INTERVIEW | No Alternative to Youth Inclusion in Governance – Ememobong #TheInfluencersNG
Ini Ememobong is a former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). He was also Special Assistant on Students Matters to the former Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio before becoming Special Assistant on Political Matters to Governor Udom Emmanuel. He is currently Publicity Secretary of the Akwa Ibom State Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview with SIGNAL’s THE INFLUENCERS, he talks about the challenges confronting young Nigerians in the nation’s quest for good governance, amongst other issues.
You have served as a Special Assistant to two Governors of Akwa-Ibom State. There are still many Nigerian youths who see the job of an “SA” as that of a glorified Personal Assistant or an attempt by politicians to throw a bone at the youths. Do you have a contrary view?
Yes, I was the Special Assistant to the former Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio on Students Matters before becoming Special Assistant on Political Matters to Governor Udom Emmanuel before I resigned in May 2016 to contest for the position of Publicity Secretary of the Akwa Ibom State working committee of the Peoples Democratic Party. For example, all my appointments have been intellectually demanding where the appointors needed my contribution in their government. So I don’t think a bone was thrown at me but I cannot say that for every appointee. It’s for them to state why they were appointed and how they have been operating. As SA on Students Matters, it was my duty of ensure a cordial relationship between government and the students’ community. This cordiality was to ensure that students obtained the maximum welfare benefits possible and remained peaceful to aid government in attaining the peace needed for development. This we did to the best of our abilities under the last administration and our score card is before the ultimate judges of human conduct; history and posterity. I await their judgment.
You were once President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). How did you manage your office as President of the body?
I was President of NANS at a time when the image of the organisation was at an all time low with accusation of award for cash schemes, elitism, lack of campus engagement and the like. My campaign was christened CHANGE, please note it’s not the APC kind of change, mine was an acronym meaning Challenging Headlong Avarice and Nuisance Gagging Emancipation. At that time, the greatest challenges that faced us as an organization was an earned wrong perception. What do I mean? Few greedy and impolite members of the foremost student movement in Africa exhibited an unceasing string of actions that were motivated by greed and avarice and earned the whole movement a bad name where people thought that with money students could be bought to stage any protest or press statement. Our awards were for sale. So as the President at that time, we needed to start by rebranding and reorientation. Rebranding was for external consumption while reorientation was internal. I remember the Senate meeting at LASU, where I insisted that each institution should propose a redemption plan. Everyone agreed that we were at our lowest ebb and a change of course was inevitable, if we were to remain relevant as an organization. A lot of measures were adopted and that really helped especially during the Yar’Adua absence and Jonathan acting presidency. Students did not allow themselves to be used by any of the factions then. We also tried to reduce cultism and violent protests on campuses. We held several seminars on the topic. We sensitized union presidents against using violence to lead on their campuses. We staged a dogged battle against cultism. We pushed for tuition fee reduction in schools that increased it. Among other things.
Two years after, how will you assess the performance of the Muhammadu Buhari change administration? Are Nigerians better for it?
The administration has been defective ab initio till date. They have been fumbling on every issue. The recent blasts during the Sallah shows the ineffectiveness of the war on Boko Haram. Ask Nigerians whether they feel safer and more secure in today’s Nigeria, the unanimous answer will be a resounding no. Have our national assets fared better? Has our education sector seen any significant improvement? Has ur international image been bettered? The answer is no. Even in providing leadership for the the nation, the President has failed monumentally. He’s been hardly around on account of ill-health and even when he is around, the impact of his presence is infinitesimal. So on the whole, this administration has performed far below par.
I was President of NANS at a time when the image of the organisation was at an all time low with accusation of award for cash schemes, elitism, lack of campus engagement and the like. My campaign was christened CHANGE, please note it’s not the APC kind of change, mine was an acronym meaning Challenging Headlong Avarice and Nuisance Gagging Emancipation.
There are those who believe that the argument of “youth” is not enough to get young people into political leadership and governance. What’s your take?
There is no alternative to youth inclusion in governance. The future is theirs as they have more years to spend and will be affected more either positively or negatively by the actions taken by government. So the easiest way to insulate them is to have them at the decision-making table, so that they can take those decisions with the future at heart. The United Nations has insisted that youth inclusion in governance should be a major consideration at all levels of governance. Therefore, young people must be given more opportunities at leadership levels. This is inevitable.
What should Nigerian voters look out for in a presidential candidate in 2019?
They should look out for a Presidential Candidate with a sound health without any visible sign of defect. We must also lookout for the mental state of the candidate and his knowledge of the economy. We must look out for somebody who understands Nigeria and the inherent complexities abound. He must not be stereotyped, must possess an open mind, accepting new ideas and being willing to do things differently. A president who will see the entire country as his constituency, without sectional biases.
Why do you think Nigerian youths are finding it too difficult to come together and build a formidable platform of youth influencers across political divides?
The levers of power are firmly in the hands of the elders and Nigerian politics is highly demanding financially. With these reasons above it is difficult for young people to galvanise themselves to take power. The majority of young people now in Nigeria are still striving to find their feet in their professions, trying to get married and start a family, grappling with external family dependence and other pressures. The average youth with these problems will certainly not do anything that doesn’t immediately carry financial collateral; this puts him at the beck and call of the elite who possess the financial wherewithal. This makes it difficult for the young Nigerian to reach out to his colleagues across the country to amalgamate their interests for the purpose of forming a political movement capable of challenging power. But with the new political realities, especially the emergence of Emmanuel Macron, an awakening will occur that will cause them to take critical steps up the direction of seeking to engage the original system more.
The administration has been defective ab initio till date. They have been fumbling on every issue. The recent blasts during the Sallah shows the ineffectiveness of the war on Boko Haram. Ask Nigerians whether they feel safer and more secure in today’s Nigeria, the unanimous answer will be a resounding no. Have our national assets fared better? Has our education sector seen any significant improvement? Has ur international image been bettered? The answer is no.
They say politics is a game of numbers. Do we need more youths in politics?
Of course more youths are needed in politics. In fact, all youths are really needed in politics. Those who chose to sit on the fence would have had a rethink now because they would have noticed the humongous capacity of politics to affect every other facet of human endeavour. Everyone, especially young people must be involved in politics.
What can Nigerian youths learn from the emergence of Emmanuel Macron in France?
They should learn the non-existence of impossibility. It’s a farce existing as an excuse in the minds of those who do not want to succeed. Power can be taken by any group of persons who desire enough and are ready to strategize hard enough and work at it. That anyone with a well-defined vision, pushed by a strong and dedicated team can do anything they desire reinforces the postulation that if you believe enough in yourself very soon others will join in that your belief.
Many youth bodies like NANS, NYCN etc have been the playground of scandals, and leadership crises. Why should Nigerians trust young and emerging leaders?
Well the groups mentioned are a microcosm of the larger Nigeria, so the scandals choking Nigeria will obviously be found in the youth-led organisations but I know that with continuous training and introspection the young leaders can be prepared against the banana peels that litter the hallway of leadership. I honestly believe that this strategy can help, but remember that these scandals are not specific to youth-led organisations.
What is the relationship between you and your Governor, Emmanuel Udom like?
The governor is a father figure in my life. He is interested not just in the work I do for the government through the party, he is interested in my personal life and advancement. He spends time to talk to me about life issues and mentors me. I think he has confidence in my abilities because if he didn’t, he couldn’t have appointed me as his Special Assistant on Political Matters despite my very young age. He also gave me the enabling environment to succeed. He’s been a very supportive boss. He’s a different kind of politician, he says what he means and means what he says. He does not try to impress anybody. Immediately his conscience clears an action then rest assured that he will execute it.
The majority of young people now in Nigeria are still striving to find their feet in their professions, trying to get married and start a family, grappling with external family dependence and other pressures. The average youth with these problems will certainly not do anything that doesn’t immediately carry financial collateral; this puts him at the beck and call of the elite who possess the financial wherewithal. This makes it difficult for the young Nigerian to reach out to his colleagues across the country to amalgamate their interests for the purpose of forming a political movement capable of challenging power.
The tension over the Igbo quit notice and counter quit notices by Niger Delta militants and other groups nationwide has heightened debate about the possible break up of Nigeria. What is the way forward?
Tolerance and humane disposition is what is needed most and surest this time. People from every part for the country must check and screen their thoughts carefully before voicing them. We must be conscious of the unimaginable harm that bad words can do to the country. We must find a platform to discuss our nationhood and more important, we must try to define what the Nigerian dream is. What do we mean by the Nigerian dream? Do we understand it equally form all parts of the country? We must strive to develop the narrative that feeds our unity while absconding from magnifying the division among us.
Follow us on Twitter at @thesignalng
Copyright 2017 SIGNAL. Permission to use portions of this article is granted provided appropriate credits are given to www.signalng.com and other relevant sources.