In May 2016, some civil society groups across the country started a campaign many thought would never make an impact.
They initiated a constitutional amendment movement for the Age Reduction Bill, popularly known as Not Too Young to Run bill, which seeks alteration in sections 65, 106, 131, 177 of the Constitution of Nigeria, to reduce the age of running for elective positions for House of Assembly and House of Representatives from 30 to 25 years old, Senate and governorship from 35 to 30 years old and office of the president from 40 to 30 and independent candidature in Nigeria.
The group, led by Samson Itodo, a human right activist, good governance campaigner and executive director of YIAGA Africa, turned a deaf ear to the mocking from vested interests across the country that the so-called ‘lazy youths’ are not ripe for leadership.
On May 31, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law. Since then, there has been a huge awakening of youths’ interest in politics and leadership of the country.
As Itodo rightly pointed out after the news of the signing of the bill into law, the impact may not be immediate, but gradually, the youths will catch up.
Today, the Nigerian youths seem ready to take back their mandate from the old politicians who have failed to rule the country well since the return to democratic rule in 1999, especially considering the many failed promises as well as recognising the fact that they are the bulk of the voting population and should take advantage of their huge numbers to elect credible leaders, including the youths among the candidates in the 2023 elections.
The figures also confirm their undeniable numerical strength. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), about 84,004,084 voters were registered for the 2019 elections, about half of which were youths between the ages of 18-35 years old.
For the 2023 general election, the INEC is targeting over 100 million voters, an additional 16 million voters and a number, whose bulk would be youths also.
As at July 25, 2022, the INEC announced that it has registered 11 million new voters in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration exercise, which it insisted would not be extended after the July 31, 2022 deadline.
As expected, the INEC noted that youths aged between 18 and 35 years constitute the highest number of completed registrations with a total of 7,828,570 out of the total 11,011,119 it has registered.
Considering their numerical strength, political pundits think that the youths can make a difference in the 2023 election if they are coordinated at local government, state and national levels.
When asked about the rationale for the surging youth’s interest in politics, Bankole Wellington, a singer, known as Banky W, who won the PDP primary ticket for the Eti-Osa Constituency, Lagos State for the House of Representatives ahead of 2023, said the youths have realised that they don’t only need to say enough is enough, but match their words with action, hence the need to get their PVC to enable them to take the appropriate action in 2023.
Looking at the huge numbers of the youths’ votes, the youthful entertainer turned politician is of the view that the youths have all it takes to make the right change in the country, if they are committed and persist with their demand for good governance with matching action on the election day.
For Abubakar Sulaiman, director-general of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, the youths are getting more involved in politics today to change the narrative that youths are mere thugs, instruments of violence and anarchy.
“You cannot have the notion of taking charge or taking power when you refuse to get yourself involved in politics. If youths actively get themselves involved in political activities and parties and at the various levels they are more active, their voices would be heard, this is because they constitute a majority at every level,” he said.
Also speaking on the increasing youths’ interest and participation in politics, Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker and an Abuja-based lawyer, noted that the youths are tired of the old politicians, who they describe as serial failures, and also realising their numerical strength, all they need is national coordination for block vote for their preferred candidate to win the 2023 presidential election.
Umelahi, who lost out in the party primaries for the Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency recently, noted that it is also youthful mobilisation, persistence and defence of the votes that can oust the moneybags and vote buyers from the system in 2023.
However, politics requires money, which most youths do have, but there have been mobilisations and strategies by some youth groups in recent times.
For instance, Young Progressives Party (YPP), which had Kingsley Moghalu, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as its presidential candidate in the 2019 election, had been running on donations by youthful party members and solidarity from lovers of the youths.
Today, many youths have been pulling resources together ahead of the 2023 election unlike in the past.
But the somewhat very effective strategy of the youths ahead of the 2023 elections has been the power of social media, which the old politicians and money bags keep neglecting.
“The EndSARS protests shocked the government and politicians because of the resilience of the youths in their demand. It was an eye opener to what the youths can do when united and I see that happening in the 2023 election, don’t mind the old politicians who say elections cannot be won on social media, they are scared and it will happen,” Ademola Onitiri, a political science lecturer, said.
“Ahead of the Osun election Davido went on social media and mobilised youths, it worked, the #Obidient is beyond a movement now and some people are keying into it. So, social media cannot be taken for granted in the 2023 election and the youths are in control of social media”.
He noted that though the youths may not have stolen money to spend in politics, the social media is offering them a wider campaign platform and cohesion ahead of 2023.