Below is the full text of the speech delivered by the Executive Director Nigeria Democracy Youth round table in Abuja.
SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NIGERIA DEMOCRACY YOUTH ROUND TABLE MR. DESMOND AGBOOLA ON THIS DAY 23RD MAY,
Members of the Forth Estate of the Realm
All protocol dully observed
On behalf of the central working committee of Democracy Youth Round Table I welcome you to this great occasion designed to gather influential Youth together from across Nigeria to discuss, brain-storm about the youth involvement in politics and how far our democracy have gone the last 20 years.
Democracy Day in Nigeria can be conveniently posited as the real watershed for the actualization of the struggle that brought about democracy in Nigeria after several years of alternating between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships until it finally achieved a stable democracy in 1999.
Twenty years down the line, how far have we fared in terms of poverty reduction, infrastructural development, unemployment, protection of human rights and suppression of the rule of law, economic prosperity, sanctity of our electoral processes and security?
Nigeria has a youth population of over 70%: this implies that youths constitute the bulk of the work force and are responsible for generating most of the country’s resources. At another level, the youths also constitute the bulk of party canvassers, ad hoc staff during electioneering and voting as well and foot soldiers and thugs for the various political parties. Paradoxically, the successive leadership cadre, which drives the real decision making and processes is sourced from among the aged, tired and often expired politicians, who see nation building as their birth right and who would never let go willingly until they die or are disgraced out of office.
Unfortunately, a few youths who have had the (mis) fortune of straying into power have been less than inspiring in office, having chosen by default to internalize the wrong precedence of their morally bankrupt and corrupt forebearers. The pathetic state of the average Nigerian youths is summed up succinctly by Innocent Abah in Campus Life of The Nations Newspaper of February 19th, 2015 in these terse words; “We are ideologically bankrupt and in a state of delirium. We chose violence instead of peace”.
We must never forget that the youths are future of any Nation, they determine how great or how terrible, our future as a Nation would be.
“No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”- Koffi Annan.
The fact is that Democracy without prefixes-such as “guarded”, “limited” or “quasi”- delivers economic development and share prosperity without sacrificing an iota of human rights or civil liberties. It isn’t a matter of coincidence that the top ten countries with the highest living standards also score very high in democratic governance. What is even more interesting is the fact that the past and present leaders of most of these leading countries are virtually unknown when compared to the strongmen of Africa, Asia or the Americas. That is because democracy is not about a leader, it is about the people. However, we have gotten this fact wrong for the past 19 years.
Anyone who pays attention to the political conversations across the country would realize that most Nigerians are more interested in finding a good leader than building a good democracy. Many believe that Nigeria needs its own Moses to lead the country out of the captivity of corruption and underdevelopment, as well as its own David, to bring all the tribes together. The problem with this narrative is that it mystifies leadership as some rare once in a century gift handed to a divinely chose individual.
How do we reorganize our electoral system to ensure that it is transparent, fair, free from the control of a powerful few and reflective of the interests of the impoverished many?
How do we ensure that anyone, from anywhere can competitively vie for political office?
How do we ensure our elected officials do the job of representing out interests and how do we effectively hold them to account?
How do we compel the institutions of the State to serve the needs of ordinary people, and not just the elite?
How do we guarantee the rights and liberties of everyone even when they are of a different or minority orientation?
Until we deepen our democracy to the level that it answers these questions, Nigeria, and Nigerians, cannot claim to have tried democracy. And when we have tried democracy in this fashion, the longing for, and admiration of strongmen as leaders will disappear. Until then, it falls to us to keep defending more democracy, not less, in Nigeria.
Good education prepares one to impact positively on self and society. Government must provide this and youth must seek and desire to be educated at all levels. Nelson Mandela said”no country can really develop unless its citizens are educated”. For the philosophy of the classroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next generation.
Provision of jobs and employment opportunities are leverage for the youth to properly and consciously channel their energy and talent towards nation building.
I thank you all for coming and may God bless you.