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Political Participation is a Foundation for Social Justice -Sen. Gbemisola Saraki



(The Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki ,a former member of House of Representatives and a former Senator of the republic,is a cerebral thinker,a strong intellectual politician swimming in the world of developmental ideas.Spell bound she held egg heads at University of Ilorin Post Graduate personality lecture.The full speech is published below)

Thank you so much. And a good morning to you all. Let me first thank the Post Graduate Students Association for inviting me to speak before this large audience.  Wow!! Come on, confess, is it because of me you came or is it really because you all want to look good before the VC?? 

Nonetheless, let me thank you all, for taking time out to come and hear me. But please be gentle… Thank you Vice Chancellor, members of the Congregation, Senate and Management of this great University, for the warm welcome.

The last time I got such a resounding welcome was when I was resuming as the Pro Chancellor of Federal University of Otuoke. So I thank you all once more. 

Like I said, I was invited here today by the beautiful Vice President of the Post Grad Association, Wasilat Abdulwaheed whom, I have so much love for and cannot refuse a thing, to come and deliver the keynote address of today’s occasion.

After having such honour bestowed upon me, of course I accepted. And then, I thought about the topic… was this because I am a politician? Did the topic pick me or did my position pick the topic? It crossed my mind that perhaps she doesn’t know I have other skills, so I was tempted to call her to let her know that I could also deliver a paper on the Impact of Chris Brown, Drake and Teni the Entertainer on the world of music….don’t mind me…. any opportunity to show some love to three of my favourite rappers….

 So, I am supposed to deliver a keynote address on “ The Quest for Youth Engagement, Involvement and Inclusion in Nigerian Politics: Political Structure Conundrum”  Well, I am not going to do that. I am simply going to talk about youth engagement, involvement and inclusion in Nigerian Politics. Full stop.

This is because rather than approach this from a global point of view, I want us to be myopic and focus on you the students. 

But hang on, I have two speeches with me – and I want you the audience to pick the one that you want to hear. Let me tell you the difference between the two speeches. One was written at you whilst the other one talks to you. Before I give you that choice, I would like to know a little more about how engaged you are or have been politically: 

With a show of hands…. •

How many of you do NOT have a voter’s card? 

• How many of you voted in the 2019 general elections?

 • How many of you participated in the 2019 elections by campaigning for a particular candidate and/or political party? (and it had better be APC) 

• How many of you are card carrying members of any political party? 
 • How many of you have stood for elections before?

 • How many of you did NOT vote during the Student Union Elections?  

But even before you decide on which one, let us play a little game. Let us pretend that we are in the “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” studio. I am sorry, we can only pretend, there are no Millions to give away, unless of course, the VC feels you have all worked so hard, you deserve a break and gives you a refund on your tuition fees. In your dreams. 

But seriously, I would like us to play a little game, which will only take about 10 minutes or so… Let us all transform this hall into the game studio, and as you know, every game show worth its salt, has an assistant. Ours is no different. Only thing is, we have four assistants who are going to help me out with this game. Politics is the world and the world is politics. I would like to have a feel of how aware you are of your environment, of your country, of issues facing the nation, what is happening around the world. Which now brings me back to this game … 

These are the rules. I am going to ask those with the numbered cards, to answer some questions.  And if they don’t get it right, those with the lettered cards will have the chance to answer the questions. And if they too don’t get it right, then I will simply throw the questions open to the audience.

 (1) Who and what gave birth to the Arab Spring and in which year?

The Arab Spring was triggered in Tunisia by the self-immolation of a young man named Mohammed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand on the 18th December 2010, a Municipal Inspector confiscated his fruits. An hour later, he doused himself with petrol and set himself ablaze. His death on the 4th January 2011 brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing occasioned mentioned above, youths took the centre stage and brought about the changes.

The inclusion of youth in formal politics is important as the 2011/2012 Arab States popular uprisings as various Occupy Movements have demonstrated. (2) Name all the agencies supervised by the Federal Ministry of Transportation?

• Council for The Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN)

• Maritime Academy, Oron

• National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA)

• Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT)

• Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC)

• Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)

• Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)

• Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC)

 (3) How many states did APC win in the 2019 Presidential election before all the tribunals and what-have-you?

19, namely: Bauchi Borno• Ekiti          Gombe• Jigawa Kaduna• Kano          Katsina• Kebbi Kogi• Kwara Lagos• Nasarawa          Niger• Ogun Osun• Sokoto Yobe• Zamfara

 (4) Where does Nigeria rank in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 index?

ANSWER 131. Since the Muhammadu Buhari led Government came into office in 2015, we have moved from 170 to 131 where we are today. Nigeria was named one of the top 10 most improved economies in the world for the second time in 3 years. One of only two African countries (Togo) on the list this year. (5) I will start something, and you have to finish itI go go Oshodi for your caseI go slap Agbero for your case Okay, now I have confirmed that you are all still awake, so I can continue. 

Why is there any reason for a person to be political at all? Will life be any difficult if a person is apolitical? Or will we be at ease if there is life devoid of politics? 

My speaking today will be absorbed by many here, in different ways and forms. What some of you will hear and thereby take away from today, others will wonder if indeed they were in the same hall, at the same event. Reason being, some of you here are leaders whilst others are followers; some are politicians whilst others the electorate; some of you hold the key whilst others are the door. And some of you have no iota of interest in whatever I have to say and simply hope I will just finish ASAP. 

So, one speech speaks to many in different ways. Yet, each and every one of you are as important as the next. Why? Because you are all participating in this and participation is highly educative. The power of the education of individuals and social groups in participation, forms a bedrock of a stable democracy. Thus, we need to fear the consequences of non-participation more than the participation itself. By withdrawing from participation, an individual or group makes their opinion/choice unavailable to the larger society. This is one form of self-exclusion.

However, an inclusive democracy, where all the weaker groups in society participate, can always tilt the policy outcome in their favour. Therefore, political participation is necessary to achieve social justice. The negatives of not having political participation is becoming invisible, unheard and therefore marginalized and relegated to margins of society.

 Disenchantment has come to characterize political participation. There is the belief that for example, the various political parties are so controlled by special interests that, regardless of who wins, real social change will never be accomplished.  So, you see that politics is very much an integrated part of our lives, as politics is everywhere; in our homes, in the marketplace, local communities, offices, schools… it is even here in this hall.

 Politics, as frustrating as it can be, remains one of the most significant ways of making a real difference in other people’s lives, and we need to restore an idealism to our political process. 

Did you know that Nigeria has the third largest youth population in the world, after India and China? Did you also know that according to INEC, 22,320, 990 students constitute  26.57% of the total 84,004,084 registered voters for the 2019 General elections? Did you know that people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world’s voting age population but only 26% of the world’s Members of Parliament?  

 How do we engage the youth in politics? So how do the youths come in? We are not going to argue about who a youth is. The answer depends on the situation. Believe me, I attended a political meeting where an old man struggled to stand up, supported by his walking stick and introduced himself as a youth leader!! ..You and I know who a youth is. 

But we will still go with a definition and therefore we will use the Nigerian Youth Policy definition that identifies a youth as someone between the ages of 18-29 years old. This therefore incorporates all students of tertiary institutions. That means all of you here. The topic is youth engagement, involvement and inclusion in Nigerian politics.

Thus, how do you come into the political arena? How do we engage you? How do we involve you? Include you in the political space? There are many ways of engaging youth in politics, but the most important aspects are – how should the youths approach politics; how should the youths think about politics; and how should they act as politicians. How do you approach, or should you approach politics?

It starts here. University politics is Nigerian politics because a university is the place to shape the minds of young people and encourage them to develop a healthy interest in various issues. So, at the age bracket defined as youths, the politics starts NOW, not after you have graduated. We must thereby look at it as, in how involved, engaged you are as students, in the world around you, which is the university world. 

How do you think or should you think about politics? Politics is something that is felt, something that is inherent in you, it is believed, it is a passion, it is a need, a desire to bring about positive change, a better quality of life. It isn’t like going to school, where you graduate with a degree and you walk up to the bank and say “here I am, now that I have graduated from school and have my Masters in Finance or Economics, I am a banker”, because in school, you didn’t practice banking. You left school to seek a job as a banker. That is not the same for politics. There are no professional courses on being a politician, that all comes from within; from your passion to serve and work towards a better and brighter future for the country. 

How do you or should act as politicians? Anybody who is not already involved with the politics of the university campus, of the city/town they are in; in the desire and fight for a better cafeteria, clean water; security on campus; drugs on campus; not interested in holding their professors or fellow students or even themselves to higher standards; tuition funding; not ready to go to Abuja to protest or support a cause; have no informed  and I mean informed, not emotional opinion, on a national issue, like minimum wage or state police, or freedom of information, better health care, women’s rights, children’s rights and so on, if you don’t have or do any of that, then REALLY you have no business wanting to be an elected politician. And that is okay. Not everyone wants to stand for election, or serve at the national level, or even at the local level for that matter.

But we all have a role to play. ALL. Even and especially the electorate, those who don’t want to run for office. They are duty bound to hold the elected ones, their representatives, accountable for the growth and development of the nation. Because like Martin Luther King said, “ The hottest place in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

For our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Students must be seen to champion causes that impact directly on their lives. You have to learn how to address issues of immediate concern to your environs before you think about the wider society. Our universities have many issues that directly affect students that demand student activism such as accommodation issues; better and well-equipped facilities, transportation services on campus, and many more.

Some of the major issues currently affecting our nation adversely are high unemployment, corruption, security challenges, and the polarization of society. And President Buhari is tackling these uphill and difficult issues head on. Now let us bring it back home to the universities. Some of the major issues currently affecting our campuses adversely are sex-for-grades, cultism, substance abuse and poor student welfare. So, what have you done about these? How are you tackling these head on?

Yet again, I will repeat, engagement, involvement and inclusion in politics, starts here. The university campus can be and should be a good training ground for actual political life in the world beyond the campus. It is usually at this level that most leaders begin to fine tune their ideals and how they can use it to address issues of national concerns. All students need to have opportunities for civic and political participation; they need opportunities and space for deliberation on public issues. Youth engagement and inclusion often starts at the level of youth clubs, political parties’ youth wings, national causes.

This is where identity with the ideology of a particular political party begin. Hillary Clinton was the head of the Young Republicans Club in Wesley College between 1966 – 1967. At the university level, there should be clubs, associations of the youth wing of national political parties, like the Young APC Club for instance, which should comprise young men and women in the university who identify with the ideology of the APC party. Youth caucuses within government and within political parties are effective. 

The famous iron lady of British politics, Margaret Thatcher, who rose through the ranks to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, came from a working-class background, with her father being a shop keeper, believed in the ideals of the Conservative Party .

The Pre-Independence efforts of Nigerian youths contributed immensely to the achievement of independence in Nigeria as a nation. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro and others who championed the cause of Nigerian Independence were young students. They started their agitation for independence as Student Union activists and carried on formidable groups that challenged colonial rule. Enahoro was about twenty-one years old when he moved the motion for the Independence of Nigeria; Yakubu Gowon was only twenty-nine years old when he became the Head of State in Nigeria.

 Kofi Annan once said, “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 itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death”. 

So, let me repeat myself. The students’ role in the country’s political structure starts right here on campus. You don’t wake up to be a politician or wait for a structure to be established for you. You are already the structure at the youth level, operating within the confines of the university system. It is essentially your passions on specific issues and your ability to harness your collective voice that begins to identify you as a potential leader, potential politician who is willing and able to serve the country. 

Dwight Eisenhower, former President of the United States once said; “ Politics ought to be the part time profession of every citizen who would protect the right and privileges of the people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage. “ 

But we are in a deep crisis of values. Since the last decade or so, success has been primarily measured by the material value of goods, of things, of worldly acquisitions. We have to return to a value-based society where people are motivated not only by money, but also by a sense of service to the community at large. Ladies and gentlemen seated here in this room amongst us are future political office holders, future directors and permanent secretaries of our civil service, future trade union leaders, future activists; future teachers and professors and future law enforcers and protectors.

 In this room sit the future of our dear nation, Nigeria. So how should you engage in politics? You should engage by being passionate and positive; open and accessible, authentic, honest and principled.

Like someone once said, these may not be the prescription, the formula for getting elected. They may well be the prescription, formula for the opposite. But they will surely gain you the respect of voters, of the people and help to rejuvenate our democracy. 

Again, I say, you are the future of our great country, and you must start today. If not you, who? If not now, when? 

*Full text of a paper  delivered by Senator Gbemisola Ruqayyah Saraki at the Post Graduate Students Association Personality Lecture Programme of  the University of Ilorin on 7th February 2020.

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