From Bigun Mohorret Emmanuel, Gombe
Student Union leaders have suggested an “action-oriented” approach that would allow young people to introduce ideas and solutions directly into the country’s political system.
The idea, they argued, was informed by the fact that it was adopted by past African leaders like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta “who tapped young’s people’s creative energies while crafting economic, political and social transformation plans in the 1950s and 1960s,” which later paid off.
The youths, who are participants of the DE Watson Leadership Academy in Gombe state, spoke during their visit to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) office in the state on 5th December and were received by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Alhaji Umar Ibrahim.
According a member of the visiting team, Alhassan Adamu, it was regrettable that “though, young people constitute the majority of the African population, there is a serious decline in voter turnout/political participation (among them) and this has been related to whether or not young people are disengaging from politics.”
He said: “History has shown that young people can strengthen or break a system. But if they have a choice, they would rather be catalysts for positive social change rather than agents of strife.”
In his address, the leader of the group, Ishaku Meshach Mabe explained that the participants were leaders of Students’ Unions drawn from tertiary institutions in Gombe state and who had been undergoing training since September, 2017. He said the DE Watson Leadership Academy is based in the United States and is being hosted in northeastern Nigeria by Leadtots and Human Development Services.
The academy, he further explained, brings student union leaders together to share and exchange ideas on good practices, receive training aimed at building their leadership capacities and strengthen their networks for increased youth participation in governance through advocacies, media activities, civic and voter education.
Mabe informed the REC that the participants were at the INEC office to make a case for increased space for youth participation in governance in the state, the nation and Africa. He said the choice of INEC for the visit was not misplaced, given the role the Commission plays as a midwife of the electoral process.
In his response, the REC applauded the participants’ deep concern for issues pertaining to youths and governance. He described their courage to take action as a rare virtue among today’s young people.
He explained the functions of INEC and its efforts in enhancing youth participation in the electoral process. The REC recalled that in 2010, INEC entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which resulted in the use of corps members for voter registration and the general elections in 2011 and subsequent elections.
He said: “one can safely conclude that the conduct of elections in Nigeria has been handed over to the youths, as about 80-85 percent of election officials engaged during the 2015 general elections were corps members and students of tertiary institutions who are youths”.
The REC also observed that youths don’t have to beg for space, because they already have it in view of their numerical strength which is about 60 percent of the Nigeria’s population and their involvement in the conduct of elections. He charged the youths in the country “to be awake and make Nigeria great because they drive the electoral process.”
He added: “the establishment of Voter Education Clubs in secondary schools in 2013 and the INEC Community Development Service (CDS) group also known as INEC Ambassadors in 2015 are all part of INEC’s efforts to get youths involved in the electoral process”.
On steps that youths need to take to make themselves more visible in governance, the REC advised them to mobilize votes for candidates that will represent their interest, form civil society organizations that will monitor and observe elections or better still, form a political party.
While warning the participants and all young people to stay away from election violence, Alhaji Ibrahim also observed: “election violence will stop when youths stop lending themselves to politicians as elements of destruction rather than as agents of development and nation building”.
The participants later met with the Head of Voter Education and Publicity, Alhaji Mohammed Garba and the Head of Unit Gender, Hajiya Maryam Gana and discussed ways of enhancing women’s participation in the electoral process in Gombe state.
While welcoming the students, the Head of Voter and Publicity Alhaji Mohammed Garba stated that INEC believes in the capacity of the youth to bring about improvements in the electoral process, which informs why the Commission is always eager to interact with them.