Nigerian creative industry and social media "influencers" have resolved to increase their engagement with governance, politics and public policy in order to create a better future for the country’s large youth population.
At the first Elevating Youth Voices Virtual Summit held last weekend on April 10 and hosted by the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation (IGET), a think tank headed by former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governor Professor Kingsley Moghalu, musical and movie stars Jude ("MI") Abaga, Kate Henshaw, Regina Askia Williams and Joseph Benjamin, as well as social media opinion leaders and #EndSARS activists Sandra Ezekwesili, Rinu Oduola, Catherine Obianuju ( "DJ Switch") Udeh, and technology lawyer Timi Olagunju set out an agenda for greater youth engagement to improve governance. The event was moderated by Andrew Mwavua, an American community organizer in the United States, and Matilda Duncan, a radio journalist.
"We can't afford not to use our platdorms for change", Jude Abaga stressed. "Just because someone knows how to manipulate the elections game doesn't mean they will be good for us.Today, I can see how the ignorance of our young people about how elections are won affects the quality of our lives".
In his opening remarks at the event, Prof. Moghalu urged young Nigerians to take control of the present in order to shape the future. "With unemployment at 33% and 40 million youth unemployed or underemployed, 100 million living in extreme poverty, and United Nations demographics projecting a population of 400 million by 2050, what does the future hold for our young people who make up nearly 70% of Nigeria's population? That future is now, and you must colonize it and shape it for the better", he said.
There were differences of emphasis and nuance between the youthful panelists. For Joseph Benjamin, an actor, "we have a duty to engage with public policy and we have a duty to sensitize the people, but we as influencers must be careful about what we lend our voices to, because it also affects our brand".
But DJ Switch, a disc jockey and music producer who played a prominent role in the #EndSARS protests and is now in hiding for her safety, criticized creative industry influencers who hobnob with corrupt politicians while criticizing bad governance. "If you are not good for me, then your money is not good either. Influencers need to take a stand! We cannot criticize a government that steals from us everyday and turn around and collect their money", she emphasized.
The #EndSARS youth uprising highlighted the impact and power of social media, noted Regina Askia, a former Nigeria beauty queen and Nollywood actress who is now a United States based nurse practitioner and public health advocate. "#EndSARS hashtags yielded over 28 million tweets over one weekend", she recalled. Askia noted that the challenge remained that of how the youth can be steered to more active participation in the political process, in particular voting in elections.
Sandra Ezekwesili, an influential radio talk show host, opined that "Nigerian youth are realistic about the reality of the electoral process and the political space", but when it came to the #EndSARS protest, she said, "we have not been disobedient enough, more #EndSARS need to happen" for real change to come to Nigeria.
"Many of us would rather participate in a protest than vote through institutions that have failed us in the past," said Rinu Oduola, an #EndSARS activist and student at Lagos State University who recently resigned as a member of the Lagos State judicial panel of inquiry into the shootings at Lekki Gate in Lagos by security agents during peaceful protests. "I left the judicial panel because I did not see any justice coming out of it". Miss Oduala believed that "voter apathy is fuelled by the failed politicians the political parties put up as candidates". "We need tried and tested individuals as candidates, not political party opportunists", she said.
Moghalu reminded the summit participants that while peaceful protest remained an essential right in a democracy, it cannot replace the importance of voting in elections as a way to create lasting change by electing more competent leaders. The former presidential candidate in Nigeria’s general elections in 2019 recalled the Arab Spring protests that were driven by social media. "A decade later, the social and economic conditions of the Arab youth are worse now than at the time the protests swept through the Arab world", Moghalu said. "That's because the Arab youth failed to take the energy of the Arab Spring into structural politics by joining political parties, voting in large numbers for candidates of their choice, and standing as candidates. This left the old guard in these countries still effectively in charge".
Kate Henshaw, a leading Nollywood actress who has been a candidate for elective political office, stressed: "It's time to move from complaining on social media to action at the grassroots. The people who vote, half of them are not on social media". She added that "social media has its good side, but we just have to give it more meat".
"Culture shapes the destiny of nations, but politics can change culture", Timi Olagunju, an intellectual property lawyer noted in his contribution at the summit. "Yes, social media matters, but advocacy is never enough, and we must move into action at decentralized community levels" he said.
The Elevating Youth Voices Summit had 1,000 participants from Nigeria, South Africa, Canada, France, United Kingdom, United States and other countries. The IGET will host the summit on a quarterly basis, focusing on topics affecting Nigerian youth and the country’s development.