Youth and Electioneering: Our Role as Nation Builders

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Notes: This is the text of a lecture delivered by Muallim Abbas Agbaje at the Annual Peace Symposium of Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Nigeria (MKAN) Ondo Ilaqa at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, on Saturday, 4th February 2023.

Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them and that, when you judge between men, you judge with Justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. SURA AN-NISA verse 59

Introduction

Today, we gather at this Annual Peace Symposium to deliberate on a matter of utmost importance to our collective economic, social, and spiritual well-being. Our society offers the social crucible that forges our worldview and character. The transformation of our national affairs is underpinned by our collective consciousness of the role our action and/or inaction plays in birthing our circumstances.

When I accepted to deliver this lecture, I felt a sense of responsibility that directed the weaving of the words your minds will absorb in the next forty-five (45) minutes or so. The timing of this event is right as we anticipate another epochal election in our national history in three weeks. Indeed, Allah has guided MKAN Ondo Ilaqa to provide a platform for enlightening the youths and other social groups on their duties and responsibilities toward establishing an inclusive and equitable governance system.

In this lecture, we will attempt to educate ourselves on the concept of electioneering and the rights and responsibilities of voters. Furthermore, we will explore insights from the Holy Quran on the importance of participation in the electoral process, thereby contributing to nation-building. By the end of the lecture, we should have gained sufficient knowledge of the Ahmadi youths’ role in driving intellectual engagements and transformational actions in building the nation.

Youths and Electioneering in Nigeria: Actors or Spectators?

If free, fair, and just elections offer the opportunity to promote participatory governance, and inclusive representation, especially in a multi-ethnic and socio-culturally diverse nation such as Nigeria. The electoral process involves the interplay of diverse stakeholders, including the election management agency, the electorate (general public), political parties and their candidates, international and local observers, civil society organisations (CSO), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international and local media, security agencies and many more.

Nigeria’s national elections have been historically marred by systemic and structural issues bordering on ballot snatching, violent attacks and killings, arson at collation centers and police stations, cash inducements, technological malfunctions, underage voting, rigging, and several other malfeasances. Unfortunately, the youths are the tools of violence and stools of our national villains, who continue to wield economic power to the detriment of our national progress and collective well-being.

For clarity, let’s briefly explore the concept of electioneering and related terms:

Election:

  1. The formal process of selecting a person for public office or of accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
  2. A process in which people vote to choose a person or group of people to hold an official position. (Collins Dictionary)

Voter:

A person who has a right to participate in an election by an elector. In Nigeria, a voter is a citizen who is 18 years old and above and is duly registered whose names and details are in the voter register. (INEC Nigeria)

Electioneering:

  1. The totality of the activities involved in campaigns and mobilizing the citizens of a country for elections, these activities do not exclude the electoral body conducting the elections. (Onigiobi, Obadiora and Oriowo, 2020)
  2. Is defined as participating in the electoral process by promoting particular candidates for office. The gamut of activities involved in the electoral process includes:

    – Endorsing a candidate for public office, including through social media activities such as liking a post, accepting friend or connection requests, and following the candidates’ campaign page, incredibly close to an election period.
    Exerting direct and indirect influence in the nomination or election of any individual to a federal, state, or local public office or an office in a political organization.
    Mobilizing constituents to support or defeat a political candidate.
    Distributing campaign materials such as flyers, postcards, newsletters, videos, and signage in person and on social media platforms.
    Sharing on social media handles the link to a website or social media page that espouses specific candidates and their views on key governance issues.
    Offering a political candidate personal space or property for a campaign event.
    Posting political statements on personal social media accounts and providing a public opinion about a candidate through other media channels. 
    Coordinating or hosting campaign rallies, activities, or other functions with a candidate running for office.
    Making financial contributions or donations to candidates or political parties supporting their ambition.Voting for choice candidates on election day and monitoring election results to ensure the mandate is awarded to the rightful winner of the election. (Girls Scout, USA)

Having defined the requisite terms, let’s now focus on unpacking the reality of electioneering among Nigerian youths. In their journal article titled, ‘Electioneering in Nigeria: Citizen’s Knowledge of Responsibility and Engagement, Onigiobi, Obadiora, and Oriowo (2020) posit that many Nigerians, youth especially, have a lukewarm attitude towards electioneering responsibility, reinforced by a perceptible deficiency in knowledge of the electoral process and ineffective socialization mechanism. They argued that most people conceive electioneering to be just about participation in voting on election day.

Citing the Global Commission on Elections, Security and Democracy (2012), they noted that electioneering activities encompass the following: familiarity with the electoral laws, observation of internal party democracy, voter registration exercise, campaign, and campaign financing, the voting process, results declaration, assessment of the Electoral Management Body, and ensuring good governance post-election. The level of voters’ apathy in the past Nigerian elections corroborates their stance and demonstrates the need for voters’ education to improve electoral participation.

Commonly, some of the telling symptoms of weak electioneering norms in Nigeria include citizens’ refusal to register for voters’ cards, non-collection of voters’ cards by registered individuals, abstinence from voting for personal or religious reasons, barter of voters’ cards, the casting of invalid votes, trading of votes for financial gains, snatching and burning of ballot boxes and papers, confiscation of voting materials, kidnap of election officers, disruption of voting procedures, clash of campaigners, breach of electoral law and incitement to violence during campaign rallies and host of others. It is interesting to note that many people, including those seated in this hall, have never visited the official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to learn more about the electoral process. This lack of interest in national polity contributes to our current political headwinds.

For example, how many people here know that for the upcoming 2023 elections, there are 93,469,008 registered voters in Nigeria, 176,846 polling units, and 18 registered political parties? Historically, voters turn out unimpressive due to security concerns or electoral malpractices. As shown in the Figures below, there has been no time when up to 80% of eligible voters have cast their ballots to choose their representatives for public offices. Although there is an observable upward trend in the number of registered voters, the outcomes of the last six elections (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019) indicate that only an average of 50% of registered voters participated in the election polls. This abdication of responsibility directly correlates with the inability of the citizenry to hold political officeholders accountable for their pre-election promises.

Source: BudgIT

To go a step further, many of us seated in this hall do not know that INEC’s website provides information on voters’ education. Through the website, you can learn about the Rights and Responsibilities of a Voter. A summary of the Six Rights of a Voter is presented as follows:

  1. Right to register: Every qualified citizen’s right to register to vote during the general elections. The constitution guarantees this right and cannot be denied to any potential qualified citizen.
  2. Right to vote and be voted for when registered: Every person who has satisfied the requirements laid down by the law is eligible to vote and be voted for.To be a candidate, one must fulfill the legal requirements, which vary depending on the type of elective office involved.
  3. Right to recall an elected representative: A voter has a right to participate in the recall process of an elected legislator. To recall means to summon back and withdraw the mandate given to an elected legislator through an election. Once elected to the Senate, House of Representatives or House of Assembly, a candidate can be recalled by the registered voters of the affected constituency.
  4. Right to secrecy (privacy) when voting: Voters can mark their ballot papers (make their choices) in secret.
  5. Right to attend Rallies and Campaigns of Political Parties and Candidates: A voter has the right to participate in the campaigns of Political Parties and Campaigns during the build-up to the general elections to receive information about the programmes they intend to implement if voted into office.
  6. Right to Information About Election: A voter has a right to be informed about the details of the elections, such as the time, date, procedure, etc.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to state that to whom the right is given responsibility is laden; therefore, in addition to their rights, voters have responsibilities they must discharge to elect the right leaders. Individuals who refuse to exercise this responsibility have forfeited the right to complain about bad leadership since they are equally culpable for their lack of discretion by not participating in the election. The Five Responsibilities of Voters are described as follows:

  1. Responsibility to register: Every eligible citizen must register and ensure their name is correctly listed on the voter register in the area where they intend to cast their vote.
  2. Responsibility to vote: On Election Day, each voter is expected to take their permanent voter’s card and proceed to the polling unit in their neighborhood, where their name is listed on the voter’s register.
  3. Responsibility to conduct oneself in an orderly manner: For a free and fair election, voters must comply with all laws and regulations governing the electoral process to ensure peace and orderliness. Hence, it is the voter’s responsibility to conduct themselves orderly before, during, and after the election and encourage others to act similarly.
  4. Responsibility to keep Permanent Voter Card safe: The Permanent Voter’s Card, issued to every voter, qualifies him/her to vote in an election. This card must be kept safe. It is not transferable. It must not be sold, given to another person, or damaged.
  5. Responsibility to enlighten others about the benefits of participation: Voters should encourage others about the benefits of registering and voting during elections. This activity will help reduce apathy and ensure that a good number of voters participate in electing candidates into various elective positions. (Source: Independent National Electoral Commission, 2022, accessed 3/2/2023)

With the passage of the Not Too Young to Run Act (2018), Nigerian youths have seen the removal of systemic barriers to participation in the nation’s governance at different levels. Notwithstanding, we must realise that not everyone will run for political offices, so others must play their roles to ensure the Candidate-Constituent relationship translates into a Politician-People-centric paradigm long after the polls have closed. We have now established that electioneering does not begin and end on election day; it is the series of engagements with the electoral process and diverse stakeholders who are actors in the political arena pushing a common agenda – national progress, peace, and prosperity.

Role of Ahmadi Youths in Nation Building: Scriptural Guidance on Exercising our Rights and Discharging our Responsibilities

The Holy Quran offers unique guidance on the fundamental principles that underpin the proper functioning of human society. This book, laden with heavenly wisdom from the Creator of the Universe and Multiverse, has not left man without instructions on establishing a governing system that is fair and just.

Let’s examine selected instructive verses of the Holy Quran, which furnish deep insights regarding our nation-building rights and responsibilities. The verse of the Quran I recited at the commencement of this lecture offers tremendous guidance to discerning Ahmadi Youths and removes all ambiguity as to the requirements for participating in nation-building. It reads:

Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them and that, when you judge between men, you judge with Justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. SURA AN-NISA verse 59

Textual analysis: The verse starts with the words, ‘Allah commands you to make over trust to those entitled to them,’ and goes further with the words, ‘when you judge between men, you judge with justice.’

Note three phrases: Allah commands, the Trust, and those Entitled to them. A commandment from Allah is to be obeyed by a Muslim! The Vote represents the Trust that needs to be delivered to the Right Candidate. This command is no small responsibility placed on your shoulders. The deductions from this statement are numerous, but the following suffice: first, if you refuse to vote, you have disobeyed Allah, and if you intentionally vote for a candidate whose antecedents and current posture suggest that they will not apply Justice and fairness in discharging their duties, you have not fully obeyed the injunction.

The other phrase, ‘when you judge between men, you judge with justice,’ summarises the expectations of the Quran when it comes to debating the suitability of candidates. Despite our several contrarian positions, we must never lose sight of Justice (in speech and action, openly or covertly) as the scriptural prescription for evaluating the candidacy of political office rivals. Therefore, it is incompatible with Islam’s teachings and philosophy to support a candidate because of selfish gains or make distinctions about them by peddling falsehoods to disparage the opponents while elevating our chosen candidates. Such actions contribute to Fasaad (evil commotion) in society and can degenerate into physical violent attacks between opposing camps within the same party or rival parties. Following this supreme admonition lies our national emancipation from the unyielding grips of Godfathers, Cabals, and Elitist Gangs of Treasury Looters.

As Ahmadi youths, the words, ‘Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing,’ should heighten our consciousness of our speech and actions during electioneering. Through our speech and actions, we can either bulldoze or build the nation and indeed, surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you!

The second verse of the Quran critical to this discourse reads:

O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority among you. And if you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger if you are believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is best and most commendable in the end. SURA AN-NISA verse 60

Connecting the previous verse with this one, we observe that Allah directs us to discharge our civic duties and responsibilities and subsequently requires us to demonstrate obedience to those placed in authority. In the context of this discussion, the significance of this verse centers around our political activities after the election is concluded, particularly when we have divergent views from the incumbent government and ruling party on key issues relating to governance. The use of vulgar words and utterly disrespectful, vitriolic criticism is dissuaded, given that such statements often incite anti-state actions from elements that can constitute a nuisance to the nation.

Enabling actions of parties that undermine the authority of the incumbent government can often distract public officeholders from investing their intellectual resources and time in addressing issues of national importance, slowing down progress and exacerbating people’s chronic situations. The argument is not to say that we should avoid critiquing the incumbent government’s performance on key policies and their campaign promises. Better still, the goal should be to CONTRIBUTE to national progress, not to COMPLICATE governance purely because of party rivalry to attain political ascendancy.

Our current political arena is the diametric opposite of what Allah has enjoined us to propagate; yet, we, as Ahmadis, need to embody the true teachings of Islam and demonstrate this uncommon example to transform the political landscape. Tough, but possible. We must glean insights from the lectures of the Huzur Aqdas to clean our political mess through the immaculate message of the Prince of Peace – the Promised Messiah (A.S). This message is what the following verse of the Quran I would be citing underscores.

Ahmadi youths should reflect on the following verses of the Quran:

And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness, and enjoin equity and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper. SURA AL-‘EMRAN verse 105

And be not like those who became divided and who disagreed among themselves after clear proofs had come to them. And it is they for whom here shall be a great punishment. SURA AL-‘EMRAN verse 106

Like the foregoing ones, these twin verses underscore the importance of Tabligh (propagation), Ta’leem (education), and Tarbiyyah (moralization) in driving national transformation. Essentially, the three mutually reinforcing pillars of national stability and progress, and advancement are Tabligh (invite to goodness), Ta’leem (enjoin equity), and Tarbiyyah (forbid evil). Correspondingly, the threats to national peace and prosperity are Iftiraaq (Division), Ikhtilaaf (Disagreements), and Inkaar (Denial of Rights notwithstanding availability and admissibility of clear evidence). As the elections approach, Ahmadi youths should contemplate how they will be the beacon of light and enlightenment in their neighbourhoods and communities.

We should embody and apply these principles in driving ideological transformation and behavioural adjustments among electorates. We continue to benefit from the guidance of Huzur Aqdas and the directives of Amir sb and other respected leaders within the Jama’at; we should bear that mark of distinction in how we conduct ourselves until the time of the elections and beyond.

Finally, I congratulate Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Nigeria – Ondo Ilaqa for organizing this programme to sensitize our youths and the general public. You have indeed discharged one of the responsibilities previously alluded to in this lecture. An event such as this meets one of the criteria Allah stipulated in the following verse of the Quran:

There is no good in many of their conferences except the conferences of such as enjoin charity, or goodness, or the making of peace among men. And whoso does that, seeking the pleasure of Allah, We shall soon bestow on him a great reward. SURA AN-NISA verse 115

Let us endeavour to spread the message beyond this hall to all others not in attendance so that we can collectively discharge our duties as commanded by Allah. May Allah enable us to benefit from this discourse and help us translate our convictions into meaningful positive national contributions. Amin!