|National Youth Stakeholders Forum on Constitutional Reform
The National Youth Stakeholders Forum on Constitutional Reform was organized by Youth Action Initiative Africa (YAIA), Youth Advocacy for Civic Transformation (Y-ACT) and Young People’s Initiative with support from Department for International Development DFID and Coalitions For Change (c4c) on Tuesday 6th October, 2009 at the Nanet Suites, Abuja.
The forum had in attendance youth leaders from the National Youth Council, National Association of Nigerian Students, Ohaneze, Arewa, Afenifere and Ijaw Youth Leaders, Christian and Muslim youth leaders, political party youth leaders, people with disabilities etc
In his Address at the Opening Plenary, the Team Leader of Youth Action Initiative Africa, Samson Itodo underscored the need for youth engagement in the entire constitutional review process. He called on those leading the process of the review of the constitution to put mechanisms in place to ensure youths participate in the process. In his words, we are gathered here today to continue the dialogue with the hope to stimulate youth engagement and understanding of the constitutional reform meant for Nigeria’s electoral process. More importantly, we are here to discuss how best to engage youths in the process because youth participation in politics is a strong indicator of our country’s democratic development. Therefore, youth organisations must work toward the development of an active youth leadership and participation in the life of their communities and use national forums and debates as an occasion to articulate and coordinate different youth voices and interests in the reform process.
Mr Okeke Anya, Coalitions for Change opined that the participation of youth in the constitutional / electoral reform has been abysmally low and there is a great need for a harmonized youth position/ representation in the entire review process.
The lead presentation was delivered by Dr. Abubakar Momoh of the Lagos State University. Delivering a paper on The Imperative of Mainstreaming Youth in the Constitutional Review Process he highlighted how the factors of incumbency, moneybag, and the economic crisis have all made the youth, Electoral management officials and law enforcement agents vulnerable and susceptible to the machinations and manipulations by the political elite. This has produced a perverted political culture and political behaviour that is certainly unsustainable and anti-democratic. In his words, “Such a culture is as authoritarian as military rule itself. Hence what we have is not only a highly disreputable and disputable electoral system but a highly unacceptable constitutional framework/structure that is highly flawed that is reproduced through what I call authoritarian democracy”.
The other discussants who spoke include Mr. Chibuike M (National coordinator Transition Monitoring Group), Mrs Ene Obi (ActionAid), Mr Dayo Olaide (CD OSIWA) and Mr Jide Ojo. They jointly emphasized the need for a vibrant and united youth front to bring youth issues to the front burner of national engagement on the constitutional reform.
Participants were broken into three groups to review the draft youth position presented at the forum.
Group 1: Identify consensus/contentious issues on the constitutional reform and harmonize various youth positions.
Group 2: Identify strategies and the role of youth organisations in engaging the reform process.
Group 3: Identify the risks and challenges involved.
Reporting back at plenary the groups highlighted the following;
There is a general consensus on key recommendations of the Justice Uwais led committee. The recommendation enjoys acceptance of majority of Nigerians.
The draft youth position paper contains all the relevant youth position. However, emphasis should be laid on the recommendations that have direct impact on young people. For example representation on INEC board and partial franchise with reference to age criteria for participating in the electoral process.
Youth organisations like the National Youth Council must be seen to representative enough to lead the campaign for electoral reforms at the national level.
That the youths have not done enough to establish their positions on the electoral reform in particular and the entire political process in general, hence youth organisations must be united in the campaign for constitutional and electoral reform.
Addressing the issue of Partial Franchise
Franchise is the right to vote and be voted for. Unfortunately, franchise is only a right to vote in Nigeria as one is free to vote only when such is 18 and above. The complementary part of being qualified to be voted for is delayed till a certain age. In the spirit of social justice, this should be properly contextualized. Once you are eligible to vote, you should be eligible to be voted for.
We posit that franchise be protected from a constitutional point of view with a provision that allows the voter to be voted for. The intellect involved in making a choice of vote approves the right of being voted for. Besides, the scourge of HIV/AIDS, natural disasters, conflicts and other exigent situations has contributed an interesting perspective to the whole issue of democratic deepening and franchise. Youth (around age 18) have been forced in several circumstances to assume leadership and control of communities, owing to death or invalidity of seniors. These emergency leader-youths definitely deserve to be protected by law to seek leadership of their constituencies through elections.
Poverty eradication as an electoral reform component
The socio-economic environment within which elections are conducted cannot be divorced from the outcome of those elections. In Nigeria, poverty is a known socio-economic challenge plaguing the majority of the population. Poverty compromises the capacity of the electorate to pursue and promote credible, free and fair elections in the country. It is an absolute fact that Nigeria’s electoral demographic is mostly made up of young people. Within the framework of electoral reform, the Nigerian government at all levels must take adequate measures to alleviate poverty which has contributed extensively to compromising the credibility of elections and electoral outcomes in Nigeria. Since poverty affects the capacity of the electorate to promote, uphold and pursue credible elections and the electorate is largely youth, it is instructive to focus on poverty alleviation in a bid to enhance electorates’ capacity to ensure electoral credibility in Nigeria.
Affirmative action for increased youth policy participation in government
Given that 68% Nigeria’s population is made up of young people between the ages of 18 & 35 and coupled with the fact that young people deserve increased policy participation, we firmly posit that the Nigerian Constitution should guarantee
The same goes for nomination as Ministers, Ambassadors, Special Assistants, Special Advisers where we recommend that, at least, 10% of these portfolios should be dedicated to young people.
Youth Electoral Support (YES) Fund
The Federal government through INEC should be mandated by a constitutional provision to set-up a Youth Electoral Support (YES) Fund. The YES Fund should be statutorily funded through a contribution of 5% of INECs statutory allocation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund at federal level and 5% of Special SIEC Fund at state levels. The YES Fund should serve as a financial resource pool for youth political aspirants to draw from to meet the costs of seeking elective offices in Nigeria. The Constitutional or Electoral Act provision should equally mandate the Political Parties to contribute 5% of their yearly income towards this YES Fund both at state and federal levels.
Definition of youth
We submit that the Constitution should include a clause definition of youth. For the purpose of this submission, youth should be defined as anyone between the ages of 18 and 35.
As a prelude to our full position on the electoral reform, we agree to the following recommendations: Independent candidacy, Electoral offences commission, Appointment of INEC chairman and board to be taken from the President and channelled as recommended by the ERC
The stakeholders’ forum was a great opportunity for youths to engage one another and strategise on the electoral reform process in Nigeria. It brought to the fore, the urgent need by youths in Nigeria for onward engagement with the process. Notably, youth-based support in the area of electoral reform is still low and we therefore take it upon ourselves from here to translate the forum into ACTION.
National Youth Council NYC
National Association of Nigerian Students NANS
Nigerian Youth Parliament
Arewa Youth Forum
Ohaneze Youth Council
Afenifere Youth Organisation
Ijaw Youth Council
West Africa Youth Peace Mission
Gender Affirmative Action GAA
Christian Association of Nigeria Youth Wing YOWICAN
Muslim Students Society
Northern Youth Coalition on Electoral Reforms
Southern Youth Coalition on Electoral Reforms
People with Disabilities JONAPWD
Action Congress Youth Leader
Society and the Future
Youth Against Cyber Crimes & Fraud
Youth Initiative for Good governance
Worlds Greatest Foundation
Global Women Empowerment Association GLOWEM
Centre for Information Technology and Development CITAD
Ken Nnamani Centre for Leadership and Development
Coalitions for Change (ARPWD)
Coalitions for Change
Youth Advocacy for Civic Transformation YACT
Young people’s Initiative YPI
Youth Action Initiative Africa YAIA