Just a few weeks ago, young Nigerians made history when the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari signed into law, the “Not Too Young To Run” Bill.
This was a process which required months of organizing, marching, protesting, lobbying and working together with the elected representatives to pass what was an amendment of our constitution to open up the space for more participation by Nigeria’s young people.
Throughout the world, the “Not TooYoung To Run” movement drew the attention of anyone interested in youth participation in the politics of our nation.
For some of us, the rationale was simple – If we are headed towards a future that will be defined by technology, an information based economy and the 4th industrial revolution, then we the young people of our country who will be alive in that future need to have a seat at the table of governance.
It is only logical that those who have a stake in a future are part of the decision makers of what happens in that future. Today, we affirm that in deed, we are Not Too Young To Run the affairs of and participate in the building and the development of our nation into the exact country we want it to be.
As it has been obvious, we are led and represented by so called leaders who have little to no understanding of what our future demands.
The pace of our development is so slow, the pace of our population growth is so fast, the urgency of our reforms is non existent even as our representatives and leaders continue to debate the mundane. All these continue to happen even as doomsday gets closer by the minute.
As the official poverty capital of the world, our women continue to die from childbirth. Why should our wives and young mothers continue to die in the 21st century because they are trying to give birth to another? Our educational system continues to rotten even as our population growth continues to increase astronomically.
Why are we not asking the questions of how we intend to educate the 200 million Nigerians under 20 who we will be our citizens in the next 20 years? Brick and mortar classes or Technology?
Our young talents are either finding ways to cross our porous borders to other countries in search of greener pastures to as close as Ivory Coast or Ghana even as our own police force continue to threaten and brutalize the ones that remain.
In all of these, our parliament has largely turned deaf ears to the cries of the average Nigerian youth, choosing to pass legislation that favors only the elite and kill or pass under the carpet the bills that put education and prosperity in the reach of the average Nigerian youth.
We want to ask for example, why has the Nigerian Education Bank established by Decree No 53 of 1993 failed to provide funds not more than N32,000 in the last four years and has not had up to 10,000 beneficiaries since its inception? Why has the Students Loan Bill being pending in the House of Representatives for years now in an age where every tertiary student has a BVN number that can be used to process and track applications? Is the House of Representatives more interested in stiffling the press with a Press Corps Bill than in the education of its ever-increasing citizens?
Why does section 36(5) and (6) of the Land Use Act prohibit and punish the alienation of the use of agricultural land so that such land cannot be used as collateral for financial instruments that free up capital? Is it logical that I can buy a plot of land and build a house worth N2 milion naira on it and walk to a bank to get a loan but I cannot buy 10 acres of land, erect a farm worth N10 million and can’t use that as collateral?
Again, when we say that our laws are made and sustained to be beneficial to a select few to the detriment of the average Nigerian youth, what we mean is the kind of laws that exist to keep away prosperity and societal benefits away from the young people of Nigeria.
Another example of this is the income tax relief act which pegs the qualifying capital expenditure of companies to enjoy tax relief at N100million if they are indigenous and N120million if they are not. Where is the plan for the millions of SMEs and technology startups that create the innovation that our leaders boast of when they give speeches all over the world.
Why does the public procurement act not have a percentage of all public procurement not set aside for MSMEs across the country especially for those that are enabled by technology if truly we have a tech-friendly government?
It is now crystal clear beyond any iota of doubt that those who claim to represent us as a constituency in parliament are not in any way privy to our issues nor do they care about them.
Assuming without conceding that they do care, to what extent are they capable of understanding the issues and pushing for reforms in that area. Of all the 4 or more committees in the National Assembly on ICT, Technology, Research and Innovation, which boasts of more than 60 members of the parliament, only about two of these have a background in technology.
In fact, there are video records on the internet of a chairman of one of the committees on ICT narrating how his daughter was making jest of him because he couldn’t operate an iPad and he is the chairman of the committee on ICT!
Our generation must rise as we have a solemn obligation to ensure that our country does not become more irredeemable that it is turning out to be already.
In spite of the political drama in our country, we have a duty to ensure that the policy issues that matter to our generation and our demography receive adequate attention and that laws are passed that favor the sectors that affect us directly.
We must then identify those amongst us who are qualified to push forward these reforms in our agenda and ensure that we get them elected and that they begin to pursue these reforms in the interest and progress of our demography.
This task is at the core of the campaign that we are launching today tagged, “Break The Hold”. Our organisation, Raising New Voices Initiative will be working to support the emergence and the election of young competent Nigerians who understand, as Martin Luther King Jnr likes to put it, the fierce urgency of now, into the House of Representatives in 2019.
We will be working with exactly 25 candidates cutting across the 6 geo-political zones in the country and across different political parties. They will be pursuing an agenda that cuts across 2 categories of reforms – sectoral reforms and governance reforms.
Under sectoral reforms, this new caucus will focus on three sectors – Technology and Innovation, Economy and Education. Under governance reforms, this new caucus will be focusing on reforms on Anti-Corruption, Civil Service reforms, with emphasis on the Nigeria Police Force and Lean Government. Our comprehensive legislative agenda can be found and downloaded from our website www.raisingnewvoices.org
Our hope is that in supporting these candidates to get elected into parliament, Nigerians both at home and in diaspora will join our campaign in crowdfunding the resources, both financial, physical and material to ensure their election.
In more specific terms, the campaign is seeking between 200,000 and 250,000 Nigerians who will commit to giving their resources to the campaign at a minimum of N5000 and a maximum of N100,000.
Our volunteer crowdfunding initiative will be partnering with YIAGA’s “Ready To Run” movement to select and vet the candidates we will be working with, and the International Republican Institute to ensure spendings are monitored and their campaigns comply with the existing electoral laws.
Every donor who gives to the campaign will be sent a souvenir pack containing a lapel pin and a support card that they can hold to show accountability from the candidates when they have been elected.
It must be reiterated that these candidates will come from across different political parties as we will be working with YIAGA to identify young reform-minded Nigerians, which must be said are in every party. We will especially work with candidates whose party agenda are clear aligned with ours, not just in word but in deed.
Before I invite our partners who are present here to speak after which we will address the questions, I must make mention of our partners without whose help we will not be here today.
The brains behind the #NotTooYoungToRun movement, YIAGA as I have earlier mentioned are here and have offered their support to this initiative from the get go and our partnership with the #ReadyToRun movement will help ensure the credibility of the candidates we are working with and the success of our campaign.
The International Republican Institute who have worked in the political and democratic process of our country for the past 17 years or more have continued to offer immense support for young Nigerians and our organisation is grateful to be partnering with them on this initiative.
In also presenting our message to the Nigerian people, we are partnering with Voice of The People, a volunteer led organization committed to hearing the people’s voices and amplifying it.
Deep Dive Intelligence, Civic Hive and Ventures Platforms, organisations who continue to lay the foundation for a Nigeria built on technology and innovation have offered support to this initiative both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of policy formulation. We are hosted here for example by the gracious team at Ventures Park.
As the fourth realm of the estate, I am glad that the press have continued to play its role in informing our citizens of all the options available to them in our democracy and your presence here reinforces that narrative. I am optimistic that even where there are lapses, that you will continue to strive to do better.
In conclusion, I am convinced that Nigeria will be the most technologically advanced country in the world by 2075. Our citizens will be the best experts in all things technology and innovation.
We will lead the world in security, defence, tele-medicine, logistics, commerce, manufacturing, and rapid infrastructure settling. With technology, we will blur the lines between life and death and revolutionize medicine. We will not only break the barriers and enter the uncharted spaces of physics and science, we will create a new world beyond the planet earth and create a whole new experience that has not even come into the imagination of even the most advanced scientists.
I have said all these not just because I am overtly optimistic but because I know that a new generation of young Nigerians will be born in the next two decades and we will have the opportunity to harness their creative and innovative minds.
More than any country on earth, we will have the youngest and the brightest and we will change the narrative for the black race forever!
This dream is about the future. Our initiative to #BreakTheHold that has kept us away from the journey to that future is about today.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Jude ‘Feranmi (JFK)