In President Barack Obama’s farewell speech on January 10, 2017, he encouraged all Americans to step up as proud citizens. He said, “Our democracy needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
This, in my opinion is a very apt advice for Nigerian youths and indeed all Nigerians who wish for a better tomorrow. Especially at a time when most of the citizens are apolitical with a great feeling of apathy, helplessness and complacency as a result of failure of leadership and election rigging. But history shows that the worst thing that can happen in a democracy – as well as in an individual’s life, is to become cynical about the future and lose hope. Citizens of countries like Nigeria, Cameroun and others who became indifferent and have consistently refused to take active action to participate in political and governance processes, have ended being the losers. Experience shows that every decision that affects us as humans is majorly a function of government policy. As such, we must be actively involved to be able to influence how these decisions are made.
To create the future we want, we must get involved in all the many sectors and processes that lead to creating that future. In Nigeria, youths are seen to be considerably involved in almost every area of socio-economic and political development except the fundamental one, politics. Across the globe, there has been a consistent clamour for the emergence of a new kind of leadership driven by young people. In view of this, young people as a matter of national importance should get involved in politics, elections and good governance, since the whole strata of the society are shaped and determined by this sector.
The power to change the course of this nation lies not only in trying to get good leaders into office but in an enlightened and engaged citizenry. If historically nothing changed when we once tried, it doesn’t mean our future must be surrendered to our past experiences. Being better informed and working with the right information, we can engage in a more strategic way and change the course of this nation. There are ways to get involved and engaged.
- Register to vote and encourage others to do same.
Based on the guidelines from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), your permanent voters card (PVC) is your only tool to make a choice of who will help create the future you want. You must therefore get your PVC to get involved.
- Vote in every election.
Politics is an area that you may feel like you don’t have a say, but your participation can make a big difference. To create the future you want, you must vote! If you don’t vote, you have no right or leverage to complain about politics, politicians, or government. Above all, refusing to vote, aids election rigging. So, try to vote in every election, not just the big ones
- Join a political party
Getting involved in party affairs from a grassroots stance is a tiny but very important step towards building participatory democracy, good governance and the future you want. Get involved, join a political party with friends who share same ideology with you to influence the decisions of the party. Remember, only members of a political party can be voted for, based on the current electoral act.
- Run for office
The number of youths in politics in Nigeria remains disproportionately low, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Begin early to prepare by learning and equipping yourself with the basic leadership skills that will help you function effectively when you eventually decide to run for office. The Not Too Young To Run bill recently signed into law, has expanded the political field, thus making it possible for more young people to contest election. Youth make up more than sixty percent of this country’s population and yet our representation doesn’t reflect that at the National Assembly and many local and state legislatures. So, if you don’t like who is in charge, or desire things to be done differently, remember that you can run for office and be the change you wish to see in the world. Make that cliché a reality. We’re all in this together. The issues that cause us to cry, complain, mourn, celebrate, and take action — they require us to communicate and most of all, care enough to get involved.
- Know who your elected officials are
As stated earlier, we must be involved in all the process that lead to creating the future we want, from elections to demand for good governance and accountability. This requires we must know our elected officials and local legislators. Many organizations and agencies exist today, who can give us direct access to them. You can check them some of them out: Enough is Enough, Nigeria (EIE) – www.eie.ng, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) – www.yiaga.org; BudgIT – www.yourbudgit.com; Connected Development (CODE) – www.connecteddevelopment.org. And many others. Knowing the names and faces of those behind national, state and local decisions, positions you as a more informed citizen, which allows you to better advocate for your needs as well as the needs of your community
- Contact Your Leaders
Once you know who your elected officials are, talk to them! Tell them what’s on your mind: what concerns you, what keeps you up at night, what you expect of them. Their job is to listen to you, so reach out frequently and respectfully to voice your opinions. Use social media when necessary, otherwise, stick to penning a letter, writing an email, and picking up the phone to ensure your point of view is heard. You might not be exactly sure what to say the first time. Introduce yourself as a constituent, explain what you’d like to hear or see from them as an elected official, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or request a response. Not all offices function the same way, but if you request a response, the odds of your comment moving past a general staffer to your representative are higher. Demand accountability of how allocations and revenues to the local, state and government were spent. Be consistent and it will yield result over time.
- Attend Town Hall Meetings
To find out when town hall meetings are happening in your city, do a quick Google search or call your elected officials. Town hall meetings happen to be a chance to engage with and speak directly to your elected officials and local legislators. These meetings are free of cost and held in a public space, typically beginning with a short speech from an elected official and then an open Q&A, where attendees can ask questions about a piece of legislation or a specific issue. After all, it is not pointless as some people think. Make it a point to always attend. It is one of the ways of getting involved.
- Support organizations that promote political inclusiveness and good governance. Check out organizations that promote political inclusiveness, good governance and accountability and lend them your support. Support takes shape in numerous ways: volunteer your time and energy, raise funds, donate your hard-earned cash, lobby elected officials, sign petitions, or write letters to raise awareness. Campaigns and nonprofits are always looking for hands to help knock on doors and make phone calls, especially during an election season. Remember, you are never too old or young to be a first-time volunteer for an issue or candidate. And if there’s not an organization set up to support your such a cause in your area, take the initiative and start one.
How will you get involved in public service, local politics, or your community in 2019? What will you do to make your voice heard? There’s no reason not to be involved. After all, it’s still your country. The decisions that are made by elected officials have the power to impact almost every aspect of your life. Therefore, step up and get involved; it’s your life, it’s your future.