There are over 1.8 billion young people in the world today, 90% of whom live in developing countries, where they tend to make up a large proportion of the population(5). In Nigeria, statistics reports show that over 33.6 million (16.8%) Nigerians are regarded as youths (aged between 15 and 35). Despite this population, many of these youths have no influence on the political proceedings in the country, as they prefer engaging in social than political discourse. The energy which should have been channelled to brainstorm and come up with creative political ideas is often wasted on trivial discussions like , “What is the name of Lionel Messi or Ronaldos dog?”, “Do you know the price of Davidos wrist watch?”, “What is the latest hairstyle in town?” In seasons like this when election aura fills the air, the youth who are the drivers of national development and growth relegate weighty political discourse for trivial social issues. Since the destiny of every nation rests upon her youth, this essay seeks to define some terms, examine a case study , discuss the reasons prompting young people to participate less in political discourse, state some benefits that could be derived from youths participation in political discourse and proffer some smart measures to change the situation.
Definition of terms
Political apathy is best described when a citizen in indifferent in their attitude to political activities, such as electing politicians, having opinions, and their civic responsibility(1).
Youth is a young person who has not yet reached adult hood and refers to the period before one becomes an adult(2).
Social discourse is a broad based discussion between citizens on some vital or critical matters that affects the society as a whole(3).
Political discourse refers to the discourse practices engaged in by all actors from politicians and organizations to citizens in a political process(4).
During the first week of June 2022, I embarked upon a survey to get responses capable of demystifying the mystery behind the reason for political apathy among Nigerian youths. Data was collected from Nigerians online and via physical interviews using the question. “Why do Nigerian youths dislike political discourse?” A total of 12 respondents were interviewed and below is the transcript of their responses.
Respondent 1: “Because they have no money and do not know the use of joining politics”
Respondent 2: “Because they are in poverty”
Respondent 3: “Because they are afraid of being killed”
Respondent 4: “Because of fear”
Respondent 5: “Youths are not interested in political discourse because they feel betrayed by the older generation”
Respondent 6: “Because they are afraid”
Respondent 7: “”Because they are afraid of being killed by rivals and they do not have money”
Respondent 8: “Because they are not interested”
Respondent 9: “As for me, I dont like discussing about politics because politicians in Nigeria dont know what they are doing”
Respondent 10: “From my view, they see politics as a dirty game”
Respondent 11: “As for me, I dont know. Maybe due to vices”
Respondent 12: “The youths have been smashed. The politicians have trampled upon the youths. How can a youth making effort to get ends meet have the opportunity for a political discourse?”
Reasons for political apathy among youths
Current condition of governance: This is probably the number one reason for political apathy. Due to governments failure to provide good leadership for the country, the level of apathy towards political discourse keeps increasing among young people.
Rigging of elections: This is a major reason for the growing political apathy in Nigeria. Over the years, elections have been plagued with rigging and malpractices. This has made the average youth not to believe in elections.
Lack of trust in governance: This is different from dislike of politicians. It deals with not believing in the way of governance and lacking the interest to see governance improve. Most youths have lost hope of a better governance, hence the rise in political apathy.
The popular belief that votes do not count: Many Nigerian youths believe their votes do not count. This is the main reason why many youths reject political discourse and never turn out during voter registration. During a chat with a friend, he told he was not going to vote during the next election because the results were already predetermined. This mind-set makes youths to shy away from political discourse.
Lack of credible candidates: Since the beginning of the post military era in Nigeria, there has been a continuous cycle of politicians. People do not have so many options from which to pitch their tent with and this creates disinterest.
Political violence: Due to the level of violence that occurs during election build up , many youths stay away from politics for the safety of their lives. Violence experienced during campaigns damages the credibility of most political parties and their candidates among youths. The assassination of Engineer Funso Williams, the PDP gubernatorial candidate in Lagos and Oyerinde, the special adviser to the Edo state governor are examples of incidences that make many a youth indifferent about political discourse.
Chaos in the political system: Due to the chaos that characterizes politics especially in Nigeria, many youths avoid political discourse for fear of political oppression, victimization and infighting.
Negative media coverage: As one tunes on the radio set to be updated about happenings around, many negative media coverages about politics flies around thereby, causing disinterest among youths.
Weak security: Due to the weak security structure of many countries, youths are forced to shy away from politics as a preventive measure to remain alive(6, 7).
Reasons why youths participate more in social than political discourse
As I walk along the streets of my community, youths cluster in the evening to discuss happenings around them. On one occasion during the month of April, I was caught in a 2 hours diversified discourse. A large chunk of time was devoted to discuss Kylian Mbapes contract saga with PSG. While some effortlessly argued that he needed to move to Real Madrid, many were of the opinion of him remaining at PSG to “chop the cash”. I tried to divert the discussion to topics like the ASUU strike to get a foundation for a political discourse, but after a brief deliberation comparing the wage rate between Nigerian and foreign lecturers, the discussion swindled like a pendulum to bitcoin and the influence of Elon Musk on the worlds economy. Why then are youths more interested in social than political discourse? In my opinion, I believe the youths have lost interest in the political situation of the country due to the array of challenges raised in the case study.
When the “not too young to run” bill was signed into law by President Buhari, it was intended to reflect the changing demographics of Nigeria and help usher in younger leaders. However, its disappointing to note that despite the laws capacity to pave way for more young people to be inducted into the leadership framework of the country, none of the Presidents ministerial nominations fell within the new policys definition of a young person(8). This singular act made many youths to prefer social discourse with their peers.
In addition, many Nigerian students who were affected by the ongoing ASUU strike prefer social discourse because it eases tension and creates temporary joy among youths. During the last champions league finals between Real Madrid and Liverpool, I observed youths spending quality time analysing the match proceedings to alleviate the pain of the ongoing University lecturers strike action.
Furthermore, when the two major political parties in Nigeria (APC and PDP), began the sale of nomination forms, many youths saw the exorbitant prices of 100 million and 40 million naira respectively fixed for the presidential nomination form as a move by political ancestors to rid the Nigerian youth of power. Questions like, “Which youth in Nigeria has that type of amount for just a form?” graced the lips of many creating a disinterest for political discourse among youths.
Social discourse is safer compared to political discourse. For instance, it is difficult for a youth to be attacked by thugs during a discourse centred on fashion and music but not with political discourse. As a preventive measure, youths today avoid the later discourse for the former to remain alive.
Many youths prefer social discourse because of the influence of role models. With youths possessing a high propensity to be influenced by social celebrities, they prefer engaging in discourses that resonates with their sphere of interest.
Why it is necessary to fight political apathy among youths
Due to poor participation in political discourse, the government is lousy. Fighting political apathy helps to keep governments accountable.
Fighting political apathy among young can enhance communication between citizens and the government.
When youths are sufficiently educated about the need to engage in political discourse, there will be a functional government.
Many Nigerian youths are educated but due to lack of interest in political discourse, the political system has become a breeding ground for unqualified and illiterate persons to declare themselves as leaders. Little wonder there is mismanagement of human and material resources since a low management level takes charge of the nations resources(6).
Smart measures to fight political apathy and increase youth participation in political discourse
From the case study examined, fear, insecurity, failure of political leaders, electoral malpractices, lack of funds, and the pre conceived notion that votes do not count are some of the reasons for political apathy among youths. To increase political discourse among youths, there is need for these foundational issues to be addressed immediately.
Youths need be educated about the government and policies According to many political analysts, by equipping oneself with political knowledge, one builds a motivational force to achieve ones interests and make decisions that conform to ones preferences. Therefore, the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote. Youths can develop trust in the political system with more extensive knowledge of politics.
Secondly, politicians should endeavour to keep to promises and provide good governance for the populace. Nigerian youths should hold the government accountable for any mismanagement or dis-functionality in the nation by ensuring that their manifestoes are met. Doing this will engage other youths in political discourse.
The money politics currently in practice needs to be eradicated for capacity politics. Since the lack of fund scares youths away from politics, creating a level playing ground where track records and ones capacity to lead becomes the determinant matrix for selecting leaders can promote political discourse among youths.
Technology needs to be employed to curb insecurity and electoral malpractices that plague the political system. If Nigerians decide to come in a large voting turnout during elections, they will develop the confidence to elect a leader of their choice. In turn, the belief in powerlessness in voting will diminish thereby, creating political interest among youths.
Motivating Nigerians to improve their lives by having a keen watch on the political situation in the country is another. Nigerian youths should be made aware of the fact that unhealthy relations that exist among opponent parties directly affect their livelihoods. By so doing, they will want to get involved in political activities to better their lives.
Citizens should understand and defend their rights. Many Nigerian youths need to be exposed to their rights so that in case their rights are violated in time of voting, they can protest and be able to create petitions in court, thereby ensuring fairness. This will encourage people to turn out in huge numbers to participate in government-related activities.
People should take responsibility for the country’s problems. A contributing factor of voter apathy is that many people are hesitant to own the collective dilemmas they face. However, having that approach at the back of your mind means that you get to stand up and help resolve national and local issues. If youths want to influence the outcome, they need to participate in the country’s day-to-day issues.
Use of mass media/civil societies to educate and sensitize rural residents on political matters is very important. The government should use mass media to educate the youths on the importance of being at the forefront of the country’s issues.
In addition, there is need to promote conventional political participation among young people, taking into account gender balance. Funds should be provided to also support unconventional political participation to give the youths a sense of belonging.
Active involvement in the current affairs of the nation should be encouraged. Nigerians should be part of political parties like the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) party, APC, PDP and others. This will facilitate their involvement in the current affairs of the nation.
Development of political culture and interests is very important. Youths can attend various government events and public meetings to familiarize themselves with the system. This way, they will make it a habit of being involved in political issues in the long-run
Furthermore, there is need to promote and strengthen permanent mechanisms of consultation with young people. The ministry of youths should laisse with community based youth organizations to achieve this feat.
Encouraging diverse views in political arenas is a necessity. The country should create an accommodating political environment. This way, any person willing to vie for any position will not feel left out because their ideas do not match those of the majority
Finally, since majority of our youths love social discourse, leveraging upon the use of social celebrities and role models is an effective way to drive political discourse. Under this strategy, youths interested in attending social gatherings use their voter card as a pass. Artists like Dike Chukwumerije and Falz10 are already employing this strategy to drive change and engage youths in issue based political discourse(9).
The lack of political interest and discourse among youths is a widespread menace but with the adoption of the measures proffered in this research essay, youths will be stimulated to shun political apathy and engage in issue based political discourse.