Few months to the 2023 general election in Nigeria, it is argued that next year’s elections could go down as the most exciting since the country’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
Observers say the general election would be significant, because the election would be held amid serious socio-economic challenges bedeviling the country.
With heightened spate of insecurity, widespread corruption and a general sense of dissatisfaction among Nigerians, one can say that the 2023 election represents, perhaps the most pivotal election year in Nigeria.
Thus, the obvious reality in today’s Nigeria has reinforced the growing yearning of Nigeria’s youths to play a more active role in the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria ahead of 2023.
Though they failed to take advantage of their numerical strength of over half of the 84,004,084 Nigerians registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the 2019 elections, the Nigerian youths seem ready to correct that mistake in the 2023 general election.
Perhaps, the #EndSARS nationwide protests by Nigeria’s youths in 2020 brought a new awakening to their minds about their capability to play a pivotal role in governance of the country.
Political watchers say that the #EndSARS movement was a clear indication that if Nigeria’s youths unite, they can change the narrative through the ballot.
However, such can be seen in the euphoria to get the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) embarked upon by the INEC, which updates have shown that the registrants between 18-34 years are high.
According to INEC, out of this number, 4,550,847 are youths between the ages of 18-34 while 1.36 million are those between the ages of 35 to 49.
It also noted that 556,572 of the fully registered voters are between the ages of 50-69, while only 76,186 are 70 and above.
INEC further revealed that students lead the freshly registered population with 2.33 million while people in business follow with 1.21 million.
Farmers and the fishing population came third with 811,630, followed by 726,255 housewives.
This implies that, perhaps the youths would have a strong say in the outcome of the 2023 general election.
A sign of the youths voting strength was seen in the just concluded gubernatorial election in Osun State, where David Adeleke, a Nigerian musician, who is popularly known as Davido, used mass mobilisation of the youths to swing victory for Ademola Adeleke, the People’s Democratic Party’s candidate.
Although Nigeria has grappled with general low turnout in elections in recent decades, this was noticed in 2019, where only 28 percent of young people who registered voted at the presidential elections and 29 percent of them at the governorship election.
But stakeholders are optimistic that the situation would improve ahead of the 2023 general elections.
“Are the young people ready? I think it is about the young people deciding that they can change the narrative with their numbers.
“Is not to play football on election day, the way they are going out to register, I hope it would also be the same on voting day?
“I think there is a new spirit among young Nigeria, if you see the crowd rushing to get their PVCs that the country needs a new direction in 2023, Wale Ogun, public affairs analyst said.
Speaking recently, Samson Itodo, executive director, Yiaga Africa, said the 2023 elections is about the young people because demographically they actually have the population.
He expressed disappointment on the number of youths who came out to vote in the last elections in 2019, adding that the nation is in a stage where young people are not showing interest in the electoral process of the country, not to talk of voting during elections.
“So it is going to be an election about the young people and they have to make their numbers count and the only way they are going to make their numbers count is if they collect their PVC and they vote for leaders of their choice,’’ Itodo said.
Godfrey Otiono, an Ndokwa, Delta State-born politician, noted that the youths can enforce true change in the country if they work on the same purpose, insist on good leadership and shun juicy offers from vote-buyers and moneybags.
“In my senatorial zone, two popular politicians lost shamefully at the party primaries because the youths staged a weeklong protest before the election insisting that if the candidates sail through at the primaries, they will vote against them at the main election. The parties failed them and gave the tickets to more reasonable candidates.
With the reawakening of the youths today, this kind of good change can happen nationwide”, Otiono observed.
But Kola Ogunyemi, a lawyer and part-time lecturer, fears that the awakening might be short-lived considering the high level of economic hardship across the country.
“Nigeria is currently experiencing the highest level of insecurity, inflation and unemployment in the history of the country and the people impacted more by the challenges are the youths. So, we need to be cautious with the optimism of the youths to deliver for the 2023 election because hunger is the weapon of the political class and it has been used very well since 1999,” Ogunyemi said.
Otiono countered the view, saying that every Nigerian should join hands with the youths to salvage the country in the 2023 elections instead of discouraging them.
“Should we give up because of poverty? Let us get angry, sufficiently to oust the looters, haters of development and welfare of the masses. They have stolen enough and are not bothered if the price of petrol is N1000 per litre. The ball is in the court of the youths and we should encourage them to kick it for goal,” Otiono admonished.