INTERVIEW | Youth Party in Nigeria, Not Feasible – Feranmi [@JudeFeranmi] #TheInfluencersNG
Jude Feranmi left Pharmacy school after four (4) years to study Philosophy. He says he found the need to understand and study political philosophy in preparation for what he sees as a life of service. A three-time parliamentarian at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Student’s Union and one-time Public Relations Officer of the Union, he is now at 25, the youngest National Youth Leader of a political party in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with SIGNAL online newspaper’s THE INFLUENCERS Series, Feranmi, the National Youth Leader of KOWA Party talks about youth in politics, the emergence of Emmanuel Macron in France and why Nigerian youths have been unable to forge a common front amongst other issues.
How did you get involved in politics?
Let me first say thank you to SIGNAL for the opportunity to share with your audience. It’s one of the most important part of getting our message to the people. I joined partisan politics immediately I left university, first as a member of the party, then as an organiser and now a National Leader. I was a Student Union Leader in OAU while in school and had always abhorred the sentiment that the problems we faced as student union leaders were problems that could not be solved at the level of the university and had to be tackled from source. I served as parliamentarian three times and PRO once before I left the campus. I have since been involved in birthing a new political order since then.
You have risen so quickly to become the National Youth Leader of KOWA Party. How did it happen?
When I joined as a member of the party, I was not just a passive member. Picking KOWA PARTY was also not just a shallow decision for me. I had studied majority of the political parties in Nigeria, internal party democracy, youth inclusiveness and created a sort of index for the feasibility of making our country a better place. KOWA PARTY stood out for me as not just youth inclusive but also as consisting of a different crop of politicians who were actually interested in seeing a different Nigeria. Once I joined, I started organising my friends and colleagues and reaching out across the country to get young people to also join the party. There were a few ideas I had about what the party could do to encourage more young people. I put forward those ideas and once I got approval to execute them, things began to gel. The freedom to operate within the constituency of youth paved way for a lot of ideas that we needed to bring in young people. The organising for young people that I engaged in for the party later on brought me forward to contest as the National Youth Leader of the party in the 2016 National Convention where I was elected. Since then, we have had many more young Nigerians join our party to add value and engage the system.
What is the position of KOWA Party on the Not Too Young to Run Bill?
As the National Youth Leader of the party, I can categorically say that KOWA PARTY fully supports the Not Too Young To Run Bill. The leaders of our party have also publicly thrown their backs behind this bill including Professor Sonaiya, our presidential candidate in the 2015 elections. We also do not just support the bill, it is what we practice. Our youth leaders both at the national level and at the state level are actually youths. Also, much more than the position of the youth leaders, we have youths occupying other positions. On our National Executive Committee for example, 50% of the membership as it is currently constituted are Nigerians below 40 years old. This is why everyone will tell you that KOWA PARTY is the most youth inclusive party in Nigeria.
What do you think is the major reason Nigerian youths have been unable to organize themselves into a powerful and united bloc of influencers?
We have majorly been blinded by the seeming need for unity amidst the young influencers in Nigeria and that has been the bane of our coming together. We assume that the unity that we need also means agreement on every major issue. So we disagree so much on various issues to the extent that we allow our disagreements to impede working together on the other issues we agree on. YIAGA is a good example of an organization that has been able to appropriate what this unity could look like. The advocacy around the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill has seen people on various divides support a singular issue. If we will be calm enough to look deeply and put asides our disagreements, we would find many more issues we agree on and can then work together for our own good as a demography. The core of our disagreements most times are tied around interests, persons and patronage. This, for some is unfortunate. However, it is almost impossible to have young individuals who are influential politically who will not have their own stance on interests and persons. What we need to do is eradicate that slander that we need to agree 100% before we can work together on the issues that bind us together as a demography.
We have majorly been blinded by the seeming need for unity amidst the young influencers in Nigeria and that has been the bane of our coming together. We assume that the unity that we need also means agreement on every major issue. So we disagree so much on various issues to the extent that we allow our disagreements to impede working together on the other issues we agree on.
There is the argument that “youth” is not enough a criterion for leadership; if youths must come into politics and governance they must be young people with competence, character, track-record and integrity. What’s your take?
I definitely agree. I sometimes even wrote a piece on the dangers of making the same mistake that our forefathers made. I have no doubt that in the next couple of years, we will once again witness the youthfulness of leaders in Nigeria like we did in the early years after independence and after the military handed over the reign of governance back to democratic elected Nigerians. If the young competent people who are now spread across the entirety of everything but politics stay back, we might be worse off than we have ever been. For me, nothing trumps character in the qualities of a leader. It cannot be taught, it cannot be imposed, and leaders, like everyone else will only give what they have. The point of getting young Nigerians into office is only valid when the young leaders who emerge are people of character, integrity and have shown in the past their ability to lead.
We recently saw in France the emergence of Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old elected as President? Can Nigerian youths replicate this in Nigeria? How?
My honest opinion about this is that it CAN be done and it WILL be done. First and foremost, the Not Too Young To Run Bill is already setting the precedence for this as originally the constitution has an age barrier for a 39-year-old to be able to qualify to contest for the presidency. Once this barrier is removed, the coast becomes clear for the platform to be created, which is by a long mile the most important part of “HOW” it is going to happen. There is the need for a political platform that will be conducive for the young Nigerian. The real barriers to contesting for office is not the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, It is the political party process vis-a-vis nomination fees, electioneering campaign funds, patronage politics and an anti-brilliance phenomenon that immediately sees brilliance as a synonym for ‘dis-loyal’ or ‘ambitious’ by party leaders. The political environment in majority of the Nigerian political parties is not conducive for the average young Nigerian who has ideas and is brimming with energy. It chokes the passion and the drive out of the average young Nigerian. With a political platform where ideas can be exchanged and there are opportunities for the execution of these ideas, Nigeria can have its own Macron year in year out.
What has been your experience in KOWA party with fund-raising and electioneering? Do citizens give enough money to prosecute a nationwide political campaign?
So far, it has been a very daunting task to get the average middle class Nigerian to commit to a political cause. This can be explained away with lots of tiny details that need to be put in place but the fact still remains that it has been difficult. KOWA PARTY has a crowd-funding campaign where interested individuals can give as low as N100 by sending keywords to a particular code and the results are not encouraging at all. The question of whether citizens can give however is something I am optimistic about. Nigerians give their money every time for various reasons, so giving is not the issue. Political parties and campaigns need to be able to devise a means of plugging into that realm where Nigerians feel comfortable to give. This is one of the areas we are working on in KOWA PARTY. The resources needed to prosecute a nationwide political campaign can be gotten from a wide pool of Nigerians once the variables are set right.
If the young competent people who are now spread across the entirety of everything but politics stay back, we might be worse off than we have ever been. For me, nothing trumps character in the qualities of a leader. It cannot be taught, it cannot be imposed, and leaders, like everyone else will only give what they have. The point of getting young Nigerians into office is only valid when the young leaders who emerge are people of character, integrity and have shown in the past their ability to lead.
Why in your opinion has KOWA party and many other parties been unable to build a strong and nationwide grassroots structure like that of PDP and APC?
I first of all want to challenge the notion that PDP and APC have a strong nationwide grassroots structure. The population of our country is heading towards 200 million people. None of these two parties can boast of up to 10% of this population as their members. Majority of those who vote during elections are not members of either of the parties. Relative to other political parties, PDP and APC have bigger structures. To now answer your question, there is a dearth of will in major political parties to build a structure in the first case. There are parties who exist for motives that are ridiculous to even put on paper. There are political parties who are set up by members of other political parties for the sake of endorsements during elections and by the time you go deep into the executive offices of these other parties, especially at the state level, the title holders are the only members of these parties. Another major reason is the financial capability of those who are then actually interested in putting up a political structure for the purpose of winning elections and changing society for the better. Most political parties are set up by rich people who end up as godfathers of such parties and function depending on the cash-flow for the rich founder. Immediately the money flow stops, the party stops functioning. For KOWA PARTY and some other political parties that I am aware of, it is a function of time. There is still a very huge fraction of Nigerians who do not engage in the political space and this is where the opportunity lies for young Nigerians who are actually interested in engaging the system and making their country a better place. There is also a need to reconsider section 228 of the constitution which allows that the National Assembly appropriates grants to political parties for their activities. The excuse that political parties will start to sprout like businesses because of this grant is escapism at best for INEC’s inability to do its job. Overall, a political structure needs builders.
The political environment in majority of the Nigerian political parties is not conducive for the average young Nigerian who has ideas and is brimming with energy. It chokes the passion and the drive out of the average young Nigerian. With a political platform where ideas can be exchanged and there are opportunities for the execution of these ideas, Nigeria can have its own Macron year in year out.
How should young people who want to organize together deal with the issue of mutual trust amongst their contemporaries especially if they have experienced betrayal in the past with other youth leaders?
Draw a line from the onset! The issue of trust amongst youth leaders has always been about ownership and the ability to trade youth movements for one thing or the other. Youth Leaders and Influencers who should be working together on issues that affect youth can still work together once a line is drawn on what we agree on and what we disagree on. Getting all young influential people to form a political party for example is a project that is not feasible to me. On the other hand, getting all young people to agree to a charter that says that for any political party who forms the government in 2019, we will all agree to advocate that the Minister of Youth and Sports must be within the age bracket of youth as defined by the Ministry of Youth. This we can agree on and work together on. And as I earlier said, once we can all start to work together on the issues we agree on, we will find that the issues we agree on are so much that we need not even bother ourselves on the issues we don’t agree on as we don’t have the time. We can pass those issues to the next generation of youths after successfully laying the foundation. The trust that is missing will also start to build once we start to deliver on those issues.
Youth Leaders and Influencers who should be working together on issues that affect youth can still work together once a line is drawn on what we agree on and what we disagree on. Getting all young influential people to form a political party for example is a project that is not feasible to me. On the other hand, getting all young people to agree to a charter that says that for any political party who forms the government in 2019, we will all agree to advocate that the Minister of Youth and Sports must be within the age bracket of youth as defined by the Ministry of Youth.
Some of the older generation have argued that the youths cannot be trusted with leadership because the platforms under their control – NANS, NYCN etc have been fraught with tales of corruption, rivalry and disunity. What do you think?
Anyone can make the same argument about the older generation too. One, there are a lot of agencies where the older generation have messed up completely. Two, using your question as a premise, we shouldn’t trust any of them with leadership too. Three, for me to not trust anybody in the older generation with leadership will be foolishness because there are members of the older generation who I know and can vouch for. The same argument therefore applies to the younger generation. As for the platforms under the control of the “youths” however, there is a need to emphasize on the demarcation between youths and ‘yoots’. This also reiterates the point I made earlier. Once the young, competent, brilliant youth leave the system for reasons of conduciveness, those who remain in that space and then become the representation of members of that space are the ‘yoots’. There are young capable leaders in Nigeria today outside of the political space. What we need to do is make politics conducive for the best of us so that they can lead the rest of us.
Why should Nigerian youths join your party?
So I am going to address the average Nigerian youth reading this directly.
Dear Nigerian Youth,
You will not find any other party in this country that is more youth inclusive than KOWA PARTY. If you are really interested in the development of the country, willing to see a Nigeria where good governance is the norm and want to engage the system, the most conducive political environment for you to execute your ideas and see them become reality is KOWA PARTY’s. The most frequent testimonial I get from members of the party is the opportunity to offer ideas and execute them for the benefit of the party and the nation.
Any final thoughts?
In the next 30 years, Nigeria will not remain the way it is right now. Nigeria will be a country of 500 million people who will either be hungry or healthy; 500 million people who will either be struggling with increase in crime rates, extreme poverty, lack of jobs or 500 million people who will be competing on the world stage in a knowledge economy that would have been transformed with the force of technology; 500 million people who will either be sceptical about the next person, the next neighbour and what will happen next and their safety or 500 million people living in love, peace and unity. The generation before us have, whether willingly or grudgingly passed the baton to ours. The generation coming after us are the likely victims or beneficiaries of what is to come. This generation, our generation is the only generation that has the opportunity to decide that what that fate is. We have work to do!
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