Nigerian youths undergo Legislative Mentorship Programme

Gloria Essien, Abuja

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Nigerian youths have been charged not to relent in their quest to change the country to what they want it to be.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila gave the advice at the Opening Ceremony of the Legislative Mentorship Initiative, in Abuja.

He said that the Legislative Mentorship Initiative (LMI) aims to identify and train the next generation of public sector leaders, particularly in the legislature.

He noted that the LMI mandate is to develop the leaders who will shape the future of Nigeria and the world.

The Speaker also said that whatever happens, Nigeria desperately needs leaders with the capacity and character to manage change.

“These are exciting times.  In Nigeria and across the world, we are experiencing rapid and relentless changes across every facet of our lives.  Some of these changes are technological; others are economic and political. There is also a great deal of demographic and population change.  All are happening at the same time.  It is clear to anybody paying attention that the old equilibrium is unsettled, and the rules of the old order no longer apply. What is less clear is what happens next. The consequences of the changes happening in our world today will depend on how we respond, the decisions we make, and the ideas we choose to invest in. The quality of our decision-making in politics and governance will define the course of our country. Whether we achieve progress, prosperity, peace, and security for all our people depends entirely on the capacity and competence of our political leadership.

“The Legislative Mentorship Initiative (LMI) aims to identify and train the next generation of public sector leaders, particularly in the legislature.  The LMI mandate is to develop the leaders who will shape the future of our country and the world.  Many young people are eager to make a change; they cannot change anything if they don’t understand and participate in the political and governance process.  We aim to involve more young people and direct their energies into something tangible contributions to good governance and national development,” Gbajabiamila said.

He said that it was also a reminder that broad-based national transformation was rarely without profound costs as young people are poised to ask the hard questions and dismantle the egregious practices generations before have either ignored or taken for granted.

He stressed that there was a danger that this generation embarked on this course without the proper grounding in history, politics, and statecraft necessary to prevent unnecessary pain and worthless suffering.

“We are in this situation because of policy choices made over time, most appallingly in the education sector, from primary to tertiary education. 

“It is unrealistic to expect our nation’s youth to commit to sustaining a democracy that hasn’t lived up to their expectations. To nurture democracy in Nigeria, we must make a concerted effort to reconceptualise how we practice politics and how we govern. When young people want to participate in politics but feel locked out of the process, their eagerness to participate doesn’t wane. Instead, they become available to bad actors, manipulated, and primed to become soldiers in a war of attrition against society.

“When young people feel like their cares are not the concern of politics and the work of government does not advance their cause, such feelings lead to a dangerous cynicism about politics and government. This cynicism is the reason so many of our people believe that everything the government does is for the benefit of a few. This corrosive loss of faith makes it difficult to build the political consensus necessary to effect systemic reform. It contributes to the cycle of political dysfunction that undermines our nation’s progress and, left unchecked, is fatal to democracy. 

“There are three things we must do to effectively reverse this dire prognosis.  One, we must act quickly and consistently to include young people in the political and governing process,” the Speaker said.

He said that the mentorship programme is used to create avenues for leadership development.

“Nobody was born knowing how to manage a political party or run a government.  You learn by being in the room, having a seat at the table and doing your best with every opportunity. 

“Secondly, we must continue our ongoing efforts to improve our electoral processes. Election outcomes must reflect the will of the people, and citizens must have confidence that they can hold political leaders accountable through the ballot box. The essence of democracy is that state power can only be legitimately exercised by those who have the mandate of the electorate to do so.  If we cannot guarantee free, fair and credible elections, then we cannot claim to have a dedemocracy,” he said.

In a speech titled “Youth Leadership and the Future of Democracy: Harnessing the Power of Young People in Nigeria,” Hon Gbajabiamila said that there was an urgent and overwhelming need to reform the approach to policy-making across all levels of government in Nigeria.

In his remarks the Director-General of the Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, said that it was an important initiative to expose young Nigerian men and women to the fundamentals of legislative practice and procedure, involve them in the governance process and stimulate their zeal for public service, especially in the legislature.

“The relevance of this initiative assumes a greater significance given the relative age of the legislature compared to the executive and the judiciary. It is the least understood arm of government and an easy target for criticisms and attacks. This is not unusual, nor is it unique to Nigeria. Several studies, including one by our Institute, have shown the pervasiveness of poor perception of parliaments worldwide,”  Prof. Suleiman said.

He congratulated the successful interns and challenge them to take their new role seriously to understudy the legislature and how it functions, the relationship between the legislature and other arms of government and the law-making process, as well as the strategic role of the legislature in promoting accountability and holding the government to account, mainly through its oversight functions.

Similarly, the British Deputy High Commissioner, Gill Atkison said that the future of Nigeria belongs to the young people.

She said that with the right mentorship, the youths will make a difference in the country.

The Country Representative of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Marija Peran, said that the organisation would continue to build capacity of political stakeholders in Nigeria.

The Founder of the Albino Foundation, Mr. Jake Epelle, commended the Speaker for extending a hand of fellowship to persons with disabilities.

He said that the internship programme offers an opportunity to deepen  knowledge and skills and, hopefully, an interest in a career in the legislature.

The Director of the Legislative Mentorship Initiative and Special Adviser to the Speaker on International and Interparliamentary Affairs, Mr. Dapo Oyewole, said that the seventy four participants went through rigorous selection process.

The theme of the programme is “Building the next generation of Nigeria’s public sector leaders.”