Note: this article was originally published in February, 2023
Against the backdrop of immense frustration over Naira note scarcity, fuel scarcity, inflation and several other hardships plaguing the world’s most populous black nation, Nigeria is set to conduct its presidential election on Saturday, 25th February, 2023.
For several Nigerian youths, this is not a mere election, but rather the final string of hope to hold on to. For a number of them, the outcome of this election may just be the deciding factor in their “Japa” (emigration) deliberations.
The past few years have seen a major shift in Nigerian youths’ attitude towards politics in the country.
In the 2019 election, voter turnout amongst Nigerians under 35 years old was merely 46%, a surprisingly low figure considering the country’s primarily young population.
This year, youths make up over 50% of the 93.5 million registered voters, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The commission also reported that Nigerians aged 18 to 34 represented 76.56% of the 9.5 million newly registered voters between June, 2021 and July, 2022.
For the bulk of Nigerian youths, the cataclysm seemed to be the 2020 #EndSARS protests which saw tens of thousands of Nigerians storm the streets nationwide to protest police brutality perpetrated by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protests, which ended tragically with the Lekki Toll Gate Massacre on 10th October, 2020, were the first revolution of its kind in Nigeria in the past decade, and arguably in the century.
The heart-wrenching outcome of the protests seemed to stir an unquenchable thirst for better governance in many Nigerian youths.
“This election is different because I think it will significantly decide Nigeria’s future more than any other. A lot has happened in the last 8 years and people are starting to wake up, become more involved in politics, and speak up for their rights and against what is wrong”, shared 23-year-old Uyiosa.
However, unfortunately for some, the outcome of the protests shut down any optimism they had for the nation or made them extremely cynical.
23-year-old Kelechi Obiechefu seems to be on both sides of the divide. He shared, “I am [optimistic]. But I was also optimistic about EndSARS; [I] went out to join the cause, but we all know how that ended. I am optimistic, but some days there’s a little air of caution.”
Though Kelechi will not be eligible to vote as he is yet to obtain his Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), he stressed that this is the first time he is not apathetic to the Nigerian political scene.
“I did try to register online for my PVC, filled in the form sent in a photo and all that, but I was supposed to pick a date for biometric capturing and every day I picked, the site returned with a message of it not being available. Eventually, I just gave up, which I do regret,” Kelechi explained.
He went to share how much his peers’ dispositions to politics had also changed, “It’s really something, 7 out of 10 times I’m with my friends, the election comes up and everyone has something to chip in and someone’s reminding the next guy to get his PVC. I think it’s different because it’s really the only election which has given my generation hope or a chance to dream. But if we miss this chance, I’m afraid we significantly dim that hope.”
For 22-year-old Ayomikun Sonuga, apathy and pessimism are the more prominent feelings.
“I’m not optimistic about the elections, I don’t think PO (Peter Obi) is going to win. I’m a bit fearful that APC will and that’s just scary. I’m optimistic about Nigeria’s future in the long run, but not anytime soon,” shared Ayomikun.
Ayomikun was also unable to get her PVC due to what she described as a “rough and long” registration process.
22-year-old Inyang described her hectic experience in detail, “I couldn’t complete the online process for reasons that I can’t recall right now, however, I was assisted by an INEC official when I went to their office to complete the process. The most hectic part of the process was the wait. My friend and I had to go to the office by 5AM to write our names down in a book. Mind you, this was after trying multiple times previously until we realized the trick was to go early, write your name, go about your business and then come back by about 10-11am before you’d be attended to.”
Many opine that the arduousness of process is a deliberate disenfranchisement tactic, however, it may also simply be chalked down the typical inefficiency in Nigerian public systems.
A Beacon of Hope: The “Obidient” Movement
Peter Obi, running under Labour Party (LP), seems to be the choice candidate for most Gen Z and younger millennial voters, who call themselves the “Obidients”.
“I’m rooting for the Labour Party candidate, Mr Peter Obi. Why? For me, it’s a no brainer. It’s really a choice between good, terrible and really terrible,” Kelechi said, referring to the two other foremost runners Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar.
Peter Obi’s seemingly high moral standing, empathetic campaign—both on and off social media—and track record as former governor of southeastern Anambra State, have endeared him to young voters.
As an indigene of Anambra state, Kelechi vouched for Obi’s impact in the state during his tenure between 2007-2014.
“He’s the only candidate out there who offers us something that’s not the usual political work; with the photo ops and branded amenities, but honest work and throw in the fact that he’s a massive inspiration to the youth? That’s really all we need to get this country going again,” Kelechi added.
Obi’s opponents Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar are running under All Progressives Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), respectively.
PDP uninterruptedly ruled the country between 1999-2015, while APC’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari took the reins in 2015 and won the election again in 2019.
Though the state of the nation significantly and rapidly got worse under APC’s rule, it only built on the shaky foundation PDP set, especially, towards the end of its 16-year tenure.
Between 1999-2007, Atiku Abubakar served as vice president under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, whom many have crowned the best democratic president Nigeria has ever had—although this is up for much debate.
Abubakar has consecutively run for president since the 2007 elections, a desperation that is reminiscent of President Muhammadu Buhari who ran in 2003, 2007 and 2011 before finally winning in 2015.
On the other hand, Bola Ahmed Tinubu has a questionable history and is regarded as one of the most prominent political godfathers in the country, still wielding significant influence since his tenure as the governor of Lagos State ended in 2007.
Moreso, APC and PDP are often called birds of a feather as a number of APC members are former PDP members, and vice versa. The two parties are not marked by any significant ideological differences.
Nigerians are tired and desperately in search of something new.
“Peter Obi seems like the lesser of 3 evils, and the best possible option to be honest. We’ve experienced both APC and PDP and it’s been terrible,” said Ayomikun.
Additionally, Peter Obi’s experience as a successful businessman shows promise in his ability to turn around the country’s dire economic situation.
“I genuinely believe that we need a president with a different background. I believe his background in business would at least give us a shot at running the economy as a business and hopefully boost the country’s production,” shared Inyang.
However, Inyang also stressed the importance of Nigerians not vesting all their hope in Peter Obi as the “Messiah” who will singlehandedly save the nation.
“There are so many factors that lead to the success of a political tenure in office. I hope we also put as much energy into voting credible people in all other offices to help boost the vision of a new Nigeria,” Inyang urged.
Even outside of the country, Nigerian youths have been galvanised to offer as much support as they can to the Obidient movement.
24-year old Sholaye, who is based in Canada, is one of such youths who have actively and enthusiastically campaigned online for Peter Obi.
Sholaye continues to urge those who are in Nigeria to “come out in great numbers to vote” and also wishes the Nigerian government had found a way for those in the diaspora to get their voter’s cards from the high commissions in their countries.
Nonetheless, Sholaye’s hope in Nigeria’s future remains unshaken, “There will always be hope no matter what. As long as we are alive and there is a God, there is hope!!”
Sources: BBC, Reuters, Vanguard