As far as Youth Programmes go in Nigeria, it rarely gets better than a Rise Networks’ event. Weeks and weeks of planning and publicity usually always lead to the massive crowds that attend their programmes in every state they go to. The UN International Youth Day 2015 commemoration event was not an exception because even before the event commenced, thousands of students, young activists and professionals filled the hall as others were either taking pictures on the red carpet or visiting the stands of various corporate sponsors like First Bank and Close-Up.
In line with Rise networks’ focus on youth and education development through capacity building on youth inclusion, this year’s programme was designed to be the first big youth gathering after the 2015 elections that had brought on a change of government.
Timi Dakolo opened the event with a rendition of the first stanza of the national anthem while the University of Lagos SUG President, Comrade Martins Abiodun followed up with the second stanza which is more like a prayer for the youths. Following swiftly was a fiery debate between Miss. Rinsola Abiola, a young member of the APC Board of Trustees and Anthony Ehilebo from a PDP affiliated Youth Group (Rethink Nigeria). The debate was moderated by writer- Ademola Olarewaju. As the debate progressed, it became obvious that the last general elections surely increased the political consciousness of the usually non-partisan youths. For many, the two session debate was the highlight of the event. Watching an exuberant APC advocate (Rinsola) debating PDP defender (Mr. Anthony) who struggled to sustain interest in his party even as more people hailed the APC representative’s arguments than his was indeed an interesting spectacle. Rinsola proposed and most speakers after agreed that the “If we can vote at 18, we can also be voted for at 18”.
With a formidable line-up of speakers that included the Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki who had to jet out last minute to represent Nigeria at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in New York, he was represented by his Deputy Chief of Staff in the person of Hon. Gbenga Makanjuola, the former lagos Governor Fashola, senior spokesman to the former President Dr. Reuben Abati, Ovation publisher Dele Momodu among others, the crowd was ready to be charged.
Dele Momodu opened by stressing the importance of political participation, explaining how he had in times past supported others into political offices until he decided to throw his hat into the ring and contest for the position of President. He insisted that “the youths of today must go back to the days when young people had a strong voice” and emphasised that social media should be a tool that would make Nigerian youths a potent force in the polity.
Senate President Saraki emphasised the importance of getting involved even as he urged youths to “take part to take charge”. More importantly, he mentioned that the 8th Senate is going to come up with E-Parliament, a medium that would enable young Nigerians to contribute to senate debates through online means, make their voices heard, engage with senators as well as monitor events at the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
Dr. Abati spoke on the need for youths to develop a sense of identity – to mark themselves out from previous generations in rigorous thinking, distinctive engagement and an insistence on doing the right thing. He traced the role of youths in some of recent, major developments across the world from the ‘Arab Springs’ to the #OccupyNigeria, although he noted that the latter had a political undertone. For this reason, he stated that any government that ignores the youths usually get swept off.
Man of the moment, ex. Lagos State governor Mr. Tunde Fashola took the crowd on a practical journey in political rising, noting that even though he feels young at heart and still plays football, he is by no standard a youth and has no right to claim being a youth. He however aligned with Rinsola Abiola’s position that the minimum age at which people can contest for public office should be constitutionally reviewed, explaining that when youths leave a vacuum in the political process, people who are above 50 move into such positions at the expense of youths.
Award-winning journalist Tolu Ogunlesi took charge of the panel session where another invited guest Moses Siasia, a young contestant in the Bayelsa State gubernatorial election declared that job creation and education were two key parts of his plan for youths in Bayelsa if elected governor. The role of social media was discussed more in-depth as Abati explained that sometimes the abusive language employed by some online commentators has made social media a tedious ground. Dele Momodu also toed the same line although he pointed out that social media has a lot of positives for youths than negatives.
The event ended on a high note with all the attendees who picked up a thing or two. Rise Networks has shown again why they remain the foremost youth platform for empowerment and engagement for across Nigeria. Indeed, the political arena has room for youths. But youths need to get involved first. Hopefully, with the response from the crowd at the event, future politics will be shaped by youths henceforth.