Nigerian Youth: The Real Third Force- Samson Itodo

Nigerian youth

More than one year into the 2019 general elections, the political maneuvering has earnestly commenced. In fact, in Nigeria today, everybody, both online and offline, are already stricken with political fever and the frenzy of the upcoming 2019 elections. Unlike in other parts of the world, where the demand for democracy seems low, Nigeria’s case is different. There’s a renewed demand for democracy and a heightened quest for good governance and better leadership. The yearning for better leadership after 18 years of democracy is predicated on the failure of the two dominant parties that have steered the affairs of the country since 1999. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ruled Nigeria for 16 years, yet development eluded the country. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will be three years in office in a couple of months and Nigerians are yet to experience the promised “change”. It is this failure of government to deliver democratic gains to the people that led to the new quest for quality leadership couched in the novel popular phrase in Nigerian political lexicon, “The Third Force”.

What exactly is The Third Force? Is it a new ideology, political party or movement? Is the Third Force capable of disrupting national politics in a way democracy can eventually begin to deliver development to all Nigerians? Since last year, several groups have emerged positioning themselves as The Third Force. It started with the Emerging Leaders Conference, National Intervention Movement (NIM), Red Card Movement, Revive Nigeria to Obasanjo’s newly espoused Coalition for Nigeria. These groups have one thing in common: They are responses showing that Nigerians are tired of bad governance and in need of good leaders. However, what remains absent is a visible plan on how to morph into a political party or evolve as a mass movement sweeping out bad governance.

In recent times, we have seen the determination of citizens, in particular young people and their readiness to actively participate in the forthcoming elections. We are witnesses to the increasing turn out of intending registrants in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise and collection of Permanent Voter cards. According to the INEC chairman, during the launch of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance project in Abuja, the CVR exercise recorded a whopping one million registrants in three weeks. This only confirms the belief people have in the “power of their votes”, as a means of asserting sovereignty.

Back to the big elephant in the room, which is the real Third Force? I submit that this are the Nigerian youth, who will determine the outcome of the 2019 general elections. Politics is a game of numbers and unfortunately for the actors, the youth of the country comprise 52 percent of those on the voters’ register in Nigeria presently. I know many will be quick to discountenance this assertion, claiming that young people will vote for any political party or political actor based on what they get. The context is fast changing as young people are gradually recognising the power they wield in the political process. The emergence of Emmanuel Macron of France, Sebastain Kurz of Austria and George Weah of Liberia as heads of government inspires young Nigerians.

The leaders of the current groups claiming to constitute The Third Force obtain their legitimacy from young people. Without the youth, there is no Third Force. The influence of the ruling political class is determined by the extent of their mobilisation of young people to serve their political interests. These groups have traditionally leveraged on the energy of the youth and tapped into their resourcefulness to ascend to power and then turned around to exclude them when they assume office. The protagonists of The Third Force and politicians alike are deploying diverse tactics to get the youth vote again in the next elections. What they fail to appreciate is the fact that young people understand the importance of politics and they are taking intentional steps to engage by strategically negotiating for power. There is broad based consensus in the youth movement that youth exploitation for political gains must stop.

We launched the NotTooYoungToRun campaign and built it around the singular issue of youth inclusion in political processes. The campaign is not limited to removing age barriers for running for office, rather it is about rediscovering our citizenship and redressing the age-long inequality that has plagued Nigerian democracy. It is also about ending corruption, the better management of our diversity and correcting everything that is bad in the polity to rebuilding the country for the common good. The movement is a silent revolution by young people to rebuild the country. 2019 elections will no doubt be an eye opener for the political class. In fact, this is an open advice to the political class: Brandishing the Third Force as an identity is not a guarantee of winning votes, especially if the vehicle through which the ambition will be prosecuted is replete with politicians laden with political baggage.

The yearning of the youth is simple: It is for a Nigeria that is not built on ethnic, regional or religious pacts; a country where pursuing one’s daily livelihood is not contingent upon the geography of natal extraction; a country where politics is inclusive; a country where public wealth is not filtered away by a thieving elite. Presently, the numbers are in favour of the youth and this should not be easily dismissed. There is a lot of galvanisation of the youth by civic groups such as YIAGA Africa, Connected Development, Not Too Young To Run/Ready To Run movement, Emerging Political Leaders Summit, Youngstars Foundation etc., going on. The rationale is to push huge numbers to vote not just on issues but for candidates with clearly defined metrics of measuring success. Uniting the youth constituency is a priority. When youth unite, they positively disrupt politics. Nigeria needs that disruption to move its politics to another level. This is the shift towards restructuring Nigeria.

Samson Itodo, an elections and constitution building enthusiast, executive director of YIAGA Africa and convener of the Not Too Young To run movement. Send comments and feedback to He tweets @DSamsonItodo

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