The subject of youths in politics and governance has dominated the national discourse over the past few weeks especially after the signing into law of the #NotTooYoungToRun bill which reduces the age of eligibility for running for office in the Constitution, thus expanding the space for more young people to get involved.
As someone who is passionate about youth participation in politics and has been involved in the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign, one question I have been confronted with often especially by skeptics of the campaign is this: can young people succeed in a political space and parties dominated not just by folks who are older, but who are also more financially capable?
My short answer to that is: yes.
My long answer is the following: while people are right to ask what the chances of young people are in today’s political environment against older and richer folks, there is a yearning for leadership irrespective of the age.
What does this mean? It means if young people show leadership potential, it will get noticed by the people and by the parties and it is an excellent way to earn a seat at the table.
Showing leadership is not merely about huge sums of money, as many people are wont to believe. One way to achieve this is to get involved in community activities and making valuable contributions that are not just monetary. Organizing other members of the community, mobilizing funds for projects, suggesting excellent ideas and offering to be part of projects are all activities that move the needle greatly with showing leadership potentials.
As a matter of fact, getting involved in this manner plays more to the advantage of younger people as it shows vibrancy and the ability to connect with the community over and above those who just throw money around.
Another way is to join a political party and be active in it by attending meetings especially at the ward level, making constant contributions no matter how small and also encouraging others to join that party. As a young person, you will do yourself a world of favors by encouraging other like-minded young people to join which gives you power in numbers of not just age but also ideology.
Now to the elephant in the room: where does money play a role in building equity within parties and communities and showing leadership abilities?
Without doubt, money plays a huge role in politics but even more important is how it is deployed. Like I earlier said, making regular contributions to your party especially at the ward level gets you huge contributions. This is important because it provides financial lifeblood to your party at its smallest unit without having to wait for a wealthy benefactor to send money, especially when there are competing demands for his resources.
Another way is to pick small projects to fund over a long period of time – imagine you make a commitment to pay the SSCE registration fees of 10 students in your community for a period of five years. While this is a project that is well within the resources of people who earn even as little as N600, 000 annually, it will make a huge difference in the lives of those who are unable to afford it and gives you a lot of mileage.
Doing this as far from an election period as possible and being consistent with it earns you a lot of trust: you are viewed as doing it for altruistic reasons and not just doing it to sway votes your way. Even without your indicating interest in an office, you will have community members encouraging you to run because they have seen your passion for helping them.
Now this is not just a theoretical approach for young people to getting involved – this is an approach that numerous persons have used to gain influence in their communities and parties and to also win elections.
Young people can get involved and be successful in politics without having loads of money and even against richer, older contestants.