Why young Nigerians voice demands on social media
Over 120 million Nigerians are online, according to the Nigeria Communications Commission. Seventy percent or over 80 million of them are young, between 18 and 35 years. If this group of young Nigerians were a country, they would be the fifth populated in Africa, just behind DR Congo with 89 million citizens. For most of them, the internet, especially social media, is where they live and work. Their lifestyles and work are woven round, recorded, influenced, amplified and facilitated by and on the internet. This army of young Nigerians is talented and hardworking. For example, a study of Africa’s internet economy (it’s estimated to be worth $180 billion in 2025) by Google and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) revealed that Nigeria with 83,609 software engineers is number three among top-ten African countries, behind Egypt (86,599) and South Africa (118,541). However, this crop of Nigerians does not live and work online alone, but they also use it as a means to voice out their concerns about their country.
They are dissatisfied with Nigeria’s perennial problems
Young Nigerians are dissatisfied with the government. Only 14.7 million of the 40 million-active youth population are employed according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. They are angry that the country with so much potential is so poor, insecure, has a large poorly educated population, and lacks opportunities for their enormous talents and energy. The figures released by the country’s statistics office this year revealed that over forty percent of the population is living in extreme poverty; other sources like the Brookings Institute say the numbers are more. Nigeria ranks third on the Global Terrorism Index, just behind Iraq and Afghanistan. Terror-related activities claimed 1,245 lives last year alone and kidnapping for ransom has reached an all time high across the country. At 10.5 million, one in every five out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
Their anger stems from the belief that the Nigerian state’s dysfunction holds them down and puts them at disadvantage compared to their peers globally. For example, Nigeria’s Next Generation, a report by the British Council and Harvard School of Public Health revealed that most of its young people end up living less-productive lives. The report states that, “A Nigerian only produces more than he or she consumes for an average of 30 years of their life, compared to 34 years in Indonesia, 35 years in India, and 37 years in China.”
A World Bank report on Nigeria confirms that Nigerian youth are talented but only lack opportunities. Wherever they find opportunities, they excel. The culture, entertainment and creative industries are a testament to that. Nollywood alone employs more than one million Nigerians and contributes over $7 billion to the economy according to the International Trade Administration. The International Monetary Fund, (IMF) believes that the industry accounts for over 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP. Young people believe that much of the progress made in these industries is due to their own talents and hard work, and not government structural reform or contribution. Government has in fact attempted to stifle growth in many ways. For example, some cite an attempt by the Lagos State government to levy 5 percent tax on all audio and visual content from content producers.
A lot of these structural problems such as unemployment, insecurity and lack of opportunities according to Pew Research are driving the youth out of the country in droves. Those leaving are healthy, educated and highly skilled. In 2018 alone, Nigeria received over $25 billion in Diaspora remittances, more than how much it earned from oil sales the same year. Over 12,000 Nigerians travelled to Canada in 2019 and according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 11,629 Nigerians have filed asylum claims in their country, almost twice the number of Indians seeking asylum there, a country six times the size of Nigeria.
Social media as their tool of anger and organisation
For angry young Nigerians, irrespective of the degree of their displeasure with the country and system, social media is a leveller, unifier and launch pad. Social media breaks the geographical barriers between Nigerians at home and those in the Diaspora and serves as a tool to probe or challenge government policy, debate ideas and innovate and organise en masse. Voicing out their dissatisfaction via social media has particularly been effective because access to the internet is nationally spread: North-west 57 per cent, North-east 67 per cent, North-central 56 per cent, South-west 68 per cent, South-east 53 per cent and South-south 64 per cent, according to data compiled by NOI Polls.
Twitter has always driven social media mass actions. About two million Nigerians active on the social networking app say that 29 per cent of their interaction has been for advocacy. Little wonder that the #EndSARS protests were initiated, sustained and funded through the platform. Other platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, which are the most widely used among Nigerians and even the lifestyle-based like Instagram and Snapchat are also used by young Nigerians to voice out their concerns.
In a survey conducted by NOI Polls, 59 percent of the respondents said that Facebook was very effective for activism/advocacy; 52 percent and 59 percent of them said it was very effective for influencing government policy decisions and communicating grievances and dissatisfaction respectively. For WhatsApp, it was 24 per cent, 19 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
Most of the youth live online and the government needs to listen more to them. Government therefore should see social media as a platform for identifying and understanding the plight of the youth and the first phase of regular, robust conversation and engagement. This creates a sense of belonging and patriotism among the youth and earns the government, their cooperation for nation building. Government should also be ready to solve the structural problems facing the youth offline. For that the British Council and Harvard Business School of Public Health have some recommendations. Nigeria needs to develop infrastructure that befits a world-class economy and caters for its “rapid population growth in its towns and cities, and growing demand from an expanding business sector.” The country also needs to diversify away from oil and focus on sectors with high employment potential for young people. Lastly, the government needs to remove constraints to the growth of the economy and private enterprise.
Professor Ovadje is founder & executive director, Danne Institute for Research, which conducts studies on strengthening institutions, developing leaders and sustaining change in Africa.