The youth and 2015 general elections
AS Nigeria matches forward to the 2015 general elections, it is imperative that the youths grasp and understand the political intrigues, permutations and facts about the country for future benefit. The youths make up over 60 per cent of the electorate; hence they participate actively in the politics of electing their leaders and representatives in government. The apparent reality is that we are yet to arrive at an acceptable standard where the youth (electorate) can confidently say that their votes will count. There are obvious problems which require the concerted efforts of the politicians (and their respective political parties), the electorate (the youths) and INEC to address in other to achieve this.
In full consideration of important factors, the youths are a relevant determinant in the 2015 general elections and the subsequent ones. The political phenomenon in Nigeria is absolutely disheartening. Impunities are being carried out by the politicians, the electoral body, INEC, and the youths, though it should be correctly noted and pointed out that the mindset of the youths is affected greatly by the influences of the politicians and INEC. For a healthy and sustained democracy, nurturing of the youths in the political system is indispensable.
David Cameron and Barack Obama are two excellent leaders that had been well nurtured and groomed by their respective country’s political system and parties before they came to global limelight. They have been in politics where they represented their people creditably (Cameron was a Member of Parliament and former leader of the Opposition, while Obama became a Senator in 2004). David Cameron was subsequently to become British Prime Minister on August 11, 2010, at the age of 43, while Barack Obama became the United States President on January 20, 2009. They were thoroughly bred and nurtured on the ethics, norms, values and dignity of holding public offices and serving the masses. These are indeed legacy of well streamlined political systems.
The future of Nigeria is shaped by the calibre of youths who participate in the politics of the country. Most of the main political actors of today within the age range of 45 and 65 are products of the political era of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections. The bulk of them were youths during these political dispensations and were hugely entangled with the politics of extreme violence, election rigging and other nefarious activities as these were the norms and values as practiced them.+
During the 2003 general elections, I was the secretary of Trans-Ekulu Ward in Enugu East LGA of Enugu State under the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP), one of the main opposition parties that participated in the election. There are experiences learnt by the indignant youths who felt betrayed by the politicians and the electoral body, INEC. I am quite certain that these invaluable lessons will be applied accordingly during the coming 2015 general election. The seemly implacable youths are at present more patriotic, wiser and enlightened. Gone are the days when they are easily enticed or deceived by the temporary and pretentious genuiness or the perceived sincerity of politicians which disappear no sooner than they get elected. The youths will vote without discrimination for the candidates of their choice and those that appeal to them as shown in the recent gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Gratifications may be given by the witty politicians and accepted by the alert youths (this is inevitable in the present Nigerian political system), yet the preferred candidates will be voted for in elections. Undoubtedly good lessons have been learnt on this aspect.
I met a concerned senior citizen who explained to me without mincing words that the most qualified youths who are worthy to serve and lead the citizenry in governance of Nigeria are emigrating at an alarming rate. He buttressed his point saying that this particular set of youths does not participate in politics because of the present political climate.
From my experience in politics, especially at the grassroots level, many of the young intellectuals and activists who have the good of Nigeria at heart have declined to participate in politics because of the nature of politicking in the country.
According to Professor Pat Utomi at a TFA symposium of April 2013 held in Ekiti State, this is one of the greatest political regrets in Nigeria. It is common knowledge that some of those invited from the Diaspora such as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof. Barth Nnaji and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, just to mention a few, have done creditably well in their respective assignments. For now given the nature of our politics it would seem it is impossible for a certain David Cameron or Barack Obama to go through the election process and attain the highest office in Nigeria. They will not even scale through the hurdles of party primaries how much more winning such offices. The violence and other abnormal activities, coupled with the obvious desperation of the politicians, will certainly put a stop to their ambitions.
In Nigeria, the opposition and the ruling government are involved in endless allegations and counter-allegations that benefit no one in particular. The opposition, in addition to other duties and obligations, has the responsibility of criticising the government but also give commendations when necessary. Unfortunately, we witness extreme criticisms but no acknowledgement of any single achievement.
EVEN the recent success of the containment of the deadly Ebola virus generated a huge controversy between the PDP-led Federal Government and the APC-led states of Lagos and Rivers affected by the virus. When the youth are made to believe only in the politics of condemnation and constant criticisms without room for commendation when necessary, the full benefits of democracy will be greatly curtailed if realised at all. These degrading practices are bad signs for our democracy and the youths who watch keenly as such practices unfold. The ruling and opposition parties, both at the federal and state levels, have the collective responsibility of breeding as well as nurturing young politicians who will serve the country in future. The politics of acrimony and bitterness will only produce young political zealots.
The political facts and realities should be understood with a view to correcting the anomalies that exist. The youths as political observers should not expect the ruling and opposition parties at the federal and state levels to agree on a common front, before, during and after the election. This does not augur well for our democracy but unfortunately, such independent postures or collaboration is evidently not the reality in our land. Although, expectedly the politicking will gradually improve and be what it is supposed to be in subsequent elections, the youths should not shy away from participating in politics. All that is being said is that they may wish to bear the reality in mind when they step forward. It is in realising this that solutions will be proffered. Our votes can solve them by first putting them in positions, pessimism and political apathy will gradually give way to optimism and hope. The power of the votes will go a long way in determining the fate and future of not just the youths but the country at large.
Politicians especially those in government and the ruling parties must be law-abiding and have respect for the rule of law not just in words, but in deeds. A situation where the suspected thugs of a governor-elect is alleged to have disrupted court proceedings and beat up a judge is tantamount to illegality and a deviation from the rule of law. Court judgements must be obeyed irrespective of who it affects and if it is to be challenged, should be pursued via proper channels as stipulated by law. When youths obsessed with thuggery find themselves, whether by hook or crook, in positions of government, governing would certainly be in a state of anarchy and disrespect of the rule of law.
The 2015 general election is truly a defining moment for youths with political ambitions. The outcome of the election will either encourage political apathy in them or leave them with no choice but to wallow in their pessimism and despondency if the status quo persists. I was in Benin Republic during the March 2011 general election in that country. An average Nigerian will easily notice orderliness and adherence to the rule of law during all the phases of their electioneering. There was no form of violence during the election; the pre and post election activities had legality written all over them. Constitutionality prevailed. I saw the electoral officials walking down to the collation centres from their various polling units with the elections results without any fear whatsoever.
This is possible in Nigeria when the youths are involved in politics and they use their votes wisely this time—in electing their leaders and by being elected themselves. After the election results are announced, the victorious politicians should be humble and magnanimous in victory, while the gallant losers should go back to the drawing board and strategise towards subsequent opportunities. Congratulatory messages should be given by the defeated. Hands of co-operation should be extended by the winners and accepted accordingly by the loser. The election tribunal should be approached appropriately and judgement provided before the assumption of offices. A practicing democracy of this sort will obviously attract well meaning youths both at home and in the Diaspora to change their perception of politics in their land.
Another very important political fact in Nigeria at present is the issue of political zoning. Perhaps we may decide to abandon this in future but it is necessary for the unity of the Nigerian youths at the moment. This is because, believe it or not, this will reduce the ugly trend in the political system thereby making the marginalised youths to feel a sense of belonging. Nigeria is a heterogeneous state with over 250 diverse ethnic groups and tribes. Political zoning at the three tiers of government will address the issue of marginalisation and encourage forgotten youths to participate and seek political offices to represent their people. It is on record that in some states, a particular zone and tribe had been in power from the commencement of Fourth Republic in 1999. The type of federalism in other countries may not work for us, yet given our level of development due to our diversity. Political zoning will, therefore, surely encourage eligible individuals and youths to participate not just in the politics of voting but that of being voted for, thus reducing the uneasiness already generated and which is existing in the polity. Every quarter of the six geographic regions of Nigeria has loyal and reliable young men and women who can fulfil the duty of governance and nation building.
Finally INEC as the electoral umpire has a big role to play in luring the unenthusiastic yet qualified youths into the politics of legality and rule of law. Election laws and logistic problems should be ascertained, rectified and corrected accordingly. Political candidates and parties found involved in anarchy or illegality during an election should be disqualified and banned. Punitive measures should be taken against the use of thuggery, in which over 90 per cent of the youths participate. This way, some of the decent youths who have kept away will be confident to vote or come forward to participate in the process to fulfil their political obligation. Security should be a priority and must, therefore, be provided adequately by all agencies saddled with the responsibility so that the votes can be secured.
The conclusion of the July 2014 National Conference at which it was decided that citizens who are 25 years old are henceforth eligible to contest to be legislators in state Houses of Assembly is a welcome development. However, the most important issue is the outcome of the 2015 general election and the effect it will have on the youths who will participate in it or who will watch it with keenness.
• Ezeah writes from Plot 148, Opi Avenue, Trans-Ekulu, Enugu.