Nigerians in Biden’s Cabinet: Motivation for Youth Participation in Politics

The recent appointment of four young people of Nigerian origin into the cabinet of the US President, Joe Biden must have sent a strong message on the capacity of Nigerian youths to  make positive waves globally. They have indeed painted the name of Nigeria in gold as they begin their  services in the White House.

The appointments started with 39-year-old high flier, Adewale Adeyemo, who would serve at the cabinet-level of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. This is  probably the highest level appointment of any Nigerian serving another government in the world. Biden also appointed Osaremen Okolo, another Nigerian American, as his health policy adviser on COVID-19 response.

President Biden equally appointed Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo as his White House Counsel before ending with Enoh Titilayo Ebong, the acting director of the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). Probably more appointments for other Nigerians are on the way.

The four Nigerians earned their appointments as a result of hard work and intellectual prowess.

These recognitions should stand as a motivating factor for the Nigerian youths to excel politically and otherwise. The profiles of these Nigerians speak volumes and Nigerian youths are expected to  envision them as role models in the race towards 2023 to make a difference.

Adewale Adeyemo, aged 39, who was born in Nigeria, and raised in Southern California is a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. He joined the Obama Foundation in August 2019 as its first president. During the tenure of President Barack Obama, Adeyemo was the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; the Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development at the Treasury Department; Deputy Chief of Staff of the Treasury Department in 2012;  and Chief of staff of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for 16 months, starting in 2010. Currently, he is the first African American Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.

Osaremen Okolo, aged 26, was appointed as COVID Policy Advisor and a member of the COVID-19 Response Team. He served on the Biden-Harris Transition domestic policy team, and prior to joining the transition, Okolo served as Senior Health Policy Advisor to U.S. Representative, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. She concentrated primarily in the history of science (medicine and society focus) with an allied, joint concentration in African-American studies. She also obtained a secondary degree in Global Health and Health Policy, and served as a senior health policy adviser while working for Schakowsky.

Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, 26 years, a lawyer and an alumnus of Berkeley Law College in the US, was named as one of the White House counsel.

The office of White House counsel advises the executive office of the president, and the White House staff on legal issues pertaining to the president and the White House.

One major challenge, as ironic as it may sound, facing the  effective inclusion of youths in Nigerian politics and other appointments is the attitude of the youths themselves. Most youths have an appalling apathy towards contesting major political positions. Majority of young people are more interested in personal benefits, preferring to serve in the violence-oriented “youth wings” of political parties to make quick money. Very few show lasting interest in galvanising other young people towards strong political principles and ways to move the nation forward.

The principles of democracy call for a peaceful atmosphere with the inclusion of young people for its fortification. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria and other African countries as violence, sustained by young people continues to militarize and criminalize the polity.

The case of the last #EndSARS protest is an example of a setting where young people showed a strong  lack of capacity in articulating their positions effectively and peacefully without any form of violence. Although youths effectively mobilized through the #EndSARS protest to end the draconian police brutality by the defunct SARS, it ended on a sad note as the same youths became willing tools  in causing mayhem and wanton destruction of lives and property nationwide.

This type of scenario creates apprehension and terror in the atmosphere, thereby discouraging women and other  peace loving youth from participating in political activities.

Pundits are of the view that there are missing links from  educational, family, cultural and religious institutions that should have been utilized to evolve a healthy political culture among the Nigerian youth through political socialization, regular orientation and enlightenment within different institutions. Benjamin Disraeli noted that “the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity”.

It is imperative for the youths in Nigeria to  push ahead to enforce this notion. However, what is needed now is innovative education for the youth, both male and female, on the way forward, as they push towards the pinnacle of  political leadership.

Interestingly, the coast is quite clear with the signing of the not-too-young-to-run bill that reduces the age limit required to seek key political offices in the country. Even the highest political position, the presidency was reduced from  40 years to 35 years, thus giving  younger people the opportunity to vie for the highest political position in the country.

With such youth friendly laws, what young people need now is the right pattern of political socialization, strategic groupings, political education, and empowerment.

The recognition of those young Nigerians by President Biden should propel youths in Nigeria to harness their population and strength by leveraging  an uncommon transformation and legacy for the future, based on the knowledge of the past which has led Nigeria to its present state.

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The youth should see themselves first as Nigerians, harnessing the abundant state resources to bring about rural development and integration, benefits and dividends of democratic governance in Nigeria. They should learn to be innovative in developing new values, ideal orientation, and proper thinking for the upcoming generations.

It is disheartening that those who should assume leadership positions tomorrow, should today become the hindrances to positive prospects for democracy in the country.

Anthony Nwakaegho

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