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Nigerian Youths, Stand Up To Be Counted!

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There is always enough light for one who wishes to see.” 

-Hazrat Imam Ali (AS)
EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper By Wole Olaoye

The forthcoming presidential elections will be determined, to a large extent, by the votes of the youth. There has been so much talk about how each succeeding generation in the last 62 years has betrayed the Nigerian project and bequeathed a glorified shithole to succeeding generations. In many social media fora, youths routinely take their elders to the cleaners, telling them to shut up because the old school, having blighted the future of its children, has nothing worthwhile to offer.

Now, demographics have come to the rescue. The youths outnumber the rest of us by a margin so significant that whoever they decide to vote for will successfully emerge president. The latest figures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) bear out this fact.

According to INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu, there are 37,060,399 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34, accounting for 39.65% of registered voters.  This means that about four out of every ten voters in Nigeria will be accounted for by that group. 

There is no universally agreed definition of youth. While the UN describes youth as “those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years”, the Nigerian Youth Policy states that, “Youth in Nigeria includes citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria aged 18–29 years”, while the African youths charter recognises youths as people between the age of 15 and 35.

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I tend to agree more with Victor Hugo, the French Romantic writer and politician who said, “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty, the youth of old age”. That is why I classify quadragenarians among young people. And that is the reason INEC’s revelation that there are 33,413,591 registered voters aged between 35 and 49 years (constituting (35.75 per cent of registered voters), should be of interest to us all.

As I have stated on this platform before, the forthcoming elections will be like no other in our experience. Politicians may deny the bitter reality staring them in the face. Many of those in the fray have continued to do what they know how to do best — stage circus shows and whip up the frenzy among their converts. In many of those rallies that I have watched, there is nothing new about the traditional messaging they offer. “I will give you roads and employ your children” — anything to rouse the gaily attired crowd. Those rallies are the perfect setting for avoiding well-thought-out details of the HOWS.

One looks back with nostalgia at the Second Republic when the contending parties made ideological pitches at rallies. UPN was for free education among other campaign pillars; NPN was for qualitative education and green revolution.; PRP was for pro-people policies to take the highest number out of poverty; NPP campaigned on issues of social justice and industrialisation, etc.

With the exception of two, or possibly three, of the current political parties on the hustings, the greater majority are simply engaged in a visual show of force. The reasoning seems to be that if you overwhelm television viewers with large crowds of supporters with the razzmatazz of acrobats, masquerades, dancers and musicians, the spectacle is evidence enough of your popularity and electability.

The coming elections will be different simply because we have left those analogue ways of yesteryear. There is no other time in Nigeria’s electoral history when voters under the age of 50 have accounted for about 75.4 per cent of the voters’ register, with students alone numbering 26,027,481 (27.8 per cent) of all voters.    

But will they seize the moment and install a government they can be proud of? Do they have the balls to walk their talk?

In calling on Nigerian youths to seize the moment and live up to the forthcoming generational challenge, I am not romanticising youthfulness. As someone who paid his humble dues in the trenches of activism, I’m only saying that the ball is now in their court because older generations must step aside and allow the youths to navigate our forward march. 

I agree completely with the perspective of Kailash Satyarthi, the Indian child rights activist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai in 2014. In his view, “The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.” 

By registering to vote in the 2023 elections, our young people have signalled their intention to have a say in how their country is run. What remains to be seen is whether they can match their fiery bluster on social media with the commitment to showing up to cast their ballot for the kind of leader they have always ranted about.

Nigerian youths will do well to remember that those who have attained old age today were not born old (apologies to Chief COD). As a young man, Nelson Mandela fought grim odds facing his generation headlong. Remember his memorable words, “I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.”

By the time victory came, he was an old man but he saw the promised land of democracy in his lifetime. Without fighting the fight in his younger years, there would have been no day of victory.

In 2021, at a youth conference titled “Energising the Youth for Development: Inclusiveness, Governance, Security and Employment”, President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged the incredible potential, innovation and enterprise of Nigerian youths which has seen them making waves in entertainment, music, sports, technology and other sectors. He called on them to rise up and participate in reinventing their country.

“All that is good and great about us as a people is inherent in our youths”, said Buhari. “I know of no other set of people as obsessed with constant self-improvement as young Nigerians. At home and abroad, this drive to not just be better, but to be the best that they can be, inspires achievements that make us all very proud.”

With the introduction of technology in election management in the country, the forthcoming elections — all things being equal— have the potential of being the most credible ever. Going by the comments of Nigerians on social media, there is implicit trust in the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a free and fair electoral exercise without fear or favour. With the promise of a level playing field having been fulfilled in the midterm elections in Anambra and Osun states, one must, in fairness, acknowledge INEC’s successes and encourage the organisation to stay the course.

Therefore, there is no hiding place for the youths anymore. The excuse for not turning out to vote in the past always hovered around fears that the votes of the majority may not count because some godfathers had hijacked the system and results were merely being written by ghosts. Not anymore. The newly introduced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and authenticate voters in order to prove that they are eligible to vote at a particular polling unit.

Any youth that fails to cast his vote for whoever tickles his fancy, can only blame himself/herself going forward. When youths speak with one voice, no moneybag can stand in their way.

If the elections are free and fair as they promise to be, the youths will have to live with their choice. If they vote for a potato bag as president, they must be honest enough to sing, “Long live the potato bag!” With all the efforts made by the government, civil society groups, INEC, the formal media and others to sensitise the youths to their responsibilities, they can no longer complain about having to lie down on a disordered bed. As you make your bed, so shall you lie on it.

I urge Nigerian youths to stand up to be counted. 

Whenever a young person falls, in some sense all humanity falls. If I may borrow the exhortation of Pope Francis to young people at the 36th World Youth Day, “When a young person rises, it is as if the whole world rises as well… Today too, God is saying to each one of you: Arise! I fervently hope that this Message may help us prepare for new times and a new page in the history of humanity.  Yet we cannot begin anew without you, dear young people. If our world is to arise, it needs your strength, your enthusiasm, your passion”. 

  • Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at wole.olaoye@gmail.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021

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