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]


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.

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.