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APRIL POLLS: THE BURDEN ON THE NIGERIAN YOUTH

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For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the patriotism of the youths is going to be generally tasted in the open. This is because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is going to repose the responsibility of conducting the forthcoming general polls on their shoulders. Current members of the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are presently in the limelight. They conducted the successful voters’ registration exercise. They are to be major stakeholders in the April 2nd, 9th and 16th elections into various political offices.

While it calls for rejoice that the youths who constitute the larger percentage of the nation’s population are going to take their destiny in their hands by ensuring that credible leaders are elected into offices this time around, it calls for caution and a lot of orientation to achieve this laudable target.

It has been observed in the past that the youths were used to rig elections and cause violence during voting processes. They were often armed to kill or maim perceived opposition. Sometimes, in collaboration with security outfits, they snatch ballot boxes, take it away to secret places and produce doctored figures. Then these figures were accepted by INEC in the past, thus leading to prolonged legal battles that gained nothing for the nation.

In as much as the new initiative to use the youths to ensure free and fair demands commendation for the rebranded INEC, the truth must be told that our problem is ourselves and not really the policies. Our youths have become so vulnerable that they are cheaply bought for very paltry sums of money by the politicians to do their wrong biddings.

On the presidential poll in 2007, as we stood in queue waiting for turns to cast our votes, five young energetic boys descended from a bus with guns and cutlasses. They tied red aprons around their heads, painted their faces with colours. They approached the ballot boxes and shot severally into the air. The people scampered for safety. The two unarmed policemen at the polling unit vanished into the thin air and never returned to the place even after the film was over.

They were examples of what our youths do in every part of the country during elections. Some of them would be sons and daughters of quite rich men but who have chosen the way of hooliganism. The boys snatched the box successfully after injuring one of the opposition contestants who attempted to stop them, though unarmed. Unfortunately to them, the younger brother to the contestant who decided to die for the cause followed the boys with one of their machetes. He used it badly on the backs of three of them who later died in a hospital.

It was discovered that they were students hired to do such dirty job of snatching boxes at polling units. Three things that can be pinpointed from this episode are: one, our youths should not waste their lives for unpatriotic politicians. They should vote and guard their votes by themselves. This simply implies that they should not go and sleep after voting. They should not wait for someone to bring the news to them. If not, they can be assured that the wrong people would be announced as winners. They should stay by after voting to hear the results as would be announced by the electoral officers. But if they perceive contrary to their expectation, they should not use violence. Rather, they should march to the INEC offices in their locations to register their grievances or immediately call INEC headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Investigations revealed that some of the boys were recruited by force. Their major benefits were free sex companions, intoxicant drinks and weeds and N20,000 per operation. The dignity of a Nigerian youth is far greater above. Nigerian youth is intelligent, diligent, smart, hefty and energetic. These beautiful qualities should come to bear in their conduct of the April elections. Nigerian youths must get it right this time. God, hear and grant our prayers! Amen.

Secondly, INEC should ensure that enough security measures are put in place to protect the lives of the electorate. When these bad boys stormed the polling unit, all those who had not voted ran back to their houses and never came back. No sane man wants to die for no just cause. After all, nothing was done for the families of those who were killed during the past elections.

Lastly, the security personnel to be used for the polls should be properly trained and some of them, preferably the elderly amongst them, must be armed. There is often some level of confidence and the sense of security when armed security men are in such places.

This story serves to inform our youth corps members of the heaviness of the duty they are going to discharge for the interest of their fatherland, Nigeria. They have been singled out by INEC to do this job. So, they have to accept the challenge in good faith and patriotically deliver the nation. At least, if the youths have been neglected in the past, this is an opportunity for them to correct the anomalies. It is time for the Nigerian youths to shine and make history, because if the elections are widely accepted, the merit will be for the youths.

There is no doubt that the youths are the strength of our nation. They are everywhere: as students, businessmen as well as administrators. They are servicing the nation at different capacities. Let them join hands with the NYSC members and deliver this precious treasure of our – Nigeria. It is going to be history if they do. Posterity will remember this era if they succeed.

However, the youth corps members have to be assured of their security. It was recorded that some of them lost their lives during the registration exercise and INEC said there was an insurance package for such. It will be worthy if INEC publishes in a national daily the names and data of those corps members who lost their lives during the exercise. The entitlements for each bereaved family and means of collection should be clearly stated, so that the families will not have to wait for years while someone puts the money in a fixed deposit to generate personal profits.

Added to the paramilitary training the corps members receive while in their orientation camps, they should be specifically and practically taken through self defense measures, because they have to be alive to tell what happens if any anomalies occur in their units. They should be warned and monitored not to take bribe and aid electoral malpractices. By so doing, INEC and NYSC would have inspirited them and they will deliver.

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]

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