Felicity Walu is hopeful that Nigeria’s upcoming elections will be free from violence, with robust participation from all eligible voters in the 2019 election, particularly Nigeria’s youth. “Our voices should be heard. Our voices matter,” Walu says. “We teach them how to vote safely, and we teach them that violence is not the right way. [We] are already doing a lot of work concerning this election, talking to people, notifying youths, notifying women, you know, because the women, the mothers have influence,” says the volunteer with Women Without Walls.
Walu founded and manages #MyOpinionMatters, a network of young, committed professionals who address burning issues and provide community assistance. She encourages youths to educate one another on the procedures of voting and voting responsibly. Walu says, “How do you protect your votes? It mustn’t be violently. Follow up. Make networks, call others, find out what is happening around. And any sign of danger, run away from that, but report [it] to the nearest police station.”
You can hear Walu discuss the importance of voting in Nigeria by listening to the YALI Voices podcast or reading the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: FELICITY WALU
FELICITY WALU: My name is Felicity Walu. I am from Nigeria.
My voice must be heard. And I believe that should be the message: All of us, our voices should be heard. Our voices matter.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.
Felicity Walu is well aware that things could be very different for her. Years ago she and her mother survived a suicide bomb attack in her native Plateau State, and that act of terror has inspired her work in security and community engagement ever since. A lawyer by training, she works in counterterrorism to help curb the violence in Plateau State.
In this edition of the YALI Voices podcast, recorded prior to the Nigerian elections in 2019, Felicity talks about why all Nigerians, especially the youth, have a role to play in ensuring that the country’s elections are free, fair and safe.
We start our conversation with the effects of that fateful day and the lasting impact of violence on its victims. Then we discuss the challenges she sees for Nigerians as they head to the polls and what she is doing to help others exercise their right vote.
FELICITY: Well, for me, you know, most people think that the wounds, the scars we see are actually the deepest. No. The deepest are the hidden wounds, which is the sleepless nights after that day, the fact that you’re afraid to be in a crowd, the fact that the things that you normally do, you’re afraid to do them because you’re afraid that you might not be that lucky.
And so for me, I just felt that security was paramount in Nigeria, and the government needed to do more. Because we can’t have a generation growing up being afraid to express themselves. I mean, socialization says you should go out. What happens when we are afraid to go out and everybody’s locked up in his house?
It affects everything. It affects how the child grows, it affects how he thinks. And that, for me, really has done a lot of things in my life, because right now I’m looking at how can we come against this, because it’s a virus that our society definitely cannot grow with.
FELICITY: For me the election is actually a big deal, because right now attacks have been going on in parts of the country. Herders, farmers clash and, you know, Nigerian law says wherever you are a registered voter is where you vote.
So imagine where — a situation where, because I’ve been attacked, I’ve moved out of where I actually live. My house has been burnt. It means one vote is gone. Imagine 200 people, 200 votes.
So, really, on the side I believe we need to create a safe environment, because, yes, as much as we want a good country, no one wants to give up his life because of that, and, for me on the side, because I run a network called My Opinion Matters on Facebook. It’s a Facebook campaign.
I’m planning to run the vote with a smile, not a knife. For me that is like an umbrella where we would gather up, and the strategy I intend to use is find a way to bring people out of their houses to come and meet us in the hall, where they say no, we are going to the field.
We want to go to the field where the problem is. Let’s sit with these people, let’s sit with these youths, because usually there are two people who really are the main people who are affected when these things happen: the women and the youths.
The mother loses her son, who goes to fight for the politicians. The youth loses his life because he’s trying to, so these two groups, we are going to, like, share it into two — meet up with the youths, go to their environment, talk to them, give them flyers, notify them, let them know that, I mean, it’s not a do-or-die.
Let’s just put it out there. And I believe with this we can now give them some strategies that they can use in times of any suspicious movement, you know, report, because it will be like a two-way thing.
We teach them how to vote safely, and we teach them that violence is not the right way. So that’s what I’m working on, and I’m sure, um, I usually volunteer with Women Without Walls initiative.
They are already doing a lot of work concerning this election, talking to people, notifying youths, notifying women, you know, because the women, the mothers have influence. No matter how great a man is, he has a woman who has influenced him, either his mother, his wife or his daughter.
So one way or the other, we are able to get these people together, speak to them, let them know, let it continue ringing in their hearts. As I say, just keep preaching it. Keep preaching it. With time it sinks in, because 2019 is around the corner.
VOICEOVER: Felicity notes that elections violence is most often perpetrated by young men. She shares what people should do if they see signs of trouble and why violence is self-defeating and costly for those involved.
FELICITY: For the people coming out to vote, anything abnormal, I think, should be reported. Anything you’re not sure of. Report it. It’s better it’s a false alarm than it was really worse.
What I will say is someone who would call you and give you a knife and promise you a position after that, why is his son not fighting? His son is somewhere else. Is his son not stronger than you? Is his son not eating better than you? So those are the things that one should actually ask himself.
What is it that is so great, if you feel it’s so good for you to fight for, why are you fighting alone? Why isn’t your family fighting? Why am I the one having to come out and fight? And then, secondly, let’s not sell our future for the immediate gains. You know?
That’s for me the strongest message, because people are, “Oh, I’m hungry,” and then he hands you over something and you take it. That’s mortgaging your future, and at the end of the day, you cannot speak up. Once you collect something from someone, it’s difficult for you to speak out if and when he’s doing wrong.
So for me, I would rather not be a slave because of a little money today and be able to speak up.
And if we do not collect anything, we are no longer slaves to these people. These people’s children are, I mean, sleeping well, living well, driving good cars, and then they lure you and give you something, and at the end you’re killed. They might not even attend the burial. That’s more painful. They might not attend. And life goes on. Nigeria still remains Nigeria after you are dead, so what the hell?
VOICEOVER: We asked Felicity what she would say to the YALI Network about participating in elections — before, on election day, and in the days after.
FELICITY: The plan is to teach people, because most youths just vote. We don’t follow up. There are a lot of: “You are supposed to vote. Wait for it to be counted. You can follow your votes to the coalition center. Protect your votes.” Well, most of us just vote and go home. So we want a situation where we sit down with them and we tell them these are the procedures.
Make sure you follow it, protect your votes, you know. And how do you protect your votes? It mustn’t be violently. Follow up. Count, write every, every, you know, everything that has been collected, write it down. And these things are done in the open. So nobody say no, you’ve … No, it’s in the open, follow it up, make networks, call others, find out what is happening around, you know.
And any sign of danger, run away from that but report to the nearest police station. So that’s the plan. And then even after the election, we still keep following up, because, really, we don’t want to keep losing youths over election violence, because, like, it’s always something that’s … It’s not a nice sight.
And then you feel used. At the end you’re amputated. So many things. And then the emotional trauma of being used. No matter how strong you are, once you are used, it’s a painful thing, and some people become bitter, unforgiving. And, you know, that’s where you hear people are trying to assassinate this person and assassinate that. And, I mean, we want to stand against that.
FELICITY: I’m really grateful to YALI for this opportunity, because I understand YALI’s a platform, and it is like a springboard, it pushes you. Now, how you go to the top is left to you. And I’ve understood from the sessions, from what I’ve seen, the best practices I feel I can go and domesticate in my own place.
And that, for me, has been the greatest, you know, gift I’ve received, and I’m sure I will use it.
VOICEOVER: Thank you, Felicity.
To learn more about Felicity’s work, you can find her on Facebook. Check out the hashtag #MyOpinionMatters to learn more about the organization she founded and manages, a network of young, committed professionals who address burning issues and provide community assistance.
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