2023 election: Have Nigerian youths finally woken up?

0
47

Azuka Onwuka

The youths of Nigeria are angry. They are angry about their fate as Nigerians. It seems as if everything is working to keep them down or dead. And they are ready to vent their anger against anybody who is seen as an oppressor or sympathetic to their oppressors.

Over the weekend, the media reported that 51 people were killed in separate attacks by gunmen last week. 30 of the victims were soldiers, 10 were police officers and two were priests. And the killings occurred in four out of the six zones of Nigeria, the largest being the attack in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State in the North-Central zone in which 43 people were killed. By Sunday evening, it was reported that the death toll in the Shiroro attack had risen to 49, pushing the total number killed to 57.

Interestingly, these deaths were barely discussed by Nigerians. It was as if it was not human beings that were killed. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who had just returned from a trip to Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, travelled again to Portugal last week. But what he did not forget to do was send his usual statement of condolence.

The implication is that Nigerians have heard of killings far too many times that they have somewhat unconsciously stopped being shocked about them. They have accepted a life punctuated by mindless killings. It is only in rare cases, when gunmen attack a church or school or public place, killing many people, that Nigerians show some interest.

But insecurity is not the only existential threat facing Nigerians. Poverty, joblessness and lack of basic needs like poor access to education, health care, electricity, water, roads, etc. Since February 14, government universities in Nigeria have been shut down because the Academic Staff Union of University has been on strike. It is obvious that the Federal Government is broke and cannot meet the demands of ASUU.

There is no certainty that the students in universities owned by the Federal Government and the 36 state governments will return to school any time soon. They may be at home until the end of this year. They may even be at home until May 29, 2023 when the tenure of Buhari will end. It seems that the attitude of the Buhari-led government is that ASUU should be ignored. All hopes are now hung on the possibility of the lecturers getting tired or feeling some compassion about the plight of the students and calling off their strike.

In all this, the attitude of most of those who are gearing up to take over from the incumbent is still the same. The key political parties were accused of holding presidential primaries in which delegates were bribed in dollars to vote for the highest bidder. Shortly after the primaries, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Senator Bola Tinubu, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, went overseas for undisclosed reasons.

Last week too, the governors of Rivers and Abia states, Nyesom Wike and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu respectively, published photographs of themselves holidaying in Turkey. That the two men posed for the camera and many shots were taken, out of which about four were published with a caption was worrisome. The governors wanted to let the citizens of their states and other Nigerians know that they were enjoying themselves in Turkey. This is a country where close to 50 per cent of its 200 million population live in poverty. The governors did not give a hoot how Nigerians would see such a brazen display of thoughtlessness and lack of empathy for the problems facing the millions of people they govern.

Their reasoning would be that they have not broken any law and that they have worked so hard and deserve rest, given that such is officially provided for as part of their benefits. Interestingly, most of these benefits were approved by state assemblies that are under the control of the governors. This is like the humongous pension packages which most state governors got their respective state houses of assemblies to pass into law for their benefits.

The spirit that drives this is that of haughtiness, which can be described as the “big man syndrome” in the Nigerian lexicon. Once elected, the Nigerian political leaders adopt the toga of the big man. The big man is supposed to live large. He must be chauffeur-driven. He must move in a convoy of vehicles with blaring sirens while road users scamper off the way. He must live in a big house. When he needs to fly, he cannot use a commercial flight that commoners use. He must use a charter flight.

If he has to attend a church service, he must never be present before the service starts. But his seat must be reserved for him on the front row. Midway into the service, he and his aides will saunter in. The pastor will pause the service and announce his presence or at least go to welcome him. The worshippers will hail him by his salutation name while he goes to his seat. Later in the service, the pastor will hand over the microphone to him to address the church, after listing some of the needs of the church during announcements. It is expected that after talking about his achievements, the political big man will make a donation in cash or in-kind in support of “the work of God.”

Also, the big man must go around “doing good” but that is with “other people’s property” or public funds. His home and office are pilgrimage sites where the people besiege every day to ask for one favour or the other. After keeping them waiting for hours or even for days, he eventually obliges them by giving them money. Because he doles out favours, he is treated like a lord who should never be criticised. He can owe workers’ salaries, for up to six months or more, but his emoluments are never late. He also has access to official and unofficial funds to spend as he wishes.

This is what the Nigerian masses, especially the youths, have endured for decades, especially since the return of democracy in 1999. They found themselves helpless and unable to fight the system. The #EndSARS protest of 2020 gave the youths an idea of the power they possess. Even though that movement was truncated with the shooting of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, the anger remained bottled up.

Now that the preparations are on for the 2023 election, that anger has been rekindled. For the first time since 1999, the Independent National Electoral Commission is reporting a sharp rise in voter registration by young people. Registration centres have been besieged by a mammoth crowd of young people, making INEC, which used to beg people to come forward for registration, unable to cope with the turnout.

The youths are also mobilising themselves across the country to vote in next year’s election. Unlike in the past when people had to be paid by politicians to participate in electoral matters, the youths are using their own money to mobilise others for next year’s elections. They have also used social media to their advantage.

The youth renaissance in Nigeria is a thing of joy for anyone who wants to see a new Nigeria where leadership is service and development. If the youths of Nigeria can henceforth maintain their energised state on issues of political participation, then the political elite would sit up and know that the party is over.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here