By Dakuku Peterside
A critical element of the 2023 general election is the intensity and electricity of the Nigerian youths’ participation in the electoral process. Statistics may not fully capture or contextualise youth involvement in the 2023 national electoral process. The youth energy and involvement this time around deservedly forms a new chapter in post-1999 democratic politics. And we are all witnesses to their sheer determination to seize the moment and change the political orthodoxy.
For obvious reasons, the Nigerian youths are victims of a political system and leadership that failed them, and they have suddenly risen from slumber to challenge the system and lead the fight to change things through political participation. This is evident in the last election. From the campaigns, voting, and post-voting phases, youths have been emotionally, physically, and psychologically involved. A cursory look at their conversations and dialogues in private, public, social, and online spaces demonstrates the extent of their zest for political change. No other youth group exemplified the tenacity of purpose and the desire for change like the “Obidient Movement.”
Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate in the last presidential election, is not new to Nigerian politics. He is an old horse, a veteran in the political scene of Nigeria. However, he was great at reading the nation’s political mood, especially the youths clamouring to change the status quo. He rode on the frustration and sentiments of the masses for change. He positioned his messaging and movement to fit the country’s mood, wittingly crafting messages that resonated with youths about the need for structural and procedural changes within the system to bring about the needed changes the youths hoped for. He simply filled a leadership vacuum for a youth movement that pre-existed his presidential political aspiration. He demonstrated to the youths that he was a leader with the motivation, courage, character, and conviction to help fulfill their dream.
This was sweet to the ears of many Nigerian youth, but especially to an already militant youth movement (the ENDSARS movement and others) who quickly aligned with Obi and his philosophy and were ready for the first time to look for change through the democratic political process. Their devotion and emotional attachment to the “Obidient movement” could be seen in the outcry and frustrations among the youth, who voted massively against the status quo after INEC declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu the winner of the presidential election and the president-elect of Nigeria. Social media is awash with comments from young people whose hopes are dashed, and many are pondering what next step to follow.
The strength of the “Obidient movement” is further seen in the adoption of it by youths across the country from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and various social and class strata. Even in more traditionalist Northern enclaves, youths defied their folks and, against all odds, identified with the Obidient movement. This is significant because it marks the beginning of the rise of new Nigerians who are happy to defy and challenge the distinctive political culture of their communities. They believe in a new Nigeria. This new generation is driven by democratisation of education and technology that allow youths to connect in ways almost impossible a decade ago. Primordial sentiments about religion and ethnicity do not hold back this generation of enlightened youths. They are galvanised by one purpose – to change the status quo. This generation of youths can rightly be tagged “the liberation generation.” We are seeing the beginning of a socio-political movement that is hell-bent on taking Nigeria through a new path because they are dissatisfied and left behind by the current system. It is still gaining momentum and viciously looking for ways, albeit legitimate, to influence political change in Nigeria.
I do not doubt that this ambitious youth population will most likely sustain the momentum of this movement. They may be dismayed by the electoral outcome and may be re-evaluating their strategy to achieve real change. However, this is a rare opportunity to press the reset button and accelerate the momentum for sustainable socio-economic and political change in Nigeria. Momentary setbacks are not enough to stop the speed, and youths are poised to ramp up the pressure until they achieve meaningful progress in their quest for change.
The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Based on this physical law, it is self-evident that the energy of youths that powered the “Obidient movement” cannot be destroyed, and it may just move from one form to another. The vital questions are: can this youthful energy be sustained for another four years, or will it only resurrect in another election cycle? What other legitimate means will youths employ to ramp up the pressure for change before the next election? Unless the incoming government does something different and urgently, too, the season of discontent will not go away soon.
A country’s youth is the most mobile and dynamic segment of society. If the government does not respond urgently to issues that led to coalescing of forces in the “Obidient movement,” the youth movement will acquire more significant momentum. The outcome is usually not predictable. Youth worldwide has influenced change through action fuelled by greater political awareness and technology. The Arab Spring of the 2010s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement come to mind. The Obidient Movement may draw strength from these and similar examples in other countries where the resilience of the youth movement had paid off and brought about change.
We can see the potency of youths’ involvement in the spectacular performance of Peter Obi and the Labour party in the last elections. Only ten months ago, they were dismissed by mainstream politicians as having no structure and only existing in social media. Although Peter Obi and Labour party did not win the presidential elections, they are forces to reckon with in Nigerian politics today. He won in eleven states and the Federal Capital territory. Some of these states, like Lagos state, are the stronghold of the other parties, with all the paraphernalia and structures of the states in their control. In most states, Labour Party barely existed ten months ago, much more to have any political structure and network for a power struggle.
History has shown how much such movement displaces existing political parties to become dominant in a brief time. For instance, the Labour Party is the main centre-left political party in the United Kingdom today. It is a Social democratic party that evolved from the Trade Union movement. It overtook the Liberal Democratic Party in the early 20th century to become one of the UK’s two main political parties. Like the Labour Party of the UK, can the obidient movement renewed Labour Party in Nigeria displace any of the two major political parties? Only time will tell.
It is not yet Uhuru for the Obiedient led youth movement. The actions and inactions of the incoming administration will either soothe the frayed nerves of the youths or exacerbate the tension. The youths have entered a political liberation mood. Therefore, everyone in the new administration must demonstrate to the youths that it is not business as usual and must work hard to start tackling the demands of these youths, including employment, security, education, and better hope for their future in Nigeria. The youth movement will become stronger and even more menacing if they do not do these. Fortunately, the youth have been largely democratic and have resisted any tendency to be violent and destructive. Let us tame the “beast” before it grows beyond our control and consume us all.
The election’s demographic outcome has raised the urgency that the incoming government needs to apply to address the level of frustration among youths in the land. It is either youths planning to “JAPA” or poised to stay and fight the orthodoxy through any means possible, including political means. The issues that gave rise to the Obidient movement are still here. The new government must address these issues and give our youths hope for the future of this country. In a country where more than 70 per cent of its population are youths, we should harness these youths’ energy, talents, and skills to build the nation. This government must embrace the youths and involve them in solving most Nigerian problems. The incoming government must identify competent and patriotic youth leaders and use them to catalyse Nigeria’s development.
Fortunately, the president-elect and Vice president-elect are leaders known for using the best young talents in leadership. They have groomed many young leaders that have made a national impact in various fields, and I implore them even to go further to engage youths to tackle the youth problems in Nigeria. Only these will ameliorate the anger on the streets and calm the growing frustrations among the youths who are fed up and angry with the system, its leadership, and its processes. The president is the father of the nation and must listen to his children. The new Nigeria he is building is more for these youths than for his generation. Therefore, he must not view these youth movements as a threat or a danger to his system. Instead, he must see them as opportunities to work with youths to build a better, more significant, and safer Nigeria for all.