by Yusuf Goje
The run-up to this year’s general election has so far been replete with desperation, inordinate ambitions, threats, non-issues based campaigns (campaign of calumny), malicious manipulation of the electoral process, media blackmail among competing candidates and their political parties and violent skirmishes. Even though we have fourteen candidates seeking to occupy the throne in the presidency, which makes the winner a semi-god, it is evident even to the most careless observer of happenings in Nigeria that the race is narrowed down between the incumbent People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) as the main contenders.
Without doubt this year’s election is turning out to be the most contentious in the anal of our history, to the extent of threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been at the helms of affairs in Nigeria for the past sixteen years without interruption, largely due to lack of a formidable and widespread opposition. With the merger of erstwhile smaller and independent political parties (ACN, CPC, ANPP and a faction of APGA) the PDP seems to be losing sleep, having made conjecture predictions of the likely collapse of the marriage of convenience and strange bed-fellow as they called it.
Since the release of the elections time-table by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the polity has witnessed both overt and covert politicking even before the suspension on the ban on campaigns was lifted. With an opposition that can match the ruling party strength to strength the stakes are higher and the anxiety is deeper; this is evident with the in-road the opposition has made into areas once believed to be no-go areas and pulling mammoth unprecedented support.
The political clash between the two goliaths has gone further to exacerbate the heating up of our volatile polity; as is being evident in the beating of war drums by self-conceited ethno-regional chauvinistic entrepreneurs, religious bigots and political warriors. This has been fanned by smear and divisive campaigns across the political divide targeting to hoodwink unsuspecting and narrow-minded members of the citizenry, especially the youth.
The tension which the unpatriotic act by our political class is generating is what necessitated the Abuja Peace Accord organized by the Office of the National Security Adviser and that of the Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs; which was held on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. The signing of the accord was carried out by all the presidential aspirants and their party leaders; as a ceremonial indication of their commitment to non-violence as regards the 2015 general elections. Through maintaining the highest level of decorum and also checkmating the excesses of their die-heart followers likely to lead to the breakdown of law and order.
Unfortunately, as it has become the character of our political class to paying lip-service to critical issues and commitments; immediately after the accord, they continued to engage in acts that run contrary to the letters and spirit of the Abuja Peace Accord. This was and is still evident in the instigative and libelous campaign adverts in the media, violent attacks (especially in Rivers and Plateau states, and the pelting of the Presidents convoy in Bauchi and Katsina states), threats of war by the Niger-Delta militants and the counter-reactions by other groups, speculations on the compromise of security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (with the postponement of the elections as a pointer).
Amidst all this uncertainties and anxieties, the key issue is what role is expected of our teeming youth, who are used in perpetrating electoral fraud and violence, in ensuring that the forthcoming general elections are peaceful and credible? With the present realities, the role of the youth needs to be re-examined in the light of the threat to our nation-hood posedby the desperation of our political class as the elections comes ever closer.
Also, in view of our history of electoral violence and irregularities; the need to increase awareness among our youth, in becoming the defenders of the electoral process rather than its destroyers, becomes inevitable and paramount.
It is also the reality, even though we have become unconscious of it, that the youth are the engine room of any society due to having the largest demography (around 70%), exuberance, creativity and impressionability to drive growth and development. That is to say without the youth no leader can get to power; be it through votes, irregularities or electoral violence.
The vulnerability and volatile nature of our youth have exposed them to manipulations by the political class using money to entice them or cheap ethno-religious primordial sentiments to instigate them into political violence. This was witnessed in the aftermath of the 2011 presidential election, a situation whereby the youth perpetrated heinous atrocities all in the name of expressing their displeasure at the outcome of the elections. This must not be allowed to reoccur before, during and after the general elections.As stated earlier, the youth are central to the emergence of any elected office-holders. That is to say the youth possess enormous power in determining who leads us; we have the power of choice and decision either to participate constructively or destructively.
Before going further it would be pertinent to note that the prerequisite for a peaceful and credible elections goes beyond the roles of the youth alone, as important as that is, but involves the constructive participation of other critical stakeholders such as an impartial Electoral Umpire (INEC), Electorates, Political Parties, Politicians, Civil Society Organizations, Media, Security Agencies, Religious and traditional institutions. But we would confine our discussion within the scope of the roles of the youth.Before elections proper, as eligible youth must ensure that we properly register and ensure that we collect and safely keep our permanent voter’s card, in readiness of performing their civic duty in the main elections.
Also, voter’s education should be carried out by youth groups in collaboration with other key stakeholders in educating not just their peers but the older voters on their rights and responsibilities during elections.
As youth, we must meaningfully engage in the selection of delegates during party primaries (even though now it is too late, but should be noted) and election of candidates during the main elections, we should identify and support only credible and competent candidates. Furthermore, we should non-violently support our favored candidates diplomatically through manifesto selling; focusing on issues, track-record and character of the candidates.
During the elections, our youth must understand the powers embedded in our votes and reject any enticement to sell it or engage in political apathy by not coming out to cast our votes or vote base on cheap sentiments. Armed with permanent voter cards (PVC), all eligible youth must ensure that we peacefully come out to vote for our favored candidates, who are represented on the ballot papers by the logo of political parties.
We must also be vigilant of the whole electoral process by serving as independent observers to monitor and serve as whistle-blowers in the case of any irregularity or threat of violence during the voting and counting process.After the elections, disagreements are common features after election results are released leading to tension and uncertainty, at this point; the youth are expected to allow the law and relevant agencies and institutions to handle any negative fall-out of elections. That is why the constitution (Electoral Act) established special electoral tribunals to handle such fall-outs.
When tribunals are in session, the youth should avail themselves when called upon or when in possession of any vital information that would aid the proceedings. Ratherthan violent protest or engaging in wild jubilations that could incite violence, the youth should engage in alternative non-violent acts such as dialogue, tolerance, understanding and reconciliation that would entrench peace after elections.We must note that the effective participation of our youth in ensuring credible elections is hindered by a number of both circumstantial and man-made factors which include but not limited to: poverty, unemployment, ignorance, monetization of politics, cheap primordial sentiments, presence or threat of violence and lack of confidence in the electoral umpire.
Until the fore mentioned are checked or mitigated the youth would continue to play negative and destructive roles in our electoral process.The youth must realize that their vote is their right, and their right is their might. They can use their vote to determine their present and future, which can be attained only through credible and peaceful elections. We as youth must take our destiny into our hand, not violently, but through effective civil engagement in standing united in voting only credible and competent candidates, even in the face of intimidation, bribery, electoral fraud, cheap and primordial sentiments.
The role of the youth should not stop at the end of the electoral and leadership-selection process but should extend to holding these leaders accountable to the promises they made during elections.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.