Fisayo Okare 1

A Lesson on Religion in the 21st Century for Nigerian Fanatics

For July’s edition of YIAGA AFRICA’s Knowledge Management Series, team members express profound thoughts through their written reflections on Yuval Harari’s somewhat controversial, but philosophical book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018), which sets out to give the world a guide towards settling in the 21st century world.

Fewer things are as aggravating as religiously inspired arguments in Nigeria’s socio-political and economic landscape. But one of the few takeaways from Chapter 8 of Yuval Harari’s 2018 book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, tells us that religions will remain important as long as mass cooperation and shared beliefs (or faith) continue to be the driving force of humankind. It follows that no matter how advanced or knowledgeable society becomes in technology and education, we can expect that arguments decorated with religious identities will continue to hold influence.

Harari urges us to ponder some issues, and this process requires an intellectual humility—a willingness to eliminate part of our biases and learn anew. To enable us understand the role of religions in the 21st century; he explains how religions’ brilliance for interpretation clouds our judgement. In a vivid illustration according to him, “When Ayatolah Khamenei [a major leader in Iran] needs to make a crucial decision about the Iranian economy, he will not be able to find necessary answers in the Quran and must turn to Karl Marx and the modern science of economics to get answers. After getting these answers, he’ll then use his religious knowledge and authority to wrap the scientific answer in the garb of Quranic verses and present it to the masses as Allah’s will” (Harari, 2018). But he explains that this garb is of little importance because when you compare the economic policies of Shitte Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia, Hindu India, Jewish Israel and Christian America, you won’t see that much of a difference. As a result, Harari posits that the Bible and Quran are just a decorative covering; degraded from a source of true knowledge to a mere source of authority.

While his two points about how religions’ genius for interpretation makes “current political positions look as if they are eternal religious principles”, and how religion “divides our human civilization into hostile camps” are valid, he is oblivious to the fact that some of the starting point of technology (architecture, as per Noah’s ark in the Bible; and Physics/Mathematics, as per Samson’s calculative grasp/hold of the pillars during his fight in the Bible or economic structures, as per Jesus’ teaching to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar) are highlighted in the scriptures, which he simply dismisses as obsolete ideas because according to him “ancient scriptures such as the Bible or Quran are not a good guide for modern economics”. He however genuinely admits that people’s religious identities have been a powerful historical force in building structures and managing conflicts, as religious movements have influenced the development of politics in countries as diverse as India, Nigeria, Turkey and even the United states. Yet, religion has also fuelled conflicts from Nigeria to the Philippines including religiously inspired misogyny and caste discrimination.

So really, what difference would religion make when facing the big questions of the 21st century, especially in matters concerning Artificial Intelligence (AI); Data Mining/Data Gathering? Should we grant AI the authority to make decisions about people’s lives? To choose for people what to study, where to work and whom to marry? What is the Muslim position on this question, and what is the Christian position? Harari asks. The truth is although this question is merely about those in favour of granting AI the authority or those opposed to it, both Christians and Muslims will be found on both sides of this argument, justifying their positions through interpretations of the Quran and Bible.

Today, our society is guided by modern economic theories and public policies that have been developed outside of religious teachings (say communism, socialism, capitalism, Marxism or Artificial Intelligence) but it has become common to interpret problems that exist in our society in ostensibly religious terms. It is because of such religious influence that there is a lot to be learnt in Harari’s book about how religion unites but divides us as a people, and the need to check and balance our fundamental religious values against our prevailing economic conditions and social realities.

Oluwafisayo Okare is a graduate intern at YIAGA AFRICA’s Media and Communications department; she studied Mass Communication at Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, and can be reached via [email protected]

Ibrahim Faruk 2

21st Century Lessons for the Nigerian State and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria

For July’s edition of YIAGA AFRICA’s Knowledge Management Series, team members express profound thoughts through their written reflections on Yuval Harari’s somewhat controversial, but philosophical book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018), which sets out to give the world a guide towards settling in the 21st century world.

In July 2019, the Federal Government of Nigeria obtained a court order to proscribe the  Shiites’ organisation formally referred to as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and designated the activities of the Shiite organisation in any part of Nigeria “as acts of terrorism and illegality.” The court restrained “any person or group of persons” from participating in any form of activities involving or concerning the IMN “under any name or platform” in Nigeria.

The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, as amended in 2013, further expands the implication of tagging organisations as ‘terrorist groups’ to include meting out stricter punishment to not only members of the organisation who automatically become terrorists by virtue of their identification with the group, but also to all members of the public upon conviction for association with such group.

Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, in his op-ed on ‘The Nigerian State and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria’, argues that, “for too long, a pattern of behaviour has been established in which IMN members engage in protests and security agencies respond with excessive force and kill their members. The greatness of a state is never defined by its use of excessive force against citizens. In situations where such behaviour has emerged for whatever reasons, the state can start rebuilding its credentials by seeking pathways that reduce human carnage. The time has come for the Nigerian state to realise that it’s not a sign of weakness to redefine its relations with the IMN”.

Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, asks the question, “How then should the state deal with terrorism?” He suggests some answers for consideration. According to him, “a successful counter-terrorism struggle should be conducted on three fronts. First, governments should focus on clandestine actions against the terror networks. Second, the media should keep things in perspective and avoid hysteria. The theatre of terror cannot succeed without publicity. The third front is the imagination of each and every one of us. Terrorists hold our imagination captive, and use it against us. It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact.”

The protracted conflict between the Nigerian State and Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) clearly indicates a need to draw lessons from Harrari in managing the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in order to prevent a full-blown insurgency. As noted in the foregoing, Harari urges the state and people not to act out of panic as desired by terrorist organisations. If indeed the IMN is a terror group, it would have achieved part of its aim of instilling fear in the government possibly leading to the proscription.

The Nigerian State has missed the opportunity to invite the Islamic Movement of Nigeria to the table to amicably bring an end to the brewing conflict. The Nigerian State cannot continue to sit around waiting for a conflict to be “ripe” for talks to start, or for the forces of history to solve it for them. Beyond proscribing the IMN as a terrorist organization, dealing effectively with a terrorist threat that comes from such an action requires political leadership, patience, a reflection on lessons from the past (remembering what happened last time) and preparedness to take the necessary actions to forestall future occurrences.

Ibrahim Faruk is a Senior Program Officer with YIAGA AFRICA’s Youth Program and has a Masters of Science (M.Sc.) in Conflict Management and Peace Studies. He can be reached via [email protected]

Bauchi State Coordinator, Not  Too Young To Run

My Not Too Young To Run Story : I knew I was amidst the right people with the right agenda – Bauchi State Coordinator

I knew I was amidst the right people with the right agenda ; young, vibrant Nigerians from all
walks of life – Nasir Umaru Launi, Bauchi State Coordinator, Not Too Young To Run

How I became a NTYTR state coordinator

I was first invited to a methodology workshop on youth political participation in June 2014 by the renowned YIAGA Africa. Meeting the conveners, Samson Itodo, Cynthia Mbamalu, Habu Hamisu and many others, is a memory that will linger for a very long time because I thought I was doing great in my advocacy and engagement with youth in my state. But that quickly faded away as I found myself in the company of very enthusiastic youth from all parts of the country.

A major challenge I faced

My biggest challenge was working with youth that have a different mindset and approach to what we wanted to achieve – especially because there was no financial gratification involved. This is a fact that many did not want to believe … A second was the complex nature of forming the state level team, as it is common amongst the youth to be self-centered … We had to form and reform the team many times before we finally agreed on a level playing field. A third challenge was that of identity. In the past, many of such advocacy campaigns were plagued by vested interests. We had to work extra hard to gain the desired recognition and respect to be granted audience and be listened to. Luckily, YIAGA Africa had already made its manifestos and advocacy well known.

What I’ve learned
After I heard that the Not Too Young To Run Bill had been sent to the states for their ascent, I went to the assembly complex and requested to see the speaker.  I said to him confidently, “Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are in receipt of the Not Too Young To Run  bill from Abuja, and this is why I am here to make inquiries on the honorable house and  next line of action”.  But he cut me off and told me that transmission of the bill to the states had been delayed and that the house would act at the appropriate time. Although I had visited the State Assembly on many occasions as the coordinator of the American Corner in Bauchi, the
last interaction I had with the speaker reminded me of the need to verify information before acting.

My most memorable experience
When I joined the struggle, I was not sure if what we were advocating for would scale. But then news of the states passing the bill started flowing and my state, Bauchi, joined the hall of fame by passing the bill on 1 February, 2018. My greatest memory was when the president signed the bill into law. I was first congratulated by the resident electoral commissioner of Independent National Electoral Commmission, Bauchi, and then I received a series of congratulatory messages from the clerk, the State House of Assembly, many of our team members and collaborators. That memory will linger on forever as we have made history.

Abia State Coordinator

I saw Joy on Faces of Young People When I shared the Not Too Young To Run Story – Abia State Coordinator

I saw the joy on the faces of young people when I shared the Not Too Young To Run  story with them. This made me
realize the importance of the campaign – Ikenna OgbuOdimkpa, Abia State Coordinator, Not Too Young To Run

Why I joined the Not Too Young To Run Movement

Not Too Young To Run was an ideology I embraced even before I had knowledge of the movement. As team lead of a youth-based organization, I commemorated the 2016 UN International Youth Day. The keynote speaker, Sen. Ben Murray-Bruce, urged us to get involved in politics and community organizing. That was the defining moment. Soon after, Abia state held the local government election, and 10 young people registered under my organization ran for Councillor and chairmanship, and this was a huge experience for me; I made a mark.

How I became a NTYTR state coordinator

I was recommended from Abia state because of my antecedents to participate as the Abia state coordinator … The community organizing workshop unraveled many facets of leadership. I became aware of Mr. Mark Okoye, who was appointed Anambra State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget at 30 years, among other young people doing great work in government. I saw a peaceful society where young people are involved in policy making, contributing effectively to the growth and development of Nigeria, and are not involved in upturning systems because of neglect.

Major challenge I face

During our advocacy to the state assembly, I met a member who gathered four other members in his office and asked me to explain the bill. Though I saw it as killing five birds with one stone, I realized it had backfired when a legislator who didn’t like the ideas influenced the others. They said that we wanted to occupy their seats and send them back to the village. I felt scared, and I had to strategize. I had to find the leader who didn’t show up for the previous meeting and convince him to support the bill. The next time I came to the assembly, the previous five were easy to convert and they gladly had pictures with me and the NTYTR placard.

What I’ve learned

I learnt how to effectively execute projects to advance the course of humanity. Team Building was the first step … I couldn’t do it alone so I had to identify and build a team. We had to promote citizens’ engagement. We engaged in community organizing and enlightened the public, youth organizations, media and social influencers. We also had to be innovative by identifying relevant stakeholders and key actors and develop strategies to influence them to support the course. We employed flexibility,
accommodated disruptions and initiated twists to sway all. We were focused till our desired results were achieved. Employing all this, we won.

My most memorable experience

When the national assembly voted in favour of the bill, it was memorable. I received calls and messages from everywhere. I had acquaintances all congratulating me for the passage at the national assembly. The height of it all was when the president signed the bill into law. Just like Michael Jackson sang, I was speechless, without expression. I couldn’t explain how I felt. I am part of a movement that changed the course of youth involvement in politics in Nigeria. I made history – I shed tears as I smiled. What an irony. I am indeed, very glad to be part of this history-making movement.

Retreat I (1)

New Faces of Youth in Nigerian Parliament

…as young legislators emerge speakers, and principal officers.

The excitement and fulfilment that followed the emergence of young legislators under the age of 35 as speakers and other principal officers in some state houses of assembly can only be compared to the jubilation that greeted the assent to the age reduction bill by President Muhammadu Buhari about a year ago. While the latter demonstrates the fact that young Nigerians can organize and achieve the mission of youth inclusive governance, the former no doubt shows young people are capable of winning elections andholding leadership positions in the process.

It is no more news that at least 4 young legislators have emerged as speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Oyo, Zamfara, Kwara and Plateau states. The political and media space was first thrown into a frenzy when the news broke out that a 32-year old Adebo Ogundoyin emerged as the Speaker of Oyo State House of assembly. Ogundoyin from Ibarapa East constituency was also a participant at the Convergence 2.0—the largest gathering of young elected legislators organized by YIAGA AFRICA to build their capacity on quality representation. Oyo state also produced two 26-year olds in the persons of Hon. Babalola Samson and Hon. Yusuf Oladeni Adebisi as Deputy Majority Leader and Deputy Chief Whip respectively.

Representing Jos East constituency is 33-year-oldHon. Abok Izam who emerged as speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly. Hon Abokwho is said to be a law student in UniversityofJos must have transcended his school politics into the Nigerian Political terrain.He was also a participant at The Convergence 1.0 and 2.0.

Even though lawmakers in Zamfara state failed to vote yes to the age reduction bill, it was a massive victory for young people with the emergence of 31-year old Honourable Masiru Magarya as speaker of Zamfara State House of Assembly. This simply sent a huge message that the wave of youth inclusion in politics is sweeping through the nation without seeking permission from the powers that be. The wave continues with Hon. Saliu Danladi being trusted by his colleagues in Kwara State House of Assembly to steer the ship of lawmaking in the state.

Further significant statistics, which has also demonstrated the competence of young people in leadership positions, is their emergence in other strategic leadership positions in various Houses of Assembly across Nigeria. As a matter of fact, legislators as young as 27-year old Hon. Cephas Dyako-Ashwa and Hon. Salihu Musa Iyimoga have both been entrusted with the principal position of Minority Whip and Deputy Minority Whip in Benue and Nasarawa Houses of assembly respectively.

Similarly, the position of deputy majority leader in Gombe State Assembly is occupied by 28-year old Sadam Bello Sale, while the Chief Whip is a 31-year old Musa Buba as 32-year old Yahaya Muhammed Kaka acts as his deputy. Neighbouring Yobe and Katsina states assembly have also recorded the names of youth legislators in gold, with a 32 and 34-year-oldMinority Leader and Chief Whip respectively. States like Ondo, Niger, Bayelsa and Rivers states also entrusted leadership positions to young people, which is no doubt a sign of a bigger and more impactful role to come in the near future.

Younger principal officers continue to sweep through state assemblies across Nigeria with 28 to 35-year-oldlegislators being voted in by even older colleagues to hold strategic leadership positions like Majority and Minority Leaders, Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whipamongst other positions. This gives young legislators an opportunity to effectively discharge state responsibilities and it willpropel them to higher positions in the near future.

The story of these young legislators is even more inspiring considering the fact they had just a few months between the assent of the Not Too Young To Run constitution amendment into lawto prepare for elections. While the age reduction bill became law on 31stMay 2018, deadline for party primaries and submission of candidates form was between August and October 2018. This meant that the young candidates had barely five months to navigate the tensed and highly competitive candidate nomination procedure, political campaign processes, recruit poll agents and prepare for the general elections.

Feature Article by Moshood Isah, for The Convergence magazine (volume 2), published July 2019. Download the magazine HERE


Young Lawmakers Adopt Young Parliamentarians Forum

At The Convergence 2.0, the newly elected legislators pledgedto deepen participatory democracy and public governance usingthe Young Parliamentarians Forumas a platform for legislative accountability and civic participation.

The Young Parliamentarians Forum (YPF), established in 2016, is an appendage of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which has been in existence since 1889. At the heart of its core functions, the IPU is to the legislature what the United Nations is to the executive. It is made of national parliaments from around the world, and it protects and builds global democracy through political dialogue and concrete action. Nigeria became a member of the IPU when it transitioned into democratic rule, while the Young Parliamentarians’ Forum (YPF) was established just about 4 years ago in Nigeria and is now the pacesetter for the forum in Africa.

With collaborative efforts from Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Nigeria, YIAGA AFRICA strategizes in ensuring that the YPF is strengthened to deliver on its mandate. Yetunde Bakare, Senior Program Officer for YIAGA AFRICA’s Centre for Legislative Engagement (CLE), explained during a master class session at The Convergence 2.0, that “there is a need for all young elected parliamentariansto uniteunder platforms like theYPF because it provides a platform for building strategic capacity to influence criticallegislative actions to advance the interests of the people especially young people.” The YPF also presents an opportunity for peer learning andcultivatingeffective legislator–constituent relationship, which is essential for legislative performance considering thehugeburden on the newly elected legislators.

The establishment of YPF in Nigeria was also necessitated by the dreadful statistics of women representation in politics. It is part of YPF’s target goals to have more women representatives in office,hence its investment in advocacy, legislative internships and trainingson women’s participation in politics.Elsewhere on the African continent, the youngest member of Assembly in Ghana—where YIAGA AFRICA also established a Young Parliamentarians Forum in 2017—is 23 years old and female, which is highly encouraging.

The YPF also promotesthe inclusion of other vulnerable groups in governance such as persons living with disability. For instance, the bill for making public buildings accessible to persons on wheelchairs has been passed, but it still needs to be made effective.

On this note, itis part of the Young ParliamentariansForum’smandateto ensure that laws are well implementedthrough legislative oversight. The newly elected legislators have committed themselves to ensure that this is done, hence strengthening the added value of youth.

Young Parliamentarians under 45 are automatically enrolled as a member of the forum.

Feature Article by Oluwafisayo Okare, for The Convergence magazine (volume 2), Published July 2019. Download the magazine HERE.


The Role of Civil Society in Consolidating on the Emergence of Young Leaders in Nigeria’s Political Space

Some weeks ago, at an event organised for young community organisers by YIAGA AFRICA, a veteran in the development and civil society space talked about events that shaped Nigeria’s journey to democratic rule. In his discussion, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, Ford Foundation’s West Africa Director, highlighted how he and his colleagues declined to join politics back in 1999 amid growing calls for them to join different political parties that sprang up at the time.

History has shown us that civil society in Nigeria has constantly maintained a non-partisan stance in the course of carrying out its responsibilities, especially when it pertains to politics/politicians because it is believed that maintaining a neutral stance will protect their integrity and neutrality, and provide a level playing field for all concerned. As valid as this belief is, however, it has sadly restricted the work of civil society organizations and their ability to effectively influence actions of politicians in delivering good governance to the citizens.

To foster effective legislative performance, civil society organisations will have to work closely with the newly elected young legislators especially the Speakers and those who emerged as principal officers in their respective State Assemblies, majority of whom are first timers.

The election of four State Houses of Assembly speakers under the age of 35 in Kwara, Oyo, Zamfara and Plateau states, respectively, represents a shift in leadership from the old generation. Regardless of how meagre the sum might be, their emergence indicates public trust in the capability of Nigeria’s youth to occupy leadership positions in governance.

The clamor for youth representation in the decision-making process of the country climaxed with the passage of the age reduction bill. Now that young leaders have emerged in the political space, the charge is for them to demonstrate through their actionsthatyoung people can provide excellent public leadership and make democracy deliver development to the people. The onus now falls on these young lawmakers to provide quality representation and perform exemplarily well in the next four years, in order to build a platform for increased youth participation in the next electoral cycle. It is imperative for them to get it right, as their performance will be used as a yardstick to measure the impact and effectiveness of youth leadership. This is where the civilsociety has a major role to play.

A partnership between elected representatives andcivil society actors will promote accountability,transparency and popular participation. Civil society actors possesstools and resources that the newly elected legislators require to succeed. As interlocutors between the state and citizens, legislatorscould leverage research and reports of civil society groups for their work. CSOs can also facilitate periodic legislator-constituent interaction to galvanize their inputs and feedback on public policies.YIAGA AFRICA is a leading actor in facilitating constituency engagement between legislators and constituents. CSOs can also provide technical support to the young elected representativesthrough capacity building workshops, legislative drafting, conferences, exchange programs etc.

With the influx of more young people in the political process and emergence of young elected legislators, Nigeria has been presented with anopportunity to shape her political system. The newly elected lawmakers bear the burden to provide the excellent public leadership that Nigeria direly needs. Their success will be contingent on the measure of support they garner from civil society actors. Their failure will reverse the gains of the Not Too Young To Run Act and undermine the advocacy for youth representation in politics in Nigeria.

Opinion Article Written By: Olaniyan Sanusi, for YIAGA AFRICA’s The Convergence Magazine Volume 2, Published July 2019. Download the magazine HERE.


“Be Instruments of Change”

Keynote Remark by Ambassador W. Stuart Symington, US Ambassador to Nigeria, at The Convergence 2.0. Download The Convergence magazine (volume 2) HERE.

I think it is time to change your name. What should the name be now? Not Too Young To Win. Congratulations. If you ran for yourself, your race is over. If your supporters see that you ran this race for them and for all of us, if you can grant justice for all and be inclusive, you will be an instrument for change. And if you don’t, people will know that you ran this race, not for them but for you.

You are not here by accident. If not for the Not Too Young To Run movement, all of you might not be in this room. Now the question is, lifted on their shoulders in this moment, how high will you reach? I think the big question is What will you do? Each of you have as your first job, not making rules that will govern your citizens but making a path so that your citizens can move forward and succeed.

The first need is security. I think there is no security in the world that doesn’t come from the ground up. Every killer had a mother, brother a neighbor, friend, a child and many still do. They know who these people are and some of them even know why they do what they do. Your opportunity is to crowdsource with words, or to crowdsource with security. Somehow it is central to reach all of these people and together make insecurity stop because security forces alone can never secure any country; they must be lifted up by all of you.

Find ways through a combination of mentoring and advice, using the internet and other tools to reach out to those people who have been outside education and other opportunities, and bring them in. I urge you to disrupt education. In a few years from now every Nigerian should 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.

I am utterly convinced that you have the whole world in your hands. You have a world of opportunity of hope and freedom. The world of prosperity is in your hands. The people who will drive Nigeria is you. But only if you are in it for the long race. This is the single most transformational opportunity that you will ever have.

I urge you to hold yourselves accountable but not just to your family and friends. Above all, don’t get caught by your own conscience. I urge you to be accountable to your own conscience and then accountable to the world, because the world is counting on you.


The Convergence is a Journey

The background to The Convergence 2.0 was, first, with the success of ‘Not Too Young To Run’ movement and the emergence of young elected legislators across Nigeria. Severalyoung people were inspired to actually run for office because the constitution reduced the age for running through the Not Too Young To Run Act. This was the first major challenge to youth participation that YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run movement had to confront. We won that struggle but it did not mean that the struggle was over because there were other issues militating against youth political participation. Most young aspirants were confronted with the herculean task of securing their party nomination.

Whilst a large number of young people expressed interest to run for office,majority of them wereunable topurchase theparty nominationforms because the cost of forms was very high—a deliberate attempt by the ruling political elites, who are scared that the young people would retire them in the 2019elections. For those who defied all odds and purchased the forms, theyhad to combat stiff oppositionfrom party hegemons and oligarchshell bent on circumventing processes to impose their ‘anointed’candidates.This pervasive conservative ideology in political parties has made most parties hostile to the concept of youth candidacy.

Yet, a lot of young people defied all odds.

They got the tickets even whensomestate governors hijacked the machinery of parties at the state level and prevailed ontheleadership of parties to refrain from selling forms to young people. Despite this obstacle, some youth candidates navigated this hurdle and secured their party nomination.Others secured justice from the courts over their unlawful exclusion and theillegality perpetrated bytheir political parties.There were instances where political parties intentionally substituted young people who won party primaries. What could have been more cruel and sadistic than this?

It is against this background that YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run hosted The Convergence 2.0 to celebrate the newly elected young legislators for their courage, resilience and success at the polls. The young legislators were reminded of the difficult journey to electoral success and the need to be accountable to their constituents. The young elected representatives must viewpolitics as an instrumentfordriving socio-economic and political developmentbecause 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, YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run Movement is mobilising a new breed of visionary public leaders to sanitise electoral politics, obtain political power through the ballot and provide accountable, responsive and innovative leadership. This has been a long-term goal and vision. Because what we—and every young Nigerian—did this year, was to lay a foundation for a revolution. For the first time, we are beginning to see a lot of young people getting interested to actually run for office and know this: by 2023, a revolution is actually going to take place.

Feature Article from YIAGA AFRICA’s The Convergence Magazine Volume 2. Written by: Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA and Convener, Not Too Young To Run. Download the magazine HERE.

A Congratulatory Handshake to Young Elected Lawmakers, Age 25 to 30

YIAGA AFRICA’s Innovative Approach to Supporting Young Lawmakers

When YIAGA AFRICA organized a debate for university students last year—under its Youth Affirmative Action project in partnership with Ford Foundation—one of the questions debaters deliberated on was—“Are Nigerian Youths Competent?” Some participants were of the view that only few Nigerian youths are competent for political office while others outrightly opined that young people are not ready for governance. In many ways, the question of whether the youth are competent for political office is wrapped in the garb of a narrative that aims to portray them as incompetent. Nevertheless,the query still begs to be addressed. Competence—the knowledge and ability to lead successfully and efficiently—does not come pre-installed in a human being. Just like leadership, competency is learnt and improved upon.

For those who hold the view that young people do not possess the requisite credentials for running for public office, The Convergence is a counter-narrative that indeed we have competent young people who ran for office, won and assumed office. With the catchphrase, Power,Capacity and Politics, we organized The Convergence 1.0inDecember2018to equip young candidates with effective political organizing skills.The terrific event was a platform for inspiration, networking and solidarity amongst young politicians. Over 435 youth candidates drawn from 91 political parties attendedThe Convergence 1.0, Nigeria’slargest gathering of youth candidates in the 2019 elections.On the basis of competence and resource building, we equipped young politicians with tools and tips for an effective campaign journey. We did this to help potential leaders succeed and actualize their ambitions in the face of the harsh political landscape of Nigeria, which to say the least, was decidedly not in their favour.

At the conclusion of the 2019 elections, twenty-onepersons between the ages of 25 to 30 years old, who YIAGA AFRICAand the Not Too Young To Run movementsupported, first through the Not Too Young To Run Act and then through The Convergence 1.0three-day training program, won election into their respective state houses of assembly. Without the Not Too Young To Run Act, which YIAGA AFRICA spearheaded and superintendedin conjunction with members of the movement, anyone below 30 would not have been able to run for office in Nigeria, talk less of winning. In addition, out of the 991 seats in the state houses of assembly over 200 will be occupied by young elected lawmakers. This is Nigeria’s democracy taking shape.

Again, we assembled these newly elected young representatives for the second convergence this year—The Convergence 2.0 with the theme Leadership, Power, Politics. The Convergence 2.0 wasdesigned to celebrate the newly elected legislators and to prepare them for the task ahead.  YIAGA AFRICA and the Not Too Young To Run movement recognizeNigeria 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’, we are mobilizing and building a new breed of visionary public leaders to sanitize electoral politics, obtain political power through the ballot and provide accountable, responsive and innovative leadership for our common good.

This time, we took out the capacity in the slogan and replaced it with leadership because, as YIAGA AFRICA Programs Manager, Cynthia Mbamalu said during her speech at the opening session of The Convergence 2.0, “For so long we have struggled as a people to answer the leadership question”. Effective leadership is one of the key indicators for stronger communities and a civil society; The Convergence 2.0 isabout quality and accountable leadership. Shefurther stated in her opening remarks, “it is about working together to set a legislative agenda that is people driven,promotes inclusion and the indices that enable sustainable development. It is about building a strong network of committed young lawmakers who support each other and speak truth to power.”

Indeed, the theme of The Convergence2.0aptly reflects the desire to appropriately direct the focus and energies of the newly elected legislators to what is actually expected of them—the need to adequately wield political power and authority in addressing the respective needs and desires of the governed; and most importantly, the quest to understand politics as an apparatus of driving good governance. Unarguably, this theme resonates with the ethos and mandate of the Not Too Young to Run movement.

AtTheConvergence 2.0, we featured experienced experts drawn fromthe academia, civil society,professional bodies, relevant tiers of government (including His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives),political parties and the diplomatic corps (including the US Ambassador to Nigeria, W. Stuart Symington), who gave insightful and inspiring keynote speeches. The highpoint of The Convergence2.0was the legislative clinics carefully designed to train newly elected legislators on legislative practice and procedure. We exposed young parliamentarians to the core meaning and functions of the legislature in the Nigerian society, institution reforms, gender equality and gender mainstreaming, community and grassroots engagement, social media and effective lawmaking, constituency engagement, legislative accountability and probity, economic growth and development, the Nigerian constitution and the young lawmakers’ oversight responsibility.

The young legislators also received legislative briefswith proposed legislative actionsin key policy areas like health, electoral reforms, inclusionand public accountability. The legislative briefs were prepared by YIAGA AFRICA and members of the Not Too Young To Run strategy team as a legislative agenda for the young legislators in National and state assemblies. At YIAGA AFRICA, we expect The Convergence series will usher a new leadership paradigm that upholds the principles of integrity, inclusion, transparency, accountability and excellence in public office. It is possible and we are going to make it happen.

Note by The Editor, Oluwafisayo Okare, The Convergence Magazine Volume 2, Published July 2019. Download the magazine HERE.