International Day of Democracy: Omo-Aje, Yerima Harps on Good Governance and Youth Inclusion
By: Femi Mustapha
Nigeria joined the global community to celebrate the International Day of Democracy on 15 September 2023, providing an opportunity to review the state of democracy worldwide.
Democracy is both a process and a goal. Only with the full participation and support of the international community, national governing bodies, civil society, and individuals can the ideal of democracy become a reality for everyone, everywhere.
Findings have revealed that an engaged, well-educated electorate is at the heart of strong democratic societies. Creating an environment where young people feel their voices count is crucial. Everyone must be able to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect their lives today and in the future.
Given the damaging effect false information can have on young people, this year’s International Day of Democracy is dedicated to “Empowering the Next Generation,” focusing on the critical role of children and youngsters in ensuring democracy today and in the future.
The 2023 celebration comes at a crucial time when democracy is under threat in Africa. Countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, and Niger have seen their democracies replaced by military rule. There are calls by some Nigerians for an interim government due to alleged irregularities in the 2023 general elections.
What’s particularly concerning is that these calls are coming from young people, who represent the future of the country’s democracy. In Nigeria, where 70% of the population is under 30, with 42% under the age of 15, and where 62% of the electors are youth, they should be a central focus of government and part of the decision-making process.
However, this is not the case, and in response, many young people in the country are advocating for a similar scenario as seen in Niger.
Nevertheless, the National Chairman of the Action Alliance, Hon. Adekunle Rufai Omo-Aje, emphasizes that young people should learn from history, understanding that the worst democratic government is still better than the best military rule. He stressed that Nigeria has much to celebrate with 23 years of uninterrupted democracy.
Going down memory lane, Hon. Omo-Aje pointed out that 1993 was a pivotal year in the country’s history when the most free and fair election was conducted but later annulled on June 12 of the same year by the military. Since the return to democracy in 1999, the country has not witnessed any military incursions.
However, Omo-Aje emphasized that the success of the country’s democracy largely depends on young people, who hold demographic advantages in deciding the fate of the nation’s democracy.
Additionally, young people must navigate a world where democracies are under threat from factors such as the spread of online misinformation, rising populism, and the destabilizing effects of the climate crisis.
The National President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, as a pro-democracy activist, distanced himself from the call for military intervention. He lamented that poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, dereliction of duty, and other issues pose the greatest threats to democracy in Nigeria.
He cited an African proverb, suggesting that if your neighbor’s beard catches fire, you should run to get water to prevent yours from catching fire as well. With Niger as a neighboring country experiencing a coup, it’s time for Nigerian leaders to take action to avoid a similar fate.
The International Day provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy globally, with each year highlighting a specific theme. This day underscores the crucial role of parliaments and their capacity to deliver justice, peace, development, and human rights.
When asked about their views on democracy, some youths had differing opinions on its benefits and assurance for their futures. While some believe the military should intervene for a better life, others assert that democracy is the best option for the country and its youth.
In light of this, it’s essential for Nigerian youths to eschew violence, embrace peace through dialogue, resolve conflicts legally, and actively participate in the democratic process. By doing so, they can contribute to sustaining democracy, as even the worst democracy is better than the best military rule.
Nigeria’s democracy and elections are evolving, and citizens need to be a credible part of that process. They should work together to build a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
As Nigeria celebrates International Democracy Day, there’s a need for more youth participation in governance to promote transparency, accountability, and good governance. Young people’s voices and votes can hold elected officials accountable and ensure they work in the best interests of the population. This active participation allows them to have a say in decision-making processes, fostering growth and development in their communities.
This year’s International Day aims to empower the next generation, recognizing the critical role of children and youngsters in shaping today’s and tomorrow’s democracy.