In a democracy, the citizens are the popular sovereign and one of the ways they engage the system is by participating in the selection of political leaders through voting. 2019 election is near, there is need for active and deliberate and conscious participation of citizen now. Citizens must understand that they have a direct influence and the electioneering period also confirms the fact that the office of the citizen is the highest office in the land. That is why it is important to get more eligible voters who are yet to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to do so. This is the only way to challenge the notion that votes don’t count. The question is; how do we get this critical numbers?
One of the events I am most excited for at this year’s The Future Project’s The Nigeria Symposium for Young and Emerging Leaders is its ‘Your Vote or Your Life’ panel. The Nigeria Symposium has built a reputation for avoiding the pointless rhetoric that seems to choke the life out of similarly themed programmes and focus instead on the equitable sharing of knowledge from people who are actually out in the field, making the mistakes that need to be made to make our democracy better. This year’s event is no different. But the organizers are taking this idea one step further and giving us an all-woman politics panel. I can’t even contain my excitement.

If you follow politics in Nigeria then you have to understand how great the barrier to entry is for women. Apart from the fact that we are conditioned to trivialize the efforts of women in any field and other it if these women also do not find a way to also conform to often restrictive societal expectations. This and many other factors eventually lead to minimal participation at the highest levels of government and even the women who manage to surpass all these odds and make an impact often do so at great sacrifice. At YNaija, we’ve explored this phenomenon asked the important questions on how to get more women into politics, but why throw out these questions into the ether when we can hear directly from the ground-breaking women who are actually leading the charge.

It is fantastic to see that the good people at the Future Project have pulled together a seasoned group of rule breakers and pioneers in activism, politics and social justice for this talk.

Ayisha Osori should need no introduction to anyone who closely followed the last major Nigerian elections and carefully analysed its aftermath. Osori experienced first-hand the bureaucracy, underhandedness and misogyny that keeps political office in Nigeria a boy’s club when she tried to win the primaries to contest in the Nigerian parliamentary elections under the People’s Democratic Party, and documented all her journey to the elections and the insights she gained in her critical best seller ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’. Osori who was once president of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund has always championed the causes of women in all fields, and understands just what it takes for a young person to navigate unfamiliar political spaces without losing their integrity.

Aisha Yesufu on the other hand might not be a politician, but she is certainly a political force to be reckoned with. Mrs. Yesufu has spent the last five years in the trenches of one of Nigeria’s most relevant political and ethical battles, she the co-covener of the non-profit organization/pressure group The Bring Back Our Girls movement. The BBOG movement was started as a knee-jerk response to the sudden abduction of 234 girls from the town of Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents in 2014. After years of living in fear of the insurgents, Yesufu and her co-founder Oby Ezekwesili took a stand, protesting the government’s refusal to face the problem head on. They faced arrests, teargassing, a smear campaign that went on for months, growing to envelope not just themselves and their movement, but the plight of women, especially in the regions worst hit by the insurgent crisis. As the years have progressed Yesufu has become a model for gaining political influence by focusing on civil and humanitarian issues and pressuring the government to take its promises seriously.

And of course Yemisi Adegoke is moderating the panel, and who better to pick the brains of these phenomenal women. An alumnus of the Future Project (she was nominated for the Future Awards Africa prize for Journalism), Adegoke has an impressive portfolio, working on multimedia news and documentary content in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. She currently has bylines in the Guardian Nigeria, the Guardian UK and the Independent UK. It will be interesting to hear perspectives from within and without the political structure on how to reach critical mass as we advance towards the elections.