In a cerebral presentation at the Chatham House in London Tuesday afternoon, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu told his audience that this year’s general election in Nigeria belongs to the youth. This is in line with the fact that out of the 93.4 million registered voters in Nigeria at the moment, 37 million prospective voters constituting 39 percent, are young people between the ages of 18 and 34. He added that this demography is closely followed by 33.4 million or 35.3 percent middle-aged voters between the ages of 35 and 49.
Yakubu then said, “Put together, these two categories constitute 75.39 percent of registered voters in Nigeria. So, actually, the 2023 election is the election of the young people because they have the numbers. Even the majority of the PVCs collected are collected by young people. So, out of the 93.4 million, 70.4 million registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 49”. This newspaper makes haste to ram this message in because this swing segment of the population doesn’t seem to know they hold all the aces. What with them acting as lap and attack dogs when they should be the top dog? It doesn’t have to be the anti-climax of a tethered animal that fails to embrace freedom even after the rope locking it down has been loosened from the anchor point.
The youths of Nigeria have been getting the short end of the stick in the scheme of things in the country. Perks like sound education, school feeding, scholarships, bursary, sundry opportunities, and functional public amenities which those currently calling the shots took for granted as youth have now become a tall order. The youth who toil and even endanger their lives to avail themselves of what the current system denies them have been maliciously categorized as lazy and an entitled bunch. No, it is not just the President who let out this notion on one of his foreign trips. The wife of a leading presidential candidate had in 2019 said as much when claiming that youths in Lagos come to her home to demand that “they want to enjoy Asiwaju’s money. Most of these youths don’t want to work… the moment you give them work to do, they fall sick.”
The youth of Nigerians have really suffered at the hands of politicians, little wonder the popularity of the phrase: “our Mumu don do” in street lingo. These are ingenious persons who have proven to fare exceedingly beyond their peers in the right environment. The raging Japa phenomenon can’t be detached from the can-do spirit of these young Nigerians enterprising enough to leave the known for the unknown just to succeed in life. They do this without allowing language, cultural barriers, and strange climatic conditions to deter them. Their vaunting ambitions and disillusionment with their country even make these youth take the illegal route of the harrowing Mediterranean and Sahara or stowaway in life-threatening parts of an aircraft. How then can persons who would brave all these be described as lazy?
Coping with the high unemployment rate in the stayed back in Nigeria is a tall order. What standard of living is here for them in the face of galloping inflation? The African Development Bank places youth unemployment in Nigeria at 42.5 percent compared to 33.3 percent for the entire population. Trading Economics forecasts the youth jobless rate to reach 57 per cent this year. Yet, right before hitting the labour market, they would have been thoroughly short-changed by intermittent industrial disruptions in public tertiary installations. These incessant strikes cause students to spend an average of two extra years as undergraduates. Also in the face of the current scarcity of petroleum products across the country, who are those spending hours at fuel stations, spending the night and shouting themselves hoarse just to buy fuel at exorbitant rates? It’s Nigerians who fall within the age bracket that the INEC Chair rightly pointed out owns the next election.
On this basis, the leaders of tomorrow badge which leaders who have since passed their prime easily call Nigerian youth has since run its course. The youths must realize that they have not just become leaders but are in actual fact, the kingmakers as far as the February 25 and March 11 elections go. They must therefore make the most of their moment in the sun. Politics have always been defined by interest and the youths must band together to vote for leaders who will further their enlightened interest. The truth is that young Nigerians have more stake in this country. It’s therefore fitting that it is now in their power to enthrone who gets to chart the course. If bungled, they have no other person than themselves to blame.
Young Nigerians to whom the 2023 polls belong should consider how two frontline presidential candidates have highlighted a reward-for-votes system in a manner that arguably runs afoul of provisions of the Public Procurement Act of 2007 and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2008. While rallying his party faithful in the South-East, APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu said, “We want you to sweat well now for this party until you deliver victory. We want you to sweat well now for this party until you deliver victory… Until Bola Tinubu becomes the president of Nigeria, we will not give you but a soaked sliced bread”.
Speaking in the same vein, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar told his party faithful, “it is not a qualification that you will get a contract, whether at the local government level, state or the federal level. The only way, as far as I am concerned, if I am president, if you come and say you want a job or you want a contract, I will ask you let me have the result of your polling booth and that is what I am going to direct to everybody because unless we do that we will not win the elections”. This goes to show how prized the electorates are in this election. Since these politicians can unabashedly predicate patronage on the delivery of votes, young Nigerians who have the numbers must use them wisely to elect the leader who has their best interests at heart. Good governance, accountability, and meritocracy will always trump the patronage system or parochialism which these politicians are promoting here.
It is on this basis that Naija News agrees with former President Olusegun Obasanjo when in a letter to young Nigerians, he said, “Let nobody pull wool over your eyes to divide you and/or segregate you to make you underlings. If you failed, you have no one else to blame and your present and future are in your hands to make or to mar. Get up, get together, get going and get us to where we should be. Youths of Nigeria, your time has come, and it is now, and please grasp it. If not now, it will be never. I appeal to you to turn the tide on its head and march forward chanting ‘Awa Lokan’ (It’s our turn).
“Not with a sense of entitlement, but with a demonstrable ideological commitment to unity and transformation of Nigeria. If we fall prey again, we will have ourselves to blame and no one can say how many more knocks Nigeria can take before it tips over. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.” As apt as the elder statesman’s submission is, Naija News enjoins the owners of the 2023 general election to make the most of the polls without trading this golden opportunity to reclaim their country for a mess of pottage.