On Youth Inclusion in Nigerian Politics: 2023 and Beyond

[By Daniel Adejoro]


The coming 2023 general elections in Nigeria could arguably go down as the most exciting since Nigeria’s 1999 fourth democratic journey. For diverse reasons, set against a backdrop of one of the most challenging economic realities in Nigeria, a divisive national politics, persistent and rising insecurity, widespread corruption and a general sense of dissatisfaction among Nigerians, one would not be judged as being hasty to conclude that 2023 represents, perhaps the most pivotal election year in Nigeria—a make or break season.

Elections in Nigeria generally follow a copy-template. Politicians criticize the other party and make vague promises. The politician or party with the most flamboyant promises as well as the most vocal Ad Hominem attack establishes its mantra. Having the deepest pockets to stage extravagant campaigns, talk a lot, bluff a lot, attack a lot and spend without restrictions project themselves as the choice candidates. Ideology, sound political principles and having an actual plan for effective governance often take the back seats during elections in Nigeria. And for the most part, one would not be wrong to conclude that Nigerians have resigned to accepting this way of politicking as being the template to how elections “should be” approached. A few really cares who the capable candidates are, what matters to most is the discourse about what political party, the candidates’ political clout, how loud their individual voices, how deep their pockets can line other pockets.

I started this article to provide some sort of insight into the mind of the average Nigerian voter and to build up to the matter of youth participation in Nigeria’s politics, especially leading to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria. Before writing this article, I was browsing Yiaga Africa’s 2020 paper on How Youths Fared in 2019 Elections. The numbers were quite interesting. According to the report, youths in Nigeria had the numerical superiority in the 2019 general elections with 51.11% of the roughly 43 million registered voters in the country. The actual elections were a different matter however, with only about 46.3% of the total registered “youth” voters. A figure which added up to around 19 million. Regardless, this number was more than half the total voter turnout which stood at roughly 28.6 million with the actual youth voting bloc at about 66%. In the 2019 general elections, the youth bloc in Nigeria contributed the largest voters.

When one looks at youth representation in leadership roles, it paints a completely different picture. One of low, in many cases, no representation. Defining “a youth” as “someone within the ages of 18-29” as per the National Youth Policy Organization, youth representation across board is penned at 1%. With 1% of the leadership positions across all levels and tiers of governance in Nigeria, there’s no way this trend paints a good look for an emerging economy like Nigeria in a world that is going largely digital. And this is not an ageist opinion that seeks to sideline older citizens, but facts are what they are. There’s no way a 1% representation of the most active members of the voting bloc and the majority citizen population makes any kind of sense. 

Nigeria’s history tells of a society where its pre-independent/independent leaders were relatively young people. The erstwhile statesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in his 30s and was 45 when he became Leader of Government Business in the Western Region. The father of Nigerian nationalism, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was also a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Chief Anthony Enahoro was only 30 years old when he moved the motion for independence in 1953. Successive militarily governments in Nigeria were no different; Yakubu Gowon was 32 when he was first named Head of State. The current President – Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Retired) was 39 years old when he took over via a coup d’etat in 1983. The Ali-Must-Go protests in 1978 were student-led protests against bad governance and the bulk of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) vibrant leadership was made up of young Nigerians who took to the streets to protest against tyrannical military regimes. Historically, Nigeria made room for youth representation in governance. But, recent decades have seen a tectonic shift from that reality.

There are a number of reasons stifling youth participation and representation, chief among them being the simple fact that Nigerian youths are economically disenfranchised to afford the absurd cost of running for any office during elections in Nigeria. Recently, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has pegged its presidential nomination form at one hundred million Naira (NGN100 million), as well as the inflated costs of running a political campaign for any elections in Nigeria with figures reported to be as high as one billion Naira to stage a moderate campaign. It’s no brainer as to why elections and contesting for elective positions are largely regarded as the exclusive reserve for wealthier, more connected individuals, many of whom fall into the older age demographic. Running for elections in Nigeria is not cheap, not by a long stretch. And with 45% of Nigerians living below the poverty line and another 23% at risk of slipping below the said line, you don’t have to brainstorm heavily on why things are how they are.

But looking beyond that, one could make a case that more Nigerian youths should do away with voter apathy and pick credible candidates that represent their interests well enough to make youth inclusion a priority. With 19 million voters in 2019 (a 66% majority), Nigerian youths have the majority say in who wins or loses elections in Nigeria. Mind you, the current President won the 2019 election with about 15 million votes, a considerable distance from the 19 million Nigerian Youths that voted in said election. One way to make a case for the youth demography would be to encourage more youths to simply get their PVC and to cast their votes correctly. Still, one must look at prevalent disenfranchisement in Nigerian elections as another major blockade to cross. Vote buying, electoral malpractices and other unscrupulous activities adversely affect the integrity of most elections in the country. Another issue is the matter of quality voter education and enlightenment. Nigerians do not vote because they simply see no reason to. And the ones who do, are affected by the status quo of voting for the candidates who talk a lot, bluff a lot, attack a lot and spend the most.

If Nigerian youths are to make a case in 2023, the idea is that we should look beyond encouraging them to “simply vote” and instead vote intentionally – vote right. A shift from “whataboutism” politics into ideology first politics. With a bulk of the voting number resting in the hands of youths, the focus should shift away from voting for the candidates who simply have all the money to spend to finding candidates with youth-focused policies and plans for more inclusion.  Voter education initiatives tailored at doing more than simply encouraging people to get their PVCs are needed. We need to have a general awakening toward finding what our interests are, finding the candidates who share similar sentiment and aggressively voting and electing said candidates. Beyond voting still, we also need to learn about public accountability; something sorely lacking in today’s politics. When you have the bulk of the voting power, you’re meant to recognize your role as the arbiter of impunity from elected officers. 

Beyond all these, the Nigerian youths must shift from the short term thinking of “stomach infrastructure” to participation in politics and the electoral process that enshrine sustainable socio-economic development in the country. This way, together, we kill vote buying, vandalism and thuggery. Understanding that at the end of the day, electing the right people will do more to serve the youths and the country in general.

I choose to believe that there’s a lot of opportunity for youth inclusion in Nigerian politics. And that resurgence is around the corner. The 2020 #EndSARS protest is a major pointer to the power of a focused, passionate and charged youth bloc. And in the words of Kailash Satyarthi, “The power of youth is the commonwealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment in the society can match the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of the young people.”


Daniel Adejoro is a writer. He currently leads Growth at Citizen’s Square; a Social Action initiative providing Digital based resources on political education and awareness for Young Millennials and Gen Z’s in Nigeria.

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