Samson Itodo is the executive director of YAGA Africa/the convener of the Not Too Young To Run movement. In this interview with ORJIME MOSES, he speaks on some critical electoralissues ahead of the 2019 general elections.
What was your experience driving the Not Too Young To Run project, and how does it feel seeing it become a reality?
It feels really inspiring to realise that Nigerians and the entire world have not lost faith in democracy. The Not Too Young To Run movement, especially young people, stands for renewing their faith in democracy and saying they want to participate therefore, the government or the state have to create that access to them. Second is the fact that we have a deeply entrenched sense of democracy or political inequality as well as exclusion and so the Not Too Young To Run movement was the campaign to dislodge and outstage this inequality which was the driving force for the engagement of the constitutional reviewing process to lower the age for running for office and that is what the young people actually did. So activating our citizenship was one of the key outcome of the movement and I felt very excited. It is a great privilege that I was part of this generation that succeeded in the struggle for the reduction of age in the 1999 constitution as amended.
Are you impressed with the responses from young persons to the new law so far?
It really inspired them and I’m so much impressed with the outcomes. It might interest you to know that because of the movement, a lot of young people have been inspired to run for public offices. But it is not just about having young people. We now have young people who have capacity and competence as well as character are indicating interest to run for offices. Secondly, we also elevated the discuss about public leadership. Previously public leadership was about zoning, ethnicity and religious extraction but today we are beginning to see the citizens asking questions about the quality of leadership that we want and now young people are beginning to get into the murky waters of politics. Indeed that is the second key indicator that actually young people are really waking up and seriously want to engage the movement. Today if you browse the social media or even offline you can see young people talking about electons or political engagements.
They are talking about youth engagement and the participation of women or young persons with disability because of not too young to run movement. Third is the fact that within the political parties today the purchase of nomination forms and internal party participation have increased because of the movement. Young people have enrolled into political parties and they are pressing demands there. In fact it is even unprecedented that political parties are now lowering their fees because of Not Too Young To Run movement. The PDP, SDP, NNPP, YPP, UPP as well as others did it. Even APC reduced it’s fee for the State Houses of Assembly. So there is a lot actually happening and there is a lot of progress from the side of the youth participation. Therefore, this movement is for all Nigerians and they are saying this is the time to have credible young people in offices to provide excellent public leadership because Nigeria is in serious need of excellent leaders who can provide innovative, transformative, as well as responsive leadership both at the grassroots, state and the national levels.
You have started a follow-up campaign named Ready To Run, which has to do with engaging the political parties on issues of cost for nomination forms for young persons among other demands, how convincing were the responses you received from the parties?
Frankly, the parties have come to appreciate the fact that majority of their voters are young people, today between 60 to 70 percent of registered voters are young people. What that simply means is young people determine elections. So any political party that want to win elections knows that it needs young people’s votes because it is the youth’s vote. However, parties are taking intentional test to ensure that they provide access to young people but that is not even enough because the parties are not doing enough. Some parties like SDP, PDP, YPP, NNPP as well as others infact, UPP even gave free nomination forms to young people. We had town hall meetings with securities and several political parties and all of them made commitments towards ensuring that they actually increase youths participation and youth representation for the forthcoming general elections. But there is also a challenge for the internal party democracy because we are done with the sale of forms and young people had problem with the high cost of forms. We condemned this high cost of forms because it is a threat to a participatory democracy but we are going to be up against party’s primaries because they are going to be the next huddle that young people are going to face.
What is your impression of the quality of political mentorship in the country today?
All the political parties are the same and that is why you can see a lot of defections from one political party to the other. You can see the quality of candidates presented by a political party sometimes are questionable and that is why we are rising against automatic ticket and imposition of candidates because it is really undermining our democracy. Today, we are talking about direct primaries. It is really nice but what is the level of political education on the part of the people who are members of the political parties? When parties select candidate, do they select base on character, competence and capacity or on the aspect of godfatherism or money bags? If you want to talk about delegates system or indirect primaries, we see a situation where delegates are being rewarding with millions of naira or dollars. You will see delegates buying cars and building houses because they are being paid well by some of the contestants and in some states being a delegates involves a lot. So these issues have to be addressed and that is the function of our political culture.
Is the problem of leadership in Nigeria really that of age or capacity? Because we have seen a lot of relative young people make a mess of leadership in this country?
I do not think leadership is about age. I have been making this point over and over again that when you talk about Not Too Young To Run or Ready To Run, it means young people who have character, competence and capacity which is what this country actually needs. We are rising against any form of exclusion because democracy is about inclusion. If you talk about our party’s performance or leadership, it is about capacity. Are there young people who have capacity? Yes, there are and we need them into public offices. And why must we exclude such people to offices and that is what other countries are doing but we are not doing it, we continue to have gerontocrats, elderly people who only care about now. But we the young people who will be in the future need to be together and converse about the future. France has a younger president and things are going well and other nations too are beginning to recognise that for you to make tremendous progress you need young people in power not just young people but young people who have experience, skills, character, competence, and capacity.
The vote-buying phenomenon seems to have become common place in our electoral system with the outcomes of each elections, how can this be tackled robustly?
I think we need to put this on record that vote-buying reflects a political class that has failed. They have failed to provide the statutory responsibility and welfare of the people and we talking about security, poverty, inclusiveness and equality and equity in the distribution of wealth where the rich will not continue to exploit the poor. We are also beginning to see that from increase level of vote-buying shows that the checks and balances within our electoral system today that made it difficult for politicians to win the elections. The increased level of technology in our electoral system as well as the credibility of the INEC is also making it hard. So the politicians have resurfaced with vote buying because stuffing of ballot boxes or snatching of ballot boxes are no longer in our system because the card readers will fish them out. We are just beginning to study the Ekiti State elections title: duly elected or duly purchased so these were some of the findings. INEC has started on a very good note by banning the use of phones, cameras and the use of technological devices in the voting booth. So when a voter goes there to vote he or she do not go there with any device and the administration of the polling unit is very important and the security agency also need to play their role by arresting and prosecuting vote buyers under the electoral law particularly in section 131or so. It is very important that security agencies perform their duty and for voters to also note that if they sell their votes they would have sold their future because it have access to give a better life. So poverty should not be an excuss for you to sell your vote. Federal and state governments also need to perform their functions by showing good governance. They need to fulfill their campaign promises.
From your engagements in the political space do you think there is sufficient awareness for a shift in electorate behaviour ahead of 2019?
As a matter of fact, we are beginning to see it in our participation so far. Today you can see that as a country we have registered over 14 million people which when added to the previous number, unprecedented makes us the highest numbers of registered votes in Africa. Also, churches and mosques are now encouraging their congregations to participate in the electoral process, you can see the PVC collection rates you can see the questions that people are beginning to raise. Yes there is progress and I can advise religious body, civil society organisation, private individuals as well as media organisations to please educate people on the need to vote in credible leaders.
The only people who deserve your vote are the people who have competence, character and capacity, anything short of this is a wast of time.
We have a number of young persons coming out to contest the presidency in 2019, do you think they are really in touch with electorate in the hither lands?
Yes, all young people who are coming out to join the race understand that there are grassroots people. So they include the grassroots people and most of them understand that it’s never going to be business as usual and I can tell you that the young contestants have been doing consultations so they are really doing well.
We have 91 political parties today, how healthy is this for our democratic process?
My concern is that with the large number of political parties, the political process will be more cumbersome and for the electoral management point of view as well. Just imagine you have 91 political parties on a ballot paper and it lead to an increase number of ballot boxes. Honestly, most of the parties are not the real party in the true sense of the word. Many of them do not have offices, they do not have registered membership and I think we have to get to the point where we can be asking ourselves about the kind of political party we want. We have two political parties which is APC and PDP in the true sense of the word. A multi party system is more suitable for a multi country like Nigeria and that can help to strengthen our democracy but again we need to strengthen the parametres. For instance, what are the procedures for registering a political party? Yes our system may be simple for registering a political party but at end of it I think 81 percent may end up not getting a single vote and that simply tells you we have to eliminate these parties because we spend money to print materials and it will also not help on the part of INEC as well.