Nigerian elections, ray of sunshine for youths
NIGERIA is Africa’s most populous nation with a population of about 170 million, and fairly recently, it emerged as the continent’s largest economy, displacing South Africa that had for long flaunted the trophy.
In spite of the country’s myriad and huge mineral deposits, most of which remain untapped, a significant swath of its teeming youth population that represents about half of the entire population are unemployed, and its progress in terms of reducing poverty rather straddles at a leisurely gait.
Interestingly, nearly two thirds of this youth demography is between 15 and 34 years of age.
The recently concluded Nigerian elections, that saw the defeat of the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has been in power since 1999, are a rarity of sorts in this part of the world which is beset by the sit-tight syndrome of politicians. It is a practice that has undermined our democracy.
With the election season over, it also heralds a new dawn in the country’s fledgling democracy on several fronts. It sends a very strong signal that the era of lackluster performance of leaders across the continent is intolerable, particularly of those in sub-Saharan Africa, where public disenchantment and resentment are rampant.
For a change, there is breath of fresh air lurking in the horizon, as the Nigerian electorate now have confidence that their votes count, and also that their voices can be heard.
For many young people in this country, especially those in my age bracket, who were born in the 80s under successive military regimes that gagged free speech and deprived the citizens of so many basic social services, the mere ability to exercise the power of franchise is empowering and refreshing.
More so, knowing that our votes even count after all is exhilarating. It gives hope, once again, that Nigeria will rise to take its rightful place, as the giant that it truly is in Africa.
Nigeria’s voting population, which is tilted in favour of young people, was preoccupied with electioneering that reached a fever pitch long before the election. Social media platforms such as facebook and twitter were awash with the hash tag #NigeriaDecides.
These mediums were also instrumental to fostering healthy debates, and sometimes heated arguments on ways to chart a new course for our beloved country. As a young Nigerian in the Diaspora I was often driven glued to my computer screen for three days in a row, intermittently perusing social media to validate the results declared by the electoral commission, with those posted on Nigeria’s popular blog, Linda Ikeji.
For the first time, political parties leveraged the power of social media to court young voters, and to reel out their plans for the nation. Nigerian democracy has come of age. The current democratic space that encourages a cross-fertilisation of ideas, especially on social media, is a product of the foundation laid by previous administrations over the past decade and a half, to say the least.
‘Despite a number of drawbacks, the 2015 election was both adjudged by both local and international observers, as the freest to have occurred in the history of the country’s nascent democracy. The unflappable demeanor of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, his calm and confidence, when a member of the PDP, a former minister, rudely hauled vituperations at him melted my heart and stirred up a deep sense of patriotism for Nigeria.”
It may also be noted that the introduction of card readers for voter identification at polling units, which drastically whittled down multiple voting, was a game changer that leveled the playing field among the 14 political parties that participated in the keenly contested elections.
As elections have been won and lost, Nigeria’s political landscape has been reshaped for the first time in 16 years with the emergence of a new “governing party”, the All Progressives Congress (APC), at the helm of affairs.
The President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, in his acceptance speech, has aptly noted this.
While the wait for the proverbial El Dorado lingers, the APC must match words with action as soon as they hit the ground running.
It is also imperative for youths and indeed all Nigerians, to hold the incoming government to their campaign promises, by ensuring that never again will the so-called political elite take us for a ride by reneging on their promises.
The success recorded in the 2015 election, albeit significant, reassures Nigerians, that the era of brazen impunity, incompetence and lack of probity in governance is fast fading away, as Nigerians can quickly hit the eject button once their hopes are dashed by any administration.
The Buhari administration sure has its work well cut out. It is going to be an arduous one: The Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, endemic and systemic corruption, poor infrastructure, constant power cuts, comatose health and education sectors; coupled with the decline in the global price of oil, are all huge problems to be tackled come May 29, 2015.
At the heart of these challenges, youths have a pivotal role to play in defending Africa’s largest democracy by vigorously questioning the status quo through the various new media tools at their disposal.
Thus, they have a window of opportunity to serve as catalysts for change in the new Nigeria of our dreams, if only; they continue to steadfastly yearn and demand for the ‘change’ promised by the APC. In the words of two renowned Harvard Graduate School of Education Professors, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey: “To bring about real change we must disturb the balance, our status quo.”
• Oguejiofor is a visiting Assistant Professor of Internationalisation at Gyeongju University, South Korea.