How Nigerian Youths Inclusion In Governance Is Bridging Nigeria’s Leadership Gap

In recent times there has been increased glamour for youth inclusion in governance in Nigeria to bridge the country’s governance gap.

Experts say that youth inclusion was requisite for robust governance and accountability. They say that the concept of youth as leaders of tomorrow has constricted a very important social category to the political fringe and reduced a demography majority to political minority

There is the agreement that this position needs to change if the country is to attain its desired position.

In the run off to the 2023 general election Nigeria’s youth played pivotal roles, while they were seen and heard throughout the election circle both online, mainstream media and on the ground.

Although there was apathy in past elections due to lack of credibility of these polls, the situation changed this around.

It is estimated that 60 percent of Nigeria's population is under the age of 25, making it the youngest country in Africa, and their awareness and recognition of the democratic power they hold has undoubtedly increased.

There is the general conclusion among stakeholders that Nigeria’s youth are under-represented in public office, either elective or appointed despite forming the bulk of the voting population.  

There is the overwhelming view that the  situation needs to change.

The country has the largest population of youth in the world, with a median age of 18.1 years, about 70 percent of the population are under 40, and 42 % are under the age of 15.  

In the run-up to the 2023 general election many youth were encouraged to vote and seek elective office in Nigeria. The run-up saw increased youth participation in the discourse and campaigns.

Socio-economic problems, including incessant university strikes and high youth unemployment, apparently contributed to their engagement.

Young people made up around 76% of newly registered voters, with 40% of that number identifying as students.

The run-up saw increased youth participation in the discourse and campaigns. Recognition of the youth voting bloc became apparent in the three weeks between the presidential and state elections.

After shunning invitations to debates during campaigning, incumbent Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu ramped up his public engagements online and in person.

The threat of losing power only became real after Tinubu lost in Lagos, a result partly attributed to the state’s strong showing of urban youth. Other candidates also made overtures to young people elsewhere in the country.

Nigerian youth have led the charge in demanding accountability. They helped document the entire voting process by posting social media updates.

Young people also made sure to ‘defend’ their votes, with some remaining at polling units until the early hours of the following morning to monitor the collation process.

Some youth groups launched parallel collation projects to verify the INEC’s declared results.

In 2018 former President Muhammadu Buhari signed the North Too Young to Run bill into law.  

The law aimed at relaxing some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions of the constitution. But despite the law coming into existence, stakeholders say that little progress was made in terms of the number of youth elected into public office in the 2019 general election.

The situation perhaps was worse in the 2023 polls because of de-registration of several political parties, which contributed in reduction in the number of candidates and those elected in public office after the polls.

Experts believe that the global explosion in knowledge and social consciousness has enhanced the capacity of Nigerian youth. However, despite playing a crucial process in the electoral process, governance and leadership opportunities available to youth in Nigeria is limited.

However, there is the general agreement that their ability to utilise these assets effectively to drive national transformation would depend on the leadership opportunities available to them.

Meanwhile, the large number of young Nigerians excelling in the corporate world and entrepreneurship is a clear indication that the Nigerian youth can excel in governance if given the chance and if the climate is favourable.

Numerous names of young Nigerians excelling in their different endeavours abound across all sectors.

There are also young men and women currently doing wonders in the agencies, departments and ministries of the government where they call the shots. One of such persons is Mr Inuwa Kashifu. Mr Inuwa is the current DG/CEO of NITDA - the apex Information Technology Regulatory Agency for the Nigerian ICT ecosystem. In his position, he has implemented several strategic initiatives and projects designed to foster digital inclusion, accelerate innovation, create jobs and improve access to critical IT infrastructure across the country.  In Q2 of 2021, it is worthy to note that the ICT sector under his watch contributed 17.92%  to the National GDP and led to Nigeria’s exit from recession. Mr Inuwa is also credited with saving over 35 Billion Naira (84 million USD) of government funds since 2019 through the design and implementation of the IT clearance initiative across federal parastatals, amongst other achievements.

Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad is another young Nigerian repositioning the electricity sector. He is the managing director and chief executive officer of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA)

The REA was established in 2005 by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to enhance electricity in most rural communities and places hard-to-reach places by the national grid. The Inaugural Board and Management were not inaugurated until March 2006, almost a year after its establishment.

The first set of employees in the agency resumed in November 2006, but little or nothing was recorded about its achievement in terms of actualizing its mandate until the appointment of Ahmad years later in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari, who wanted to rejig and rejuvenate the agency in line with the power agenda of his administration.

Expectedly, on the assumption of Ahmad as the Managing Director/CEO of the Agency on 29th December 2019, there was a catalogue of unresolved staff matters in the Agency starring him in the place.

Among others, the matters that had defied resolution until his coming included: Staff career stagnation due to poor organizational structure, overdue staff promotions, inadequate staff, wrong job description and specification, overlapping departmental functions and poor standard operating procedures (SOPs) e.t.c

Undaunted by the sheer volume of work to be done to reposition and repurpose the agency so it could meet its statutory responsibilities, Ahmad hit the ground running immediately by deploying his youthful zeal and high-octane education to the agency’s services.

There is also Jhon Obidi, a leading consultant on online digital marketing in Africa, a personal development trainer, keynote speaker, and founder of Headstart Africa.

Headstart Africa is an online community of over 170,000 business and career professionals in Africa. John Obidi is dedicated to helping young Africans navigate the challenges in their industries and rise to become influential people by providing shared practical solutions for them.

A Digital Marketing Consultant with over 10 years of experience, John has made a huge difference in the online space and continues to do so.

 Another youth that is making significant impact in governance is Dr. Rabiu Olowo,the Lagos State Commissioner for Finance, under the leadership of Dr. Rabiu Olowo as the Commissioner for Finance, Lagos State attained an unprecedented international triple-A rating by Fitch, an International Ratings Agency. This rating is a reflection and testimonial of improved accountability, transparency and integrity, especially in the management of public funds in Lagos State. 

Olowo has over the years demonstrated his commitment to making Lagos State the best city to live, work and do business by providing strategic collaboration through the arrangement of the financial and technical success of West Africa’s first metro line – Lagos Blue Line – which will move hundreds of thousands of people across the state daily.  

He championed the Ministry towards increasing the State’s Internally Generated Revenue by double digits, evidenced by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 12 per cent and also worked with the State Ministry of Agriculture to deliver the biggest Rice Mill in Africa, Imota Rice Mill . 

There is also, Odunayo Eweniyi, who is a Nigerian business executive and activist. She is the Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer PiggyVestand co-founder of Feminist Coalition.

Eweniyi graduated from covenant Univeristy in 2013 with a first-class degree in Computer Engineering. Eweniyi started out to launch Push CV with Somto Ifezue and Joshua Chibueze after her graduation in 2013. Two years later, the trio went on to start PiggyVest in 2016.

In 2018, Eweniyi won the Future Awards Africa prize in Technology. In 2019, she was on Forbes Africa 30 under 30 Technology list. Eweniyi was named as one of 30 Quartz Africa Innovators for 2019.

Several other hundreds of young Nigerians are excelling in different sectors of the economy that space may not allow us to mention here.

However, in view of the leadership crisis in the country, analysts say that there is the need for Nigeria to give the younger generation a chance in governance if the leadership gap must be bridged.

“There is no-doubt that leadership is Nigeria’s greatest problem, if we must move forward, the government needs to look towards the youth in the appointment of professionals and experts into public positions.

“These recycled guys have failed us, some of them have been around since the second republic and they don’t want to go. You would agree with me that the youth are more ingenious, creative and some of them are doing well in their businesses.

“The Bola Tinubu administration needs to move away from the past, by giving more youth, who for me, can even perform better than these old ones. Give them a chance at governance”, Tope Musowo, public affair analyst and scholar said.

Recently at the pre inauguration ceremony ,Dayo Israel, The APC National Youth Leader  demanded from the then incoming President and Vice President as well as the 10th National Assembly  to ensure that all boards composition must include a youth slot being a platform through which he was able to become a board member of SUBEB, because if the SUBEB law in Lagos didn’t mandate that a youth must be on the board, if not the big guns would have taken all the slot as such federal boards should be given a youth slot.

Similarly, Sylvester Odion Akhaine, political scientist said the solution to inclusion of more youth in governance is affirmative action by the government through the creation of specific positions for the youths in the hierarchy of public affairs, would help to inspire them as a successor generation.

Odion Akhaine, who is a professor, called for the creation of a ministry of youth at federal and state levels, noting that the government can move beyond this by creating specific positions for youths to facilitate their transition into mainstream governance in the country.

“Affirmative action by the government creates specific positions for the youths in the hierarchy of public affairs to inspire them as a successor generation.

“There are precedents in this regard. For example, governments at both federal and state levels in Nigeria have created ministries in charge of youth affairs.

“They can go beyond this to create positions that are dedicated to youth to facilitate their transition into the mainstream of governance in the country.

“More importantly, affirmative action should include freeing the youth from financial burden in the highly monetised electoral ecology that is Nigeria”, he stated

Oluwaseun Oguntade writes from Ogun State