YOUTH CORPS MEMBERS AND THE 2011 POLLS
The Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Major-General Maharazu Tsiga, recently announced a plan to utilize 400,000 youth corps members serving in different parts of the country as electoral officers in the forthcoming general elections.
Tsiga, at the NYSC orientation camp in Abia State, said the decision to use corps member is one of the new measures adopted to ensure free and fair elections in 2011. They will be given a new orientation on their role in Nigeria's development. Involvement in the conduct of the general elections is expected to be their contribution to the deepening of democracy in Nigeria.
The plan to use youth corps members for elections is not an entirely novel idea. They have been involved in elections in some parts of the country before, but language and knowledge of the terrain were identified by the former leadership of INEC to be constraints to the performance of some of them.
The bid to engage corps members in electoral duties again, we believe, underscores the desire to enhance conduct of free and fair elections in the country. The youth corps members will also be a ready source of affordable personnel with the passion, youthful vigour, and motivation required to do a good job. This will help INEC to cut its budget while subtly educating the youths on the imperatives of credible elections in a democracy, and their role as change agents in society.
However, Nigeria's political terrain is no child's play. Elections here are often a do-or-die affair and the NYSC and the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) have to demonstrate great care in deployment of corps members, some of who may be quite young for such responsibility.
The corpers are also outside their normal terrain. Utmost care, therefore, should be taken to properly train them for the work to be done. The unfamiliarity of corpers with the terrain is another challenge that NYSC and INEC will have to tackle.
Security has become a great concern in Nigeria. The electoral agency and NYSC must do all that is necessary to secure corps members who are deployed for electoral duties. In addition, they must be adequately motivated. They need to know the importance of the assignment to their future and that of the country.
They need training and exposure, including language and geographical exposure, to do a good job. They also need security against those whose stock in trade is to thwart transparent elections. Security of youth corps members on this assignment is paramount. The nation cannot afford to lose even one of them to electoral violence. To motivate the corps members to do a good job, it is important to encourage them with prospects of job opportunities with INEC and other relevant government agencies.
There is also the need to insure the corps members against injury and death. Elections in Nigeria can be violent. There are already reports that some unscrupulous politicians may be stockpiling arms for the elections.
The authorities should not, for any reason, try to downplay the risks involved in engaging corps members in elections. Adequate preparations must be made for their security.
Beyond plans for the physical conduct of the elections, INEC should not forget other weighty matters such as the review of the voters' register and the prompt passage of the Electoral Act into law. The 2011 general elections should be a watershed in Nigeria's electoral history. Everything that is necessary should be done to empower those who are expected to deliver a credible poll to the nation, including the youth corps members.