(By Salami Ismail)

Youth are one of the greatest assets that any nation can have. Not only are they legitimately regarded as the future leaders, they are potentially and actually the greatest investment for a country’s development. They serve as a good measure of the extent to which a country can reproduce as well as sustain itself. The extent of their vitality, responsible conduct, and roles in society is positively correlated with the development of their country.

Youth occupy a very important place in any society. In addition to being leaders of tomorrow, we outnumber the middle-aged and the aged; and by virtue of our numerical superiority, youths have energy and ideas, which are society’s greatest potentials. We can make or break a nation. The National Youth Development Policy, 2001, asserts that:

“Youths are the foundation of a society. Their energies, inventiveness, character and orientation define the pace of development and security of a nation. Through their creative talents and labour power, a nation makes giant strides in economic development and socio-political attainments. In their dreams and hopes, a nation founds her motivation; on their energies, she builds her vitality and purpose. And because of their dreams and aspirations, the future of a nation is assured.”

The statement above recognises the role of the youth in the peace, security and economic development of a nation. It therefore implies that to have any meaningful development in a nation, the youths MUST be the foundation.

Without prejudice to other definitions by Member states, the United Nations, for statistical consistency across regions, defines “youth”, as those persons between the ages 15 and 24 years. All UN statistics on youth are based on this definition, as illustrated by the annual yearbooks of statistics published by the UN system on demography, education, employment and health. For the purposes of the Charter, the African Youth Charter provides that “youth or young people shall refer to every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.” The adopted National Youth Policy states that “youth comprises of all young persons of ages 18 to 35 years, who are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Elsewhere, “youth” has been defined as “someone between the ages of 14 and 40″. The implication of these definitions is that youth represents the active population of the country, and can be found in primary, secondary and tertiary Institutions; and there are those who are out of school with all its grave consequences to the individual and the society. August 12th of each year is recognised by the United Nations as the International Youth Day.

Youth is a delicate phase in human development; a time when future choices are made; it represents the most volatile, complex, unpredictable, dynamic as well as the most vulnerable segment of the population, socio-politically , economically, emotionally and otherwise. The place and importance of the youth in the development process is vividly captured by the Nigerian National Youth Policy in this manner:

“Youth are one of the greatest assets that any nation can have. Not only are they legitimately regarded as the future leaders, they are potentially and actually the greatest investment for a country’s development. They serve as a good measure of the extent to which a country can reproduce as well as sustain itself. The extent of their vitality, responsible conduct, and roles in society is positively correlated with the development of their country”.

They are referred to as “a big reservoir of labour”; “the most vibrant age bracket in human population, the marrow of the human resource of any nation”; and “an exuberant person on the threshold of mature adulthood”. As students, “they are always in the forefront in the struggle against injustice, oppression and exploitation. They therefore constitute a militant force in any political system”.

The Role of the Youths in the Socio-Political Development in Nigeria

The Nigerian youths have contributed in so small measure to the socio-political development of Nigeria. In the context of Nigeria’s historical experience, the youth and students have rendered valuable contributions to the struggle for liberation and national development”. Some of the roles are discussed below:

[1] – Agent of Political Change

There are two major schools of thought that have emerged about the political role of students in society, the positivist and the negativist schools. While the positivists see students as part of the major forces in societal development, and calls for the assignment of specific roles to them in nation-building, the negativists strongly contend that students are immature, irrational and of undefined emotions whose youthful exuberance should be put in “proper” check. Suffice it to say that students are a powerful political force in contemporary society, and so, it will be out of place to see them in a negative way as volatile, anarchist and immature. Students and student movements have contributed in no small measure to the socio-political developments in many countries, including Nigeria. Most, if not all, democracies in present day Africa are the products of the youth – who in most cases sacrificed their sweat and blood to uphold, plant, and nurture the ideals of democratic governance. The youth have not only fought for their own interests, but also for the interests of the people; against colonial regimes; helped in overthrowing dictatorial national governments, and demanded the liberalisation of oppressive political systems. The Nigerian youths played central roles in the evolution of the Nigerian State through their various struggles against decolonisation. They started charting the cause for national development since the 1930s. In 1938, H.O. Davies, with his colleagues, formed the Nigerian Youth Movement; later, Herbert Macaulay formed the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons, and followed in succession was the Zikist Movement founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, later the West African Student Union patroned by Rev. Reginald Sorenson and led by Olu Alakija was formed, then the Egbe Omo Oduduwa pioneered by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and S.L. Akintola in the 1940s. Indeed, the struggle for national development for national independence began with the quests of Obafemi Awolowo, H.O. Davies and Anthony Enahoro, among other leading youths in the 1940s. Awolowo was less than 40 years old when he co-launched the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and this metamorphosed into Action Group in 1951. In other words, the Ahmadu Bellos, Nnamdi Azikwes, Obafemi Awolowos, Mokwugo Okoyes, Tafawa Balewas, Joseph Tarkas, and Aminu Kanos, all started their political careers in their youth; they founded the organisations which negotiated with the colonial regime while they were youths, and assumed leadership of this country while still in their forties! The historic acts of these men in the nationalistic struggles soon became the bedrock of national polity on which we dwell and engage on concepts of leadership aspiration, public and national interest and good governance to define and determine national policies till date. The same thing applied to other African countries, such as South Africa, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique etc. Thomas Sankara, was not yet 40, when he and his colleagues led the Burkinabe Revolution and in Latin America, Fidel Castro and his colleagues, in what became the “July 26th Movement”, were all in their twenties when they launched the daring attack on the Moncada barracks in 1956 in an heroic, but failed attempt to unseat the dictator Batista! The North African experience called the “Arab Spring” – young people that were at the forefront of revolutions in Cairo, Tunisia, and Libya – has provided an example about the determination of youth to fight for what they believe and bring about change and these events have called for the re-opening of the discourse about democracy, democratization and the role of youth in governance in the developing world.

Nigeria has celebrated 14 years of uninterrupted democratic governance in 2013. The Nigerian youths have immensely contributed their quota to the sustenance of democracy and to the democratic struggles right from the colonial era up to independence in 1960 and even till date. The vital role the youths played as pro-democratic agents helped greatly in the struggle for independence and even in the wrestling of power from military government to the installation of a democratic government in 1999.

[2] – Role in Electioneering Process: Elections are the means of establishing good governance in a democratic environment. In its original conception, it was essentially to serve as an alternative to violent change of government or power, coup or revolution. It was conceived as a legitimate means to have a change of successive elections. The Supreme Court has this to say in the case of Ojukwu v. Onwudiwe [1984] where it held as follows:

“The concept of free and fair election requires that, unimpeded by official interference, discrimination on the ground of sex, colour, wealth, and so on, by physical restraint, intimidation, bribery, threatening, undue influence or other such conditions that endanger the security of persons or otherwise obstruct their freedom of action, every adult citizen shall be free to contest an election and to campaign for votes, to register as a voter, to choose the candidate for whom to cast his votes and to vote accordingly; that there is equality between the voters, none being allowed to cast more than one vote or to vote on behalf of another person or otherwise to impersonate another voter; that political parties are free to sponsor candidates and canvass for votes in a truly competitive sense; that contest is conducted according to laid down rules accepted by all as binding; that those entrusted with its conduct are not agents of, or are not subject to direction by any contestants; that the contest is in fact conducted impartially, giving no advantage to one candidate against another; that the result shall be based on and truly reflect the votes lawfully cast at the election by the voters and free from falsification, inflation or other fraudulent manipulation of figures”.

In other words, election is a way of censuring, reposing function in a ruler that is popularly accepted and ejecting an unpopular leader. This method shuns mutiny and chaos in a system, hence, it reflects peaceful hand-over from one administration to the other so long as the process is devoid of election rigging.

As noted by Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi: “There is a strong evidence that the participation of young Africans in formal, institutionalised political processes, such as the electoral process, is relatively low compared to older Africans. A recent Afro-barometer paper [“The Political Participation of Africa’s Youth: Turnout, Partisanship and Protest” – Nov. 2011] finds that African youths aged 18-30 years old tend to vote less and express a lower level of partisanship [i.e how closely someone feels to a particular party] than older Africans. Existing data also points to low representation of youth in membership and leadership positions in political parties and parliaments. Evidence shows that the relationship between the youth and the political parties is characterised by mutual disrespect and/or mistrust. This strained relationship poses a substantial challenge to youths’ political participation”.

This statement is particularly true about Nigeria. Indications have emerged that the campaigns for the next Presidential poll would kick off not less than 16 November 2014, in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act, following the release of the 2015 general elections time-table by the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC]. The 2011 Amended Electoral Act which INEC relied upon in issuing the time-table, stipulates that campaigns into elective offices must begin 90 days to election. Counting from the date set by INEC for the election on 14 February 2015, it means that the campaigns must start not later than 15 November 2014 and end on 12 February 2014, which is 24 hours before the end of the 90 days stipulated in the Act. Section 99 of the Act states:

“For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and shall end 24 hours prior to that day”.

It must be emphasised that election is a process and not an event. It is a process that embodies all variables that lead to the formation of political parties to the declaration of results in the polls. Good governance and people oriented leadership can only be a product of a fair electoral process which ventilates the expressions of the people as represented in the ballot. Therefore, any attempt to manipulate the process is an affront on the collective will of the people.

In a nation like Nigeria that witnessed general elections in 1965, 1979, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2007, and 2011, there is a very urgent need to consider the electioneering process in place in view of the much anticipated 2015 general election. This is paramount given the characteristics of the previous elections which include rigging, thuggery, inadequate electoral materials, stuffing of ballot boxes, snatching of ballot boxes, absconding of electoral officers during elections, illegal thumb printing of ballot papers, disqualification and banning of opposing candidates, etc.

As the 2015 general election is drawing near, many of the youths will be involved in the electioneering process as ad hoc officials, among others. The youths need to be involved as voter education agents to sensitize the electorates on the need to participate actively in the electoral process and the democratic process. The youths, being critical stakeholders in the electoral process and a pivotal engine for development in the society, must not treat the electoral process at a distance. But in doing this, the youths must shun violence and avoid being used as political thugs or being involved in unwholesome practices. Electoral vilence presents one of the greatest challenges to many democratising societies, and manifests itself in various forms including murder, looting, thuggery, kidnapping, arson, abduction, assault, violent,seizure and destruction of electoral materials, among others. As posited by Preye Kuro Inokoba and Agnes Ebi Maliki:

“…electoral violence as the ultimate form of electoral fraud is an aberration as well as anathema to the fundamental tenets of democracy; it deprives the people voice in governance; it stalls communication between the politicians [government] and citizens; it has encouraged political apathy and indifference of the citizenry; it makes government unrepresentative, unaccountable, unresponsive and irresponsive; it creates a conducive atmosphere for unscrupulous individuals to hijack the instrument of the government. Even more worrisome is the fact that electoral violence, especially with youth’s involvement in it, has become an established and “legitimate” mode of political behaviour in Nigeria”.

We cannot give in to thuggery and violence in election process and then turn around to decry bad governance! The previous elections in Nigeria [2003, 2007, and 2011] provides clear examples of “gunpowder” politics as politicians provided youths with cash, weapons, intoxicants [particularly alcohol] and immunity from arrest and prosecution by law enforcement agencies in exchange for the manipulation of electoral process, including assassination, intimidation of voters, ballot box snatching and electoral officials intimidation at polling stations during elections. Indeed, the youths has for long been at the receiving end of electioneering turmoil in Nigeria. For instance, as reported by the Human Rights Watch concerning the 2003 general elections, the unemployed youths were allegedly paid up to N10, 000 [ten thousand naira] to participate in attacks and intimidation of political opponents. The politicians have made several promises to the violent youth groups to ensure their loyalty, which they often renege. As a result, many of the groups did not return the weapons they received from the politicians and thus turned to other criminal purposes, such as kidnapping, armed robbery, oil bunkering, etc. The question is: if truly the youths are the future, what future are the Nigerians political elites building for the country’s democracy by recruiting and indoctrinating youths into electoral misdemeanour?

The 2015 general election therefore present another opportunity for Nigerian youths to take up responsibility to their voices heard for peace and progress, to project a powerful voice against corruption, advocate for positive change, and provide generational insight on development issues. The political climate and health of any nation defines the degree of freedom of individuals, the degree of ease of trade, the direction and nature of state priorities, the state of the economy, social perspective and even sometimes, the religious perspective, and indeed, hasa colossal influence on its growth or decline. It is the citizens of a country that determines the kind of government and the nature of their political system through voting in a free and fair election. Thus, as we prepare for the 2015 general elections, the Nigerian youths now have the opportunity to redefine the democratic system that is best suited for the country. The youths must therefore break themselves free from the influence of corrupt politicians; stop stealing ballot boxes when the polls do not favour their candidates; allow electoral processes follow their normal course; and the youths must realise that those little political crimes they partake in are drops of water constituting the mighty ocean of political instability and bad democracy the country suffers.

[3] – Mobilisation Role:
Since students are close to the grassroots, they could and should play important roles in national mobilisation, especially at the grassroots. This fact was recognised by the Federal Government’s Political Bureau Report [1987] when it asserts in one of its reports that students constitute a reservoir of energy and dynamism for any national struggle or campaign, if they are correctly guided, mobilised, and fully integrated into the social fabric. It stated that: “With appropriate training and guidance, [students] can provide the manpower needs of the country and … they can make positive contributions to national development”. Mass media and modern communication technologies are important tools that can be used to mobilise the youth, and to facilitatw, encourage and build their capacity to take their rightful part in the development and political processes of their countries.

To be continued.

(Source: abusidiqu)

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”