The Convergence (LIVE UPDATES): 400 young candidates gather in Abuja

Panelists at The Convergence
Panelists at The Convergence

About 400 young candidates of various political parties are converging for a conference aimed at empowering them ahead of the 2019 general elections. The event opens today in Abuja.

Different speakers including young lawmakers from countries in Africa, leaders with inspiring stories, development partners, academics and civil societies would be speaking during the three-day event, which closes Wednesday evening.

The event tagged ‘The Convergence: Power, Capacity, Politics’ is an initiative of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa), the Not Too Young To Run movement, one of Nigeria’s largest and most successful youth movement in recent times.

It is supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UKAID).

According to organisers, the event which promises twelve talk sessions and six master classes is designed to equip young candidates with necessary tools for running effective political campaigns.

Samson Itodo, the convener of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ movement, says the conference is a unique platform for young candidates to build their competence, network, share experiences and advocate for greater representation and credible 2019 elections.

“It is the largest gathering of youth candidates who are running for elective offices in the 2019 general election”, Mr Itodo said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “These young people have defied all odds to obtain candidature of their parties, we felt it was important to bring them together.”

“The Convergence promises to inspire and empower them with the kind of skill sets they need to navigate this hostile political environment in Nigeria.

Follow this page for PREMIUM TIMES’ live updates from the event.



9:15a.m: Arrival and registration of guests and speakers currently ongoing at the main entrance of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Conference Centre Abuja, the venue of the event.

While journalists and other media outfits are setting up their equipment inside the 400 capacity Atiku Abubakar Hall, young candidates of various political parties are trooping in, getting seated and acquainted with each other. About 400 of them are expected here today.

Chike Ukaegbu, a young presidential candidate in the 2019 general election contesting under the Advanced Allied Party, said he expects to learn how to navigate his campaign strategies from the event.

“I hope to network and meet more young candidates like me who have the courage to step up as well as scale through the rigorous stage of party primaries.”

One of the organisers said the event will start in earnest by 10:00a.m.



10:30a.m: Bella Anne Ndubuisi, the anchor of the event takes the stage.

She apologises for the event starting behind schedule and appeals to everyone to get seated. She directs the procedures and protocols for the event.

The event kicks off with a musical stage performance. Ire Tolu-hi, a vocalist and guitarist takes the stage.

She starts softly but raptly, with a solo performance of Ty Bello’s ‘the future’. Her haunting voice and slow chords captivates the crowd’s attention as she signaled the start of the event.

The slow-changing coloured lights and deep fog on the stage set a dreamy ambience for the show.


Tony Nwulu, member, House of Representatives who sponsored the ‘Not Too Young Run Bill’ takes the stage, to cheers from the crowd.

He asks that the national anthem be recited. He tells the candidates to reflect on the national anthem.

One of the issues dominating national discourse recently is the need for a generational power shift to youth in Nigeria, come 2019 and beyond. Nigerian youth in the vanguard of this campaign believe they have been short changed in the past.

The campaign even became louder after the president, Muhammmadu Buhari signed the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” into law six months ago.

The new law is aimed at relaxing some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions of the constitution.

The bill, passed by the National Assembly last year, seeks to reduce the age qualification for president from 40 to 30; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.

However, in the assented bill, the age qualification for governor and senate was retained at 35 years.

“With the strength that God has given us, we will bring the desired change,” Mr Nwulu said.

Ibraheem Sanusi, Citizens Engagement Lead, African Governance Architecture, African Union gives a brief remark. He says Nigeria has endured accidental and reluctant leaders in the past.

“It has never been about preparation or willingness to take responsibility.

“If you make the change, you will open doors for many more”, he tells the candidates.

Dabbie Palmer, head of DFID in Nigeria is currently on stage. She starts by giving statistics on misrepresentation of youths in Nigerian political space.

She tells the candidate not only to think about getting elected but to have a solid plan for the country, whether elected or not.

“If you don’t win this time you will run again. This is a learning process for you, you learn your craft. If you not successful, become a volunteer and join advocacy campaigns. I hope for some of you, this will become a profession for you.”

She urges the candidates to remember that women, children and disabled people matter.


11:10 a.m. Nnenna Elendu Ukeje, the Representative for Bende Federal Constituency, Abia state, sharing her experience, describes politics in Nigeria as a ‘dangerous place’.

Mrs Ukeje was re-elected to this position on May 29, 2011 and also served as the chairman of the house on foreign affairs.

“Nigeria is a dangerous place to be but then 50 percent is the young people – that is the strength in your numbers.

“With all these bleak statistics, there is hope. To bring change, it will take initiative and I see that initiative in this room.”

David Ombugadu, a member of the House of Representatives representing Akwanga local government in Nassarawa State, also shares his experience in governance.

“In my first tenure, I did what nobody has done before. I dug 230 boreholes in in three LGAs. Leadership is about impacting the lives of the people,” he says.

Mr Ombugadu is also the governorship candidate of Nassarawa State. He is running under the People’s Democratic Party.

He tells candidates that they do not need (just) money to win elections.

“You don’t need money to win elections. You need people, resolve and connections to win. To win elections, you must have commitment to the local needs of the people.

Francesca Oteng Mensah, Member of Parliament for Kwabre East Constituency in Ashanti Region of Ghana stresses the need for proper branding for candidates running for elective positions.

She explains the difficulty young and female candidates face in politics.

Mrs Mensah stresses the need for young people to do proper research before going into the polls.

“Know your electoral laws,” she says.

Mrs Mensah was 22 years when she ran for office in 2016.

She is not only the youngest amongst the 275 lawmakers in the 7th parliament of Ghana, she also became the lawmaker who had the highest number of votes in both parliamentary and presidential election in the country.


Abdulsamad Dasuki, a member of the House of Representatives, Tambal/Kabbe federal constituency of Sokoto State, lists challenges encountered while running for elective positions.

“The challenges are enormous but you have the audacity to take them up,” he said.

11:38am – Opening remarks ends.

Speakers takes stage for a session on how to win elections. The session is anchored by Chioma Agwuegbo – Founder of TechHer.

Ms Agwuegbo throws the first question to Mrs Ukeje.

She was asked to explain the strategy that has sustained her in governance.

“First is to understand the position you are running for and – don’t make promise you cannot keep”, Mrs Ukeje says in response.

“You have to earn the trust of your people. Even if they want you to do things that are beyond your strength you have to be bold enough to say the truth.

“As a lawmaker, it is your duty to make better laws and not build roads. You have to say what is possible and impossible.”


You have to make a commitment to serve, Mr Ombugadu says, in response to a question on how he has stayed relevant in politics.

“It is not just about the manifesto, people are tired about grammar. What they want to see is serious commitment.”

Mrs Mensah, the Ghanaian lawmaker, advises women in politics who lack adequate support to allow people see and believe in their dreams, goals and agenda. “Make them believe you are one of them.”

Mrs Ukeje speaks on security of female candidates in elections. She frowns at government’s inability and “unwillingness” to sign the electoral act.

“This is an opportunity to speak for the electoral act because it protect candidates, especially women, from violence during elections.”

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has apparently refused to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the fourth time, and has transmitted his decision to both arms of the National Assembly.

Ita Enang, the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters, on Friday, said the president had taken a decision on the bill but refused to confirm whether he had signed or declined assent.

The president had declined assent to the bill four times citing “drafting issues”.

Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, last week, said Mr Buhari should take time to study the bill and take a decision he is comfortable with both many Nigerians have frowned at Mr Buhari’s reluctance to sign the law.

A human rights lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba while urging the president to assent to the Electoral Act, said signing the bill into law would enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political parties and the courts “discharge their responsibilities effectively.”

“We are concerned that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has not been signed into law three months into the general election, in spite of the fact that it has long been transmitted by the National Assembly,” the lawyer wrote.

Mr Buhari had first, in March, withheld assent to the bill with reasons that the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide on election matters, including fixing dates and election order.

However, after a second communication from the National Assembly, the president again, in September, declined to assent to the bill.




Mrs Mensah further explains how she was able to win in the face of elections in Africa which is dominated by money politics.

“I got support from family, civil societies, groups and people that believe in me”, the Ghanian lawmaker naarrates.

12:11p.m. – Curtain draws on the first session – how to win elections.

Miss Ndubuisi, the anchor takes the stage again. She reiterates the focus and agenda of the event.

She further invites Jude Iloh, the country officer of Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) to give a speech on leadership.


After using a story about his dog to illustrate leadership, Mr Iloh says every human being has a spark of leadership.

“It is just about knowing when to step up. There are no short cuts to leadership, you have to prepare for it,” Mr Iloh said.

He again takes the crowd on journey using his father to illustrate what it takes to strive for leadership. He says his father went from being a pauper to becoming a leader.”

He tells the participants that most of them will not win at the polls but it does not make them good or bad leaders.

He says a leader has to stand out. “Leadership is about doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways.”

Mr Iloh was a former manager for forum of federations. He is an Einsenhower fellow and a fellow of the prestigious Stanford University Draper Hill Fellows Program.

The OSIWA director further used the Aba women’s riot of 1929 to illustrate leadership.

In November and December 1929, a series of protests, riots and demonstrations took place in Igbo and Ibibio-speaking areas of South-eastern Nigeria.

Thousands of Igbo women organised a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in the region, causing one of the most serious challenges to British rule in the history of the colony. It took the government months to suppress the riot which became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.

Specifics, which led to the war, were heightened prices of imported goods and lower prices set for exports.

The final straw came when “warrant chiefs” were instructed by colonial leaders to count the number of women. The women concluded this would lead to their taxation as the same procedure had been done in the past in the process of taxing men.

They went after establishments as well as houses and compounds of notorious warrant chiefs and court messengers. They demanded the caps of corrupt warrant chiefs. They released prisoners. The women outwardly pursued any visible signs of colonial domination and exploitation.

As a result, taxation of women was halted and based on recommendations by women, the most corrupt and exploitative warrant chiefs were ‘de-caped’ and removed from office. Women were also appointed to serve in newly constituted Native Courts and began to hold positions in public affairs with the power of helping to select new chiefs.

This is regarded a landmark for women in the political history of Nigeria by many scholars and a glimpse of the collective power of women in achieving social justice.

Mr Iloh says the historic event started after a woman looked at power and said she has had enough. “I ask all of you candidates to stand up as the Aba women and say no to the dominant power blocks currently holding the country.”

12:30pm – Tea Break!!!


2:08 p.m.: The second session commences. The anchor of the event, Ms Ndubuisi introduces the second session – ‘why we run’.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the PDP candidate for Lagos West Senatorial District was the first to be invited to speak on the matter.

Mr Rhodes-Vivour speaks on the pratical idea of politicking.

He says a lot people misconstrue politicking with governance and politics. “Some people run to become popular, to form alliances, to get connected while some people run to win.”

He focuses on people running to win. “People that run to win need to understand politicking. Do research just like a football coach on how he will serve better in the position he his gunning for.”

He stresses the need for young politicians to focus on grassroots and ground games.

Mr Rhodes-Vivour is known for his stand against Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods and crops in Nigeria.


Popular Nigerian musician, Olubankole Wellington, also known as ‘Banky W’, takes the stage to a thunderous applause from the crowd.

He shares a story on how rose to fame in music and how he built one of the successful music labels in Africa, Empire Mates Entertainment.

“We started from selling CDs from the boot of my old rickety car”, Mr Wellington narrates.

Banky W is regarded by some as the king of R and B music in Africa. He is a multi-talented singer who brought one of Nigeria’s most celebrated musician, Wizkid, to the limelight. He is the chairman and creative director of EME. He is a philanthropist and the brain behind “I am capable” scholarship fund.

“History is only made by people crazy enough to look at impossibility in the face and dare to defy it,” notes Mr Banky.

“People will tell you to go door-to-door but will not go with you. They will tell you to print more posters but they will not contribute one penny. When their comments cut you the most, remember that you are not in it for them. You are running because you want to make a difference.

“I am running because I feel I can impact youth inclusion in job creation.”

Mr Wellington is running for the house of reps in Eti-Osa federal constituency of Lagos State under the Modern Democratic Party (MDP).


12:50p.m – Mr Rhodes-Vivour, the Lagos PDP senatorial aspirant and Simon Karu Elisha, APC candidate, Gombe House of Reps take questions from participants after delivering their speeches.

Mr Elisha was asked to react on his comment earlier that he only has N50,000 in his account when he started running for office. “That was even before I showed interest in politics”, he says in response.

He speaks on godfatherism. He explains that proper preparation and learning the context of politics in your zone will make one not even need a godfather.

He takes the crowd on a journey on how he won his primaries without a godfather or sponsor.

A governorship candidate asks his colleagues on stage to explain why the electoral act yet to be signed.

Mr Rhodes-Vivour says the reason behind government’s unwillingness to sign the bill “political.”


Also responding to a question on the protection of votes, the PDP senatorial seat hopeful stresses the need for more collaboration with people who will stand for you.

“You should not depend on only people within your parties. You need to gather people outside your party space who will stand for you and make sure your vote is not sold out. You need people that will vouch for you.”

He says there is a need for agents who are trained on electioneering so they can ask relevant questions. “You need people that understand the process.”


Zainab Sulaiman Umar, a young state assembly candidate, takes the stage and expresses her optimism to win at the polls.

She says being a young politician is a challenge but a privilege. “The older politicians are afraid of us because they know we are young and we have the population,”

Ms Umar is a former SUG vice president of Bayero University. She is the first and youngest candidate to run for state house of assembly under a constituency in Kano State.

Chikas Kumle, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for Pankshin-South Constituency of Plateau State argues for the inclusion of more women in politics.

“Women understand issues of welfare more than men. Women understand how painful it is for a family to have needs and not be able to meet them.

“Women should be given a chance to contribute their quota.”

3:30PM. – Both female candidates take questions from other candidates.

A participant throws a question on what practical strategies women have ahead of the polls?

In response, Ms Umar lists her campaign strategies. She says she already has a campaign team in place. “I have people that will help me go the extra mile. From street to street, market to market until we reach every doorstep in my constituency.”


3:37 P.M. – Next Session begins – How and where to find money to fund political.

Martins Hile, entrepreneur and CEO, 234 crowdfunding takes the stage to discuss the subject matter.

He tells the candidates his session promises to explain how they can mobilise funds for their campaigns and elections.

234crowdfunding is a political and humanitarian social networking site. Established by 234scorecard Limited, the platform provides a convenient and secure money raising-tool for humanitarian and social causes to foster development in Nigeria.

He says Nigeria’s governance is hijacked by ‘money bags’ who do not give room for inclusion. “Its time to end this disturbing pattern.”

“We have been caught in this unfortunate web that makes us think the electorates do not have the power but it is not true.”

Using projected slides, Mr Hile guides the candidates through some traditional means of sourcing funds. He, however, described the traditional means as limited in gathering funds for election.

He explains the illegality in godfatherism and political financing in Nigeria. “It is illegal for a presidential candidate to get more than a billion naira as support funding for a campaign but we are not implementing such laws. There is the need for more awareness around these things.”

Mr Hile advocates for a matching funding scheme where all candidates will get equal funding specified for every political position.


He explains how to fund campaigns with the internet and mobile technology. He stresses the need to key into crowdfunding.

He describes crowdfunding – As seen in the Obama strategy as “never underestimate the power of small donations.”

Boniface Mwandi, a candidate in the 2016 Kenyan Parliamentary elections, has been called on stage. A recorded documentary of his political journey and activism is being projected on stage.

Mr Mwandi is a renowned Kenyan activist and founder of 234 PAWA, another crowdfunding platform.

“I did not have money before going for an elective position”, says Mwandi.

He says as much as money is important, there is need for candidates to build a network of reliable people and to make people believe on why they should give them money.

“The mistake young people make is trying to play the system that the godfathers set up. To change this, you need to break that system. Nigeria has been sold out.

“This race is not about this particular election, it’s about reclaiming your country. You can not do that without disrespect. You must disrespect the corrupt leaders.”

Mr Mwandi advises candidates to tell Christians and Muslims who give money to churches and mosques to fund them. “Tell them your dreams; you are not the future but the present.”

“Young candidates are foolish because they play tribal and religious politics.”

Mr Mwandi explains how he used social media to raise fund for his campaign.

4:30P.M – Session on how to fund political campaign ends.

4:30pm. – Lunch/Dinner Break!!!

A Premier of a movie ‘If I am President’ will commence immediately after dinner by 5:30 pm.

The host of the event, Bella Anne Ndubuisi will make announcements and wrap of the first day after the movie premier.

The event will continue with the masterclass sessions tomorrow. Tuesdays’ programme promises workshops on campaigns for legislative elections among others at various strategic venues.

Live updates ends for today.


















 

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