Nigerian politics has seldom been a game for the youth of the country. This has occurred for different reasons including lack of sufficient funds on the part of the youth, the irresponsible grip on power from the political elite, the age limitations put in place for people vying for office and many other factors. However, with the rise in social media engagements among youths and the successful passing of bills like the Not Too Young to Run Billwhich helped to deal with the age of qualification for candidates, visible evidence of youth involvement in countries like France, a seismic shift has begun to occur. This has led to more youths asking Government more questions and others taking a step forward to run for office.
Isaac Olowokere is one of such youths trying to make a difference in 21stcentury Nigeria. With dreams of one day becoming the President of Nigeria, Isaac has a great passion for the country he calls home and is willing to put in the necessary work to make an impact in his generation and for those coming behind them. Sarauta Magazine caught up with Isaac to discuss his #ProjectVote initiative, his open letter and subsequent meeting with Nigerian billionaire and businessman Tony Elumelu, reasons why youths shy away from politics and many more. You can read the full interview below.
Please briefly tell us about yourself
My name is Oluwaseun Isaac Olowokere, a young Nigerian with a firm belief that Nigeria’s liberation lies mainly in having young, smart and dedicated individuals at the helm of affairs. My solid belief is that I will become The President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria (or the geographical enclave we’d have become) on or before the year 2032.
I was born and raised in the mountainous Plateau State, Nigeria. It was there, while growing, that I developed a knack for adventure and the Great Outdoors. It was also there that I witnessed the September 2001 religious riots as a child. I still have vivid memories of what was a very traumatic experience as I saw people kill in the name of religion. It confused me then and still does today.
I moved to the Western region of Nigeria for my higher education. Despite it still being in Nigeria, it was a culture shock for me. It did provide insight for me as well, showing me the inverse relationship between commercialization and religious uprisings based on my time in the Middle Belt, and the West.
Leadership is something I have always held dear to my heart and at various points in life I have served in posts such as Senior Prefect (Bethany Christian Academy, Plateau State, Jos), and as an elected Assistant Public Relations Officer (2011/2012), President (2012/2013) (Economics Students Association, Babcock University Chapter) and Secretary General (2013/2014) (Babcock University).
I am very interested in technology and its role in enabling everything we do, the Nigerian Tech Ecosystem, Artificial Intelligence, Sustainable & Renewable Energy and everything about Elon Musk :).
In my free time, I love to read books, go on long walks, hike (if my location is a good place for such), swim and practice dance moves in front of my mirror (PS: I can’t dance to save my life). I also write and have a collection of some of my work on www.followmetalk.wordpress.com
You and some like-minded individuals came together to launch an initiative called #ProjectVote. What is #ProjectVote all about and what prompted the creation of this initiative?
#ProjectVote is a call for a Nigeria where institutions function,where the Government works directly for the benefits of the masses, where our youth don’t have to emigrate before they “blow”. It is a call for a Nigeria where candidates who express interest in running for office are thoroughly screened and voted based on competence and an issue based campaign irrespective of financial status or party affiliation.
VISION: THE INCEPTION OF A NIGERIA WHERE QUALIFIED, VIBRANT AND PATRIOTIC YOUTH ARE AT THE HELM OF AFFAIRS.
MISSION STATEMENT (REMIT)
Raise awareness in Nigerian Youth about the need for us to rescue Nigeria from its present
Engage youth locally and in the diaspora, on the impact, they stand to make in
Meaningfully dialogue with present leadership as to how youth can get better representation at Executive, Legislative and Judiciary arms of the
Initiate a movement where youth unanimously make decisions as to how leaders emerge in
Take initiative by raising awareness on the need for Nigerians to obtain their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to democratically achieve 1-4 above
The idea first hit me in November 2017 as I thought about the sorry state of the Nigerian Nation and I asked myself these questions:
What vision of the future is there for young voters to aspire to, based on the slow pace of development we are currently living in?
Why do Nigerian youth excel outside Nigeria, but not within? I realized that what we lack, and what we need, is an enabling environment for youths to succeed, and by extension the country at large. For that to happen, the status quo has to change, so the Nigerian dream will no longer be about patriotism from abroad
Why do a good number of people not care about voting?
Are some youth trapped in a Social Media bubble which colours their opinions of the political atmosphere? If so what can be done?
How are youth supposed to break into a political class requiring large amounts of funds to win elections?
Why is power rotated and recycled among an un-evolving elite class?
Why does the Nigerian political system allow for a complete lack of accountability from its participants to their electorate?
Why has our education curriculum remained stagnant in a rapidly evolving world?
Why do other countries tailor their laws to favour their citizens but we seem to do the exact opposite?
In December 2017 Mr Tony Elumelu wrote a thought-provoking letter to Nigerian youths of which your reply got his attention. What moved you to question/reply Mr Elumelu?
Well, as I said above #ProjectVote came to me around November 2017 and his letter was published in December 2017. I came across it via a retweet on Twitter and when I read it, it resonated deeply with the dominant thoughts in my mind and I began to pen a mental reply immediately. The moment my hands touched my keyboard the words just began to flow.
It felt like’ he read my mind when writing his letter and I didn’t see it as a letter to the Nigerian Youth but as a message to Oluwaseun, this provoked the raw emotion poured into the letter.
What was the reception like for your response and did you and Mr Elumelu talk on any of your suggestions when you met?
The reception of the letter was great. 2-3 days after constantly tweeting the link at him, I got a message from a colleague of his about a meeting. I was elated but composed and the D-Day came and I set out to meet the man, the business mogul, the legend, the billionaire and visionary. Lagos Traffic almost made me miss that meeting but the devil is a liar :).
Upon arrival, I marvelled at the beauty of his office which reflected his personality; minimalistic and classy. Whilst seated, 2 billionaires (in dollars, remember we talked about global competitiveness, this is in no way a snide remark) came in for meetings with him and I learnt three (3) things in that short moment:
Most of the elite are friends or at least acquaintances with each
You can’t make it to that financial status without alliances of interest amongst like minds, they mustn’t be your friends but where a middle ground is found it should be used to the advantage of the parties involved.
There’s really no need for meetings to last longer than 30 minutes (except where the parties involved are actively brainstorming). We Nigerians tend to mix up a physical presence with productivity…we hop through hour-long meetings which could have been sorted out through emails, leaving us too exhausted to carry out the real work when the need arises.
When my turn came to meet him, I was nervous but confident (paradox, right?). He asked me how I write so well and made a comment about finding my blog and reading other articles there, I mumbled something about my mum making me write from a young age
Isaac Olowokere with business Mogul Mr Tony Elumelu
We talked about the highlights of both our articles in about 7 minutes after which he had to leave but promised to keep in touch. A copy of his letter aptly titled; ‘From Tony Elumelu: Letter to The Next Generation ‟is available here, my reply titled; ‘Open Letter Reply to the Letter to the Next Generation ‟is available here and my blog post about the full experience titled ‘A Tale of Two Letters’ is available here
One of the issues Mr Elumelu pointed out in his letter, is how some people have mentally seceded from the country. Some have moved to other countries while some are in Nigeria but aren’t fazed by anything happening. What’s your view on why people have given up on Nigeria?
People have given up on Nigeria because it is presently not working for them and that’s the sad truth. Will they come back if it works? Possibly. The truth is I don’t believe in blaming those who have moved to other countries in search of better living conditions as long as they have a tangible plan on what to do once they get there.
For those of us still here, there is no other Nigeria for us to run to and we must do our best to ensure that we make it the country we hope for it to be not just by mere words or analysis which we are so good at, but by actively participating in politics and supporting those who declare for office and have a clear cut plan of what to do if elected.
I also recommend a foreign hiatus for anyone serious about leading, it takes being immersed in those systems which we look up to, to customize and replicate the same here. This can be in the form of education, temporary emigration, work or several extensive holidays. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when it can be studied and adapted to various terrains.
What do you think are the major hindrances keeping youths away from getting fully involved in politics?
The major hindrances keeping youth from getting fully involved in politics include but are not limited to:
Ignorance: as hard a pill as this is to swallow, it is true. The average Nigerian youth is not bothered about what happens in the political sphere to the extent of getting involved. We live in a bubble forming opinions mainly off of the opinions of others with little or no room for independent thought and our principles sway at the slightest inclination or introduction to a new school of thought. We need to actively shed our ignorance. If you want to be a senator then you should have chewed the constitution, regurgitated it and chewed on it again. You should follow bills and how they move in the Senate, should know the difference between Senators and House of Reps Members, know what forms a quorum in the house etc. It’s easy to point out countries which have youth leading, but we need to learn how they got there. If you take the time to do this, these youths were years in the making and didn’t suddenly drop from the moon.
Lack of Funds: You don’t need to go far to see this, it’s clear from the price tags on an expression of interest form for our leading parties, add the costs associated with winning party primaries, then add the cost of the main campaign itself. Sponsors to bankroll not just the form but the whole campaign itself can be gotten but this has the potential of creating a conflict of interest for a candidate and compromising him/her.
Fear: we are afraid of the unknown wondering if we’ll win, the safety of our loved ones and our lives. We are afraid to challenge the status quo because examples abound of those who sacrificed their lives for Nigeria without tangible changes in the causes they died.
We go die there’ Syndrome: officials once voted in would rather die than leave office. How can youth run for an office if there is no vacant office to run for? Yes, the incumbents can be challenged but we all know the power of incumbency and how slim the chances can. We have cases where individuals are governors for eight (8) years then run for senatorial seats and stay there as if it’s a retirement home. Do you know what’s more absurd? While serving as Senators, they still get the retirement benefits and post office privileges from when they were governors. Why won’t they want to die there? Once they declare for Senatorial Seats, they are going back into active politics and any post office benefits from when they were governors should be cut off immediately and not returned even if they lose the new posts they tried running for.
Manual Processes: the best way to make a product attractive is to align it with the lifestyle of its users. We live in a technologically driven world and if electoral processes can adapt the same seamlessness as some technological processes then youth participation will increase. Those of us with Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) know how arduous the process was, you also dare not misplace it or try to change location because the process of getting a new one is even more difficult. You must vote at the polling unit where you registered, who does that? Or are we no longer one Nigeria with free movement across states? I should be able to get my PVC in Zamfara and vote in Abia State, the fact that this can’t be done as at now is enough reason to question the whole voting process as it presently is.
How can we create more awareness and make political participation for youths more attractive?
When you say “we”, I believe that it should be divided into two; the government and the electorate or masses.
The Nigerian Government can make political participation for youth more attractive by doing the following:
Quota System for Offices: for an all-inclusive government (age wise), some offices should be locked to specific ages e.g.: LGA Chairman being locked to candidates between 25-35 years only and House of Representatives being locked to 30-40 years. It may sound funny or unconventional but where has your conventional gotten us? A little “craziness” while seeking a better status quo is good.
Cheaper Expression of Interest Forms: while this is not a governmental function, political parties should make EOI forms cheaper so that younger candidates can get their skin in the game by getting to party primaries at the very least. Emerging parties have adopted this practice but it would be great to see the same adapted across the board. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can also play a role in this by setting an upper and lower cap for EOI forms.
Nationwide Campaigns: this is where governmental bodies like The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and INEC come in. There is a need for nationwide campaigns both physical and online with messages centred on young people running for office. When young people see that even the government wants them to run for office, they’ll be encouraged to come out for various electoral posts.
Tracing our history back to our fight for independence, I noticed that the early nationalists (Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Azikiwe etc.) promoted more of regional and tribal ideologies than Nationalistic ideologies. Do you think the lack of Nationalistic ideologies at independence has contributed to the problems we are still facing today?
In my opinion, the early nationalists wanted to first ensure that their regions were wholly developed such that coming together as a nation will not leave them shortchanged or marginalized. This also served the advantage of ensuring that they remain strong as a Nation-State in the unlikely event that Nigeria was divided along regional lines and they became the Nation States.
I believe that anyone still fighting solely for a regional ideology and claiming to continue the work of the founding fathers does not truly understand what they (Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe) truly wanted.
We still suffer from the misinterpretation of these ideologies to date but it is not the main cause of our problems as a country.
The 2019 Presidential campaign has fully kicked off. A lot of people feel the two major contenders represent the status quo and are considering going for alternative candidates. How would you rate the alternative candidates if put side by side with those that “supposedly” represent the status quo?
It is a great thing that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have a good number of technocrats running for the top office. Nigerians are tired of the same people serving in various capacities and still performing sub-optimally.
Unfortunately, good things like this take time and the emerging president will still emerge from one of the “status quo” parties according to my analysis. I don’t think any of the alternative candidates stand a chance in the 2019 elections. As the years go by and stronger alternative candidates emerge (new or from the current candidates), I believe that one of them will eventually win not by luck but by a unanimous vote from Nigerians.
I will also like to emphasize that I don’t agree with those saying a President can emerge without prior governmental experience. It is not an entry-level job. New
Parties should also have a robust presence in the leadership of Local Governments and have members in the House of Representatives, House of Assembly & the Senate; this will make for a smoother and stronger emergence of a President.
The not too young to run bill was successfully passed into law this year. Do you see this as a big win for the Nigerian youth and something we can build upon?
Oh, yes, I do! It is a step in the right direction. Once we also find a way to ensure that EOI forms and election campaigns become cheaper than we are well on track to having a President in the 35-45 age range who must also be experienced and must have served in an elected office prior to running for President because like I said earlier; the Presidency is not an entry-level job. The task ahead is daunting but not impossible.
How Can Our Readers Get Across to You?
I am on Twitter and Instagram as @isaacolowokere and on Facebook and LinkedIn as Oluwaseun Isaac Olowokere, join me on these platforms for further interaction and brainstorming. I may occasionally display my Zanku dance steps too.