Nigeria’s February 25 presidential election in which a former two-term governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu of the All-Progressives Congress, emerged as the president-elect, may have come and gone. But the lessons from it are likely to linger with us for a long time.
Arguably, one of the most competitive political battles in Nigeria’s history – it is no doubt an election in which the youth, including students, have made their voices heard. In the final results of the tightly contested polls, Tinubu’s vote total of 8,794,726 was just enough to defeat his closest rivals, the People’s Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, who scored 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 respectively.
I love the energy that the youth brought into the keen contest and the entire voting and collation process. My friend and editor of the Nigerian Tribune, Lasisi Olagunju paints the picture of the youth participation most succinctly in his article in the aftermath of the election.
His words: It was enthralling seeing students at the Zik Hall of the University of Ibadan turning the positive result of their ‘structure-less’ struggle into a song.
“It was beautiful seeing medical students of the University of Lagos chanting their figures in rhymes of conviction. I saw young men and women on popular Lagos streets counting their votes of rebellion. I saw youths of Lafia in Nasarawa and in Kaduna standing firm to count the little-big blessings of their labour of faith.”
This is the reality in many parts of Nigeria and I can’t help but say kudos to these youth for finally deciding to take their destiny into their own hands. They no longer have to tell anyone that they have moved beyond ranting on social media and that they are not just mere noisemakers. Whether some people like to come to terms with it or not, the February 25 election has changed the face of politics in Nigeria. And I dare say that the true champions of this poll are the youth including Nigerian students.
An article on the election published by the University World News quoted some students as confirming the active participation of Nigerian students in the election. “I think there was progress in terms of [the number of] people who registered to vote. For the first time in forever, Nigerian youths are getting involved in politics and realising that we can’t let a few people choose who will rule us – not in a country of over 200 million people,” Jessica Fortunes, a Nigerian student who participated actively by voting, told the international medium.
Another student, Blessing Wachukwu, said that, despite questions about the election process, the youth involvement in the election was a noteworthy step in the right direction.
“In this election … the youth were involved and people actually came out to protest and fight for their votes. Their eyes are opened. They are now awakened. Obviously, progress will not just start all of a sudden, but at least people’s eyes are still open,” she explained.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari attested to the uniqueness and competitiveness of the presidential election. According to him, “Never has the electoral map shifted so drastically in one cycle. In the presidential elections, states in all regions across the nation changed colour. Some amongst you may have noticed my home state amongst them.
“The winning candidate did not carry his own home state either. That happens during a competitive election. Votes and those that cast them cannot be taken for granted. Each must be earned. Competition is good for our democracy. There is no doubt that people’s decision has been rendered in the results we look at today.”
Perhaps what the President didn’t remember to add is that sitting governors were also randomly defeated in their states. At least, three of them lost their senatorial bids. Even, the vice-presidential candidate of the major opposition party, who is also a sitting governor could not deliver his state. I also read of a candidate that had been in the senate for decades who was defeated by a first timer politician- so many upsets. Many members of the National Assembly could not return to the house.
INEC’s Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) may not have been maximally put into use with the failure to allow for the electronic transmission of results in real time, thus giving room for manipulation. However, the use of BVAS in this election should still be considered as a major breakthrough.
Regardless of who they supported, the youth were actively involved in mobilising their colleagues, friends and family to register for the elections. They also insisted that the Federal Government should allow them to vote. One of them, a final year student of the University of Benin, Moses Omoyele, even approached the court seeking an order to compel the Nigerian Government to declare a short vacation across all tertiary institutions to enable students to participate in the elections. The government heeded the call and sent the students home for the election. The enthusiasm of Nigeria’s youth force was evidently on display.
This is the kind of progress we should be celebrating as a nation. A major lesson from this election is that with the right technology, commitment to making technology work and the determination of the citizens and their active participation in the electoral process, Nigerians can truly determine who leads them and make their leaders accountable. One of the problems with the political class before now is their ability to easily rig themselves into power. Since they don’t need the electorate, they don’t feel committed to serving them. But now, the story is changing. Politicians are learning the hard way that they are at the mercy of the electorate. That is why many of them have been running helter-skelter since the presidential results were announced. They are struggling to curry the favours of the electorate ahead of this Saturday governorship and house of assembly elections. That’s the way it should be.
I was also not surprised that the President-Elect touched on the concerns of the youths in his short speech after he was declared winner. Tinubu said he would pay attention to the demands of tertiary education. He has also promised to give the university system the autonomy it needs to upgrade its syllabus on its own.
He also assured students that there will be no more strikes in the higher education sector and that lecturers will be provided with everything they need to make life comfortable, promising also, to offer student loans.
Tinubu’s special attention to the youth population may not be unconnected with a major upset in the general election in which he was defeated in Lagos, a state where he had not only governed for eight years (1999-2007), but maintained a stronghold.
Not a few people were shocked that the ‘godfather’ of Lagos State politics was defeated by Peter Obi, described as an outsider and ‘structureless’ candidate. Tinubu has been in control of Lagos State politics for years, the expectation was that it would be hard for Obi to get the 25% in Nigeria’s commercial city. But the LP candidate won in Lagos. If victory in an election is a sign of a candidate’s popularity, the inference is that Obi is more popular than the president-elect, who is fondly referred to as the ‘City Boy’, in his own domain. Yet, a lot of people believe rightly or wrongly that Obi’s feat was as a result of his popularity among the youth population popularly referred to as “Obidients.” This also confirms that the youth have brought themselves into relevance in Nigerian politics.
Having achieved this feat, it is essential that the youth do not relent in making their voice strong and clear. They should go further by demanding good governance from elected political officers at all levels. There is nothing complicated about the Nigerian nation. Our leaders get away with murder because we don’t force them to be accountable. It is not unusual for political leaders to attempt to trample on their citizens’ rights. This happens even in countries we often describe as civilised but the people are the ones that will resist such moves. It is high time we started civil resistance in Nigeria. We need a new crop of people that can engage our leaders constructively. Hopefully, the incoming administration will encourage such constructive engagements.
Also, the youth should step up campaign for good education in every part of the country, especially in the northern region where poverty and illiteracy are still being weaponised to keep people in bondage. Today, the top 10 states with highest out of school children rate in Nigeria are in the north coming in this order- Kebbi – 62.3%; Bauchi – 60.4%; Zamfara – 57.4%; Yobe – 57.3%; Gombe – 56.3%; Sokoto- 51.1%; Borno – 49.3%; Jigawa – 46.2%; Niger – 39%; and Katsina – 33.7%. That is despicable.
Their leaders know that the day these youth become truly politically conscious, being able to differentiate their left hand from the right, resisting to be controlled by some greedy and deceptive politicians – is the day they will be free from every form of self-imposed bondage. So, everyone should be involved in the campaign for their freedom because once they get out of their bondage, they would be free to fight for what duly belongs to them.
In the meantime, the Nigerian youth deserve to savour their latest victory. The democratic revolution has begun and Nigeria shall surely rise again!
•Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor in chief of Franktalknow.com and Director at AF24news.com. Email [email protected]