The Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara on Monday, May 9, 2016 held an interactive session in Abuja, with students of universities across Nigeria. The dialogue is part of a special youth development program and focuses on deepening students understanding of the democratic process with particular emphasis on the legislature.
The copious disconnect youths have with the system is also expected to be bridged by this novel initiative. In his opening remarks, the Speaker gave a lucid highlight of the core objectives of the interaction with young people to include; “to expose students to legislative practice and procedure; improve public trust in the legislature as an arm of government; and enable students to engage their elected representatives in the National Assembly” where he described as the “citadel of democracy”.
The Speaker stated that the 8th House of Representatives unanimously vowed in its Legislative Agenda to introduce necessary legislative interventions to promote equality and inclusiveness, as well as entrench the rights of women, youths and vulnerable groups in the society; adding that the interactive event is in furtherance to that agenda. He posited that political participation by young people has become a trending effort to enhance democracy all over the world. Dogara expressed concern about political apathy among the youths, measured in terms of low voters’ turnout. He averred that the dialogue was relevant, given the increased recognition of the central role played by young people, especially students in the movements for democracy worldwide.
Rt. Hon. Dogara stressed that student’s familiarization with the National Assembly’s practices may inspire some of them to choose the legislature as an area for career development. Moreover, Nigerian politics has always left a role for students starting from the period struggle for independence. He took the students down history lane in 1978, “the Ali must go protest by Nigerian students against increase in school fees, feeding and accommodation charges. He professed his believe in the culture of peaceful protest, demonstrations and general activism, insisting it’s a constitutional right and ensures accountability of government to the people. However, the Speaker cautioned the youths to strike the right balance between activism and academic and social progress. “The pursuit of good education is the most important legacy you can bequeath to your family” he charged.
Speaker Dogara was sad to note that the educational system in Nigeria is dysfunctional. He deplored the fact that only one of the country’s universities is ranked among the top 800 universities in the world. He reflected that the 2011, Presidential Monitoring and Assessment Committee that was set up to assess the state of Nigeria’s public universities found among other things that none of our public universities met the average minimum standards for such institutions. He listed some of the key problems facing public schools. These were found to include, poor facilities and equipment, poor service delivery, incessant strikes and industrial actions, a surge in cultism and related acts of violence, limited funding, under-qualified teachers, lack of commitment to excellence, and exploitation of students, among others.
Rt. Hon. Dogara mentioned that the House will continue to advance and support key youth policy initiatives targeted at young people such as boosting entrepreneurship, increasing investment in infrastructure in public schools, and supporting reform of higher education in Nigeria. He further said that tackling unemployment is non-negotiable. “I am acutely aware that young people often find themselves on the fringes of the political process. We need to develop a structured manner of involving our students and youths in the political process. I think it may not be out of place to lower the age qualification for certain elective offices in the next constitution amendment exercise.
It is my ambition and those of my colleagues in the House of Representatives to ensure that students are empowered and connected as citizens to the political process and have a say in the decisions that affect them. This initiative of an interactive session with Students is just the first step in helping our students and young people become more actively involved with their representatives, with politics and democratic institutions” he concluded.
Goodwill messages were delivered at the event by the President of the Senate, Sen. Bukola Saraki, who was represented by the Senate Leader, Senator, Ali Ndume, President of Young African Parliamentarians, Hon. Nnanna R. Igbokwe and Clerk to the National Assembly, Alh. Salisu Maikasuwa who all lauded the initiative as well as appreciate the Director General of the National Institute for Legislative Studies, Dr. Ladi Hamalai for her effort in facilitating the dialogue.