The need for Nigerian youth to strategically contribute their quota to the democratic and electoral processes of the country was brought to the fore as youth leaders gathered in Port Harcourt from April 15 to 19, 2013. This occurred during the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) Module Workshop on Civic and Voter Education for leaders of youth organisations in the southern parts of Nigeria, ahead of the 2015 polls.
The platform for the discussion was made possible by United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) in partnership with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), with the support of the European Union (EU), United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
At the 5-day workshop, it was established that in every election, voter and civic education are necessary to ensure that all constituents understand their rights. There must be sufficient information around electoral cycle. It was submitted that voter education should specifically target every Nigerian particularly children, youth, women and people with disabilities, stressing that it should make clear that suffrage is universal and should help create a culture in which young people and women are encouraged to participate in electoral processes.
Participants agreed that special educational campaigns should be launched, aimed at children, youth, women and people with disabilities, highlighting the fact that they have the right to vote. They also pointed out the importance of crafting special messages for women voters and to take generational issues into account when doing so.
According to the participants, meetings geared towards enlightening women and youth participation should be organized. It was also said that a carefully targeted voter education can also help alleviate “double discrimination”, which may occur when women are also members of disadvantaged ethnic minorities. According to them, voter education is most effective when linked with a programme of civic education that puts the election into context for voters and provides an explanation of the election’s purpose, the surrounding issues, and their significance.
They agreed that civic education should be built into the country’s educational system so that when children reach voting age they will already understand the basis of the national and local political and electoral systems. However, since this is not always the case, and since these systems may change over time, it is vital to have a continuing programme of civic education linked to electoral processes.
The participants came up with the following resolutions; firstly, development and dissemination of comprehensive programs of voter and civic education, starting well before each election and continuing throughout the election process, and ensure that the material used is accurate and politically neutral. Also Initiate special voter and civic education programmes for target groups, including children, youth, women, people with disabilities, minorities, displaced persons, and others who may be less likely to vote, as well as programmes on civic and voter education that will be Worthwhile, Action-oriented, Realistic and Measurable.
They also ensure that election officials and voters understand that family voting is wrong and could be considered a form of fraud:
• Review all materials to ensure they are gender-responsive;
• Develop gender-sensitization programmes for personnel responsible for civic and voter education.
Civil society actors should:
• Develop gender-responsive voter and civic education messages that highlight the capacities of women as candidates and political leaders, encourage women to run for office, break down negative stereotypes of women, and promote women’s full participation in the electoral process;
• Help ensure that all voters and election officials understand that family voting is not acceptable and could constitute a form of fraud;
• Ensure that all women have access to voter education;
• Design training programmes on women’s participation that are targeted at men;
• Monitor the Government’s voter and civic education programmes to ensure that they are accessible to persons with disability, women and are gender-sensitive.
Article by Esther Aiddu, Musa Shalangwa and Ayisha Aruleba.