JOHANNESBURG, Feb 24 2023 (IPS) – Youth have already transformed the narrative of the 2023 elections, and it would be crucial for Nigeria’s newly elected president to consider their issues as he takes on the enormous task of rebuilding the country, says CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaigns Lead David Kode.
Speaking on the eve of the Presidential election, Kode told IPS there had been an 11 percent increase in registration since the 2019 elections, and youth have shown more interest in these elections than any other since 1999.
“Youth are really eager to see change.”
Youth activism which established itself as a political force during the 2020 #EndSars protests against police brutality and impunity, has continued on the trajectory of demanding change in the troubled country. The demand for change has gone far beyond just a change in government and leadership, but affected institutions like the church too, says Kode.
It would be necessary for the Nigerian president to tackle youth unemployment and ensure that those looking for jobs can access them. Going hand in hand with this, the civil society organization CIVICUS would like to see accountable and democratic leadership emerging during the election season, one that takes into consideration the concerns of the people.
Kode refers to the recent saga with the recall of the old naira currency, where people protested after the Central Bank of Nigeria imposed a deadline for swapping old notes. The bank was forced to extend the deadline, but it’s clear that decision-making was an example of a government and administration out of touch with its people.
“In general, as civil society organizations, we can facilitate between decision makers and the people – and that wasn’t done, and the views of the majority of Nigerians were not taken into account,” Kode said.
“And that’s a big problem for a society like Nigeria because once the decision makers are in positions of authority, it’s like they’re far removed from the lived experiences of ordinary Nigerians. They don’t access the schools that ordinary Nigerian access; they send their kids to schools in Western nations. They don’t access the hospitals when they are sick, they go out of the country, so they don’t experience these challenges on a day-to-day basis and do not really take time to consult the people about big decisions.”
He says it would have been logical to consult extensively before changing a currency.
No matter if it is the candidate that seems to have caught the imagination of the youth – Peter Obi – or another of the front runners, Bola Tinubu or Atiku Abubakar, that wins the election, it’s clear that the country needs a reset. No matter who wins, he hopes Nigeria responds in a way that strengthens the democratic process and doesn’t end in violence.
If there are protests, he hopes that they are not violently repressed – and that a free flow of information remains sacrosanct.
“If you have a leader who really has a vision for the country and prioritizes inclusivity, that might be the beginning of the change that is needed.
“Nigeria is a very, very complex, society with a huge population. And so much needs to be done, and it will take years to fix the system.”
Kode believes many challenges today are tied to the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, especially those concerning the economy and security exacerbated by his “ambivalence to the plight of citizens.”
The advantage that the new president will have, for the first time since 1999, is that the leader is not tied in some way to the country’s military dictatorship. Within the country’s constitution, there are structures available for wide consultation – from the federal to national level, where people have direct access to representatives at the national level. However, ordinary people’s concerns were not considered.
“So, we had leaders that are far removed from the lived realities of the ordinary people. And that’s why somebody like Peter (Obi) resonates very much with the youth and many Nigerians, particularly because he’s seen as somebody who is not really part of the establishment. Many people think he might be that person who could start instituting change.”
Kode believes youth activism is exciting for Nigeria and the continent; after all, youth drove many liberation movements. Conversations around the continent prioritize youth, including the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The youngest presidential candidate is 38 years old, and it is almost as if the youth are saying: In the past, they “stayed away because they are ambivalent, but it’s not led to change.” Youth apathy is an issue because “in Africa, there are more elections (than before), but the same leaders are being recycled.”
With youth involvement, Kode believes Nigeria can perhaps lead the continent in encouraging “active participation.”
“Irrespective of the outcome, I think the call from civil society to the new leadership will be to respect the constitution and democratic institutions. If people want to protest about the outcome, allow them to – it’s their constitutional right,” Kode says. “And I think it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure security and also allow diverse voices to be able to express themselves.”
He points out that elections are exciting because nobody knows who the winner will be. The other good thing is that this is the first election since the return to democracy in 1999 where the incumbent isn’t contesting.
“That provides in itself an opportunity for change, right, because you haven’t got people who may have been tied to some of the vices of the past … but it is the democratic process that should be built upon, and the rights of citizens need to be respected. Because there will be another election in the next few years, and if you kill certain institutions now, you could set Nigeria a few steps back.”
Nobody can predict an election, and while not everybody will be happy, it would be important for the post-election period to be carefully managed.
“Don’t disrupt the internet. Allow the information to flow as necessary. Be conscious of security issues. There are still some uncertainties; people in rural areas may not be well connected. Security or insecurity might prevent many people from voting. We know there are about 93 million registered voters, but some may not be able to vote because of security issues or even because of technical challenges. So irrespective of the outcome, I think the call from civil society will be to respect the rule of law.”
Finally, Kode says they are “encouraged that the youth are actively involved in this process, from what we see from the statistics, many are willing to vote … Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new dawn for Nigeria. A lot of countries on the continent would benefit from a democratic Nigeria.
“When Nigeria is safe, sound secure. Many other African countries will be safe, sound, and secure as well.”