we can always build our youth for the future’.

From Adebowale Adedayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni, who heavily lent his voice to the #EndSARS protest in Nigeria, to Yara Shahidi who is so politically engaging and advocates for more inclusion of youths in the US, we have seen an uprising of a younger and more vibrant spirit ready to take charge.

Why are young people constantly being overlooked?

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 60 per cent of 1.3 billion people being under the age of 25. This makes the ratio of underrepresented youths alarmingly high. Older leadership rejects youth involvement, seeing it as going against the norms and culture of ancient practices when it comes to governance.

In Nigeria, where I come from, the political space is typically reserved for politically experienced men. Hence, young people are systematically marginalized owing to prejudice about their supposed ‘lack of political know-how.

We have never been taken seriously

Systematic limitations ranging from unemployment, a crippled education system, negative stereotyping and drug abuse have contributed to making young people feel insecure, frustrated and helpless.

As youth advocates, it becomes increasingly difficult to be heard given these limitations. The process of change becomes twice as difficult when no one believes enough to help you.

Amidst continued political exclusion, we forget that restricting the participation of any demographic of a country, as we have done, comes with its own set of problems ranging from unequal voices to misrepresentation. One instance of this is the #EndSAR protest, where Nigerian youths fought against the continuous profiling they experienced.

How do we create spaces for better youth participation? 

To do this, we must first understand the obstacles in the way of qualitative youth participation. These include:

  • Age restrictions to campaign and run for office
  • Lack of trust in political institutions
  • Increased costs to involve the youth in politics
  • Myths about youth involvement and their lack of preparedness
  • Lack of access to sources of knowledge – resulting in poor understanding of governmental processes

To create spaces for more youth advocates to flourish, senior generations must stop infantilising youths. When this happens, the benefits are enormous. The involvement of youths in civic engagement can transition to political engagement. That is to say, youth involvement in sectors such as healthcare, education and charity work gives way to more political interest and engagement when it comes to voting, lobbying, signing of petitions, and running for office.

This also increases the odds of young people growing into better citizens. Given the chance to be in a position of change, responsibility and important decision-making, young people can grow to become better citizens who remain politically engaged.

We will not know the potential of young people unless they are given a chance to use it. Equal participation of all citizens allows for a more democratic and representative nation. Youths are agents of change and should be given a platform beyond the realm of digital activism, protesting and volunteering; preferably, one where they can exercise more concrete power.

Only by taking practical steps to involve young people in decision-making processes can Nigeria have a chance of rising above age-old problems that are crippling the country.

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