This last weekend quite exciting, politically speaking. First, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party held its national convention where it elected its National Executive Committee. This did not take place without intrigues, as the anointed candidates somehow won despite losing in the regional primaries. Then, the party elected a 60-year old as their National Youth Leader, to the amusement of all as to what exactly is the definition of youth. In his feeble defence, the new Youth Leader said it is a thing of the mind. Lastly, a ministerial assistant who is quite prominent in the Nigerian Twitterverse made public that he had joined the ruling party, even ascribing to them the qualification of being great.
It was the last event that sent tongues wagging and has so far inspired at least 5 articles. They have ranged from whether his motives to join the PDP were driven by ideology or a need to please his boss and save his job; or whether young men can join existing political parties and bring change or even if anything good can come from the PDP. As someone that is averse to stereotyping, I refrain from painting every PDP member with the same brush. I agree that there are many things wrong with the party, and they could have done a far better job of leading the country than they have so far. In fact, I wonder if I can call them a political party as in the words of American diplomats in Nigeria as exposed in Wikileaks cables, ‘they are merely an agglomeration of interests built around prominent people with the sole aim of holding power, and having no ideology whatsoever’. However, I contend that there is nothing that the PDP has done that any other party has not done in Nigeria, be it good or bad. And for the record, I am not a PDP member nor do I intend to be.
But this article is not about PDP and their infamy. It is about the question of whether young people should join political parties and if they can be able to effect change in them. It is no news that our existing political parties are sick, rudderless and devoid of any ideology or conviction. They cannot identify any single policy they consistently fight for, maybe with the exception of the Action Congress of Nigeria that has been pushing for the implementation of true and fiscal federalism in the county and the devolution of power from the centre to the component units. Almost all operate like personal fiefdoms, in the hands of a single individual and his cronies. Internal democracy is sorely lacking, and there is no keeping with their own rules.
How then does one hope to join such parties and stand out to a shining light and beacon for change? Truth be told, it is a daunting task. Some have even gone as far as saying that young people should shun the existing parties altogether and build their own political platform. I find myself very sceptical about it. This is because it is based on the assumption that all young people are cut from the same political cloth, while in reality, the only common factor we have is an age group and similar lifestyles. There is also the belief that there are no honest men in the generations before us and ours is composed of only saints. That also is a fallacy.
The fact is that we cannot ignore politics if we desire to bring change to our country. As much as solution-providers are not found only in government, we should ignore this all-important part of our national life. Also, there is a limit to how effective we can be in changing government if we do not aspire to be in government itself and change it from within. It is not just enough to tweet and rant and write innumerable articles, criticising government and in some places, proposing solutions. The question is, when push turns to shove, are we willing to get our hands dirty? Are we willing to step into the ring and fight for this change? How willing are we to put our ideas into practice where it matters most?
We cannot aspire to be in government unless we begin to involve ourselves in party politics. Sitting back and hoping that one day, these parties would suddenly change is nothing but wishful thinking. This is mainly because right now, they are only attracting their ilk; and the voices of change within them, if they are any, are being drowned out by the din of noise and power-grabbing. What we need is a critical mass of young people who have convictions for change to join the parties that they see as the ideal vehicles for that change.It is not impossible for us to join the existing political parties and begin to foist on them ideologies we believe in.
I know I cannot speak as to what motivated the young ministerial assistant to joining the PDP; indeed no one can apart from himself and God Almighty. But also, we cannot continue to demonize young people who pick up membership cards when we continue to cry out that we need young people to start working for change in every aspect of our national life. This amounts to hypocrisy.
It is about time we get off our smartphones and social media and step into the ring. Let us form that critical mass of young people joining these parties, and if possible, starting ours, understanding how they work and begin to do the work of reforms from within. We cannot continue to allow only sycophants and spent individuals chart the course of our nation.
2015 is not too far away. We can make our impact felt, not only at the ballot box but even within the party halls and congresses.