As we commemorate this year’s International Day of the Youth, I want to use this opportunity to express my joy and satisfaction working with such an amazing and vibrant community of young people across the states, from different cultures, languages, tribes, religions and beliefs who are bound together in love and with a common vision to make our society a better and safer place for all. On this special day, I reflect on our small beginning, when we were just a couple of young people from different campuses and communities conducting programs to promote human rights which we funded with our own money since we could not get any grants. Today, we are a force to reckon with in promoting human rights and empowering young people to lead social change in the society. We are grateful to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), The Girl Generation, Federal Ministry for Women Affairs and Social Development and Options Consultancy UK for their support.
However, today, we are being reminded once more of the challenges facing us as young people and our society and the need to respond to these challenges as a matter of urgency. One of these challenges is the need to promote peace and human right ahead of the upcoming general elections in Nigeria. As the leader of this network, I have taken this as a personal responsibility and I am charging every member of this network to do just the same. Some of you may ask why we should be concerned. The answer is not far-fetched!
Ever since the return of democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999, elections have been usually characterized by violence that leave scores of people dead or badly injure and destruction of properties, rigging and all other forms of malpractices as politicians continue to influence their supporters to participate in intimidation and lethal violence against voters, opposition supporters, and the election management body, INEC, in order to secure themselves or their cronies a place in office. This ugly trend is not only peculiar to Nigeria but to all African countries, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mali, Gambia, etc. These unsavory activities during elections in no small measure contribute to the mess we are facing today as Africans. And I have to state categorically that young people are often the tools politicians use to wreck violence during elections, and eventually abandon them when they win elections. Therefore if all young people could embrace peace, we would have fewer or no violence during elections.
Peace building is a very important aspect of our work because it is rooted in human right and dignity. Barack Obama said that when human rights are not respected peace is a hollow promise. That means we all, young and old alike, have a moral responsibility to work for and promote peace. Now the question is, what is the game plan?
We have the capacity to reach 50 million people through our networks scattered across all the states in different universities and communities in Nigeria. That population is big enough to champion social change in our society. Our diversity plays an important role here to actively engage these people, and we have to put it to good use. We have to build alliance with communities, arts, youth-led organizations, the media, faith-based groups, and academic institutions, and businesses, governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote peace and social inclusion in Nigeria by engaging young people in all these areas to embrace peace and non-violence especially during elections. Building this alliance is pretty easier when we leverage our existing networks in different states. All we have to do is to delegate responsibilities and mandate each state working group to advance this project and extend invitation to relevant organizations in their own state. If we take this seriously, we could engage over 500 organizations before the end of October so we could have some time enough to communicate our goal, mission, vision and strategy to all of them before the year runs out. The communication will be direct and uninterrupted. I will recruit team leaders and coordinators in each state who have a proven record of accomplishment and competence that will ensure free flow of information and availability of resources to all state working groups. With this coalition, we will share ideas, tackle issues too large for any one organization to address alone which hinders peacebuilding in Nigeria and effect stronger joint action and complex social change. We will take advantage of this wide community to strengthen the voice of peacebuilding, giving young people a chance to lead the way towards a peaceful election, free of violence. In the long term, this initiative will support locally-led peacebuiding initiatives and cultivate innovation in promoting peace and security in our society by accelerating and integrating new concepts and approaches led by young people in this technological age. It will further promote creative and collaborative programming that strengthens peacebuilding practice in our society and push the boundaries of traditional peacebuilding, while forging new connections across sectors in related fields that will harness collective action for peace.
We have to instill peace in the heart of people, especially young people. And this will not just happen on its own, we have to make it happen.
Therefore, it is my humble wish that we all cooperate to achieve this important task which is critical to our future. And I am very hopeful that through this initiative, we are going to set a pace for the rest of African countries to follow.
By Chizurum Anabaraonye,
President and CEO of ISYI