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Engaging The Women And Youth In Nation Building

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Monday, February 29th, 2016
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Over the years and in Nigeria especially within the African context, women and youths have been relegated to the background in issues of overall development especially in the political development of the nation. This is born out of the assumption that women and youths are unripe for leadership. Historical evidence is  available to prove that the Nigerian women and the youths have for a long time, been playing crucial roles in political life of the country, and this has contributed in no small measure in shaping the political system of the nation. For development of any kind to be successful, a vantage position should be accorded the women and the youths as they constitute a larger proportion of the population. In this regard, they should not be left out in the issues of decision making that affects their lives as a people.

Today, women and the young people in age not in ideas called youths, are participating more actively in political issues than ever before as a result of political re-awakening and awareness. More often than not, they are besieged with challenges of which discrimination is more rife. Majority of the ‘men’ are preoccupied with the notion that decision making is exclusively for the men folk while women are to be instructed on what to do. This idea of seeing the women playing the number two role at homes has come to play itself out in the political life of the people. And this ought not to be so with regards to the ever dynamic nature of things globally as women and youths are now seen in other communities as avant-garde in developed nations. It is surprising that the same mindset of yester years is still what obtains in our country.

Despite the difficulties faced by women and ‘unprivileged youths’ in politics, they continue with their political ambitions, contributing enormously to the political and national development in their own way as the challenges mitigating against them are ever present. Women over the years could be said to have recorded some measure of appreciable  achievement in political fields of endeavor, meeting their political objectives with limited support and resources at their disposal.

In 1957 during the pre-independence era of Nigeria, a couple of women political activists such as Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, Mrs. Janet Mokelu and Ms. Young were members of the Eastern House of Assembly. The late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, though not a full-fledged politician, was a very strong force to reckon with in the politics of the Western Region. And Hajia Gambo Sawaba waged a fierce battle for the political and cultural emancipation of women in the North. One can say that women have always played viable political roles. There are many women in politics presently who have done very well and continue to inspire others. Liberia’s Head of State Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made history as Africa’s first female President. In the United States, Senator Hillary Clinton has continued to make a  positive impact in America’s politics.

Today, many countries of the world are making efforts to bridge the gap between men and women in politics. But in Nigeria, the representation of women in Government even though can be said to have improved, is still very low compared to what obtains in other nations of the world, particularly on the African continent. There is no doubt that women have a lot of potential and the right to contribute meaningfully to the development of their country. Therefore, the Nigerian government should work towards achieving gender equality in democratic governance, and increase women’s participation and access to politics. It must be realized that the role of women as home makers cannot be down played in that it equally has an extended impact on their responsibility in service – the woman’s touch anywhere cannot be matched.

There is no doubt that almost all Nigerians want change, and the mood for change is evident from small villages to big cities where poverty, disease, lack of social infrastructure and most significantly lack of hope is the everyday reality for millions of Nigerians. 21st century Nigeria seems to be a shadow of its glorious past where recruiters from governmental establishments used to transverse university campuses in search of prospective employees, even before they graduated. Today, the story is different as our youth, even those who have reached the highest academic echelon, are hopeless, helpless, jobless and at times homeless.

The pride of being a Nigerian youth many years ago is somehow obliterated by the perpetuation of evil practices by our very own elders, some of whom have extolled themselves as elder statesmen. Young men and women across Nigeria have been bequeathed with a sense of social, political and economic insecurity by these same people, and many of us have been indoctrinated into a mirage of hope in an attempt to fight, sometimes violently, the selfish cause of the political elites at the polling booths and beyond. Our unquestionable allegiance to these same elders that have destroyed our land in itself raises concern that change in the political landscape of Nigeria is far from being achieved.

We need to transform our virtual ideas into sustainable reality. Our problems in Nigeria will not be solved by secession; our problems in Nigeria will not be solved by waving spears and arrows; our problem in Nigeria can only be solved when Nigerians at all social strata embrace the humanity of one another; when Nigerians embrace the spirit of “Live and let live”; the true spirit of egalitarianism. Our problems could be solved through non-violent but persuasive discussions, objective engagement and sustainable diplomacy.

The youth have an enormous responsibility in charting a new course for Nigeria. From my experience within and outside Nigeria, there seems to be a growing and continual push for a national youth-initiated agenda and a youth-led coalition that would push for the renaissance that we all aspire to see in our country.

We need to help build a Nigeria where poverty and despair for the majority of our population being women and youths are challenged with the resources we have; we need to help build a society where our women and youth are not constantly harassed on arrival at foreign countries because they are by default deemed criminals or flight risks; we need to help build the generation that will build our nation. Our youth could help build sustainable democracy and democratic institutions. The Nigerian youth could foster the election of individuals with democratic legitimacy and shy away from short-term gains and long-term losses involved in supporting individuals with questionable character.

For most of us, our role models are our parents and mostly our fathers, but unfortunately this generation has for the most part failed us, meaning we have to develop our own model of problem-solving and critical analysis of the contemporary reality facing the youth. Our women and youth cannot remain complacent about the reality of a typical Nigerian, who is faced with the quagmire of whether to eat, clothe or find adequate housing. In a land of plenty, in a land blessed with enormous human and material resources, our women and youth should not be faced with the challenges of searching for clean water, health care, education and non-existent employment opportunities.

The challenges facing the Nigerian women and youths and indeed Nigeria are growing, and we need to begin to mobilize ourselves and develop a unified voice that could question the idea of business as usual among our elitist politicians. We need to fight for a safer society that will discourage brain drain and help build a sustainable economy and democracy. It is by challenging the status quo that women today are able to vote across many countries; it is by challenging the status quo that racial segregation was ended in America, and it is only by challenging the status quo that change can come to Nigeria. By the women and youth coming together across Nigeria with a unified but non-violent voice, a long lasting change could be brought to our beloved country Nigeria, and posterity could be assured of a better future.

Josephine Okei-Odumakin is a human rights activist and social crusader. She is the president of the rights groups Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy. She was one of the recipients of the 2013 Women of Courage award in the United States.

 

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