Friday, April 1, 2011

Nigerian youths and 2011 elections

Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil or betray it – Frantz Fanon

The zero hour to the Nigerian April 2011 polls is imminent. According to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, the Commission is fully ready to deliver on credible elections. He however posed a poser for other democratic institutions: Are the political parties ready? Is the media ready? Is the judiciary ready? Are the security agencies ready? Are the civil society organisations ready? As part of the preparations for the general elections, INEC has released the guidelines for the elections as well as the Notice of Polls in accordance with section 46 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). According to the notice, the April elections will hold as follows: April 2 - National Assembly elections (i.e. Senate and House of Representative); April 9 - Presidential elections and April 16 - Governorship and State House of Assembly elections.

All the three elections will commence with accreditation from 8am to 12noon while actual voting will commence by 12:30pm and ends when the last accredited voter on the queue casts his/her vote. Only those who registered between January 15 and February 2, 2011 are eligible to vote. April elections will hold in approximately 245,000 voting points, 119, 973 Polling Units, 8,809 Ward Centres, 774 Local Government Areas, 36 States and FCT. There will be a maximum of 300 voters allotted to each Voting Points and 420,000 ad-hoc and regular INEC staffers have been trained to conduct the polls. Balloting will be via finger-printing and not thumb-printing. This means voters can use any of their fingers to mark their choice political party.

I have been reflecting on the preparation for the election and have come to the conclusion that the April 2011 election is one in which the Nigerian youths are poised to play a pivotal role. President Olusegun Obasanjo in a foreword on the National Youth Policy and Strategic Action Plan 2001 gave a comprehensive attributes of youths.

According to the elder statesman: “Youths are the foundation of a society. Their energy, inventiveness, character and orientation define the pace of development and the 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.” How true!

Since the beginning of the preparation for the 2011 elections and in clear affirmation of the saying that “life is a unity of opposites”, Nigerian youths have been playing both noble and ignoble roles. However, let us first examine the entire parameters of the involvement of youths in the forthcoming elections. If we agree with National Youth Policy that put the age bracket of youths in Nigeria at between 18 and 35 years, we will discover that the bulk of the INEC staff (both permanent and ad-hoc) who will conduct the coming general elections are youths. In fact, as a matter of policy, INEC had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the management of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme to use the Youth Corps members as ad-hoc staff for the elections. It would be recalled that about 80 per cent of the workforce mobilised for the conduct of the voters registration exercise in January were those on national service. These youth corps members have also been trained for the conduct of April polls.

About 313 civil society organisations have been accredited by INEC to observe the coming general elections. Assuredly, between 70 to 80 per cent of the accredited observers and journalists to be deployed for the elections are youths. Similarly, officers and men of the security agencies that will maintain law and order during the elections are also going to be youths. Even the party agents that will observe the conduct of the elections are going to be youths while adolescences have been most active in many of the campaign organisations that have been floated by political parties and their candidates.

Indeed, some of those who are nominated candidates in the elections are actually youths. This is because according to the 1999 Constitution as amended, a youth can be a Governor as section 177(b) puts minimum age of a Governor at 35 years; Section 65 (1a and b) peg the minimum age of a Senator at 35 years and that of a House of Reps at 30 years; Section 106 (b) puts the minimum age of a member of State House of Assembly at 30 years. Youths are also at liberty to contest for Chairmanship and Councillorship of Local Government and Area Councils when the time comes.

Furthermore, section 147 (5) and 192 (4) of 1999 Constitution, by inference, have put the age limit for Ministers and Commissioners at 30 years. Some of the lawyers and perhaps judges who will be involved in the election dispute resolution process might be youths while there is no gainsaying the fact that the bulk of potential voters in the April elections are youths as they form more than half of the 73.5 million persons on INEC’s National Register of Voters. Thus, given the above analysis, the credibility or otherwise of the April general elections rest squarely on youths as they can make or mar the polls.

Hitherto, while some youths have been deeply involved in fomenting electoral violence through wilful and malicious destruction of lives and property; other youths have been playing noble roles. Some of those youths have organised themselves into groups such as ‘Enough is Enough’; Light Up Naija; Reclaim Naija; Youngstar Foundation etc. These youth groups were involved in massive voter education and mobilisation during the voters registeration exercise. They came up with acronyms such as RSVP which means Register, Select, Vote and Protect and POMP meaning Pray, Organise, Mobilise and Participate. These youth groups are using different strategies to mobilise electorates to exercise their franchise come April. These include using social networking media such as facebook, twitter, blogs, e-mail, SMS etc.

As the d-day approaches, it behoves Nigerian youths who will participate in the conduct of the 2011 elections to remember that what Nigeria is about to witness in April is our own revolution the kind of which currently goes on in North Africa and Middle East. It is in their hands to effect positive change in our polity. History beckons!