The role of the youth in credible elections – being a text of lecture delivered by Livy-Elcon Emereonye at Nwangele L.G.A. Youths Conference on June 17, 2017, Nwangele Headquarter’s Hall, Nwangele, Imo State.
It’s with pleasure that I accepted the invitation to be one of the speakers at this occasion. I salute the organizers of this programme for taking such a bold initiative. They have not only discovered a need but have gone further to proffer solutions. This is the right step in the right direction.
The topic, “The role of the youth in credible elections” with emphasis on ‘Youth and Politics’ and ‘The importance of youths supporting credible candidates in elections’ shouldn’t have been better chosen at a time like this in our corporate existence as a people and a country. The versatility, virility, flexibility and continuous existence of every nation depend on her youth because they are not only agents of consciousness but trustees of the land.
Youth is part of the early time of life, and metaphorically the optimism and innocence thought to accompany it. The Lexicon dictionary defines youth as “the state or quality of being young.” It goes further to define young as “… having the appearance of early life, fresh or vigour; symbolizing or representing new or progressive political or social views or aims.” Physiologically, it is the period of life from puberty to the attainment of full growth; adolescence. It is a time of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence and awareness of our interdependence as members of a community. Youth also means a group of young people, so different groups of young people are youths.
The concept of youth has been a subject of diverse interpretations and flexible usage so it is a more fluid category than a fixed age-group. “However, age is the easiest way to define this group, particularly in relation to education and employment. On this premise, youth is often indicated as a person between the age where he/she may leave compulsory education, and the age at which he/she finds his/her first employment. This latter age limit has been increasing, as higher levels of unemployment and the cost of setting up an independent household puts many young people into a prolonged period of dependency.”
When carrying out its Youth Strategy, UNESCO uses different definitions of youth depending on the context. For activities at international or at regional level, such as the African Youth Forum, UNESCO uses the United Nations’ universal definition. The UN, for statistical consistency across regions, defines ‘youth’, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. All UN statistics on youth are based on this definition, as illustrated by the annual yearbook of statistics published by the United Nations system on demography, education, employment and health. For activities at the national level, for example when implementing a local community youth programme, ‘youth’ may be understood in a more flexible manner. UNESCO will then adopt the definition of ‘youth’ as used by a particular Member State. It can be based for instance on the definition given in the African Youth Charter where ‘youth’ means “every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.”
“The whole period of youth,” said Ruskin, “is one essentially of formation, edification, instruction. There is not an hour of it but is trembling with destinies – not a moment of it when, once passed, the appointed work can never happen again, or the neglected blow be struck on the cold iron.” Youths are an integral part of the world’s larger vision of building social capital for an engaged and inclusive society. And today, they are more educated, better travelled and responsible. The youth are indeed our future. They are idealistic, full of energy and passion. Given the right opportunity and environment, they can change the world, for better.
Politically, the youth hold the key to the stability of their country. Being in the period of vigour, curiosity, spiritedness action and mental alertness, they are called leaders of tomorrow. However, this energy can be used positively or negatively depending on the individual or in some cases the society.
Through their vibrancy and outspokenness, the youth can play an indispensible role in politics yet they remain the most vulnerable – especially in times of election – and less of beneficiaries from the fruit of leadership and governance. Despite the fact that youth represent a significant proportion of the Nigerian population, their level of political participation and representation in the electoral process in the past has been very poor and often times undermined; being largely noticed at the level of electoral malpractices, voting irregularities and covert or overt thuggery in support of political office seekers who paradoxically have dominated the political arena at their own expense. To remedy this, the Nigeria society needs to ensure that her youth participate in all her affairs; that young people’s views are included in development policies and that young people develop leadership skills. They have to use education and modern communication tools to engage meaningfully in democratic processes.
Politics is the art or science of government or governance. In this context, it is the activities associated with the governance of a place or country including the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. It is the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society. Politics is a game of intrigues and permutation. Real politics is an act of sagacity; it is about being sagacious in adopting means to an end but very conscious of oneself all the time. Politics is a noble profession, and our constituents should feel that same way when they see us in action. It is a call to inspire, serve and impact lives. But funny enough, instead of unselfishly serving the masses, some go into politics to serve themselves, families and friends. Being a contest, politics can sometimes be very frustrating. As frustrating as it can be, politics remains one of the most significant ways of making a real difference in other people’s lives so we need to restore an idealism to our political process and do things right. On the other hand, political organization is a means to the good of the people, and the common good means peace, order and justice. Participatory politics is an important dimension of youth political engagement that should be harnessed and equitably distributed.
Youth politics is a category of issues which distinctly involve, affect or otherwise impact youths. Today, “there is a growing interest in youth and politics. Some political groups are changing to respond to the growing number of young people who want to affect the political system. Political ideologies appealing to youth that were once considered ‘fringe’ beliefs are becoming mainstreamed. More young people than ever before are becoming engaged in local community campaigns and other political activities. Youths can change the world through politics by becoming actively, meaningfully and substantially involved throughout political parties and beyond.” But while the youth have the tools to engage, many of them have not prepared and engaged meaningfully!
Credible is able to be believed; convincing; inspiring trust and confidence but with sufficient strength to function effectively and efficiently. Credibility encompasses competence and integrity. It deals with being responsible and responsive.
Candidate is a person who seeks or is nominated for an office, prize, or honour. In politics, candidates aspire to be elected to office by conducting campaigns.
It should be noted that “democracy requires more than elections, but a country cannot be a democracy without holding genuine elections.”
Election is a procedure that allows members of an organization or community to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it for a specific period of time. Elections are not only a mechanism to peacefully resolve the transfer of political power but they are also the basis for democratic legitimacy. The most important elections select the leaders of local, state, and national governments. The chance to decide who will govern serves as an opportunity for the public to make choices about the policies, programmes, and future directions of government actions. Elections also promote accountability. The threat of defeat at the polls exerts pressure on those in power to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and take account of popular interests and wishes when they make decisions.
A credible election must be characterized by inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, and competitiveness. Election as a process is made up of multiple components. And public confidence in each step of the processes is critical to the integrity of such election.
Genuine elections contribute to longer-term development goals, laying the foundation for responsible and responsive governance. However, as sacred elections are integral part of democracy, sometimes they involve unnecessary and often backward excitement that could lead to turmoil!
Why must youths support credible candidates?
Credible candidates bring about good governance. They make positive things happen. Apart from providing dividends of democracy, they build civil and just society and make equity and justice the hall mark of service.
One of the attributes of a credible candidate is that such person nurtures inspired and committed youths who identify with selfless services to humanity. A credible candidate wants the youth to develop values, qualities and attributes that will help them become outstanding young citizens—able and willing to make a positive difference in their own lives and in the lives of those around them—contributing positively to the community, state and country.
A credible candidate must have, and support, initiatives to develop the youth and meet community needs. Such candidate will continually engage youths on their views regarding national issues and policies, to ensure that they don’t drift away but remain usefully connected to the community. To this end, there should be a constantly evolving approach to keep policies progressive and relevant to an ever-shifting youth landscape to increase the opportunities available for them.
To whom much is given, much is expected. The youth in turn should identify every politician that is youth friendly who seek to support the diverse, evolving needs and interests of youth—to help them fulfill their fullest potential – and support them.
Youth and Politics
Why is young people’s politics so important?
It is no more news that youths are leaders of tomorrow. Young people grow into older voters and politicians. The concept of ‘generational replacement’ remains the key driving force behind political change and can offer us a window through which to view the future of our democracies. Therefore, to understand true political participation, we have to explore how each new generation comes to develop its own conceptions of citizenship and expresses itself through civic and political engagement. This is where youth politics becomes very important that we catch them young.
Ways the youth can change the world through politics
Adam Fletcher enumerated the following 3 ways:
Youth mainstreaming: — Advocating for youth mainstreaming can allow young people to change the world by creating new awareness, opportunities, policies, systems and cultures that foster youth engagement. In political parties, youth mainstreaming could allow for children and youth to affect democratic representation even in parties that would deny them the right to vote or otherwise become engaged.
Running for office: — Whatever the age, young people can actually run for office anywhere in the world as an act of protest; to make a stand; or to draw attention. Building momentum for single candidate requires they remain committed to the causes that get them elected; pushing a political party or platform requires staunch champions for youth in politics.
Youth as voters: — Fighting for youth suffrage and demanding youth rights is a platform for youth voters. Another avenue for youth as voters is a protest vote. Going to a voting place and casting a blank ballot can show youth dissatisfaction with the current political system. Youth as voters can also vote for a youth candidate who may be foreign to the political system, but young and capable of sharing youth voice.
Importance of youths in politics
Youths can be loyal to a fault. They are more committed in pursuit of their belief and conviction. Being enthusiastic, energetic and flexible, having along fresh and innovative ideas with fewer responsibilities but more zeal for a better society the youth are indispensable in politics. By making politics accessible to youths, negative perceptions and false assumptions associated with politics can be erased, allowing for inclusiveness as more people will participate in politics and governance. With active youths in politics, there will be higher degree of accountability because while older politicians have to prove their loyalty to their political parties by supporting their authoritarian practices because of long term commitment to their parties, young people pursue ideals and ideas as they might not have soiled their hands much with irregularities and impunities thus have little or nothing to fear.
Having idealistic and unrealistic vision, which may not be successful in implementation, pose a big threat to the society. And because many youths lack experience which teaches tolerance and the ability to have realistic vision, they can easily be manipulated and used as mere puppets by older politicians. This could be seen during violence. Actually, youths are a vulnerable group when it comes to violence. And violence is an integral part of the political culture in Nigeria. Yes, all previous elections were substantially marred by various types of violence. But the bitter irony here is that the same youths who are the main perpetrators of violence often end up as the major victims!
The biggest challenge against meaningful youth engagement in elections is the monetisation of politics, which starts with the party primaries, where participation is often dependent on the ability to mobilise fees and to win support through financial favours. And when money exchanges hand many youth groups focus too strongly on personalities rather than issues. This must stop.
Another problem is that in elective politics especially in Nigeria, youths are either side-lined or excluded but when involved; they are easily misused and abused to achieve the selfish ambition of the norm-less, lawless and shameless section of the old political brigade.
Other challenges include ignorance or lack of knowledge about the electoral processes and how to participate right. The youth generally do not have access to real politics because the recycled politicians in the political arena will not allow them to really participate.
Apart from economic constraints due to high cost associated with electoral/political processes, threat to life is a very tough challenge. Yes, there are countless cases of politically motivated assassination whose knowledge scares some people, especially sincere and vibrant people, away from the power game.
What needs to be done?
For an inclusive politics, and constitutional democracy, reservation for the youth should be created in political parties, and this reservation should be open and competitive.
There is need for mentorship. Young politicians should learn from the experienced, astute politicians but this must be with caution – one must be careful on who to learn from so as not to create bigger problems in trying to solve a small one. The youth should also be given opportunities to do internship in different arms of government.
Proper orientation and awareness should be given to students of higher institutions, and they should be encouraged to participate in real politics. Student wings of political parties should be given more strength and priority.
Political participation of youths should go beyond casting of votes. Young people must be tutored to be involved in the process of elections as election observers and poll station workers. There must be elaborate and efficient awareness campaigns to sensitize and ensure that young people turn out on election days to cast their votes.
Young people led community development programmes and volunteering organizations should be supported by the government. Also youth movements should be dealt with in a more respectable ways and their voices need to be heard.
What the youth need to change the world through politics?
Education — However expensive, there is no alternative to quality education. To become fully engaged in politics in the most effective ways, young people need to learn about politicking, political systems, political actions, political issues and other realities within and around the world of politics. They can also conduct and participate in action learning oriented activities that allow them to gain credit for their involvement – and opportunities for this are numerous.
Training — Knowledge is good but wisdom is better. Training young people to change the world through politics means teaching them the real skills they need to become involved. These include among others communication, problem-solving, change management and conflict resolution skills. It also means participating in knowledge-sharing activities designed to build capacity for powerful, impactful action.
Inspiration — There is urgent need to change the narratives now for the better. Apart from telling our stories ourselves, we must counter every negative and destructive opinion of others about us. Yes, after many years of being told their voices don’t matter in politics, young people need inspiration to become rightfully engaged. Never in history have children and youth been treated as serious political actors so given the opportunity, they will be. We must therefore inspire the youth.
Why should youth participate in politics and what are the benefits of their involvement?
The active involvement of young people will help to change our politics, and in doing so, will help to change our world. Robert F. Kennedy said, “Our answer is the world’s hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement of danger. It demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”
The instrumental benefits in empowering a younger, more progressive voice, on issues from tackling climate change, to modernizing our government, to education and tuition funding, to electoral reform, to drug policy, to privacy rights, and others through politics cannot be over emphasized because they are greatly involved and affected. They also exhibit greater gender diversity so as a matter of inter-generational equity, it is important for the youth to have a real voice at the table.
There are also the intrinsic benefits of properly reflecting the significant youth population around the world which include:
Civic engagement – Active involvement of youths in politics leads to civic engagement which is broader than political engagement because it can include services to the community through involvement in health, education and charity work. Political engagement is a more targeted aspect of civic engagement and can be expressed through voting, participating in political demonstrations and signing petitions for specific issues.
Better citizens – Young people who participate politically in their community from early life are more likely to become engaged citizens and voters. So in order to have better ‘young’ citizenship, politics is one of the best tools.
Break the status quo – In countries of dictatorship, the younger generation’s fresh ideas and new leadership can help to overcome authoritarian practices. Protests led by youth leaders can force autocratic leaders to step down from power, allowing the youth to become part of formal decision-making.
Youth for youth – Youths face many issues in the world, but some of these issues go unheard. Since the youth would understand other young people better, the best way to improve this newer generation would be through politics, which is a tool used to take action for development.
How to engage the youth in politics
Nathaniel, a 31-year old parliamentarian from Canada, on March 21, 2016, suggested the following as some of the ways to engage youths in politics:
Embrace technology. There is no magic to this. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Periscope, or other social media, to be engaged, the youth need to use the communication platform relevant to them and their audience.
Expand education initiatives. Broadly, we need to end poverty and reduce barriers to education. More specifically, we need to expand civic education initiatives. Unlike online platforms, this is not a new idea. George Washington once said that “a primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government.”
In many ways, teaching youth to consume news is the most important lesson, as the correlation between those who read current news and those who follow politics is significant. Creating familiarity with the electoral process is also critical.
Youth councils and youth caucuses within government and within political parties can also be effective. For instance, in the Liberal Party of Canada, the student wing pushed policies onto the national agenda, from legalizing marijuana, to death with dignity, to ending the gay blood ban. It is important not only to listen, but to act on recommendations.
Electoral reforms present a great number of possibilities, from lowering the voting age, to electronic voting, to polling stations on campuses, to greater direct democracy through petitions that prompt government action, to larger reforms such as proportional representation or youth representative quotas.
We must also address issues most important to young people especially those ranging from protecting our environment, to ending poverty, to making quality education more affordable, to creating opportunities for young people in the face of unemployment and underemployment.
Many ways of engaging youth in politics include: how we approach politics; how we think about politics; and how we act as politicians. We need to be passionate and positive about the political process. Our politics should be about ideas, and our message should be an inspiring one.
We must also be open and accessible at all times. To engage the youth, one must be willing to answer any question. One must be accessible on a variety of platforms, not only to broadcast the message but to listen and respond to questions and concerns. Be honest. Be real. Be principled. Be passionate, positive and authentic. Tell the truth. Address issues with all sense of sincerity and objectivity. Answer questions without repeating the same talking points. Be yourself. Young people – like all voters – become cynical towards the staged and manufactured character of modern politics. So allow yourself unscripted moments. Say what you really think, not only what your audience wants to hear.
It also means seeking out young people who otherwise won’t seek out politics themselves. Get into schools. Tell them that the answer is participation. Remind students that not taking part in the world around them doesn’t stop the world around them from happening; it just means that it happens without them – and this can be an expensive mistake.
Avoid corruption as nothing damages the credibility of our institutions more. Stand up for what you believe in, not because it is popular but because it is the right thing to do. Claim some independence, and exercise it thoughtfully.
The role of the youth in ensuring credible elections
The prerequisite for peaceful and credible elections goes beyond the role of youths alone because the constructive participation of other critical stakeholders such as an impartial electoral umpire, electorates, political parties, politicians, civil society organizations, media, security agencies, religious and traditional institutions are also very important. In other words, conducting credible elections is the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders.
Therefore, it is wrong to assume that electoral violence is always an exclusive machination of the youth. In fact, evidences abound that the gory clashes during or after elections have on several occasions been engineered by people who are outside the youth age stratum. However, whether the youth are often used by politicians to perpetuate violence as many argue, or they mastermind violence themselves, they are indispensible in ensuring violence-free elections.
Being the engine room of the society and part of the panacea to electoral irregularities, youths must be in the forefront of promoting credible and violence-free electoral processes because to a large extent, they determine the outcome of elections, and so should not allow self-seeking politicians use them as agents of manipulation and violence. To this end, there is the need to continually re-orientate them on the inherent dangers in electoral violence, and increase awareness among them, in becoming defenders of electoral processes rather than destroyers of them. By having the largest demography, exuberance, creativity and impressionability to drive growth and development, the youth possess enormous power in determining who wins elections. So it will not be an overstatement to say that without the youth no politician can get to power – be it through votes, irregularities or electoral violence – but it pays to do right things right.
It is however very sad that young people who should have the most incentive to envision the long term and invest wisely into the future are often manipulated to sacrifice their own long-term interests and even their lives for the older generation in power. Due to certain circumstances, especially poverty of all kinds and magnitude, the vulnerability and volatile nature of the youth expose them to manipulations by the political class using money to entice them or cheap ethno-religious and socio-cultural sentiments to instigate them into violence. This must stop – and to do this right, all hands must be on deck.
It is a common saying that “your vote is your right and your power” but without the PVC such right and power can never be exercised. Therefore, before elections, eligible youths have to ensure that they are properly registered for vote and thereafter collect and safely keep their permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) in readiness to vote in the main elections.
Before elections, periodic voter’s education should be carried out by youth groups in collaboration with other key stakeholders in educating not just the peers but also older voters on their rights and responsibilities before, during and after elections.
The youth have to be meaningfully engaged in the proper selection of delegates during party primaries and election of candidates during the main election. They should start by consulting youth leaders and mobilising other youths as well as other electorates. To do this effectively, the youth should identify and non-violently support credible candidates through intensive selling of manifestoes, efficiently marketing the candidate’s strength and competence by focusing on issues and enviable track records.
On election’s day, the youth must understand the powers embedded in their votes and absolutely resolve to reject any enticement to their votes or even engage in political apathy by not coming out to cast their votes or even vote based on cheap sentiments. Armed with PVCs, all eligible youth must ensure that they peacefully come out and correctly vote their favoured candidate(s) represented on the ballot paper by the political party’s logo.
Apart from voting, the youth must be very vigilant of the whole electoral process. They can serve as independent observers to monitor elections and also as whistle-blowers in the case of any irregularity or threat of violence during the voting and counting process. They must ensure that the right results are recorded and declared.
However, it should be noted that disagreements are common features after election results are released, leading to tension and uncertainty. At this stage, youths are expected to allow the law and relevant agencies and institutions to handle any negative fall-out of elections. At no time, should they take laws into their hands or become laws unto themselves. That is why the constitution (Electoral Act) established tribunals to handle such development.
When tribunals are in session, youths should avail themselves when called upon or when in possession of any vital information that would aid the proceedings. Rather than violent protest or engage in any wild jubilation that could incite violence, the youth should engage in alternative non-violent acts such as dialogue, tolerance, understanding and reconciliation that would entrench peace after elections.
At this point, we need to be reminded again that the effective participation of youths in ensuring credible elections is hindered by a number of factors including poverty, unemployment, underemployment, ignorance, monetisation of politics, cheap primordial sentiments, threat to life, and lack of confidence in the electoral umpire. And until these factors are checked, some youths will continue to play negative and destructive roles in electoral processes.
Whatever the case, the power of franchise must continuously be emphasized, at every given opportunity, for the youth to realize that their vote is their right and their right is their might. They must use this right to determine their present and future by ensuring, supporting and participating in the conduct of credible elections. They must take their destiny in their hands, not violently, but through effective civic engagement in standing united in voting only credible candidates.
The role of the youth should not stop at the end of the electoral processes but extend into the enthronement of good governance by holding leaders accountable to their campaign promises. This way, they will not be survivors, beggars and victims but very active participants in the democratic process.
It is imperative to develop and enhance the capability of youths in electoral processes by creating a robust orientation programmes and also engaging them to become financially and morally equipped, so as to drastically reduce, if not totally eradicate, arm-twisting or manipulation in the society. Why? Poverty is a killer disease that many can actually sell their conscience to seek treatment and cure – and where there is big money, there is always conspiracy. So more of this type of programmes, to engage the youth positively and constructively instead of them engaging in destructive practices or violence, should continually be organized by stakeholders towards building a better society for all!
Above all, don’t sell your vote, don’t sell your conscience. Why? If you sell your vote, you rape your life and mortgage the future of generations unborn because no one with genuine heart of service will buy any votes just to serve. Rather anyone who buys your vote will not only sell your commonwealth but will stop at nothing to make things very hard for you in pursuit of self-aggrandizement and self-glorification. Yes, with the intoxication of power gotten through fraud, purchased votes and stolen mandate, such characters become dictators, playing God but regrettably end up as psychopaths in power, after soiling places with hands of evil and destroying people for selfish-wicked reasons. We can only stop this type of scenario now and in the future by identifying, supporting and voting credible candidates with proven track records.
In conclusion, it is our collective responsibility through the education system, on all levels and in all formats, to inform young people about their roles in party politics and governance and to form the youth into democrats. However, in doing this, we must emphasise that no one’s ambition (political or otherwise) can equate the value of any human blood. Therefore, don’t waste another person’s life and don’t waste your life. Rather than ferment trouble, the youth should organise themselves into groups of ‘local police’ to enthrone peace while voting lasts. If this could be rightly done, I bet you, no gun would be shot and no one would be maimed. With this, both the winner and the loser would accept the election result, and at the end, peace will reign. This is doable. Let’s do it.
President, Igbo Professionals for Develoment and Empowerment Initiative (IPDEI)
Tel: 08033922445; email: firstname.lastname@example.org