We have entered a new year 2016 which happens to be an election year in Cross River State as we expect the present Local Government Administration to come to an end and prepare to elect a new set of leaders at that level.
I will like to use this platform to reach out to an important constituency, the youth, in preparation for that. This is a first in a series of treatises that will sensitize and enlighten this important group as we work together to achieve set objectives. Hope you enjoy the read and take a few important notes.
Democracy is defined by Oxford English Dictionary as a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly. A more popular definition of democracy is “Government of the people, for the people, by the people”.
Youth on the other hand is defined by the Nigerian National Youth Policy (2001) as all young persons of ages 18-35 years. The youth population, according to the 2006 census figure is almost a hundred million.
This means that they constitute more than two-third of the country’s population of 150 million. Youths refer to the most vibrant and resourceful segment of human configuration. They are the back bone of the development of the country.
In the Nigerian democratic experience, youth have either remained marginalized or have been limited from playing productive roles in the political processes.
Against this backdrop, this treatise tries to take a critical look at the role of youth in democracy and seek ways to promote effective participation of this demographic segment in the democratic process in the state.
Youths are no longer tools for only winning elections; fighting one another in the name of support for candidates, snatching ballot boxes and rigging elections. They are stakeholders and partners in the growth of democracy in the state. The youth must thus be given adequate opportunity to make critical contribution in leadership, governance and democracy for the development of the state.
The challenge of our state is the need to provide the appropriate political and economic frameworks for enhancing the productivity of its youthful population and enhancing their contribution to growth and development. The future of the state’s socio-economic and socio-political transformation depends on the ability to effectively translate its large youthful population into a demographic dividend.
OVERCOMING CHALLENGES IN THE PATH TO DEMOCRATIC VICTORIES
Despite this unfavorable context, youth have managed to negotiate and force their way to political participation and economic relevance in Cross River State. They have contributed in various ways towards the growth of democracy at the state and national levels.
Nigerian Youths have been the engine of democratic flavours and struggles that made moments of democratic victories aptly recorded during previous change in Governments from the colonial era up to the independence in 1960 and even till date. The crucial role and activities of the youths as pro-democratic agents assisted the popular agitations to fuel the change in government as we have today in the Nigeria’s political structure.
The survival of the political system has been dependent on the role of youths in participatory democratic platforms which allowed all groups regardless of their position to articulate, anticipate and negotiate their interest in the national polity.
It is thus clear that youths in Nigeria have made immense contribution in the democratic process and play critical roles in the promotion of democratic culture in the nation in the past and in the present. We will take a look at some peculiarities that have positioned them to achieve these in modern times.
DEMOCRACY AND THE GROWING YOUTH POPULATION
Politics they say is a game of numbers. Census has shown that the youth demographic make up a good number in the national population. This makes youth very important stakeholders in the democratic process in Nigeria. The voting population of the youth can determine which candidate wins an election to represent the people and which candidate does not.
In the past, the youth have not been able to put this advantage in numbers to effective use by engaging with candidates and determining who has their best interest at heart and thus forging a consensus on who to support and vote into office. However, in recent times this has been changing with greater awareness of their strength by youth and the issues at stake.
The power of the citizens in a democracy is in their votes and this power is in the hands of the youth because of their growing population in Nigeria. The youth can therefore no more be ignored as anyone who does so, does so to his or her own peril. The youth must seek to use effectively their advantage in numbers not only to determine election outcomes but also build democracy in the state.
THE YOUTH, SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE SHAPING OF ISSUES IN DEMOCRACY
Issues are the centre of conversation in a democracy. It is becoming clear that with the advent of the social media, youth are continually shaping these issues, determining the direction of the conversation and outcomes. Statistics show that 75 percent of the people on social media in Nigeria are youth and social media has become a strong tool in promoting democratic conversations and good governance.
The youth through social media are promoting a growing conversation on issues like effective representation, participatory democracy, corruption in public offices and fulfillment of electoral promises. The social media has also served as a good platform for electioneering campaign and connecting directly with millions of youth in the country.
As the number of youth participating in the conversation on issues related to our democracy increases and the quality of conversation improves, awareness will grow among youths and their participation generally in the democratic process will also get better. The growing conversation will thus improve the quality of our democratic experience as conversations form the fulcrum of democracy.
It is clear that the future holds a lot of potentials for the participation of youth in democracy in Nigeria. As social media provides a platform for conversation and these conversations shape the issues, youths being dominant on social media, also shape the issues and become the strongest elements in the democratic space in Nigeria. This is the reality.
YOUTH, VOTING AND DEMOCRACY
Having already considered how the growing number of youths in Nigeria impacts election outcomes, there is also a closely related development which is the actual participation of youth in voting, counting of votes and verification of the final results. Research has shown that youth participate more in democratic processes like campaign rallies and elections.
Although some youth in the past were known to be involved in negative acts such as ballot box snatching and violence during elections, such incidences have been on the decrease and youth in recent times have become advocates of free and fair elections ensuring that votes are counted and results recorded on INEC results sheets before leaving venue of the election.
Many have also often gone ahead to monitor and ensure that the final results announced agree with the results declared at the polling centers and in instances where there are discrepancies, they report same to appropriate authorities. In future elections, this is expected to continue and even improve and the one youth one vote mantra will become a phenomenon.
It is time the youths realize the power of their number and seek to put to use their demographic advantage in elections. They must also use their strength and numbers to promote the integrity of the process rather than disrupt it for selfish politicians who turn round to keep them in perpetual bondage. The time for knowledge and wisdom has come; that time is now.
YOUTH, CREATIVITY, ZEAL AND DEMOCRACY
Some of the other attributes that can be associated with youth today are creativity, zeal and innovation. As the youth participate in democracy, governance and leadership, these attributes are brought to bear positively on these processes.
The youth are aware of the importance of socialization and building friendship using modern technologies and communication facilities such as mobile phones, internet and social media and this socialization provides for them a platform to build on the gains of democracy in the state.
The youth also possess strong critical skills, having increased their knowledge through study and life experiences. These skills are important attributes for building a virile democracy in Nigeria in general and Cross River State in particular.
Youths having these positive attributes are in a good position to contribute positively to advancing Democracy in Cross River State.
From the foregoing, there is no doubt that youths have a great role to play in democracy and governance in Cross River State. All youths must thus rise up to this challenge to take their rightful place in the scheme of things and promote the advancement of democracy in the state.
Happy New Year Cross River Youth
Emmanuel Etim is President of the Cross River State Youth Parliament and Democracy Club
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