By James Atang Itsegok
On 25 February 2023, Nigeria will hold presidential and federal parliamentary elections, followed by gubernatorial and state legislative elections on 11 March. After eight years in office, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is due to step down, as are seventeen of the 36 powerful state governors.
The end of Buhari’s presidency marks 24 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria, which made a transition from military to civilian rule in 1999, and the longest of such periods in the country’s democratic experience. It will also be the second time during this period that a Nigerian President has peacefully left office after two terms, as required by the constitution (the first was Olusegun Obasanjo’s exit in 2007). Goodluck Jonathan’s peaceful exit after a single term in 2015 was another landmark in Nigeria’s democratic progress. But the public is understandably unexcited by these milestones; many are increasingly disenchanted with the government, with politicians and, indeed, with the way democracy has worked or not worked in Nigeria.
Many view the promise of Buhari’s presidency, once celebrated, as sadly unfulfilled. A recent poll, moreover, found that 77 per cent of Nigerians are dissatisfied with the quality of the country’s politics, particularly the failure to curb corruption and improve livelihoods. Thus, while the 2023 polls will in one sense be an affirmation of Nigeria’s electoral democracy, many voters will also be looking at it as an opportunity for a reset, nurturing hopes that new leadership will commit to reforming the country’s governance, restoring its security, which has deteriorated badly on Buhari’s watch, and rebooting its development.
Furthermore, even at the eve of 2023 general elections are billed for February and March. There is a resurgence of deadly attacks on the electoral umpire’s offices across the country, and vote-buying as well as attacks on armless citizens of Kaduna South Senatorial zone and other states in the country. Ruthless politicians are threatening the country’s fragile democracy. Alarmed, the Independent National Electoral Commission has warned that these threats might destabilise the polls. The alarm should be taken with utmost seriousness.
Indeed, most parts of the country are currently unsafe. Boko Haram/ISWAP and other terror offshoots operate in the North-East; bandits rampage throughout the North-West; farmer/herder clashes and ethnic cleansing in the North-Central; kidnappers, cultists and violent transport union enforcers tormenting the South-West, and gunmen and separatist agitators wreak havoc in the South-East and South-South.
Violence is not the only threat. INEC is also agonising over the rampant buying of Permanent Voter Cards. Unfortunately, vote-buying has been part of elections in Nigeria. It featured in the recent off-season governorship elections in Edo, Ekiti, Anambra, Osun, and Ondo states. Frequently, INEC introduces new measures to deter vote-buying, including banning smartphones at voting cubicles and remodeling the cubicles, but just as ingeniously, politicians devise cunning means to defeat the system.
Nigeria’s youth with around 70% of the population under 35 years of age, poverty and a lack of economic opportunity are driving many younger people to turn towards criminality and terrorism to earn a living, to confer status, and to survive. Extensive qualitative research has established a probable link between poverty and insecurity. Report of the research noted that the level of insecurity in Nigeria has reached the point of crisis, adding that across the country, people are increasingly living in fear and are concerned for their safety and that of their families (euagenda.eu News, July 20, 2021).
There is currently little to suggest that the situation is improving. Instead, the analysis contained in the report indicates ‘Nigeria’s security is continuing to deteriorate,” the report stated. The report raised the alarm that “the consolidation of an ISWAP foothold in Nigeria threatens to unleash an even more violent form of Islamist extremism, one better resourced and coordinated than its rival Boko Haram. Consequently, the extent of the crisis has led many commentators to express fear over the future of the federation itself. The prospect of state collapse would be catastrophic for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world.”
Invariably, youth criminality is on the rise and as a result, the call to restructure Nigeria is being intensified by different sections of the Nigerian society. This call is very necessary at this time because we must acknowledge the consequences and dangers of unholy acts of cultism, killings, kidnapping, insurgency, corruption and many others, which are enormous and also constitute a heavy burden on a better future and the great potential of youths. Until all Nigerians (both leaders and followers) decide to stamp out discrimination, tribalism and nepotism irrespective of our family backgrounds, ethnic, political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic affiliations without sentiments to promote rapid growth, we will continue wallowing and repeating the same mistakes that should have been outgrown especially in combating crimes and other antisocial vices.
The current negative trend that has bedeviled the image of the country lately as per security has christened and catapulted our image as a people into the state of global debacle. In spite of the security measures that have been put in place in different areas, especially the regions where the unrest has become a constant phenomenon, nothing positive seems to have been recorded as a progressive testimony.
Hence, we are still on the sidewalk, galloping on a scale of recurrent decimal of hopelessness. This is an obvious indication that the same people who know the innermost genesis about these occurrences are also responsible for the backwardness of the rescue exercise and the constant sabotaging of the same. The President obtained his nomination form for the second term the same day Mubi in Adamawa State was snatched by Boko Haram and the villagers deserted their homes for safety.
The agitators have insisted that “Restructuring Nigeria entails putting structures, measures and plans in place like autonomy for the local governments alongside the formulation of good government policies and decision making.” Consequently, Nigerians we are destroying today will affect and hurt us very greatly in future. Let the youth look inwards for new programmes, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovations, technical and vocational education; beyond banditry, arms-bearing, kidnapping, internet/advance fee fraud, terrorism, armed robbery and other anti-social vices as there are so many opportunities especially on the Internet such as networking, marketing, blogging, software development, website, social media marketing, computer hardware and programming cyber security, CCTV installation, agriculture, to mention but a few, and many others to be explored. Youths need to take advantage of other unique opportunities around them to also acquire and improve their skills and thus compete favorably in the global marketplace.
Youths are mostly affected by different forms of violence that are plaguing them as next generation leaders. Youths who are still bearing arms should use avenues provided by the government to submit their arms and repent. Many of the existing policies and initiatives oriented towards empowering the youth still lack a solid evidence-based approach. More evidence-based empowerment programmes need to be introduced to the existing ones to better the lot of the youth.
Much upon the above, sadly, but truly, there has been an increase in cases of rape, stealing, kleptomania, burglary, homicide and prostitution among teenagers in Nigeria. Going by the recent arrests of such juvenile delinquents nationwide, which indicate society’s failure to instill the right values and teenagers’ propensity for crime buoyed by get-rich syndrome.
No doubt, teenagers’ propensity to commit crimes for money in Nigeria today is increasingly alarming and disturbing, but can we say our society’s approval of moral laxity is a source of this malady? Should we blame parents and guardians for failing in their responsibilities to bring up their children and wards uprightly? Or should we hold the government responsible for failing to provide good leadership and governance? The effects of these cankerworms in our society are glaringly adverse.
Therefore, it bleeds so hollow that the ineffectual symptoms of lackadaisical attitude of youths involvement in the affairs that bother their lives is rather treated with disdain and complacency. Any country whose youths are progressively known to be gliding on the diminishing table of acute involvement in its affairs, such a country is best described as a nation with no plans and hope for tomorrow.
Suffice it to say that unlike the past when those that are elderly are at the helms of affairs and blames are apportioned to them for consistent occupancy of various positions, especially political officeholders, the youths of nowadays have not only ignorantly sold their conscience and tied their fate to the apron string of melancholy, but have provided the hammers designed for nailing the coffin of their ambition as future leaders.
The destiny of today’s youth squarely rests on their hands and their fate of tomorrow is intertwined with their own attitude of ignorance, which has climaxed to the height of Eldorado. In other words, their consistent I don’t care attitude is in direct proportion to their doom. A lot of Nigerian youth, like Esau in the Bible, have sold their birthrights and destiny for a plate of jollof rice, with fried fish, a wrapped of cannabis sativa with an AK-47 rifle. I do not only lament because my children are young, but I weep for the impudence of the youths who have contributed to the robbery of their tomorrow by not just the The President and his Advisers but also the constant behavioural dysfunction towards their tomorrow. I then ask where and how did they find themselves at this distorted and regrettable juncture?
In driving home my points of view, therefore, let me state unequivocally that as political campaigns intensify and enter a crucial stage ahead of the 2023 general elections, there are concerns among stakeholders that the wave of violence could undermine the credibility of the poll. There is also increasing fear among observers that with the recent amendment to the Electoral Act to guarantee electronic transmission of results and the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), measures expected to drastically check electoral fraud and give credibility to the electoral process, politicians may be looking at the next easy way out to undermine the process.
Just like in the case Okota in 2019, a town in the Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos State during the presidential poll, which is a stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), several touts alleged to be members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) intimidated, wounded and scared away several PDP supporters and party members from voting. So also, hundreds of electoral materials, including ballot papers were burned and INEC officials were chased away from performing their duties in the area.
It should however be noted that in the past, Nigeria’s leading political actors and political parties have been accused of being culpable; using several measures to guarantee their success at the polls while failing to prevent their supporters and members from engaging in violent acts. In the last two decades, the spate of violence and hooliganism has undermined the credibility of elections in Nigeria and also frustrated efforts to deepen gender inclusion. In November 2021, the Federal Government noted that the spate of violence associated with electioneering ahead of the 2023 poll poses a threat to the successful conduct of the elections.
There must be adequate security to nip in the bud all these fears of violence because this is not the first time we are going into the election. It is the desperation of politicians to win at all costs that is aiding the violence and killings during and before election. Also, because no one is held accountable, there is impunity in the country; if the law is applied, people will learn. Nigerians are also unaware how politicians always want to move one step ahead of INEC and don’t expect to see anything less next year.
Political thugs who are mostly youth have also attacked or disrupted rallies of opposing parties in states like Zamfara, Borno and Kaduna among others, leading to fears that security personnel would be overstretched during the election. Some days ago, stakeholders in Conflict Research called the attention of security agencies to the threats posed by the various conflicts ravaging the country, urging for all efforts to ensure a violence-free 2023 general election.
Imperative therefore, let Nigerian youth understand that it is not a guarantee that selling their souls to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressive Congress (APC) rallies and campaign is a total assurance for their tomorrow. The question should rather be: What structures and quality manifestos do these political rogues struggling for power have on ground? They made the youths to be spectators of their shameful display of inept manifestation of their indoor agreement, urging them to take up arms against their political opponents.
Even with the present administration of President Muhammdu Bahari that came into power in 2015, no one can show the leverage provided for the youths and jobs. All we are aware of are the several propaganda on different national dailies. They make the youth beg for bread and end up becoming perpetual slaves to their dastardly acts of inhumanity because of their inordinate ambition. If this trend continues, it goes to define and assuage the past cries of being the leaders of tomorrow as a poet sang and re-echoed in the dark of unwanted and voice bellowing for a reason of attention that is never required.
Of truth, Professor Wole Soyinka was right when he said, “The youth of this generation are dead on arrival.”
In conclusion, I want to charge all Nigerian youths, let them rise as one, look beyond the challenges and the problems; they shouldn’t be tools in the hands of politicians whose only penchant is to see how to bring the country down. If you contribute in bringing the country down, you have brought your own future down. The youth must see how they can contribute their quota to actualise development; Let them put aside ethnic differences, put aside political differences, and put aside religious differences to work together for a free, credible and peaceful 2023 general elections in Nigeria.
H. E. Amb. (Chief) James Atang Itsegok, JP., 2022 United Nations Ambassador for World Peace (AMBP) Awardee, writes from Rafin Zurfi, Dass Road, Bauchi LGA, Bauchi State-Nigeria. Email: [email protected]