Politics

5 Young Nigerians Share Their Hopes and Fears for the Upcoming Election

"The ideal candidate has to be a superman—our problems are that deep."

Nigerians will head to the polls this Saturday to vote in a highly-contested election between front-runners Muhammadu Burhari and Atiku Abubakar, and while the outcome of Nigeria's presidential race will have major implications for the state of democracy throughout the continent—the results will have a particularly strong impact on one group in particular: the country's youth population, which is the highest on the continent. With more than half of the population under the age of 35, the stakes are incredibly high for Nigeria's young people.

Given the history of corruption that plagues Nigerian politics and the choice between two septuagenarian candidates who will likely uphold the status-quo, it's easy to be pessimistic about the outcome of the election. Yet and still, the maintenance of optimism—even in the harshest of realties—has always been more in-line with the Nigerian spirit.

We wanted to hear directly from young Nigerians about their feelings on the election, so ahead of the election we spoke with five young Nigerians, both on the ground and in the diaspora, who shared their hopes for the upcoming election, their fears, their thoughts on the state of the Nigerian political system, and their suggestions on what candidates can do to empower the country's youth.

Read their responses below.


"Ruth, Amina and the three Aisha's play 'In and Out'," 2017, Tatsuniya. Photo by Rahima Gambo, courtesy of Nataal.

Chika Oduah, 32, Journalist, Enugu, Nigeria

What are you hopes for the upcoming election?

I hope for a free and credible election process that Nigerians can believe in and take pride in casting their votes for.

What are your biggest fears surrounding the election?

My biggest fear is the deadly violence that could break out.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate, and what are the key issues facing Nigeria that you'd want them to address?

The president of Nigeria should work towards unleashing Nigeria's potential. Nigeria has a huge youth population that feel under-served and marginalized. A president should lend an ear to the voices of the youth across the country, including rural areas and cities. The president should also work towards diversifying the economy away from its dependence on crude oil, which is increasingly losing value as a preferred energy source around the world.

"Today, more Nigerians are taking strides to protect their vote."

What are your thoughts on the political system in Nigeria as a whole?

The political system in Nigeria lacks transparency and diversity. Parties seldom develop concrete ideologies. Politicians tend to run on party popularity. Unfortunately "godfatherism," which is patronage from the old guard is still common and this hinders the viability of new voices to join the arena. Nigeria's political system has come a long way, though from what it was 15 years ago when vote-buying was the order of the day and thugs paid by politicians terrorized communities. Though some of these elements still exist, the scale has been reduced. Today, more Nigerians are taking strides to protect their vote, meaning to vote from their conscious rather than voting for whichever party paid for their vote. These are steps in the right direction.

What can the president do to better serve Nigeria's youth population?

Number 1: Focus on economic growth. Focus on economic growth. Focus on economic growth. Economic growth will produce jobs and that's what the youth are crying for. Number 2: Improve the education sector. Improve the education sector. Improve the education sector. Nigeria needs a skilled, intelligent, literate populace to take it to the next level. Those skills graduates needs jobs when they graduate, which is why the first point is so crucial.

Kola Tubosun, 37, Linguist and writer, Lagos

What are you hopes for the upcoming election?

I hope the election is free of violence and rigging, and fair in the eyes of the candidates and the public.

What are your biggest fears surrounding the election?

My fear, as with most elections in Nigeria, is that one candidate will not concede, and the polity will heat up leading to potential violence.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate, and what are the key issues facing Nigeria that you'd want them to address?

An ideal candidate has a vision, is capable of actualizing that vision, is surrounded by trustworthy people and is himself/herself trustworthy. Issues in Nigeria today that are urgent are plenty: security, education, infrastructure, and corruption.

"I hope the young people also begin to demand better of those in power."

What are your thoughts on the political system in Nigeria as a whole?

There is no ideological difference, per se, between our major political parties. I'm dispirited by the amount of crosscarpeting that happens especially when one candidate loses. They jump immediately to the winning party. So one doesn't ever have the chance to see them in a losing/opposition position. Just a revolving door of characters looking for the next meal out of the government pocket. It doesn't encourage one to want to associate with either party. Maybe saner parties with money and enough people to compete on the national level will show up someday. Until then, each election will continue to be one where you hold your nose to vote for the least horrible candidate.

What can the president do to better serve Nigeria's youth population?

I hope we stop this idea of appointing smart young people into token positions: special adviser on publicity, assistant special envoy to the youths, or any such inanity. I hope the young people also begin to demand better of those in power. Other countries have appointed under-40 citizens to head important federal ministries. It's time to stop telling the youths that they will lead tomorrow. They already lead now. Give them the positions to prove their mettle.

Occupy Nigeria Rally. Image via Flickr.

Joey Akan, 27, Music Journalist and A&R, Lagos

What are you hopes for the upcoming election?

I hope that we are wiser now, and we can collectively bring in leaders of great quality (hard ask), who would prioroitise development and growth, rather than personal gain.

What are your biggest fears surrounding the election?

I fear for the outbreak of violence. No one has to die for the ambitions of a few. I suspect there will be some, and it gets me worked up.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate, and what are the key issues facing Nigeria that you'd want them to address?

First, you gotta show me how you will make my life better. What personal gratification do I get from your service? Infrastructure, health care, human capital development, electricity, the economy, and education! The ideal candidate has to be a superman—our problems are that deep.

"I fear for the outbreak of violence. No one has to die for the ambitions of a few. I suspect there will be some, and it gets me worked up."

What are your thoughts on the political system in Nigeria as a whole?

It's poorly designed and guided by a constitution drawn by military rulers. It is flawed and the laws allow too much slack. We need a new constitution review.

What can the president do to better serve Nigeria's youth population?

Get them to believe in the system again. Make them see the gains from playing by the book. They need jobs, skills, and a shot at a decent life of dignity. Give them that, and you are on par with Jesus.

Abisola Balogun, 28, Research Fellow, UK

What are you hopes for the upcoming election?

I have one hope really and that is for the election to be peaceful and fair. Whether that is attainable is the question!

What are your biggest fears surrounding the election?

I have plenty of fears about the election, I would say my biggest fear is that the election would be chaotic, readers would stop working and of course the election would be rigged.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate, and what are the key issues facing Nigeria that you'd want them to address?

My ideal candidate would be someone that would listen to the heart of the people and put the interest of the people first. In Nigeria, even though there are so many issues that need to be addressed at this time, I would say the key issues are healthcare, education and power (as in electricity). These are absolutely necessary for a successful country.

What can the president do to better serve Nigeria's youth population?

If the winner of the 2019 election can prioritise education, employability and healthcare, it will do a wealth of good for the youth and people in general.

Traditional Kanuri Dancers. North East Nigeria.Image via Wikimedia

Richard Akuson, 25, Barrister & Solicitor, LGBTQ+ Rights Activist and Founder of A Nasty Boy, Washington DC

What are you hopes for the upcoming election?

This may sound like a wishful thinking, but I sincerely hope the upcoming election can reflect the wishes of Nigerians. I desperately hope it'll be inflection point for Nigeria from what it is now to what it could be. I hope the will of the people will be respected by President Buhari and his government; that the powers that be will be respectful of the collective voice and mandate of Nigerians.

What are your biggest fears surrounding the election?

I think for me, like most Nigerians, there's an existential fear of election malpractices that have constantly punctuated our electoral processes in the past with exception to the last general elections. I hope that President Buhari, like his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, will have the grace and strength of spirit to allow Nigerians the benefit of a free and fair election. I hope the ruling party will commit to respecting our very delicate democracy that, more than anything, we need to protect.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal candidate, and what are the key issues facing Nigeria that you'd want them to address?

I think competence, capability and capacity to lead a diverse country like Nigeria, and an untainted proven track record of leadership. But even more, I appreciate a candidate that has demonstrated through out their career a compassion and undying love for Nigeria, and a deep rooted believe in the possibility of the Nigeria of our dreams. I saw and recognized these and many more in Oby Ezekwesili, which was why I was excited when I heard about her candidacy. It's truly a lose that she's decided to drop out of the race. In so many ways, it feels like Nigeirans are not ready for a woman president with the capacity and wealth of experience that Ms. Ezekwesili possesses. I very much look forward to when Nigeria as a country can look beyond the menfolk that have continued to fail us.

"I hope the ruling party will commit to respecting our very delicate democracy that, more than anything, we need to protect."

What are your thoughts on the political system in Nigeria as a whole?

I believe the Nigerian political system most desperately needs a total overhaul, a purge of sorts. There's a virulent disconnectedness between the political class and working class Nigerians that makes it impossible for those in government to lead with compassion, fairness, and humility. People go into government with the sole aim of enriching themselves and their loved ones, it's a practice that, for the most part, is responsible for the rapid rot of the country.

What can the president do to better serve Nigeria's youth population?

They will have to be open-minded to the diversity that defines Nigeria, whether it's to the needs of Nigeria's growing LGBTQ+ citizens or women or just about any minority group. They needs to be the champion of those who have been sidelined and dehumanized and rendered second class citizens by Nigeria. I'm speaking unequivocally about Nigeria's LGBTQ+ population, and women, too. I hope the person governs with compassion and empathy, knowing that Nigeria has to work for all Nigerians. It's only when these fundamental issues are resolved will there be promise of a better future for Nigeria's teeming youthful population.

Interview
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