Comrade Blessing A. Akinlosotu is the President of Nigerian Youth Congress (NYC). In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY, he speaks on the 2023 general elections and advocates for 20 to 30 per cent positions for the youths in the next elections.
Nigerian Youth Congress (NYC) is relatively new, what led to its formation?
NYC was established in 2016, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, at the time, gave the final approval for the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to register the organisation.
I was elected the Secretary General, Nigerian Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) in 2018 but because of so many issues in the council some of us withdrew and we ran under this platform (NYC), where I emerged in March last year as the president. Since then, we have been putting everything in place to change the narrative.
We strongly believe that the young Nigerians are highly resourceful. The potential in them is so much and that was the reason we said there should be a platform whereby they can showcase some of those potential.
Would it be wrong to say that NYC was formed as rival to NYCN?
The allegation that NYC was formed as rival to NYCN is baseless because in life what matters is contribution; trying to do something that is unique; bringing laudable initiatives to the board; developing the platform in a way by which young people can be beneficiaries.
The truth of the matter is that you will agree with me that before the emergence of Trade Union Congress (TUC), there was a labour organ in this country, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). But at that point in time, the government also felt that there was the need to have TUC.
What led to that was to have a platform that they can also showcase and agitate for the benefits of workers. Likewise, youth form about 70 to 75 per cent of Nigeria’s over 200 million population, therefore, it is a large number that needed proper coordination.
The youth should not be left in the hands of people who cannot really coordinate themselves. So, there must be a point at which youths must be coordinated and opportunity must be channelled for the young people; platforms will be created to explore.
So, we believe that we are complimenting. We are not rivals here. There is no issue of rivalry because some of us are even colleagues.
To what extent has NYC met its mission statement: emancipation of the youth?
There are so many empowerment programmes that we are running at the federal, state and the local government levels.
It is an opportunity to provide information to the younger generation so that they can tap into it. Secondly, this platform is an opportunity to sensitise youth on the need to be proactive.
We can’t call ourselves youths and wait for leaders to delegate power to. We have effectively use this platform to build courageous young Nigerians.
You will see in 2023, many young people will contest elections for Senate; House of Representative; Houses of Assembly; and even for governorship. That is because of the proper sensitisation of letting them understand that we cannot sit on the fence and that the development of this country cannot be left behind for our generation.
In the aspect of agitation, we have been engaging with state governments. We have engaged more than 15 state governors so they can support the young people.
We have also met the Nigerian Governors Forum as a body. We have let them understand that the young people are increasing in number but where are the opportunities? So, we have engaged with so many governors and so far so good. They have been really fantastic, even as some governors have donated buses to the youth in their states; some have created employment opportunities.
We have also engaged with the federal government, which led to the establishment of so many empowerment programmes.
So, it’s now a new era for the Nigerian youth?
It is a fantastic era for the youth. The young people in this country are now happy. NYC is a platform that will give them joy and we don’t have barriers. As long as you are a young Nigerian, between the ages of 15 to 35, you are entitled to join the platform. There is no barrier; there is no barricade that you must be this or that.
So, I strongly believe that with what we are doing and in the next one year; the youth of this country will be very glad that this platform is here.
What’s your take on advocacy for age limit for some positions?
NYC as a body has not officially pegged the age of whoever is going to run for elective positions. I strongly believe that this shouldn’t be a barrier because the aspect of young people taking leadership is precisely not to give authority or a directive to a particular class or age to run.
No, the ideology is for the young people to come together or coordinate themselves. If you really want to be the governor, definitely young people as a larger percentage, we can stop it. So, if we are also serious about being president, we should not even be telling the leaders because power is not given but taken. We don’t need them to even give us the power; we want to strategically position ourselves to take power.
Some youth groups are already endorsing individuals for the presidency. How would you react to this?
The reason we seriously don’t want to use the age barrier is that we strongly believe that it is good for the young people to run.
In every sane society, youths should be given an opportunity to run the nation because that is where you see the talent. That is where you see the energy. However, the truth of the matter is we are not supposed to make age a barrier. We are supposed to strategically coordinate ourselves and make sure that we get what we want not by talking but by taking action.
How will you assess the impact of the Not Too Young To Run on performance of the Nigerian youth in elections?
The Act was one of the wonderful things that have happened to this country. We strongly believe that it gives opportunity to the young people to be actively involved in politics. The age barrier that if you are not up to 30 or 35 years you cannot run for elections has been removed. However, the Act on its own cannot effectively implement the desires of the young people. There must be an amendment or addition to that Act to make some of all these challenges to accommodate the young people. For instance, the cost of nomination forms for major political parties is too high.
How will a young person that is just coming up cope? You may have the ambition to test the waters; you may have intelligence; but what about finances? That has been a major challenge. The second thing is that we need to migrate the youth into policies. We should not allow them to be cut out; they should be considered like women. We are asking for 35 per cent affirmative action as given to women in politics. Why can’t the youth be given 20 to 30 per cent affirmative action?
We strongly believe that youths should be singled out for motivation. What do I mean? Like the political parties will sell forms to women at 50 per cent also the youth should also get a 50 per cent slash. This is one of the ways that youths can be motivated into politics.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, what is your advice to the Nigerian youth?
I will advise them to first go back to their polling units, wards, local governments, and states to register.
As youths in this country, it is time to take over. It is time to be part and parcel of governance. This association of complainers is getting too much. Let us mobilize ourselves. So, I will only advise the young people to see themselves as part of the integrated development of this country.
We must do everything possible to contribute our quota. We must be able to get our voters cards. We must be coordinated so as 2023 is approaching we can now come together and sit down to dialogue.