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Youths, CSOs, stakeholders speak against involvement in political violence

Yerima

Violence and political thuggery, especially involving youths and members of the road transport unions, has become the trademark of most elections at all levels in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999.

Now that most students of higher institutions are at home due to strikes by their teachers, and with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealing that 58.1 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 and 34 are currently unemployed, the use of youths as thugs, hoodlums and canon-fodders during the campaigns and elections proper stares the country in the face.

Most political parties and politicians, including the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are involved in this.

As the general elections draw near, it is pertinent for families to educate their young ones and youths on the need to shun violence and avoid being used as thugs, especially as most politicians who might engage them have safely kept their own children in foreign countries to get quality education.

But how are youths themselves making sure nobody uses them as thugs this political season?

THE youth representative of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) and the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Research and Development Centre
(SERDEC), Tijani Abdulkareem, believes the risk of violence is inherent in every election and mostly perpetrated by youths, even in established democracies.

“The solution to this is found in what TMG is doing by providing information, sensitising youths through its national and state platforms on the effect and implication of electoral violence.

“TMG is working and mobilising young people to prepare and present a charter of demands to aspiring political office holders, this way, the mindset of the youth is drawn to the issues that affect them and how they can hold leaders accountable.

“TMG is also involved in the campaign against electoral violence and vote-buying. We train state level organisations to lead the voice against electoral violence, young people lead most of these organisations, and this gives them ownership of the campaign.”

Fash

Abdulkareem said the government, religious organisation and stakeholders have a responsibility to preach the culture of political tolerance, peace-building process should be led and driven by youths at the grassroots level.

Godbless Otubure, Lagos State Coordinator of NotTooYoungToRun initiative, noted: “The ruling class is bent on ensuring that the majority of the people are unstable and vulnerable, so they can continue to benefit from the commonwealth wrongly. And in doing this, the youths are mostly their constituent, sadly.

“Nevertheless, as the wave of youth leadership sweeps across the world, young people are waking up to the fact that they would no longer be channels for the destruction of society, but nation builders and stay out of political affiliated violence during and after elections.”

Otubure said youths have decided to get involved in the process by creating the Youth Against Violence Accord (YAVA) and compel leading governorship candidates in Lagos State to sign for peace, adding: “As youths, we have also consistently called for peace at various engagements with current political actors by restating our commitment to issue-based campaigns and processes.”

He said young people must realise that every time they fight to keep an older man or woman in power illegally, they promote poverty and pain that would eventually make Nigeria and Nigerians poorer.

“Having realised that we are leaders the country desperately yearns for to rescue it from the grip of the failed older generation, we must reject their tricks and money to pitch us against one another for their selfish gains. Young people should shun all forms of fights on behalf of any politician; only state your cause for supporting them and never throw a blow on another youth to show your loyalty. It is not in the interest of the nation to kill another youth for anyone.”

Project Director, Vision Spring Initiatives, a human rights group focused on the needs of youths, Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, said that CSOs should intensify efforts and find teachable moments to reach out to young people, engage them as volunteers to monitor elections and encourage them to design programmes on violence-free elections.

Mathew Ndifreke said: “Three years down the line, I am a graduate and I have done my mandatory national service, yet I have no job. I am just one out of millions of youths who are graduates without jobs. Our politicians use it as an advantage during elections. They organise all categories of political rallies with the help of their political thugs, mobilise thousands of Nigerian youths and with as little as N5, 000 per youth.”

John Obute, a phone repairer added: “One major reason why youths participate in all forms of violent acts is because they don’t have jobs to keep them busy.

So, I basically believe that the creation of jobs will solve the political and social problems we have,” he said.

Chief Fassy Adetokunbo Yusuf, a former director of Tafawa Balewa Square Investments Limited and Chairman of the defunct Sketch Press Limited, said there is the likelihood of university students being used as thugs this season due to the strike by their teachers.

“If they don’t have anything to engage them, something else, especially with promises, either fake or real, will be used to lure them. So, it is possible and that is why those who are conscious of society fear that strikes are disruptive and will likely affect students and the society negatively.”

He said political thuggery could be eradicated awareness for youths to know the implications and consequences and also for people to draw their attention to those things that can make a nation great and those things that can destroy a nation, noting: “As much as possible, youths should be enlightened on the dangers of political thuggery. It is desirable that government, parents, institutions, civil society organisations and the like should be the vanguard of enlightening youths on the negative consequences of political thuggery or getting involved in thuggery or other behavioural practices.”

To the youth, he counselled: “They need to be focused and familiarise themselves with environmental issues and be able to draw good lessons from the past. They need to be futuristic and think ahead and to do things that will make them succeed, so that at the end of the day, the nation will be proud of them.”

Onilude Fatai Kolawole, a fresh graduate of Political Science, condemned politicians contacting students’ leaders for support during election, saying students unions are being financially induced to support the political ambitions of some politicians.

“To make it worse, many students’ union leaders nowadays, when organising any programme invite these politicians in a bid to solicit for funds. Such gives the politicians the room to request for students’ support in election. We shouldn’t allow politician to use us while their children are abroad.”

Regarding the effect of lecturers’ strike on students’ involvement in election violence, Kolawole said: “Nothing concerns strike with students being used, because youths are easily carried away; they are money-oriented and driven materialistically.

“Youths are already blindfolded and polluted. Politicians always have their way, because of their economic power.

Strike or not, students and youths still act gullibly and still would be used by the politicians.

“Preventing election violence is more than just holding free and fair elections. We need to understand that a peaceful electoral process is not a guarantee for democracy. To eradicate election violence, INEC should be more assertive in its public relations and outreach to citizens.

“Informing voters of the procedures of voting or asking people to desist from violence or vote buying is not enough to change them; there should be greater sense of transparency that would give people confidence that the process is being well administered.

“Violence often emerges when citizens believe that they have been denied justice. Free, fair and credible elections are therefore the ultimate antidote to violence.

“Parents and youths themselves are to blame for this. All agents of socialisation are faulty, so one cannot blame a particular thing as the cause. It is holistic.”

‘We Are No Longer Ready To Participate In Election Violence’
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

SINCE the beginning of electioneering activities in Enugu State, several campaign billboards and posters of candidates have been destroyed and branded campaign vehicles set ablaze in offices and workshops where they were packed by youths working for the various political parties and who are willing to do anything to retain the confidence of their benefactors.

Apparently to stem the tide, a team of student leaders, led by Chidi Ilogebe, Special Assistant to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on Student Affairs, recently toured all tertiary institutions in the state in a bid to discourage election violence and thuggery among students.

Ilogebe told The Guardian: “We also want to let them know the global practices and standards and what is expected of them and how to behave themselves before during and after the elections.

“In the past, we have recorded cases of young persons being used as thugs by politicians and most of them are students. We have also found out that when you are engaged in such activities, at the end of the day, it comes back not just to you, but society, because we now sacrifice competence on the altar of mediocrity. Using sentiments to support people and because you were given N5, 000, you go and waste your life and the life of another person?

“So, we have taken it upon ourselves as youths to discuss and brainstorm on these issues as they affects us. We want to tell the world that we are no longer ready to participate in any election violence.”

The Project Manager, Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance and Convener, Office of the Citizens, Onyebuchi Okadigbo, attributed the involvement of youths in electoral violence and malpractices to their loss of faith in the system.

On how youths can stay away from electoral violence, he said: “The youth should learn how to engage and interact with those political office holders to enable them ask the right questions, so that when they tell them to embark on electoral violence, they should ask them to bring their children or their wards to be part of the team that will cause the violence. But you see that most of their children are abroad enjoying the best of education and best of facilities.

“If they realise that they use them and dump them after the elections, they won’t make themselves available to be used by these political actors.

A former president general of Aka Ikenga and lawyer, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said: “The youth are already embroiled in the election. The large crowds are just the youth who risk their lives for a fee of N5, 000. In Abuja’s nomenclature, they answer any tribe you want them to answer once the money is right.

“Nobody is as enthusiastic as the political youth. The fact that people die in such a business known as thuggery does not deter the youth. To the young people, the ready response is, ‘it is not my portion.’ It does not matter to them that the children of the political leaders are safely kept abroad.

Voting-Buying Will Trigger Violence, Warns Adamawa Ex-Speaker
From Emmanuel Ande, Yola 

A FORMER speaker of Adamawa State House of Assembly and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives candidate for Numan/Lamurde/Demsa Federal Constituency, Laori Kwamoti, feared that political violence would be worse during and after this year’s elections.

He called on parents and guardians to educate their wards on the dangers of involving themselves in political thuggery, warning politicians desperate to win elections to engage their children in thuggery if they must use thugs.

Groups Mobilise Against
Election Violence In Taraba 
From Charles Akpeji, Jalingo

REALISING the dangers of thuggery and violence during campaigns and elections, leaders of various ethnic groups, associations, NGOs and civil society organisations in Taraba State are leaving no stone unturned in efforts to discourage youths from getting involved in electoral violence.

From the Tiv to Igbo, Yoruba, Jukun, major religious organisations, there are activities, lectures, workshops and seminars to discourage youths from engaging in thuggery and other vices capable of marring the elections across the state.

According to the President General of the Tiv Socio-cultural association, Goodman Dahda: “Aware of the damages our youths had faced in previous elections, we have been engaging them in series of advocacies and workshops to enlighten them on how not to be used and dumped by politicians who see elections as a do-or-die affair.

“The Tiv community is not ready to lose any of its members as a result of election campaign or election violence.”

In the same vein, some youths told The Guardian that they have learnt from their past mistakes, stressing their resolve not to engage in thuggery, but vowed to collect any gift or money doled out to them by politicians.

‘Our Youths Must Learn From History’
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure.

AN Akure-based lawyer in Ondo State, Olasumbo Faseesin, stated: “Our youths must learn from history to avoid monumental mistakes and regrets. Since the inception of self- rule and democracy, we have not had sufficient dividends, but the unusual culture of domesticating our youths and women to orchestrate political violence.” 

Faseesin, who was the Student Union Government (SUG) president of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, noted that elections should be devoid of violence or any criminal act. Ahead of the elections, he urged youths to tread the path of peace, unity and development above any sectional or parochial interest during campaigns and voting exercise, saying: “Our youths must resist careless attempts to involve them in what otherwise may influence and affect them negatively.

“We must abstain, resist any attempt to provoke chaos by desperate politicians. As thinking youths, we must ensure safety in our political activities prior and after voting and resist attempts at promoting violence. Let’s say no to violence.”

‘Popular And Mass Youth Participation Way Out Of Thuggery’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

THE Director of the North Central Zone of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Aluko Daniel Steve, while expressing worry over the dimension at which youths engage in electoral violence in the country now, said even when election proper has not commenced, campaign violence has already started and, if not checked, could snowball into bloody clash during the elections.

He stated: “The best way to avert or mitigate the use of youths for electoral violence is adopting a multifaceted approach by promoting electoral inclusion, open up the electoral process before, during and after the election, promote deliberate economic empowerment programmes and policies targeted at the youth.

“Allow popular and mass participation of the youths through transparent and credible party primaries. Promote alternative dispute resolution within the party or inter-party dispute. Parties, candidates, individuals, groups and godfathers who promote violence should be sanctioned and above all, promote independent candidature as a measure to further open up the electoral space.”

Steve further argued that it is the lack of internal democracy within parties most times that produce party thugs by the aggrieved politicians to take their pound of flesh from those whom they perceived as having cheated them during the primaries, adding: “The INEC, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Civil Society Organisation must, in practical terms, promote voter education and conduct credible, free and fair elections.”

However, a retired civil servant, Mr. George Orotemu Alfred, said the use of youths as thugs by politicians cannot easily be curbed when there are no jobs, as they are easily attracted by politicians’ cash bait.

Alfred said that political thuggery could only be eliminated when the agile youths are gainfully employed, not necessarily in white-collar jobs, to occupy them, instead of hanging around to be used by desperate politicians.

“If politicians give these youths, say N500, N400 each, that will ginger them to do what they are not supposed to do, because they cannot boast of having N50 or N100 in a day. They see N500 as a huge sum of money and whatever the politicians ask them to do is what they are going to do,” he added.

He condemned governors who encourage thuggery, but cannot allow their own children to be thugs for another governor.

A youth, Benjamin Ajayi, a generator repairer in Jos, said: “If I am invited today by any politician or political party to be their thug, I will wholeheartedly accept the offer to be used as a thug, because with that, I can help myself and my family. I have strength; I will stand without any shaking. If fight comes, I will fight provided I will get money.

“You either die or you survive. No problem. This is our country. I am ready for anything, good or bad, thuggery or not, provided I get money at the end of the day.”

Ohanaeze Youths Want Colleagues To Be Focused
From Nnamdi Akpa, Abakaliki

THE leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council recently kicked off its campaign of violent-free election in the 95 councils in the Southeast.

Its National President, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, told The Guardian in Abakaliki that the idea was to educate and sensitise the youths on the importance of having peaceful elections in the zone.

The campaign is to douse the tension and impression that majority of Igbo youths are being lured by desperate politicians to be used as thugs to destabilise the peaceful atmosphere in the Southeast. 

“We are aware of the nefarious activities of some politicians, especially those who are not popular in the Southeast, trying to lure some hungry youths into selling their PVCs in form of vote-buying or using youths as thugs.

“We want to assure Igbo youths to remain calm and law abiding in this general election, as we must vote against unpopular candidates and unpopular parties.”

Kebbi Youth Leader Wants
Parents To Monitor Children
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

A FORMER chairman of Kebbi State chapter of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Abubakar Nayahya Chiso, has called on Nigerian youths to shun any political thuggery before, during and after the forthcoming general elections.

Chiso told The Guardian that there was the need for parents to monitor their children ahead of the elections to avoid political thuggery in the state.

He also cautioned politicians against using the youth during the election.

Also speaking, Madam Rachael Rebecca, a civil society activist, condemned the use of youths for political violence, admonishing the youth to be wary of such politicians.

“We have been organising and doing advocacy for youths on the dangers of political thuggery,” she added.

Arewa Youths Vow To Resist Violence
From Abdulganiyu Alabi, Kaduna

TROUBLE lies ahead for politicians and groups intending to use Nigerian youths, especially from the north, to rig the general elections.

According to the Coalition of Nigerian Political Party (CNPP), the federal government should initiate a law to restrain politicians from engaging youths in unleashing mayhem or causing post-election violence.  

Publicity Secretary of CNPP, Salisu Shuaibu Dawaki, proposed a 10-year ban on any politician or group found sponsoring youths in thuggery, sa
ying most of youths been hired by the politicians are jobless and illiterate and as such, government should provide quality education and jobs for them. 

“If politicians know the consequence of using youths for thuggery, they won’t do that anymore.

“Government should also fine any politician found wanting,” Dawaki added. 

Similarly, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) said it has embarked on sensitisation of youths from the north as part of efforts to stem being usage by politicians and groups for thuggery.  

President of AYCF, Yerima Shettima, said in an interview with The Guardian that the will of the common people, which is to enjoy free and credible elections, must prevail and there should be zero tolerance for thuggery and rigging in the general elections. 

Shettima stated: “We have informed them (the youth) not to allow themselves to be used by the politicians. People are now well informed and well educated.

“We have been campaigning against that for long and you can be rest assured that we are letting people understand that it is not worth it dying for this characters that we have as leaders today.

“The interest of Nigeria must come first. We let them understand that they have no any other country to run to if the country collapses. We have gone far to educate them that nobody should be used as tools in this election any more.

“That is why we have been extending hands of fellowship to our counterparts in the southern part of the country, so that we, as youths, can harness the unity and strength to kick against wrongdoings.”

Similarly, a Kaduna-based civil society organisation, Center for Media Advocacy for Mother and Child (CAMAC), advised the youth to engage politicians on issues that can impact their lives rather than following them blindly. 

Its Executive Director, Mr. Alex Unangbaoje, urged the youth to see politicians who have rendered them unproductive as their common enemies, rather than fighting themselves.

“Killing or fighting because of politicians is not worth their lives. The first question they should as themselves is; is the peanuts given by politicians worth their life? Secondly, are the children of those they are fighting for part of the thuggery game?

“For some of them who have been thugs since 1999, for instance, why are they still in that condition?” Unangbaoje asked rhetorically.

Youths Gather Against Election Violence
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka

YOUTH activist and former chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Zone B Joint Consultative Committee, JohnBosco Ifeanyichukwu Anaracha, blamed thuggery on poverty, joblessness, out-of-school dropout syndrome and quest for stomach infrastructure.

Anaracha, an Applied Biochemistry student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, urged youths to shun thuggery and violent politicking before, during and after the elections.

Coordinator of Recovery Nigeria Project, Osita Obi, blamed youths for being their own problem by ignorantly failing to use their numerical strength to appropriate favours and opportunities to themselves, but turn round to blame the politicians and society.

Osita said: “The youths are the enemies of themselves. They constitute majority of the population of Nigeria, but they don’t want to capitalize on it. Nobody forced them into thuggery.”

Another youth leader and chairman of Youths in Politics and Leadership Organisations, Augustine Muomaife, blamed youths for succumbing easily as willing tools of the political class who use them “as hired killers and thugs” to cause violence during campaigns and elections, only to dump them later.
 
Muomaife, while describing politicians as selfish, urged youths to have patience, saying: “Buhari will be the last old politician to rule Nigeria, after which it would be their turn to take over leadership.”

Deputy National President of Nigerian Youth National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Innocent Nduanya, while noting that youths use violence to express themselves when they are not properly sensitised on an issue, asserted that every Nigerian of voting age is a stakeholder in peace building and sustaining processes, especially during election periods, noting that Nigerian youths constitute majority of the population.

He lamented that the system is used to alienating youths, in terms of affordable job opportunities, finance to invest or in the quest for political office, adding that the NYCN, which is the apex body of all Nigerian youths, was providing the fora to sensitise youths and other stakeholders on the need for violence-free elections.

Transport union operating under the aegis of Shuttle Drivers Welfare Association, through its Chairman, Okechukwu Nwaneke, said its members, numbering over 1,000, have been sensitised on the need to shun electoral violence and not to abet electoral malpractices.

According to him, their members were given an off-period within which to go and procure their PVCs as law abiding citizens, with total compliance, adding that during elections, their members have been advised to avoid violence and anything that will adversely affected the electoral process.

Nwaneke noted: “Youths should not allow themselves to be used by politicians as toilet tissues. They should not be involved in ballot paper snatching and other offenses during the exercise.”

Speaking in the same vein, a political commentator, Lawrence Chizzy Adichie, blamed youths for engaging in violence due to their penchant for monetary and material aggrandizement, advising: “Youths should know that those promises from politicians are made out of infatuation, which politicians don’t keep to, as they are used to use-and-dump tactics.”

Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth in Anambra State, through its leader, Mazi Chukwuma Okpalaezeukwu, charged youths engaged in violence and other electoral irregularity to desist from such acts this year.

By way of mentorship and guidance, the Adviser on Youths Activities to Ohanaeze-Ndigbo Worldwide, Damian Okeke-Ogene, urged youths to be cautious of this year’s elections and shun violence and other electoral offenses.

He maintained: “Violence never pays and it is only those who live that will see the election. The political class should learn from the speech of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who said that the blood of Nigerians is not worth shedding because of his personal ambition.”

Youths Leader, CSOs, Politicians
Urge Youths To Shun Thuggery
From Tina Todo, Calabar

YOUTHS and CSOs in Cross River State has assured of violence-free elections.

Some of the youth leaders in Calabar municipality said they have done several sensitisation tours to educate the youth on the importance of having a violence-free election.

Youth Leader of Ikot Abasi Obori community in Calabar Municipality, Ekpo Bassey, said youths in his community have come to realise that need for violence-free elections, adding: “Right from the onset, we have been sensitising. We grew up knowing that and it did not even start from me; it started from other youth leaders who are my predecessors. It is like something we grew up with.

“In our community, you will never hear election violence, that is the truth. On the day of elections, people go about their usual business without having issues with anybody. You will see different political party members sitting down, drinking and having fun among themselves. In that regard, there is nothing like violence during elections and we don’t expect that.

“From time to time, we let our youths know that these people are going there to corner their money, that we should not go and kill ourselves for their sake.”

Another youth leader from Ishie clan, simply known as Aqua, said: “We have been able to sensitise youths that they should go out with their PVCs and that the PVC is our strength and not the money. This is what is required from everybody, to go out there and vote for credible leaders of their choice.

“Election is not a do-or-die affair, so we don’t want thugs, we don’t want snatching of ballot boxes, all we want is that everybody should go there and cast his or her vote for the person of his/her choice and go home. That is the training we are taking round the community for youths.”

In the same vein, a youth in Ishie, Raji Etta, said government and youths have roles to play to ensure violence-free and fair elections.

He noted: “This year’s elections need to be free and fair and free of violence. We need to start from here and both the government and the citizens need to play their parts. Government has to set the security agencies to meet the demands for these elections, while youths need to play their parts by being self-conscious and not to engage in violence.

“We all want to be like America and the rest, that has to start from us in the way we elect our leaders. We have to be free from carrying guns, snatching ballot papers and all forms of violence that disrupts elections. That is the only way we can grow and we are sure the elections in my community would be violence-free.”

Edet Effiom said: “It is the government that will look for youth leaders and the youth leaders will call the youths and tell them what to do. Another thing is that we are not praying for violence, rather, we are praying for successful elections, which I believe is achievable in these elections.”

Coordinator of a civil society group, Peace Point Action (PPA), who also an election monitor under the West African Network for Peace (WANEP), Umo Johnson, said the group has done a lot of sensitisation of youths in the state on violence- free elections.

He said the message has always been that youths should not allow politicians to use them as weapons of destruction during election periods, adding: “We do not only talk on election monitoring; we do pre-election, election and post-election. We have done much by setting up a platform earlier, where issues concerning pre-elections are treated.

Recently during his campaign flag off in Calabar, the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Senator John Owan Enoh, appealed for campaign without bloodshed, urging youths across the state not to kill themselves over any politician, including himself.

###CREDIT TO THE GUARDIAN NEWS###