Timid No More: How a Young Nigerian is Leading Change by Running for Office

  • Kellen Edmondson

More than half of eligible voters in Nigeria are under the age of 35, yet less than five percent of youth in the country are elected members of government. Young Nigerians continue to turn out in large numbers to vote during key elections, yet remain disenfranchised from decision-making processes, and are almost entirely left out of the political process.

According to Timi Olagunju, an alum of Generation Democracy and a Young African Leaders Initiative Fellow (YALI), this disparity exists due in part to how youth leaders are perceived by their elders. In Nigeria, older politicians feel more entitled to govern and more qualified to speak and promote a narrative that Nigerian youth are undeserving and incapable of governing effectively. Young people must bide their time and wait to be taken seriously.

Older Nigerians hold an advantage over their young counterparts because they have access to a strong network, financial resources and name recognition – these are tools that young leaders have not fully harnessed due to their lack of experience in the political realm. These barriers to youth civic engagement, however, have not stopped Timi from running for a seat in the parliamentary office of the Federal House of Representatives in his home province in Nigeria, Ibadan North.

Timi’s decision and determination to run in the upcoming Nigerian elections stems from campaigning for public office as Chairman of Nnamdi Azikiwe hall at the University of Ibadan. Timi confronted firsthand the negative attitudes and narratives around youth when running for the Chairman position, typically reserved for “more matured candidates” in their 30s. Clearly, even at the university level, youth face barriers among their peers.  Being only 21 years old at the time, Timi was constantly pigeonholed as “too young” to effectively serve as a leader for the University. His opponents even came up with the catchphrase “Timi is Timid” to try and delegitimize his candidacy. However, he prevailed despite the negative attacks against him.

“I ran for Chairman, Nnamdi Azikiwe hall, University of Ibadan, and the first news that came out from the Press was that I was too young to lead the largest undergraduate hostel and consequently provide leadership for the University.”

Timi believes that young Nigerians are poised to generate innovative solutions that tackle difficult challenges because youth are in touch with everyday issues, perhaps more so than their older counterparts. He saw the capacity of youth to initiate change firsthand through sharing, learning and collaborating with fellow West African youth at the Generation Democracy Regional Academy in Dakar, Senegal in 2015. Timi credits his exchange with young parliamentarians, such as Patrick Muyaya from the Democratic Republic of Congo, for motivating him to empower young people through politics, and “believe in their possibilities to drive transformation in the midst of a dire need for restoration and hope.” Patrick also shared strategies for developing dynamic campaigns, to better engage young voters. Timi is utilizing many of these strategies on the campaign trail today.

“Generation Democracy emboldened in me that hope of a rising Africa, where the young and old work together, to drive a new Nigeria, and a prosperous Africa.”

As a lawyer and civic leader in his previous life, Timi often agonized over the issues that youth face in Nigeria. Invigorated by his experience in Dakar, Timi is now leading the change, taking initiative and proposing solutions to critical challenges that youth face.

Timi hopes that Generation Democracy will continue to offer opportunities to strengthen the skills of members across 70 countries who seek to advance the role youth play in decision-making processes.

“Global networks like Generation Democracy and YALI, fill in the gap for what is locally unavailable to young leaders, by providing opportunities for networking, learning, and expanding the imagination of young leaders to think that ‘I’m Possible’ instead of impossible.”

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