HARUNA EMMANUEL: Will young people influence Nigerian elections on Saturday?

Emmanuel Haruna is a Graduate student in Development Economics, Kobe University, Japan and a Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the Nigeria Ministry of Budget & National Planning.

As citizens safeguard their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) ahead of 2019 general elections, it will prove a litmus-test for Nigeria's democratic process. Increased awareness for PVCs was never heard before than now since the return of democracy in 1999. It is evident that bad politicians are voted into public spaces or offices by good people who refuse to vote.

Perhaps, where partisan godfatherism is being worshiped and allowed to thrive while the citizens are wallowing in poverty would be difficult to attract the participation of the people. In that sense, a regular election does not translate to democracy, though elections are the cardinal point of democracy. Today, front-runner political parties are still struggling with internal party democracy and ideology crisis. In worst cases, most political parties do not uphold the values of accountability and transparency as they keep denying their campaign promises and manifestos. The recent concluded Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial election set additional litmus-test in the direction Nigeria's democratic process is galvanizing. Such unhealthy practices deter or exclude the youth from political participation and institute political apathy, resulting in low turn-out in the polling units.

In addition, major decisions are made in the political parties, therefore, it is important that youth seek participation in the democratic process should find and belong to one. However, other issues remain the high cost of nomination forms within political parties, clear independence of the electoral bodies like INEC, the high cost of running political campaigns, interference of the executive arm of government, manipulation of youths as political thugs, among others.

First, the National Youth Policy categorize youth between ages of 18 and 35 years. This means, there is approximately 68 million Nigerian youth to vote in the upcoming 2019 general elections and over 120,000 polling units nationwide to monitor and ensure their votes count.

Second, Nigeria needs an accountable, innovative and responsible leadership to promote and sustain democracy. In so doing, Nigerian youth must develop skills and competencies before seeking an elective or appointive position. The enactment of ‘Not-Too-Young-To-Run' Act has removed age requirements for some elected offices to enable youth to participate actively in electoral politics and election management. This has been a welcome development and applauded by the youth and other civil society organizations.

Third, past elections in Nigeria has shown that youth are recruited by highly placed political elites as thugs equipped with brandishing weapons to hijacked election materials and snatched ballots boxes, political wrangling and violent inter/intraparty clashes, buying-off of electoral officials, among others. These undemocratic activities question the norms and values of an ideal democracy.  

Finally, youth are at the receiving end of poverty, corruption, unemployment, insecurity, low education quality, poor healthcare infrastructure, among others. This challenges if not addressed will affect the quality of life soon. ‘Sit-down and look' syndrome will place the youth in a very tight corner, perhaps, it is time for the youth with biggest ideas to mount the political space and strengthening democratic institutions.  

What this means:

Recent events have shown low youth's participation in the political space in Nigeria owing to several reasons. However, actively promoting the inclusion of youth in political processes is not only about norms, values, and rights but also about practical politics. Nigerian youth should never relent by sitting down at home and keep lamenting about the activities of elected or appointed government officials. Politics is a game of numbers and youth should leverage their numerical strength in promoting good governance by participating in the democratic process. It is also important that youth should register with political parties and ensure internal democracy and fairness is enshrined in their political party of choice. As recently advocating in Nigeria “Prayers will not win an election for you; your votes win an election”. In other words, Ayisha Osori, an author of “Love Does Not Win Election “ cleverly puts that youth need to be more active in the political space.

Recent electoral campaign initiatives such as #VoteNotFight , “#GoVote”, and “#ThumbItRight” driven by youth-related civil society organizations through roadshows, radio and television programs, town hall meetings, meetings with front-runner political parties and other community influencers will help to promote a conducive electoral environment and address electoral violence. This act of violence is commonly found in the rural polling units where poverty is relatively high and with fewer security agencies. The political godfathers use money to induce youth to engage in violence as a distraction to the electoral process. To address this, there is a need to increase advocacy on voter education and mobilization, particularly at the grassroots levels. Until this happens, the youth will continue to be excluded in the political space and this will continue to jeopardize the country's democratic process.

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