MP voices is a new IPU web section in which MPs comment on some of the key issues affecting parliamentary democracy today.
Raphael Igbokwe, MP in the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, President of the Forum of Young MPs in Nigeria and a former member of the IPU’s Forum of Young Parliamentarians, inaugurates the section.
The IPU interviewed Raphael Igbokwe on the occasion of International Youth Day on 12 August. Raphael Igbokwe was the sponsor of one of two Not Too Young to Run bills that President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law in May. The bills reduce the age that young people can run for elected office to 35 for president; 30 for governor and senator; and 25 for a member of the House of Representatives and the State House Assembly.
IPU: What added value do young people bring to politics?
R.I: Young people bring innovation and creativity to institutions that sometimes need a good injection of fresh blood and ideas. They can also act as a pressure group in parliament, holding government and the executive to account. It’s important that their voices are heard to ensure that the policies and laws that will change the future are not taken without those who will be most affected. Finally, as young people are generally more technologically-savvy than their elders, they communicate better and faster to the electorate, which is crucial in a time of disconnect between people and their institutions.
IPU: What are the barriers preventing young people from entering parliament or politics?
R.I: In many countries, there are legal barriers that prevent youth from entering politics. This is why the Not Too Young to Run bills that have just become law in my country are an important first step to getting more young people into the political process. However, unfortunately, they will then have to overcome more barriers. Cultural barriers, for example: In many African countries, it is commonly believed that politics is for older generations- indeed the political space is dominated by them. Financial barriers also prevent young people from entering politics. The cost of getting into politics or being elected to parliament is high in Africa. For example, when I first presented myself to the Federal Assembly, my own community helped me to find the funding to campaign and win the election.
IPU: What can parliaments do to become more youth-friendly?
R.I: There are many things they can do. For example, parliaments can support the creation of youth caucuses or forums that allow young people to interact with each other; they can organize a youth week to explain what legislators do and why it’s important for young people; they can encourage the establishment of young parliaments and councils through budget funding and legislation; they can champion youth-related legislation, take up youth issues with the government; and introduce mentorship programmes for young people in the parliament.
The IPU Forum of Young Parliamentarians was set up to encourage participation of young people in parliaments and to help ensure that young MPs play a fuller part in the work of parliaments. Its current President is Ms M. Osoru, an MP from Uganda.