International Youth Day Spotlight: IRI in Nigeria

  • Molly Salter

In honor of International Youth Day (August 12), the International Republican Institute (IRI) is spending the month of August spotlighting our networks and partnerships that are empowering young people across the globe to build a more democratic world. In this blog, we discuss the challenges Nigerian youth face when connecting with their elected representatives and engaging in the political process. Through our partnership with Nigerian political parties, IRI is identifying the inter-party regulations that disenfranchise young people and promoting youth participation in the fall 2020 gubernatorial elections.

With over half its population under the age of 30, Nigeria boasts a vibrant and youthful civil society that has contributed to the country’s two decades of democratic development. Despite having a civically active youth population, young people are not politically active: Overall voter turnout was at just 34 percent in the 2019 elections and young people constituted less than half of that percentage. What’s more, only 3.5 percent of young people were elected to Nigeria’s House of Representatives and make up just 2 percent of 13 out of 36 State Houses of Assembly.

Since 1999, IRI has collaborated with Nigerian political parties to increase their marginalized group representation – supporting the creation of Women, Youth and Persons With Disability (PWD) Leaders at the local, state and national levels. Despite progress in gaining political representation, these leaders lack the operational and financial backing necessary to perform their roles. Instead of mobilizing young people to join the political process through townhalls and other events, they have mostly represented the interests of older party heads.

Empowering youth leaders to engage with and represent their generational cohort requires an overhaul of the internal party provisions that restrict their ability to govern responsively and inclusively. That’s why IRI has teamed up with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to identify the conditions that prevent youth involvement in politics and propose solutions. Such obstacles include a lack of funding, bureaucratic challenges that stymie the development of youth-focused policies and programs, and insufficient channels of communication between the leaders and their young constituents.

Political parties in Nigeria often leverage young people to manipulate the vote by disrupting electoral processes and inciting violence. With the help of IRI, youth leaders and some of the highest-ranking PDP and APC officials are now including young people in the campaign process to promote meaningful engagement during the election period. Amplifying youth voices ultimately increases the likelihood that the party provisions that once hamstrung youth leaders will be adjusted to encourage youth participation, as party leaders, members and – hopefully – as elected officials.

With support from IRI, Nigeria’s civic space has opened considerably since 1999, allowing for the growth of youth-led grassroot movements across the country. Programs like IRI’s Political Leadership Academy have provided young people with platforms to come together in the pursuit of democratic change. Yet much work remains to be done to close the gap between young people and the government – and IRI remains committed to working with our partners to ensuring that Nigerian youth are fully-engaged in the democratic life of their country. 

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