Election all over the world is a serious business. Be it at government, town union, academic, religious, professional body levels or any organised formal or informal human gathering. It provides the opportunity for every qualified member to make a decision on those who pilot the affairs of the organisation within a defined duration. Expectedly, being an interest-driven game, actors deploy any means within their arsenal to lift the trophy.
As Nigeria gears up for another round of general election next year, it is pertinent to remind the youths the enormous powers they wield in deciding the outcome of the election. In his interaction with students of Bayero University Kano in INEC Youths Votes Count Campus Outreach Initiative on August 7 this year, the INEC boss Mahmoud Yakubu minced no words in stating that out of about 81 million registered voters (then) the youths constitute the largest percentage.
Hear him; “Quite a large number of those who have registered to vote are the youth, meaning the young boys and girls between the ages of 18 and 35. When we did the analysis of the 2015 presidential election results, the youth also played a very important role”. What this implies is that our young people are critical in the leadership recruitment process of our great country. They are the ultimate deciders on who gets what in our political equation.
Regrettably, this power has lied fallow, grossly under-utilised for the overall good of all Nigerians. We were all witnesses to how the former president of US, Barack Obama deployed the social media especially Facebook to help gain the momentum and the votes he needed to win his elections in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Since then, all political candidates around the world have learned to put full utilisation of the social media on their list of strategic tools to run their campaigns because of the overwhelming influence it wields. In Nigeria for instance, the social media also played a significant role in deciding which pendulum the 2015 election swung. Events in recent times are also indicative of the fact that the new media will play a role in influencing the attitude of voters in 2019. Who would have believed that a major player in the upcoming election and the vice presidential candidate of PDP, Peter Obi would have signed up to the social media anytime soon? The point here is that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms are places where the youths are not in short supply.
Paradoxically, no electoral violence can be planned, hatched and executed in Nigeria or anywhere in the world without the full and active participation of the young people. In February 2015, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka Dr. Frank Okafor while delivering a lecture at a workshop organised by Women Aid Collective (WACOL) in partnership with Democratic Governance for Development blamed 95 percent of electoral violence on youths.
According to him: “It is now becoming a national character of the Nigerian state in such a way that the country and her citizens are held hostage by this smashing political reality. From independence to date, electoral violence, all the violence linked to elections are mostly perpetrated by the youths, who are not only in the service of the politicians, but financed by them so long as they do their biddings. With the benefits of their vigour, seeming lawlessness and lackadaisical attitude to the Nigeria project, the youths are the willing ready-made weapons of politicians, who think more of their parochial interests than the development of the state and”. Isn’t this revealing?
In 2011 alone, according to Human Rights Watch, about 800 people were killed while about 65,000 people were displaced in 12 Northern states in 3 days following the violence that greeted the April presidential election. The states affected include Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, Kano, Katsina and Zamfara. Human Rights Watch also put the number of people who died before the election between November 2010 and 17 April 2011 at 140.
Instructively, the United States Institute of Peace described Nigeria’s 2011 election as best run but most violent. They said the election received high praise for being well managed but the number of casualties recorded in the post election violence torpedoed any electoral violence in the history of Nigeria. It is difficult if not impossible to convince any rational mind to believe that these political violent protests were perpetrated by senior citizens who have just one bar for their life battery to get fully drained. They’re young men, vibrant, full of life and in their most active life cycle.
The desperation to acquire political power in Nigeria has majorly fueled the cycle of violence that has rocked our beloved country, despatched our compatriots to their premature graves, instilled fear in the minds of our people and caused them to live in uncertainty. This vociferous desperation cannot be extricated from how irresistibly attractive political office has been made to look in our country, which arguably ranks as one of the top high in the world.
As in the case of Lagos State, as stated in the Public Office Holder (Payment of Pension) Law No 11 official Gazette of Lagos, 2007, who would not want to have a mansion in choice place in Abuja and Lagos? Who would not want six brand new cars every three years? Who would not want 100 percent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7m per annum)? Who would not want free health care for himself and members of his family? Who would not want furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3m)? Who would not want house maintenance allowance, which is 10 per cent of basic salary ( N778,296 ) after serving a second term as Lagos governor? Added to these and several others is domestic workers comprising a cook , a steward, a gardener and others whose appointments are pensionable, all from the state funds. Also inclusive are eight policemen and two officials of the Department of State Services for life for anyone who has served Lagos for eight years as governor. Do you still wonder why there is desperation to be a “leader” in our country? It cuts across all the states including Akwa Ibom. The take-home pay of our federal lawmakers, which according to the senator representing Kaduna central, Sen. Shehu Sani is within the neighbourhood of N13.5m monthly per senator has continued to be a subject of debate.
Rivers State since 2015 has consistently remained violent-prone. The post-electoral litigation and the massive annulment of supposed electoral victories, rerun and counter rerun elections the state has experienced since the last election has a lot to do with the volatility of that environment. Scores of deaths including that of Corps members and executions have taken place in the state undocumented. No thanks to the skyrocketing unemployment rate, proliferation of arms and light weapons and the uncontrolled circulation of illicit substances. The major political warlords Wike and Amaechi have engaged in blame trading and finger pointing games, yet there seems to be no ray of hope few days to the next election.
Few days ago, there was a reported clash between PDP and APC supporters in Ilorin, Kwara state at Emirate convention. Expectedly, both parties have exonerated their supporters of any involvement in the clash, a typical case of an elder staying at home and watch the goat deliver while still tied to the tree.
Admitted, election is no church service where everyone is expected to put on his full garment of piety and exhibit a mien of holiness. However, decorum, decency and the milk of our humanity must not be allowed to take a flight from our political contestation. If we continue to pull the trigger against our countrymen and women, our neighbours, friends, relatives etc who then will they govern? The space?
The youths must shun brigandage and all forms of political thuggery. It is enough that the political class has perpetually gobbled away the future of the youths, subjected them to a bleak future and uncertain tomorrow. It is a decorated foolery and refined idiocy for our youths to continue to risk their lives just to feather the nests of their perennial oppressors. It makes no scintilla of sense that our young men take up arms against one another while the children of these politicians are far away America, Europe, Asia enjoying our commonwealth in obscene luxury.
The media, government agencies, opinion moulders, religious and traditional leaders must harp more on the need for a violent free, peaceful election come 2019. The security agencies must be at their best, exhibit a high sense of neutrality and show proactiveness in nipping violence in bud before they occur.
The political actors must avoid charging the atmosphere with hate-filled words. The recently signed peace accord by the presidential candidates of various political parties is a step in the right direction. They must however show that they are committed to peace, beyond signing a piece of paper. The peaceful transition of power from the ruling party to the opposition party which happened for the first time in Nigeria’s history in 2015 was hailed across the world. This giant feat must be consolidated upon and not reversed.
The world is watching us. We must not fail.
Enemanna is an Abuja based journalist.