The most important day Nigerians waited for in the last twenty four years has come and gone. Nigerians eagerly trooped out once again to vote for a new President who would take over from General Muhammadu Buhari and set up a new government. It was amazing to watch young Nigerians turn out in their huge numbers on Saturday 25 February 2023 for the presidential election. They were set to make history, no doubt. This year’s election was the most keenly competed for, since the return of democracy in 1999 with the Fourth Republic.
It was even more interesting to note that most of the young people who voted backed the third-party candidate that surreptitiously emerged, as it were from nowhere, determined to take the country back from the two main competing political organizations, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP and All Progressives’ Congress, APC which many stakeholders agreed misruled the country in the last 24 years.
In a very solemn sense, Nigerian youths across border believed, and possibly rightly too, that if Labour Party could break the ranks of the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP, it would bring positive changes to Africa’s most populous country after years of economic stagnation, crippling official corruption and seemingly intractable insecurity of lives and properties.
Goaded by what they all saw as the successful effects of the 2020 EndSars’ protests that called for more efficient, transparent, accountable governance and adequate remuneration for the Police Force, millions of young people who thronged the polling units across the country, and who were under 35 years of age, had registered as first-time voters. They were very determined that they must vote and that their votes must count. And they never minced words telling anyone who cared to listen, including the semi-patriotic security officers who were at the polling booths to maintain peace and order, that it was their constitutional right to make the decision on who becomes the head of state of their country on that 25 February and that they were in no mood to compromise their right.
It was a defining moment for most Nigerian young adults who had consistently suffered severe economic deprivation over the years the ruling parties created obnoxious laws that turned the country into a paradox, rendering the rich families richer while the poor families were made poorer.
Many Nigerians knew that the country could not continue the way it was going without a total crash. And so they not only came out in their millions to vote but more importantly to ensure that their votes counted and that they fully participated in electing the man they believed would put Nigeria back on the path of sanity.
They had learnt their lessons from the brutal manner the Endsars protests were somersaulted by the military. But they also counted it as victory for the voice of the ordinary citizen that the SARS organization seized to become after it was disbanded as a police unit because of its notorious profiling of young people who they dispossessed of their valuable properties or murdered extra-judicially if they resisted. That lesson appeared to have brought frustrated young Nigerians together to target the office of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The experience of EndSars protests saw many young Nigerians take an unprecedented interest in politics for the first time. Offering hope of a new Nigeria, Mr Peter Obi’s Labour Party went up against the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP – two sides of the same coin that had alternated the post of President between them since the end of military rule in 1999.
According to BBC, the man many people backed was Peter Obi of the Labour Party. At 61, Mr. Obi was not that young, but still he was the youngest of all the presidential aspirants that mattered. He was not new in Nigeria’s political arena. Previously, he had vied as the vice-presidential candidate for the main opposition PDP. He also governed Anambra state for eight years from March to November 2006, February to May 2007, and June 2007 to March 2014 under the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
Of the other three candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP was 76 years old. Bola Tinubu of the APC was 70 and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP was 67.
Generally and in comparison with these other three aspirants, Obi was seen as the most ordinarily accessible, a man whose simple lifestyle spoke volumes in his favour with the Nigerian masses in addition to the fact that he had an impressive and hugely admirable record of frugality and accountability with public funds when he was the governor of Anambra state.
In a country where more than three-quarters of the population of 210 million people were aged below 35, it was no wonder that the youths opted for a man they considered young enough to understand their plight and the level of suffering they had passed through in 24 years, a man they considered had the capability and agility of turning particularly the fortunes of Nigerian youths and elderly pensioners around for better.
It was obvious that, to some extent, ethnic and religious affiliations influenced the choice of many voters. Obi was openly supported by Nigeria’s huge evangelical Christian movement in the south. In the north, he could also count on the votes of Christians who felt persecuted by the mainstream Muslim. Kwankwaso was hugely supported by the largely Muslim north around his home base, Kano. Alhaji Atiku relied on his party structure to get a cross section of the states to vote for his party despite the desire of Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike to distabilize the PDP after he was unceremoniously defeated during the party’s primaries by Atiku Abubakar. Tinubu of the APC appeared to have relied on voter intimidation by his gang of supporters and his turn-by-turn inheritance of the APC presidential race to rein in votes particularly from the western region and parts of the middle belt region.
Whatever the much awaited results might turn out to be, Nigerians have made their choice and that choice must be respected. The very idea of bribing officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to betray the will of the people for a few million naira is a most despicable act and people who are proved to have indulged in such heinous acts must be banned by law from contesting for any public office for life after their jail terms. Nigerian people must be firm on what they want and the caliber of people they want to entrust the governance of their country into their hands.
Despite the enormous revenue accruing from oil and the solid minerals that abound in the country, it was difficult to see how these natural endowments helped to make the ordinary Nigerian a happier person in the past 24 years that the PDP and APC ruled the country. Their leaderships woefully failed to utilize these resources to salvage the fate of the ordinary Nigerian who walks the streets of the country’s villages, towns and cities because everybody looked up to crude oil and Abuja sharing the proceeds of oil revenue.
The new government would no doubt inherit a lot of challenges from the out-going government. From the menace of kidnapping citizens for ransom from their homes and workplaces, students in their hundreds from their schools and even foreigners in the country, to raiding entire villages, churches and mosques, invading military and police establishments to armed robbery in banks and on the highways, gang fights that have recorded many dead, official corruption that has left the richer families in the country extremely rich and the poor families extremely poor; extrajudicial killings, money ritual killings, an empty national treasury and all the other evils that the past lackadaisical leaderships across the country bred, the new government will have a full plate of problems on its hand to deal with. It could be quite scary for the politically uninitiated.
In the past twenty four years, Nigerians have watched first the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), and after that, the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) rule – many would say ruin – Nigeria. It would not be an understatement to say that rather than get better, the fortunes and even lives of the Nigerian people continued to get worse by the day in the last 24 years.
But before we are taken for granted, let us quickly add that practically every country of the world is feeling the same way. Every people have where the shoes keep pinching and circumstances are not getting any better.
Watching all what is happening in Nigeria today, the massive daily killings across states, the invasion of entire villages in the north by bandits and terrorists, the rendering of millions of Nigerians refugees in their own country, the merciless killing of politicians in cold blood, the wanton kidnappings of citizens from their homes, workplaces, schools and worship places, the extrajudicial murders that have remained perpetually unresolved, armed robbery in banks and on the highways, ritual murders and the so many evils that have been ushered in by docile, clueless, incompetent, lackadaisical leaderships across the country, we dare say, the out-going government deserves our clap offering. They did their best. And every Nigerian knows their best because they felt the situation even in their marrow.
Today, the election of a new Nigerian President who will take over the mantle of leadership from the incumbent has heated up. Many are accusing the INEC of being compromised. Many fingers are pointing at the ruling APC they say is bent on rigging the will of Nigerian people. Nigerians must stand up to their rights. The youths must stand together to ensure that their voices are heard and that their votes matter. There could be trouble at the end of the day when INEC calls the results and it does not go down well with the masses. That trouble can be avoided if like the aspirants signed the peace accord, they are reminded to keep to the spirit or run into trouble with the incumbent government. The question is: will the ruling APC oblige if the election did not favour them? Nigerian youths must stand firm on their constitutional rights and not allow their votes to be rubbished by rogue politicians who see public offices as their gold mine.