Nigerian youths, 2023 elections and the future of a country by Lateef Adewole
The Insight by Lateef Adewole
In the past few weeks, there is this discussion on a platform I belong to, as to why “youths” should take over the leadership of Nigeria. Why they need to take back their country. This reawakening could have been prompted by the one-year anniversary of the revolutionary #EndSARS protests that rocked the country last year. The unfortunate shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki on October 20th, 2020, will always remind the youths of the country they were born in, and all of us too. But, many of us who were alive during the years of military rule would not be surprised, except that last year’s incident happened under a civilian administration.
Firstly, there seems to be confusion as to who is a youth. According to the United Nations, a youth is between age 15 and 24. In Nigeria, a youth is considered anyone less than 35 years. However, that demography alone might not be able to run the country, if at all it is possible to get into power. So, in my own analysis, I often consider those who are above 35 but still young as youths. Any age less than 55. After all, the generation that has almost become “wasted” is that 35 to 55 years. So, I will consider them together.
I completely agree that all Nigerians, especially the youths, need to be actively involved in politics. Politics determines everything. It affects how every other facet of our lives will function. Education, healthcare, security, economy, social welfare and all. Wrong policies can destroy all these in a jiffy. People in leadership of the country make these policies and they get to these positions through politics. We can see the nexus between political participation and resultant effects of good or bad governance.
But, given the Nigerian state, how feasible is this? What are the chances of the youths to take back their country? Well, in Nigeria, as presently constituted and structured, it is slim, for many reasons, but not impossible. I have witnessed this at close range. I have some friends, who became very active in politics about 10 years ago. One contested for a state assembly position six years ago but lost at the primary. These are young, brilliant, well educated, vibrant and visionary people. Sadly, the system edged them out. It is a long story. They did not give up but continued. Up till date, they still have not be given any chance to contribute or serve the people directly in elective or appointive capacity.
While they kept faith, many people with all kinds of shady characters have been given one appointment or another. Many of them have been “selected” (elected) to different positions like the local government chairmanship. My friends, who are eminently qualified and loyal to their party hierarchy, were never considered up till this moment. That’s a typical example of this nebulous advice to the youths to get involved in politics. The truth of the matter is that, the system has been rigged against genuine people who sincerely want to serve the people and their fatherland.
Also, another question is: are the youths ready? There may be no definite answer to this. However, judging by the optics, it will be difficult not to be negative in one’s answer, when things that seize the attention of many youths are considered. Many Nigerian youths are distracted. And while they do so, their lives and future is fleeting away. There are more than enough activities and engagements to take their minds off important national issues that affect their lives. Whether these are deliberately planted for that purpose by the ruling elites or not, I can’t say, but it’s suspicious. Many youths are involved in all kinds of unwholesome behaviours. Internet fraud, drug abuse, prostitution, thuggery, all kinds of criminality and the likes. Are these the people who will lead the country?
In the past four months, majority of youths and young people were fixated on the just concluded Big Brother Naija “Shine ya eyes” Season 6. For about 90 days, some youths were lumped in a confinement to engage in all manners of inanities, in competition for N30 million cash, a SUV, a house and fun trips, totalling N90 million. All through this period, nothing else mattered to many of our youths. Even kids were not left out despite the show being rated 18 plus. What real value does the show add to the lives of both the participants and the viewers?
There have been condemnations of the youths for their activeness in voting for their favourite housemates while same people refuse to vote during elections in their country, at federal, state and local government levels. The massive votes that the show records yearly, especially in its last four years, have been unprecedented. Votes were over 170 million (2018), 240 million (2019), 900 million (2020), over 1 billion (2021). Ironically, to vote costs money, yet, the youths voted en masse. The total votes in 2015 presidential election was just above 28 million. 2019 was also less than 30 million. That’s the highest ever in the history of Nigeria’s democracy, in a country of over 200 million and over 70% voting population. This shows our priority as a people. But, can the people (youths) be blamed?
It will be unfair to blankly blame them. One, it is understandable that voting in those shows could be done multiple times unlike in elections, reason for the large figures. However, the ease with which the voting could be done make the whole difference. All voting for the shows were done electronically through mobile phones, sms, email and apps, from anywhere, including diaspora, in the comfort of individual’s home or anywhere. This is an incentive for voting.
Let us juxtapose this with the conduct of our national elections, which come across like war. Nobody died voting in BBNaija but many lives are always lost during our elections to the violence that often characterise them due to the desperation of the politicians. Ballot boxes were not snatched during BBNaija unlike INEC elections. In BBNaija, the people have some level of trust in the electoral process and the umpire, and the umpire also exhibited some level of transparency. Do Nigerians trust their electoral umpire as such?
Was it not a tug of war to get the senate to reverse its earlier unpopular position on the electronic transmission of election results in the recent amendments to the electoral acts? The senate finally did a volte-face on Tuesday, when they conceded that INEC can deploy any means they deem suitable for them in carrying out their duties of conducting free, fair and credible elections for Nigerians. Isn’t that a shame that they needed to be “forced” on something as basic as that, just because of their selfish interests?
It took citizens’ pressure and uncompromising insistence by INEC leadership about their capacity and readiness to transmit results electronically, and that they will go ahead to do so, whether senate agrees with them or not. Until we start taking our stands like that, Nigeria will never change. I wrote an article about it at the time. Many critics disagreed with me and gave many reasons why it is impossible and why the senate was right to have voted against it. I wondered what the same people will be saying now that senate has made a U-turn. Many of them will read this article. I hope they will make their opinions public again.
I talked about taking stand by the citizens to demand for what they feel is their right. How feasible is that? Like I said earlier, the system has been rigged against the people. Is it hungry people who will challenge the leaders? The ruling class has weaponised poverty. Citizens would do anything just to survive and put food on their tables in Nigeria today, where getting one meal a day has become a problem. How can such persons resist the temptation of vote selling?
I watched a video of people already collecting money being shared to people by politicians who are aspiring for 2023 presidency and other posts, through their foot-soldiers. If not for the heightened insecurity in Anambra state, political bazaars would have been massively going on there now by the governorship candidates, but many of them are in hiding out of fear of unknown gunmen. Reason for relocating campaigns to Lagos by a candidate. How ludicrous. I hope Anambra governorship election will not also be conducted in Lagos (lol).
Again, can the youths even unite across the country, irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation? That’s nearly impossible. A glimpse of that was seen during EndSARS protest last year, when it was the majority youths in the south who protested against police brutality and bad governance, while some youths in the north protested against their counterparts in the south, in defence of government, even when realistically, it is the north that is suffering more from the consequences of bad government and leadership in the country.
What do we expect, when northern leaders like Dr. Hakeem Baba-Hamed takes pride in the poor peoples’ poverty, insecurities, illiteracy and the likes, that have afflicted the north, especially the youths, while only bothered about retaining presidency in the north. In whose benefits exactly? Is it the masses in the north or the elites like himself? He even rubbed it on their faces as he addressed them in Kaduna and what did the youths who were present do? They cheered him on. That’s the problem. How then can all youths across the country unite to rescue their country by taking power from the present crop of selfish leaders? They are still the “tools” that will be used against their fellow youths.
So, it is not enough to simply mouth that youths should join politics. There are many fundamental things that are wrong with the system which put the youths at disadvantage. Unfortunately, the people who could and should correct such anomalies are the same people benefiting from them. Like that e-transmission of election results’ case and the senate’s initial position on it.
With the humongous amount of money required to contest elections in Nigeria, where will youths get such? Only people who stole public funds or private, would cough such amount out without shaking. Anyone who laboured for their money would think twice. I know how much my friends lost to their contest in 2014/5, just at party primary level. They did not get to the general election. They are still struggling to recover till date. Only youths who are ready to do the biddings of the same money bags stand any chance. Where then is the difference?
Yes, youth can form their own party. We have Young Progressive Party (YPP) and the likes, towards 2019 general elections. What were their performances at the elections? How many positions did they get? Only Senator Ifeayin Ubah won on YPP platform in Anambra state. We know he didn’t win on just the strength of the youths but strength of his money. He is in the governorship race there now. Let’s see if he can replicate that feat. But I don’t know how. This one that he is campaigning in Lagos.
My optimistic side tells me it is not impossible, but it will take miracle for the youths to wrestle power from the oldies. That miracle will see them understand that the same fate befalls all of them, whether Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani, Igbos, Efik, northerner or southerner, Muslim or Christian, and see them bury all their differences. They have the numbers. The powers-that-be still depend on them. All the big parties, particularly the APC and PDP rely on them for campaigns, mobilisations and electoral successes during elections. Why then, can’t they galvanise that strength to disrupt the system positively, whether from the inside or from the outside of the big parties?
Rather, they serve as thugs for the politicians who give them crumbs to risk their lives while they keep their own children away in safe haven within the country or abroad. When will the youths get sense? I hope and pray it will be soon. The common saying since I was born is that the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. When will that tomorrow come? The future of any nation depends on her youths. What future is Nigeria expecting with the way she’s treating her own youths and the kind of youths she is producing today?
The youths need to wake up and smell the coffee. If they ever want to lead this country, they have to “take it”. No one will hand over power to them on the platter. Power is not served “a la carte”! Those among them who are politically conscious must begin to sensitise, mobilise, educate and enlighten others as to the importance of getting involved in politics. And warn them about the danger of letting themselves be used for disruptive activities during elections by the people who want to maintain status quo. They need to present candidates, mobilise supports; financial and otherwise, for them, campaign and vote for their choice of candidates. All these must be deliberate. It is a process.
A word is enough for the wise.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or via WhatsApp +2348179512401 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter, Lateef Adewole on Facebook