By Turaki Adamu Hassan
“Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today.” – Alfie Kohn
In this knowledge-based 21st century that we are in, the continued survival of a nation and its ability to rise and consolidate on the gains that globalization holds, lies in the interplay between policy formulators, implementers and the impact it makes on the target or its future leaders.
That’s why it’s often said, ‘show me the mindset, orientation and intellectual capacity of any student, and I will tell you what future that country has.’
Regrettably, however, successive governments in Nigeria have been unable to formulate and implement deliberate policies and programmes that would carter for the interests of the youths.
Ours is a system which consistently failed the youths and not the other way round, and that is why this intervention by the Speaker is novel and must not only be commended, but emulated by leaders at all levels.
In all serious societies and especially democracies, young people are the most important segment of the population sought after by politicians and leaders alike, who ensure that their interests are taken care of in the process of policy formulations.
Today, there are over 50 million young Nigerians in schooling age from primary to secondary schools, polytechnics, colleges of education and universities who look up to this present government of change for a better future after making their voices heard during the 2015 elections.
Conscious of this and keeping in mind that the Nigerian youth are the cornerstone to the country’s societal and developmental rejuvenation, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Yakubu Dogara, has decided to start meeting with the Nigerian youths, especially tertiary students. In such first interaction, the Speaker will meet with 161 students from all 141 public and private universities across the country from Monday 8th May, 2016.
The immediate impact to such interaction which holds over a two-day period will be the broadening of the understanding of the Nigeria student to the workings of the legislature, and ensure the fulfillment of the Speaker’s promise to promote youth inclusion in governance and encourage their active participation in democracy.
The dialogue is also aimed at exposing stereotypes that have constantly pitched the people against the National Assembly due to general misconception and misunderstanding of the legislature, as a result of prolonged military rule in Nigeria and the interplay of politics that has ensured that the Nigerian youth plays a less satisfactory participatory role in the national scheme of things.
The Citizen Engagement and Youth Development programme, a sole initiative of the Rt Hon Speaker, aims to be a regular interactive forum with the Nigerian University students, and is part of the fulfillment of the 8th House of Representatives’ Legislative Agenda to bring Nigerian youths closer for their voices to be heard.
As a proactive and revolutionary leader, this strategic move by the Speaker will, in no small way, promote active youth inclusiveness in democracy and redress the old thinking of exclusionary politics which has been identified as the bane of sustainable democratic consolidation.
Because of this exclusionary politics, Nigeria is yet to fully tap into the benefits of having a country with a well-prepared and equipped youth that is ready to take on and surmount the challenges of leadership. In fact, if Nigeria prepares its youth well – like the Speaker is preparing to do – its future lies not in oil but in the articulated, confident and highly motivated youths it is able to produce.
Apart from the goal of enhancing democratic engagement, deepening students’ knowledge and understanding of Parliamentary activities, legislative processes, Parliamentary history and oversight of government by the National Assembly, this innovative interface will also encourage sustainable discussion on national developmental issues between students and elected representatives; thereby, creating better understanding of the legislature, creating an opportunity to demand for accountability from their representatives, build trust and redefine public perception of the legislature.
Furthermore, it will create a rare opportunity for the participants to make contributions and recommendations to the Speaker on areas they would want addressed. Significantly, the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) will address the Speaker on the role of students in nation building, as a way of fully gauging the mindset of the Nigerian student. The association will also facilitate a debate on youth unemployment.
Overall, the parley is expected to
a) Expose students to the legislature: what it is and what it does
b) Learn about perceptions and values of democracy and knowing what factors influence the functioning of democracies.
c) Enhance dissemination of legislative information materials to students and school libraries.
d) Support students to directly observe legislative processes
e) Improve public trust in the Legislature as an arm of government
f) Enable students and young people meet elected representatives in the National Assembly
g) Engage students in a learning process outside the classroom by actively participating and improving their knowledge and understanding the perspectives of the Legislature.
h) Development of leadership skills in students and young people.
Facilitated by the National Institute for Legislative Studies, the interaction is expected to have far-reaching impact on promoting citizen engagement with the legislature.
Thus, if this is fully achieved, it will lead to a gradual erosion of the frustration, hopelessness and lack of confidence the average Nigeria youth has for it leaders and the way the country works. It will pave a way for an all round development of the Nigerian youth which should instill in him, the confidence needed for him to achieve both his desire and the development of the country.
This is keeping in mind that the vision of the country to be among the 20 top developed economies in the world by the year 2020 is only four years away from reality, and unless the youths are brought up in an environment that encourages and inspires confidence in them, we will get to that target year and realize that it’s still a dream.
Indeed, it was Rachel Jackson who said that there is great danger in a system that deliberately fails to carter for today’s needs of the youth “the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.”
Hassan is the Special Adviser on Media & Public Affairs to Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
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