How Nigeria is getting out the youth vote

With elections looming, the country’s young are mobilizing to change the face of the nation, says Rinu Oduala.

The World Today
2 minute READ

Rinu Oduala

Founder and Project Director, Connect Hub Nigeria

In less than a year, young people in Nigeria will have the opportunity to vote out a government that we feel has robbed us of our future. 

Young Nigerians under 24, like myself, make up about 60 per cent of the population. The unemployment rate hovers around 33 per cent – with youth unemployment at 42.5 per cent. If Nigeria’s unemployed young people were their own country, they would be Sri Lanka or Syria.

Roughly half of the Nigerian population live in ‘severe poverty’, more people than in any other nation. When President Muhammadu Buhari took office seven years ago, one US dollar was worth 198 naira. On the unauthorized market right now, a dollar costs 620 naira, and inflation is expected to stay high at 18.6 per cent this year.

It’s noteworthy that our pre-independence and independence leaders are depicted in Nigeria’s history as being relatively youthful. Yet, despite the so-called ‘youth bulge’ and recent legislation lowering the age of political candidates, youth representation in politics is barely 2 per cent. The youngest of the three candidates for next February’s presidential elections is Peter Obi at 61. The other two are Atiku Abubakar, who will be 76 when the election is held, and Bola Tinubu, 70.

The election of Abubakar or Tinubu will suggest Nigeria’s problems are insurmountable.

The #EndSARS movement was a turning point

However, the power of collective action during the #EndSARS movement against police brutality has made the Soro Soke (meaning ‘speak up’) generation visible. Today, the Nigerian youth bloc continues to rise. Our democracy needs us.

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 seek.

I have been leveraging my social media networks to promote political accountability by providing online spaces and debates for young people to engage with politicians. This has included presidential aspirants, like the 13th President of the Senate of Nigeria and former governors, with audience participation numbers as high as 120,000 listeners.

This type of low-cost, citizen-oriented action makes up for our political marginalization by giving us new dimensions of civic participation while creating opportunities for mass mobilization. Social media and technology have allowed us to support candidates who had been relatively unknown through fundraising, crowdsourcing and information sharing.
Online spaces have become democratized, and participatory politics through social media has helped to create a political climate in which the agenda-setting voices of young people are at the forefront.

Educating people is a priority because informed voters are aware of the issues at hand – and the position each candidate takes on them. Our focus is on promoting the election of candidates who are dependable and qualified, and dedicated to serving the public interest and creating a Nigeria that its citizens and young people envision.

Holding politicians to account

It is a national disservice not to question the narratives that candidates push on to voters as it is easy to get lost in soundbites. We can no longer afford to be passive accomplices or victims of bad governance.

During elections in Nigeria, ethical political behaviour and plans for efficient governance frequently take a back seat, so young activists need to ensure that we are scrutinizing the candidates on these issues.
Another major focus for us is mobilizing the youth vote by encouraging voter registration. While we use social media as our main channel for communication, we understand the importance of offline mobilization. Many organizations are recruiting volunteers to assist with supporting others across the country through the registration process for a Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC). 

Recent partnerships between youth organizations and civil society groups have led to concerts targeted at young people in Lagos and Abuja to promote voter registration. As a result of such efforts, 74 per cent of applications for the country’s recent continuous voter registration exercise were from young people.

With nearly 8 million new registrations, young Nigerians are presently topping PVC registrations out of 10 million fresh registrants, which boosts the percentage of youth-registered voters from 2019 significantly. 

Of course, our struggle faces many challenges.

The power of social media

There is a lack of safe spaces and funding for community-based advocacy groups. We face resignation and voter apathy from our peers. We have received threats of violence towards people on the frontline and those calling for change. We’ve also been labelled as violent groups ourselves. 

Social media has allowed us to work outside the control of the government, which explains why blocking social media has become a frequent practice throughout Africa during elections, protests and demonstrations. Will the Nigerian government try to shut down social media platforms during the upcoming elections? We’ll see.

Young Nigerians intend to use this moment to vote on social issues and elect like-minded young leaders. This should serve as a warning to the older generation, who have held on to power by all means possible.

The action my generation is taking gives me hope that we can establish a democracy in Nigeria we can be proud of. There is a possibility that we may not achieve the results we need immediately; however, I have faith our work will move us one step closer to where we want to go.