The convener of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ movement, Samson Itodo, alongside Cynthia Mbamalu, a founding member and project coordinator of the movement, recently visited PREMIUM TIMES ahead of a conference, The Convergence, which the movement is organising.
The conference, the first of its kind in Nigeria, hopes to bring together about 400 young candidates, across parties, for next year’s elections.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ QueenEsther Iroanusi and Kunle Sanni, Mr Itodo answers questions on the reasons for the conference, which holds between Monday and Wednesday, and what young candidates should expect from The Convergence.
PT: Why this workshop? Why is it important to bring these young candidates together?
The Convergence is about power, capacity and politics. It is the largest gathering of youth candidates who are running for elective offices in the 2019 general election.
The background to this was, first, with the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ and the success that was recorded, a lot of young people were inspired to actually run for offices because the constitution reduced the age for running for office.
Now, amongst the challenges that young people face when it comes to running for office, is the issue around the cost of politics, beyond the legal framework.
The Not Too Young To Run Bill and movement focused on the first major challenge, which was a legal regime that enhances youth participation and we won that struggle but it did not mean that the struggle was over because there were other issues and the first issue that people were confronted with was securing party nomination.
If you look at the party primaries, of course there were signs posted by thuggery, imposition of candidates and violence – people were losing their lives.
A lot of these young people who could not purchase the forms because the cost of forms was very high. It was a deliberate attempt by the ruling political elite who are scared that the young people would retire them in 2019. They pegged those high cost of nomination fees.
For those who even bought the forms, it was very challenging because the party structure itself is very hostile to change. We have got a very conservative ideology around our political parties – all of them, and so, they were not receptive of young people actually getting into politics but we saw that a lot of young people defied all odds.
They got the tickets even when state governors were anti-youth, they had hijacked the machinery of parties at the state and had prevented leadership of parties from selling forms to young people. But some of them did and those who did went through the candidate selection process and some of them got the tickets.
For some who actually did not get the ticket, they are still struggling to get justice, especially in the parties that intentionally imposed candidates on their parties and their party members.
We have instances where young people who won the primaries were substituted by their political parties and all the parties are actually culprits – the two major parties and even the new parties are culprits. So, the young people got the nomination, won the primaries but got substituted. That is the amount of injustice that the young people face.
It is against this background that for these young people who have defied all odds, were very courageous, very resilient and have obtained candidature of their parties, we felt it was important to bring them together.
First, it is to inspire them.
The Convergence is about inspiration – that is why it is called The Convergence, because it is the largest gathering of youth candidates in Nigeria. It is to inspire them as youth candidates.
Then, it is to empower them with the kind of skill sets that they need to navigate this hostile political environment in Nigeria.
Also, equipping them also with resources around how to run effective campaigns, how to use data and technology for campaigns, how to do grassroots mobilisation, and how to even raise funds to actually run their campaigns.
The third is networking. So, it is to inspire, empower and network.
Building a cohort of young people who are actually running for office and then, just to put this in proper prospective, a lot of people thought that the Not Too Young To Run is just about reducing the age for running for office.
No. it was about young people disrupting politics at different levels. It was a long-term goal and vision. Because what we did and every young Nigerian did this year, was to lay a foundation for a revolution and for the first time, we are beginning to see lot of young people getting interested to actually run for office and know by 2023, a revolution is actually going to take place.
And for us, that foundation and building that network between those political leaders with people who are actually running for office is very key for us.
What we also want to use the convergence to do is to begin to disrupt the way young people see politics and governance – that politics is an instrument of driving socio-economic and political development and to change the leadership paradigm and that’s why we have structured the entire section of the conference around the misuse of power, capacity and politics.
If anyone tells you that young people don’t have what it takes to run for office, the Convergence will provide a counter-narrative that indeed we have young people who are running for office.
PT: Do you not think it is unfair to older candidates who are credible and also have what it takes?
Yes. There can be an association of older candidates but, as a generation, there is a generational burden on every young Nigerian and that is to liberate this country and provide excellent leadership.
What we did with Not Too Young To Run was to change our constitution from the streets, with our phones, and building alliance with a generation that cared about inclusive politics.
By hosting The Convergence, we are not eliminating the older generation and the older people who are credible.
Because amongst those who will be speaking at that conference are also people who are of the older generation but because you are dealing with a generation that, for too long, have been excluded, we felt that as a short-term priority, to focus on these youth candidates.
They are the ones who, when it comes to electoral politics, are called inexperienced. They do not have the money to run for office, they are not prepared. But an older person, even if they are not prepared and do not have the money, by virtue of the fact that they are old – and that is the whole thing about this politics of identity, in our own political space.
So, we are not eliminating the older generation, we are just saying for now, it is important that for these very important bulk of our population who have been eliminated from politics, we need to create a space, we need to empower them to get into that space.
PT: How do you intend to empower these candidates? Do you plan to finance them?
As a movement, we are non-partisan and because of the principle of non-partisanship and neutrality, we are unable to give monies to candidates to run for offices.
Our own contribution is to provide technical support and The Convergence is that technical support we are providing. And beyond that, we are also providing media platforms, which is why, partnering with PREMIUM TIMES is very strategic.
PREMIUM TIMES is the best online media platform in Nigeria and is also competing in Africa.
We feel that profiling these young candidates gives them the visibility that they need, which will eventually contribute to their campaigns. We have got TV shows that are coming up and are dedicated to youth candidacy in the next couple of weeks on Channels TV. It is called Ready To Run and it is focused on young candidates.
We have got radio shows – Ready To Run, across the entire 36 states of the country.
This is because, access to the press is a huge challenge for a lot of these candidates. They do not have monies to host programmes or jingles – the advantage that the older generation has and they have understood this game.
The game is about publicity and media access because the media sets the agenda and how do you influence the perception of people? You use the media. So, the media is a powerful tool.
For us, it is -how do we lessen the burden on them. We cannot, by virtue of foundational principles and the nature of our work, give out monies to the candidates but we can teach them how to fish.
We will be giving them the tools and so, part of the people who will be speaking at this conference is Boniface Mwangi from Kenya who ran his campaign in 2016 and mobilised over ten million shows by just SMS.
We also have a Nigerian who developed a 234 Crowd Funding platform and he will be talking to the candidates about the platform and how they can use the platform to raise money. We’ll also have people who have run elections and have won – they will be present to share their experience.
PT: How did you select these 400 candidates? Are they the only ones below 35?
After the Not Too Young To Run, we got the Ready To Run platform, which aggregates data of young people who are running for office.
Besides locating these people, the platform also shows candidates with capacity, integrity, competence and creativity. Basically, those who have what it takes to contest for elective positions.
Also, there is what we call due diligence checks with INEC. Going through their list of certified and registered candidates and drawing our young candidates from there too.
PT: Some young female aspirants have complained that female politicians are not always willing to support them. Are there plans to solicit support from these top female politicians for the young female candidates?
For Not Too Young To Run, we see it as a challenge across border because even the young male aspirants complain of not getting the needed support from top male politicians too.
We are just about getting the young candidates together, whether male or female and having them maximise the same opportunity. We would not want a situation where a female aspirant contesting will be treated differently, just because she is a lady.
So, what we intend to do is create a level playing field and make them (especially the female aspirants) understand that. We also hope to enlighten them and help sustain their engagement.
At the workshop, we would also have female lawmakers present. Those who have actually contested for various positions and won. We would have them talk to the younger ones about their past struggles, the challenges they faced and how to strive and succeed.
PT: If you do not give out money to these candidates, does your platform support crowd sourcing?
No. we would not help you ask for money. Our job is to provide technical support for these candidates and that includes training them on how to raise their own funds and gather support to build your campaigns.
That is where networking comes in. knowing the right things to say to the right people and using the right and available medium to solicit support.
Also crowd sourcing is not just about money. It also involves getting the right resources on elections that voters can work on. And for that, there is also a session which will be about enlightening the young aspirants on how to get the right information about election and how to use this information to get support, in subsequent elections.