WILL NIGERIA’S YOUTH UPTURN ELECTORAL OUTCOMES?

By Elor Nkereuwem

Nigeria’s teaming young population is expected to play a key role in the outcome of the 2023 presidential elections. The youth population makes up over 60 percent of Nigeria’s 200 million persons. Although persons between the ages of 18 and 35 have historically made up a larger percentage of Nigeria’s voter distribution, they have also typically exhibited a high indifference to voting. This time around, multiple factors converge to change expectations about the voting behavior of young Nigerians, including a galvanized youth population following popular protests against police brutality in 2020 and the emergence of a charismatic and relatively young presidential candidate Peter Obi, running under the banner of a fringe Labour Party. 

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), young people make up the largest voting bloc, with about 40 percent of Nigeria’s voter distribution. The youngest voting block is closely followed by persons aged 35 – 49, who make up 36 percent of the voter distribution in this cycle. 

WHERE THINGS STAND:

Is This an Aftermath of The EndSARS Protests?

Popular opinion on social media, and on the ground, indicate retained anger and frustrations which were amplified during the 2020 anti-police brutality protests across Nigeria. The mass mobilization, particularly on social media, for Mr. Obi, bears similar trends to the popular protests, which led to major economic disruptions and lives lost when young Nigerians across the country took to the streets to advocate fairer treatment from Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies. 

The OBIDIENT movement reflects some of the sentiments expressed by the youth during the protests. Many highlight the poor security and other socio-economic factors, including unemployment, as major reasons for supporting Mr. Obi’s candidacy. Many advocates during the #EndSARS protests have led the organic social media mobilization for the LP’s Obi, leading to a widespread show of support across all the geo-political regions of the country. Election day outcomes will highlight the significance of this organic youth movement.  

Higher Voter Registration

Over 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote in today’s elections. This constitutes an 11-percentage increase from the last election cycle in 2019. Anecdotal evidence points to a youth-heavy composition of the influx of new registrants. 

Many young people say they feel a connection to the LP candidate, who has upturned Nigeria’s de facto two-party structure. Since the return to democracy in 1999, only two parties have dominated national politics: the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This year, LP has become a major contender.  Mr. Obi defected from the PDP shortly before the party’s primary elections last year. His association with LP has significantly boosted the party’s stature, with many young voters aligning with the party. Although many young persons remain uninterested in the state elections, some have indicated that they will vote LP down the ballot in today’s national elections, including the presidency, senate, and federal house of representatives.

Lower Voter Apathy?

Election day results will confirm whether this registration uptick will affect Nigeria’s voter apathy, which has been on the rise since 2003. Voter turnout increased slightly in 2003 from 52 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2003. Since then, the turnout of registered voters has seen a steady decline, an indicator of indifference to electoral outcomes or the electoral process. 

Another indicator of voter apathy is the collection of voter cards or Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), which are a requirement for voting during elections. Registration to vote does not automatically allow voters to vote. Since their introduction in 2015, PVC collection rose slightly by 5 percentage points to 87 percent in 2019 but has increased significantly in this cycle to 93 percent, a further indicator of interest in the elections. Nonetheless, election day turnout has not often reflected the commitment to voting, given the historically poor turnout. 

Candidacy Across the Country has Low Youth Representation

Only 29 per cent of about 15,300 candidates across the entire country are young people, with a higher proportion of candidates running for office in state assembly elections. Yet the 61-year-old Obi is being hailed as a ‘youth candidate,’ given the relative age difference between the LP candidate and his APC and PDP competitors, aged 70 and 76, respectively. Multiple rounds of unconfirmed health challenges have trailed the APC and PDP candidates throughout the election cycle.  Whereas young people’s candidate representation appears higher in state elections, especially the state house of assembly, it is not clear that the teaming crowd in today’s national elections will show up two weeks from today to vote in the state elections.