Starting with Nigeria: 19 year old Onyinyechi wins Ugreen's 'Change Your World' essay

In honour of the United Nations International Year of Youths, Ugreen Foundation, a non-governmental youth organisation promoting a constructive citizenship participation in democracy and governance in Nigeria hosted a project titled ‘Change Your World’. A part of the project included an essay competition for young Nigerians between the ages of 18-35.

19 year old, Onyinyechi Mbam, a medical student from Ebonyi State University Medical College, has emerged winner. See her winning essay below.

‘As Nigeria is faced with the challenges of terrorism and post-electoral violence; what can young people do to help consolidate our democracy?’

The quest to build a society where peace, unity and justice are its pillars, devoid of acrimony and rancor, as well as hospitable environment that has learnt to care for its citizenry has posed challenges to Nations across the globe.

Nigeria is a democratic country in West Africa, with a population of over 140 million people (2006 census). Since Nigeria was officially declared an independent state and gained freedom from their British colonial masters on 1st October 1960, three major ethnic and religious groups has remained unified despite the challenges of civil war that lasted for three years (1967 – 1970), ethnic and religious crisis, that has ravaged the nation since independence till date and recently; terrorism and post electoral violence – the later having gained ground since 1999 when Nigerian transited to democratic governance.

It is a truism that no nation on earth can achieve the dreams of her founding fathers if characterized by electoral violence, crisis and terrorism. Terrorism is a devastating trend that our contemporary world has had to grapple with in recent times. In this contest, it is defined as the premeditated use of violence by an individual or group to cause fear, destruction or death, especially against unarmed targets, properties or infrastructure within a state, with the intentions to compel those in authority to respond to the demands and expectations of individuals or group behind such violent act. The devastating effects of terrorism have been witnessed in the United States of America, especially in September 11, 2001. In Kenya, the United States Embassy was targeted in August, 7 1998, and most recently Nigeria has suffered the effects severally and repeatedly.

From all the attacks recorded all around the world, the expectations can be deduced to be for a change of status quo in terms of the political, economic, ideological, religious and social order within the affected state or for a change in the actions or policies of the affected state in relation to its interaction with other groups.

Post electoral violence is the expression of hostility and rage through physical force after the elections have been conducted especially when groups are dissatisfied with the outcomes of the elections. The acts of terrorism and post electoral violence have given Nigerians deadly blows. So many factors interplay in different ways to display Nigeria as subject to terrorism and post electoral violence. This include among others, the failure of governance to meet up with the demands and needs of the people, high unemployment rate, poor security system, ethnic and religious crisis, widespread poverty and porosity of Nigeria’s land and maritime borders.

In Nigeria, governance failure is one of the main factors implicated in the rising incidence of violence and terrorism. It is indexed by the manifest incapacity of public institutions to deliver critical access to the basic services important to a healthy, satisfying and productive life in a society. This contributes to the emergence of large number of frustrated population, especially young people. The key challenge here is not the lack of sufficient public resources; rather it is the problem of widespread corruption especially in the public sector which compounds other governance and development deficits bedeviling Nigeria. The idea held by most politicians that whoever holds the allocation of wealth holds all creates an environment for intense corruption and rigging of electoral process as parties go extremes to squeeze their candidates into the corridors of power.

Furthermore, large number of youths without any means of livelihood compounds the environment of insecurity in Nigeria, which feeds into the overall vulnerability question. Nigerian youthful population is estimated to be close to 70 or 80 million – about 55 to 60 percent of the entire population (2006 census), yet a significant segment of the youth population remains unemployed, underemployed or unemployable. Official statistics show that more than 80 percent of the youth are unemployed while about 10 percent are underemployed. The estimated 10 percent in employment are inundated with demands from immediate and extended family members as they too might not be employed or not in a position to earn as much to carter for their family’s need. Consequently, the growing frustration and disillusion that accompany long term unemployment and poverty underline their gravitation to crimes, making them more vulnerable to recruitment by criminal cartels, extremists, political thugs and terrorist groups.

Moreover, the level of insecurity, characterized by the rapid eruption and frequency of violence especially during and after elections, is further heightened by the lack of swift and early response by the state and its security actors. In many part of Nigeria, response of public authorities is habitually too late and unfruitful; hence their inability to respond at all becomes more significant with the introduction of bombs and explosives to spread terror, destroying lives and properties as is the case in majority of the Northern states of Nigeria. In many countries, agencies are set up to detect terror plans and prevent them, but in Nigeria no agency exists at all. After all the attacks, none has been established.

Moreso, Ethnic and religious conflicts are not left out among the factors that ginger terrorism and post electoral violence in Nigeria. There are three major Ethnic groups recognized in the federation; Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba with Christianity, Islam and Traditional religions. The Christians and the Islams have been at the forefront of religious conflicts for uncountable years. Presently, the Boko Haram sect with anti-west ideologies that holds western civilization to sinful while propagating the Islamic culture has launched several attacks on the police stations and other public facilities accounting to thousands of deaths. In addition, the method of Pentecostal Christians’ preaching involves extensive rebuff of the Quran and condemnation of specific Muslim practices which has exacerbated the religious conflicts. For instance, in 1991 rioting Muslims killed more than 200 Southern Christians and burnt over twenty churches in Kano state when Reinhard Bonnke, a German revivalist was invited by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to hold a crusade in Kano state.

It is not to be forgotten that a hungry man is an angry man, the environment of widespread poverty in turn contributes to the escalating crime rate in Nigeria. Nigerian streets are full of children begging for arms. They follow anybody that might just feed them even for once, end up being trained to become suicide bombers and assassins, etc, and grow up with wrong unpatriotic mentality against the country.

In addition, the porosity of Nigeria’s land borders, especially in the Northern parts has security implications given the activities of transnational Jihadists such as the al Qaeda in the land of Islamic Maghreb operating in the Sahel region of West Africa. Nigeria and Senegal are situated in this region and are known to have porous land and maritime borders. It is estimated that Nigeria hosts over 70 percent of about 8 million illegal weapons. In a situation where illegal weapons circulate in an environment of worsening poverty and porous borders, it may not be a surprise at the intensity of terrorism and violence.

Despite all these, young people are making efforts to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy. Several youth organizations have been conducting and are still holding seminar programs in democracy and good governance to restructure the minds and attitudes of youths. However, more is yet to be done, as we young people are susceptible to shackles of terrorism and post electoral violence.

To engage more efforts in consolidating democracy in Nigeria, dialogue must be embraced. Young people should come together to discuss other peaceful means of solving problems other than violence. For instance when through dialogs every young person in Nigeria gets to know that serving as a political thug or participating in acts that endanger Nigeria does not count and that his or her vote can change Nigeria, then there would be no need to achieve the right political situation with violence.

Nevertheless, the problem of unemployment can be solved without dependence on the government. If young people embrace education, shun idleness and imbibe creativity, there are thousands of opportunities they can explore to earn a living from Nigeria’s vast natural resources.

Security is one of the basic pre-occupations of any individual community, organizations and government. The idea of security presupposes a concern with what is the source of danger, ‘who’ or ‘what’ is to be protected from the danger and what ‘means’ are available for addressing the danger. Thus security is too important a value to be left alone to a nation’s security agencies to guarantee. Security providers cannot work alone they need the linking of civil societies, security providers and community leaders for early warning and response to conflict. Young people all across Nigerian should maintain a habit of security awareness, form strong lines of communications and information sharing on possible tension areas, conflict triggers in communities and opportunities for conflict resolution, especially with the use of the new social media that have brought about democracy transitions in the Arab World. These will contribute a lot to reducing the prevalence of violence and terrorism in the country.

Section 10 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the Federation shall not adopt any religion as state religion. In other words, right to practice one’s religion must not amount to violation of the right of others to practice theirs and their right to life. Religious and ethnic tolerance, co-operation and peace will put a stop to ethnic and religious conflict and it must begin with young people.

In Conclusion, as outlined ab initio, terrorism and post-electoral violence are caused largely by wide spread poverty, ignorance, ethnic and religious intolerance and unemployment but can be reduced by capacity building. Young people in Nigeria should not fold hands but should all engage in capacity building activities such as seminars, skill acquisition, and value re-orientation programs and attach much importance to educational trainings.  In the long term, Nigeria must address the historical and structural causes of these conflicts. Unless this assessment is done, violence, loss of human lives and properties will be a constant re-occurrence. All hands should come on desk, especially the young people to consolidating Nigeria’s democracy.

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