Sick and tired of the growing level of insecurity and several economic challenges in the country, many young Nigerians are determined to collect their voter cards ahead of the presidential election next month.
These young voters, most of which were 10-15 years old when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, are keen to go to the polls for the first time.
“The older politicians keep power because the younger generation refused to rise up, take responsibility and hold leaders accountable. But things will be different in 2023,” Mary Uzodike, a 19-year-old student at Lagos State Polytechnic, said.
Using social media as a voice, Nigerian youths have identified foreign exchange scarcity, poor infrastructure facilities, legislators who are underworked and overpaid, insecurity, unemployment, a collapsed health system and leadership failure as major problems threatening the future of the average Nigerian youth.
“Social media has provided us with the democracy we have long wanted, and we are increasingly using those platforms alongside traditional offline advocacy strategies to effect the change we see,” Rinu Oduala, founder and project director of Connect Hub Nigeria, said in a Chatham House article.
“Young people in Nigeria will have the opportunity to vote out a government that we feel has robbed us of our future,” she added.
Although some of the youths agree that resources are thin, considering an out-sized population, many believe poverty and inequality in Nigeria are largely due to poor leadership and misappropriation of resources. There is extreme hunger in the country, with at least 133 million people suffering from multi-dimensional poverty, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
“I should be happy, but I’m not happy because the current standard of living is not inspiring,” said Blessing Nwosu, a student of the University of Lagos, who plans to vote for the first time.
Nwosu said she had hoped at least one of the two major political parties would have candidates she found inspiring. “I’m casting my vote so I can decide my future.”
At 20, she is in the under-35 age group who makes up 84 percent of the nearly 10 million new voters who have been registered for the forthcoming elections.
Picking up her card in Lagos State’s Eti Osa district, first-time voter Tunde Adeniyi said the culture in his community is accepting cash from political parties rather than choosing their preferred candidate. But he is determined to have his say this year.
“There is justifiable fear that more families will continue to fall into poverty, and remain trapped in it if we the youths don’t come out to vote or make a big statement,” Adeniyi said.
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In Africa’s biggest economy, voters will pick a new president to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, who cannot run after serving the two terms allowed by the constitution. Governors as well as members of the Senate and House of Representatives will also be elected.
Participation in Nigerian elections is typically low, but political analysts say the country’s economic woes, including double-digit inflation and rising insecurity, may push more people to vote, especially young people.
“I want to vote for the best leader because we need to get a good choice,” Uche Ukaegbu, a tech enthusiast, said. “The standard of living is poor; we don’t earn as much as when the economy is good. The minimum wage is not enough to cater for needs.”
Political watchers say the EndSARS protest championed by the youths in 2020 was a clear indication that if the country’s youths unite, they can change the narrative through the ballot.
For instance, data obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showed that registered voters who are classified as students are among the top groups that will sway the 2023 general elections.
According to INEC, students lead the new registered voters with 2.33 million, while people in business follow with 1.21 million.
Although there are 18 candidates vying to replace President Buhari, the election is seen by many as a three-house race.
The key candidates are Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.