Nigeria is no stranger to the power of youth movements; from the nationalist movement for independence to the pro-democracy movement when young voices spoke beyond the confines of their University classrooms as many marched the streets demanding for the end of military rule, to the recent #NotTooYoungToRun movement demanding youth political inclusion. For the youth in Nigeria, the resonating hope is amplified in the undying spirit to organize that travels down generations, taking different forms but achieving its purpose; to build voices for change. That was the goal of the Campaign and Movement Building training, connecting 36 young Nigerians who today are building their communities by picking one challenge and winning.
For young Farida Muhammad Ishaq in Jigawa State in Northern Nigeria, the issue of young people as political thugs was a major challenge in her community, she organized a town hall meeting and brought in youth leaders from the different restive youth groups to engage. The truth is that sometimes we overestimate the power of a true and open conversation and even appreciating that sometimes ignorance is our major challenge. Sitting under the same roof, sharing in a meal of pastries and soda, these youths became converted agents of peace as they realized that they shared the same reality and the same opportunity to become much more. From that town hall meeting, we have a young man from this meeting who is contested for a legislative seat in the 2019 elections to fight bad governance which has robbed his fellow youth of education, employment and basic amenities. Barely six hours drive from Jigawa is an almost similar story as young Sanusi Mabera in Sokoto State confronted with a political crisis as political parties who were at war with each other recruited the youth in the community to champion the unrest. For Sanusi, he had one goal; to change this status quo and using his negotiation and organizing skills he convened a meeting with these youths leading the unrest. From that meeting, the resolution was to change the approach with engaging political parties by making concrete demands for youth political representation rather than becoming the easy thugs recruited for electoral violence.
Skeptics will always ask why now? Why have you been silent for so long and now you want to speak? Abdulrahman Zubairu in Katsina State was no stranger to this question, he almost bought that narrative and until he found his voice to ask back; If not now, when? So, when he took the stage to address over a hundred youth on why he cared about his community after being away for so long and why they should care too he knew that the moment was now. Quite Shy and reserved, this young man learnt that the best way to get people to take action was to connect to their emotions through public narrative and leverage on the power of the ‘story of us’! In his local government Funtua, the registration of voters was going slow with members of the community frustrated with the process. Abdulrahman saw a problem and had an idea; to organize a team of young volunteers to provide support to INEC during the CVR in his LGA at no cost. Connecting to their story and building relationships he sought the commitments of his peers and partners. They officially wrote to INEC to offer their services and request for more computers to Funtua, in Katsina state. This was beginning of his movement of young volunteers; the checklist movement who worked tirelessly supporting INEC to register a total of 5,000 new voters. Today Funtua local government is one of the LGAs with the largest number of registered voters in Katsina state.
Quite a distance from Katsina, down in the eastern part of Nigeria in Ebonyi state is young Samson Abanni part of the youth CAMB youth cohort learning from the program that the “Now” question is more than just a rhetoric but a realization that only intentional actions will bring the desired change. However, for this to happen, we always need champions of democracy who are ready to act. This was his realization. He had learnt about campaigns and movement building and knew that he had to begin this change in his community. Building on the theory of ‘People, Power and Change, this dark skinned, gentle eye young man brought together local community youth to discuss organizing for social change. He believed that if the youth in his community, even if just a few youths understood the power in the resources they had, they will achieve together the change they wanted to see. But first they must as a collective learn to turn their passion into action and from that single meeting, today his community enjoys the services of two new organizations led by these youths advocating for affordable and quality health care and education.
Passion and action rhyme so beautifully that we can begin to make people care if we deploy them effectively. Adefemi Adeleke Soneye knew this and in Ogun state, he knew that if he wanted people to care about elections he needed to show them how to care. In somewhat naivety, he marched the streets of the market in his community with few friends talking about the power of the PVC and the difference a vote can make. This won the hearts of the members of his community who complained to him that they experienced some difficulties in collecting their Permanent Voters Card (PVC). He also caught the attention of INEC in the state and meeting with INEC he committed to provide assistance to members of his community who needed to collect their PVC. Through the election period, he deployed a volunteer every 3 days in a week stationed to provide assistance to registered voters to collect their PVCs from INECs office. For him, it was not about having everyone collect their PVC but having a reasonable number of citizens who cared enough to show up and collect their PVC to vote.
For some communities, the challenge is getting the young people to think differently, to dream and aspire to be more. No matter how homogenous or heterogeneous our communities are the moment the element of hope is lost, we lose the young generation who are the present and the future. Mustapha Saeed knew this, Joy Ehiozie Eghaghe knew this also. In Gombe and Delta State respectively these young minds needed to convene the youth in their community to begin a conversation on youth affirmative action and the youth leadership. Joy explained that she needed to have decision makers in the room also to create an opportunity for young people to demand answers. For Mustapha, his focus was on being able to have a representation of different youth groups to ensure diversity. Mustapha had indicated that one of his challenges was getting young people with different opinions to understand each other, he had to focus on relationship building as a tool to unite these diverse groups to care enough to work together for the development of his society.
But do we care enough as a people? Each day when we walk the streets with our minds focused on our fault lines when our stories are no different from the next person. What will our stories be when it is finally written? Are we part of the solution or enablers of the problem? The Campaign and Movement Building workshop did not only reveal the potential in young people as agents of change when given the right orientation, resources and platforms to take action but also reveals that in our differences we have common threats as a people and must continue to organize our communities for social change.
Today, this most populous black Nation is enriched with the wealth of its youthful population with young people learning to organize and lead movements to make a difference. The question goes beyond the readiness of young people to assume leadership role but rather on learning the best possible way to amplify the activities of young organizers who have taken the initiative to change Nigeria one community at a time.
You may read this and ask yourself; to what end? Well, firstly, we need to tell our stories. This is the age of the youth as we see an increase in the youth movement and the rise in the voices of young people advocating for change, people need to know that targeted actions can actually begin the process of change.
Secondly, from an Institutional point of view, YIAGA AFRICAs findings in social movement study highlight the opportunity to revamp our failing system by building youth leadership founded in values, passion and knowledge. Young people need to know that they have the power to create change and the best way to have the youth believe this is to show them and let them take the lead. In addition, youth affirmative action is a progressive policy decision that can ensure competent young Nigerians have space at the decision-making table in Nigeria. The support from Ford Foundation did elevate the discourse on youth affirmative action with the work of our dedicated cohort of 34 youths from the different states in Nigeria and West Africa. The work continues until we build a generation of young leaders with the requisite capacity and competence to answer the leadership question in Nigeria and Africa.