It is no longer news neither is it fake news that democracy, human rights and regard for the rule of law is being threatened worldwide. From time immemorial, everyday heroes have raised their voices and taken actions as activists, advocates and simply as concerned citizens. This in many ways have preserved the sanctity of their sovereign states.
From when Nigeria returned to democracy over 20 years ago, we seemed to have been enjoying an exponential growth phase filled with the potentials for development, stable political structures and a constitution that protected civic rights. Presently, we are plunging straight for a death phase and the labor of our heroes both past and present are fast crumbling. The walls of the structures they built are closing in on all of us. How then can we build a nation where good governance, development, peace and justice will reign?
Generally, this was the feeling that necessitated the birth of the Young Parliamentarians Forum (YPF) by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and Yiaga Africa to provide a platform where young legislators can avail their energy and carry out legislative services that will influence political, economic and social development. Following the success of the Not Too Young To Run in the inclusion of young Nigerians in decision making, it was evident that this crop of young leaders will be able to influence electoral reforms, constitutional reviews, protect the rule of law and protect the people’s voice in the present shrinking civic space.
Stemming from this ideology, a two (2) days annual retreat for young legislators under the YPF was held on Friday 4th February and Saturday 15th February 2020 in the South-East city of Owerri in Imo State. The innovative engagement couldn’t have been timelier as it aims to strengthen these young legislators who have become a voice in solving Nigeria’s governance challenges and are deepening Nigeria’s democracy through their legislative action and advocacy.
The constitutional amendment, electoral reforms and the shrinking civic space are sensitive concerns currently affecting the political development of Nigeria. “Our mandate for inclusiveness of young Nigerians in the socio-economic, political and decision-making process as well as the development of our Nation will be and can be achieved in record time and I have no doubt that after this two days, we will leave here with a legislative pragmatic action plan that will stand the test of time” Hon. Kabir Tukura, the Chairman, YPF said during his welcome remarks. Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo during his opening statements said that Yiaga Africa is equally concerned about the shrinking civic space and remains committed to investing in the inclusion of young people in Nigeria’s democratic landscape to solve this issue.
Following suit in his goodwill message was Country Director of OSIWA, Jude Udo Ilo who expressed unflinching faith in the young legislators in providing positive narratives for other young people. “Our faith in your potentials have not wavered. More than ever, we need you and your country needs you” he said.
Speaking during the session on Enhancing Electoral Integrity Through Electoral Reforms, Barrister Festus Okoye, National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) posited that there are issues and challenges with the electoral legal framework in Nigeria and their reforms with the concomitant fidelity to the law and constitution will sustain Nigeria’s democracy. Professor Offornze Amucheazi, SAN a former consultant to the National Assembly during the session on Constitutional Review also said that the constitution amendment exercises will offer the legislature opportunity to make contributions that will meet the needs of the citizens and aid national development.
Other sessions featured expert presentations on identifying opportunities for constitutional amendment to improve the participation of marginalized groups, the role of legislature in protecting the democratic space, Hate Speech Bill, Social Media and NGO Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Universal Basic Education Reforms, the operational framework of the YPF and its 2020 work plan.
Facilitators included Osai Ojigho Country Director of Amnesty International, Y. Z Yau the Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Lanre Aladeitan from the University of Abuja, Bukky Shonibare a Board Member of YouthHub Africa, Dr. Bello Olatunji the Clerk of YPF, Cynthia Mbamalu the Director of Programs Yiaga Africa and moderator of the retreat, Dr. Ernest Ereke who is the Coordinator of Yiaga Africa’s Centre for Legislative Engagement who also gave the opening introductions.
The young legislators in giving their feedback said;
“youth participation in leadership and governance have always been my major drive and the retreat is an opportunity to crystallize my ideas and form clusters with others that will help me achieve this goal”. “The bills we looked at and dissected have given me in-depth knowledge and clarity that I can now adequately legislate on when it eventually gets to the house”.
Present at the retreat was the Speaker, Imo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Collins Chiji who gave a goodwill message and Bella Anne Ndubuisi, Board Member of Yiaga Africa who also delivered a goodwill message on behalf of the board and management of Yiaga Africa. In closing the plenary, Cynthia Mbamalu the Director of Programs at Yiaga Africa emphasized Yiaga Africa’s commitment to legislative strengthening.
Looking past the bleak present to a brighter future, the coming years will now see the establishment of the Young Parliamentarians Forum across 10 states of the federation in the State Houses of Assembly.