In 1973, Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former military ruler, shook the hands of two-year-old Justin Trudeau in Lagos when Justin’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the 15th prime minister of Canada, visited Nigeria. Today, Justin is 46 years old and the prime minister of Canada – a political development that is unlikely to happen in present-day Nigeria.
“I don’t see that happening with the way things are currently going in this country,” said Chidi Obi, 22, flipping through Barak Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. “He is my mentor,” he continued, pointing to the picture of Obama on the front cover of the book. “I look up to him and hope that one day I will have the opportunity to make an impact in my society”.
Obi, like many other young people in Nigeria, wants to be a leader. He wants to create change. However, he fears this will not happen anytime soon in Nigeria as older politicians still cling to power, refusing to give way to young people to be part of government.
In Nigeria, the youth constitutes more than 70 percent of the population but hardly 1 percent of this number gets into elected positions.
“Look at the president of France: He is a 40-year-old man. Could that ever happen in Nigeria? What we have here are old men who do not want to give us the opportunity to contribute our own ideas,” he told This is Africa.
Obi was referring to Emmanuel Macron, the French president and one of the youngest leaders in the world.
“It is wrong to presume that young people won’t do well when given the opportunity to serve their country.”
“I believe we should be given the opportunity to serve our country. It is wrong to presume that young people won’t do well when given this opportunity,” he said.
During his Independence Day address, President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged the role played by young people in different fields in the country, especially during the struggle for independence from colonial rule:
At the forefront have always been our youths. They have been at the vanguard of the struggle for independence. They fought in the war to keep the country united. And it was they who kept alive the struggle for democracy and human rights in our country at times when these were at risk, especially following the June 12th 1993 election and the historic 2015 election process.
Even today, our youths play a central role in Nigeria’s continuing progress and developments in all fields of our national endeavour – technology, agriculture, mining, engineering and especially the creative arts. Together we are building a more diverse, inclusive and self-reliant economy.
However, Joshua Ezeja, a student leader in Nigeria, said, “If we continue like this, without giving the youth a voice in government, then we are headed nowhere as a country. Young people are the power to radical change and innovation.”
Joshua believes the youth deserve a chance in the government of the day. “We have one or two things to contribute to the government but that will be when we are given the opportunity,” he added.
Ifeoma Okeke, a 19-year-old college student, hopes the youth will be given the opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of the country.
“As we celebrate our 58th year of independence, I want them to give us the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the country. We know we can play a part because there is strength in the youth,” she told This is Africa.
In May, President Buhari signed a Bill into law to break the age restrictions and allow young people to contest for public office. But many believe that despite the law, young people will still find it difficult to get into top elective offices in the country. For one, they think the young people are not well prepared. Second, they believe that money still plays a role in who gets elected and might affect their involvement in governance.
“Money still plays a role in who gets elected.”
“In the past three years we have introduced many policies and programmes targeted at youth development and youth empowerment. We support the ‘not too young to run’ legislation aimed at giving the youth a greater say in our national politics and governance,” Buhari said.
Emeka Asogwa, an expert on youth development, said, “Most young people don’t wake up early in life. I encourage young people to wake up early. The so-called old politicians will not just give you power. You have to prepare yourself to earn it.”