“Unarguably, Nigeria needs a new leadership paradigm that puts the people first. This leadership model must be driven by the philosophy of results and impact as well as accountability and transparency. Through ‘The Convergence’, the ‘Not Too Young To Run Movement’ and YIAGA AFRICA are mobilizing a new breed of visionary public leaders to sanitize electoral politics, obtain political power through the ballot and provide accountable, responsive and innovative leadership”. These are the words of YIAGA AFRICA’s Executive Director, Samson Itodo contained in a statement released ahead of the largest gathering of young elected lawmakers tagged convergence 2.0 in Abuja.
In what was described as the largest gathering of young elected legislators in the history of Nigeria, the Convergence 2.0 tagged Leadership, Power and Politics saw close to 300 newly elected lawmakers within the ages of 25 and 40 converge in Abuja for an empowerment, exposure and capacity building conference. The two-day event organized by YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run movement as part of their support of youth inclusion witnessed a keynote speech delivered by Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives who spoke extensively on the challenge of leadership in Nigeria and role of the newly elected legislators in changing the narrative.
In a lengthy speech delivered in the conference held on Tuesday and Wednesday, Honorable Dogara expressed his delight over the wave of youth representation Nigeria is about to witness, saying, Ngeria has never been in short supply of those who tell truth to power, but finding those opportune, such as the newly elected young legislators to execute the clarion call of nation-building. He further said, he refuses to see the Nigerian Youth as merely a representation of tomorrow’s leadership but a distinct social category of people who are educated, competent and prepared for the task of today’s leadership.
According to Dogara, “It is because of this and many other important factors that spurred the 8th National Assembly to pass the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill into Law. While there was cynicism from certain quarters as to the commitment of lawmakers to the passage of the bill, but as legislators we were never in doubt as to the importance of the bill and how much youth energy will drive governance in our country”.
He said, “the Not Too Young To Run Law is not so much about the exclusion of any particular class from the political space, rather it is designed to offer a platform for our youth population to build synergy with other segments of society for national development”. He thus reminded that the coming of young lawmakers wouldn’t have come at a better time with the fact that the Nigerian youth demographic at an estimated population of 78 million would be the fourth largest country in Africa and 19th in the world if it were a country.
In her welcome address on behalf of the Not Too Young To Run movement, YIAGA AFRICA Programs Manager who is also a founding member of the movement, Cynthia Mbamalu said the movement in the past years the power of organizing and speaking with a unified voice. Ms Mbamalu recalled how the team along thousands of Nigerian youths across Nigeria organized, marched the streets of Nigeria to demand for age reduction in the constitution.
According to her, “Let us not take for granted this new wave of youth political participation. This time we must show power not by using force but by the intentionality in every action we take, in every word we speak and in every decision, we make towards achieving our goal.”
“As we meet, discuss and learn in these three days, we must remember that politics is a difficult venture. We must remember that winning elections is a hard and tedious job. But we must never forget that in this room we have; people who have fought against the storm of oppressive political party system and won, people who have been told that they will never emerge as winners of an election but they won, people who have been told that they were young and naïve to get involved or dream of contesting for an office and they contested and won; people who have been told that they were women and politics was not for women, and they ran, won and made a difference”, she said.
“We are making history and together, we will change Nigeria one issue at a time, one community at a time, one constituency at a time. Together, we will build a nation where peace and justice shall reign:, she enthused.
While giving her goodwill message, British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Her Excellency Catriona Laing, urged the newly elected young legislators to make the laws and policies which will affect education, health, the economy, security, women, PWDs. She also reminded the freshers that somebody championed the law which made it possible for them to run for office thus the responsibility is on the shoulders of young lawmakers is to ensure that integrity, fairness, inclusion and accountability becomes the hallmarks of their tenure.
She said the young legislators now hold a special place in Nigeria’s history; but they need to decide whether they are contented of just being the first “young group of representatives”, or you would rather be the first wave of change that brought a new dimension to Nigerian politics.
“You might have needed support in order to contest the 2019 elections but, come 2023, be prepared to run on your own record of achievements. There will be days when you feel discouraged or you feel things are not changing quickly enough. The challenges facing Nigeria did not materialise overnight, so neither will the solutions. Be determined to be part of the change, however incremental it is”, she said.
On his own part, United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington urged elected lawmakers at the state and national levels to be instruments of change by promoting justice for all and inclusive government. While making his speech on the second day of the conference, Ambassador Symington said, every democracy and electoral official derives strength from citizens and this can only be maximized when there is synergy between them.
“My suggestion is that these elected officials should lift their reach beyond their supporters and engage with the people because they ran the race not for themselves, their friends and family but for their country”, he said.
He also urged office holders to make sure that in a few years from now, every Nigerian would be able to read “because it is hard to ask citizens to read between the lines and know what really matters when they can’t read at all.”
Amongst the array of speakers is also YIAGA AFRICA Board Member, Ezenwa Nwagwu who said, the conference will provide fresh lawmakers with skills that would help them to do the work better and differently and to make a difference in parliament. He maintained that the group would follow up on the young parliamentarians, keep tabs on them to build values of good governance.
The conference also created opportunities for the fresh legislators to interact and learn from the experiences of an array of highly respected and seasoned speakers that headlined the conference. The speakers included Senator Abdul-Aziz Nyako and Honourable Tony Nwulu who sponsored the Not Too Young bill at the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
Other speakers that graced the conference included Hon. Nnenna Ukeje; Hon. Tony Nwulu; Hon. Raphael Igbokwe (Chair, Young Parliamentarians Forum); Hon. Luke Onofiok, (Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly); Hon. Desmond Elliot; Eugenia Abu; Udo Jude Ilo; Oladayo Olaide; Catriona Liang (British High Commissioner to Nigeria); W. Stuart Symington, (US Ambassador to Nigeria) amongst others.
Sessions held during the conference included, Stakeholder engagement, maximizing the use of social media and Strategic Communication led my media strategist and broadcast executive, Eugenia Abu. Participants also engaged in legislative clinics with highly experienced speakers in the field to better understand the role of legislators and they can effectively discharge their duties.