Nigeria’s electoral scene has been beset by tribalism, religion, prejudices, stereotypes, nepotism, godfatherism, corruption, and other forms of bias and egocentrism since independence and democratization. Tribalism and its appeal in Nigerian politics are unsurprising, considering the ethnic diversity of the country. However, some might term this shallow, especially with interrelationships among ethnic groups.
Nigeria, a culturally diverse and the most populous Black country in the world, is far from enjoying the dividends of democracy. The ineptitude and greed of politicians and the politics of ethnicity and elitism practiced in the country have translated into poor economic outcomes and the suppression of democracy’s core values.
However, a new wave of consciousness has washed over the country, particularly among a certain demographic: the youth. In the wake of failed governance and a poor economy, the young generation holds the government, and unsurprisingly, the older generation, responsible for the country’s adversity. This new consciousness is borne out of frustration, suppression, negligence, non-accountability of public servants, and a desire for real change.
February 25th, 2023, will mark an unprecedented moment in the nation’s history, important enough to change the political landscape. It marked the birth of the youth’s political consciousness, as they came out en masse to exercise their civic duty. The consciousness is built on their desire for competency, character, accountability, and capacity of politicians, not party politics, ethnicity, or selfish interests. In addition to participation in voting, contesting for public offices is another political process the youth are taking a keen interest in.
In this paper, we will cover the disruptive emergence of a new consciousness in the Nigerian political scene: The young generation. Will they fare better than the older generation in effecting political and economic changes? Are they well-equipped to fight and beat the system that has put them at a disadvantage for most of their lives? Only the future can tell, but it spells an exciting and hopeful time ahead.
The Nigerian Political Culture
Nigeria is a federation currently practicing a presidential system of government. The journey to democracy has been topsy-turvy for the country since its independence in 1960. Marred by military dictatorships for three decades between 1966 and 1999 and the civil war between 1967 and 1970, the nation only started enjoying democracy and civilian rule in 1999.
Political culture, according to Jatula (2019, citing Udim 2014), is defined as “formal protocols, as well as customs, traditions and political behaviors, passed down from generations; and encompasses well-established political traits that characterize a society.” Victor Jatula defines it as investigating the connection between actions (political processes and events), actors (public servants and the public), and consequences in the political arena. Political culture is crucial as it shapes the populace's attitude towards politics, perceptions, actions, and hopes for regime outcomes.
The political culture in Nigeria is primarily characterized by ethnicity, religion, voter apathy, elitism, corruption, electoral fraud, violence, and godfatherism, which are wielded to make the government for the few and not for all. In regards to ethnicity, the country has three major ethnic groups, which to a great extent, determine national elections. The three ethnic groups, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, can be found in the northern and southern areas of the country.
The far north, dominated by the Hausa, and the south, dominated by the Igbo and Yoruba, are different not only in their religious affiliations, Islam and Christianity, respectively, but in their outlook towards life, politics, and governance. While the southerners are more liberal, the northerners unquestionably accept class, hierarchy, and authority (Victor Jatula 2019). The implication is that ethnicity and religion are given more importance than competence or manifestos.
Furthermore, regarding the public's apathy towards politics, it is borne out of decades of political suppression during colonial and military rule and, more recently, during democracy. Distrust in politicians and the electoral process, corruption, violence, the absence of substantial change, elite privileges for politicians, disregard for the rule of law, and outright impunity have further contributed to apathy among the citizens. The implication is evident in the declining rate of voters, with the electorate forming less than a quarter of the entire population over the years.
However, the emergence of a new political consciousness among a demographic is poised to change the political culture. This time, for good.
The Awakening of the Youth’s Political Consciousness
The nagging feeling among the youth is that they have been failed by the government and the older generation, who are inept at effecting change through their actions, inactions, and nonchalance. This is apparent in the nation's abysmal economy, insecurity, sticky inflation, and rising debt service.
Nigeria's institutions have failed everyone. But guess which demographic failed more and would suffered for it longer? The youth. They, more often than not, take the brunt of the failed institutions and still get gaslighted about it. Their rights are taken at a whim, with a notable one in recent years being the Twitter ban between June 2021 and January 2022. In addition, the education sector has mainly become uncompetitive, smeared by decades of neglect, mismanagement, and strikes caused by underpayment of staff. Insurgency, poverty, and limited access to healthcare and job opportunities are a few of the country’s woes that significantly affect the youth.
The police are another institution that has failed the young generation. Though meant to protect and serve, the institution thrives off abuse, killings, and brutality. It does not take much to be abused; being "good-looking" and making a decent living is enough. With different stereotypes created, encounters with the police often lead to extortion and abuse of human rights. The mistreatment and brutality sparked the nationwide #EndSARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) protest and social movement in 2020.
The 2020 #EndSARS social movement against police brutality, which transcended to include displeasure against every failing sector, marks the beginning of the political consciousness among the young generation. The movement gave words to their struggles and discontent. Their shared pain and frustration unified them, with no leader whatsoever necessary. As a result, the history of the youth’s political consciousness cannot be adequately recounted without mentioning the #EndSars protest. The shared struggle united them and made them see strength in their numbers, enough to make changes. This was reflected in their decision to participate in the political process, hence the birth of political consciousness.
The dissatisfaction with the status quo in the recent past led to an unprecedented turnover in youth participation in the 2023 general election. The young generation is tired of being walked over. For as long as they can remember, they have been treated as unimportant in the grand scheme of things, even when they are the most likely to suffer more from bad political choices. They get ridiculed and called "children." They are told to "just accept" whatever is wrong with the country. They are told to "let peace reign" when they show their displeasure through friendly protest.
Their voices and fundamental human rights are taken away at the sight show of unified displeasure. Backed to the wall, the young generation had no other option but to take proactive actions, with participation in the political process being an integral part of that.
History will never forget February 25th, 2023, as it marked a turning point in the country’s political culture and architecture. Hitherto, the gap between the government and the people, particularly the youth, has always been huge. They were underestimated. They thought it was all bark and no bite when they showed their displeasure on social media.
The gap has been closed by their involvement and participation in political processes. According to data released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), nearly 40%, or over 37 million of the 93.5 million registered voters, were youth between 18 and 34. In addition, they also make up the most significant portion of newly registered voters (76%), which is 7.28 million of the 9.4 million registered voters. Their participation in the political process saw a jump of about 11.3% from the figure recorded in the 2019 general election.
To take their country back, the system had to be fought. The youth, upon realizing that choosing the right political candidate requires involvement in politics, had to do away with their apathy. They put their hopes in the polls. Their criteria for the right candidate capable of bringing the dividends of democracy is devoid of religious, ethnic, or political sentiments or affiliations but rather on competence, capacity, and character.
Gone are the days when the voices of the young generation were subdued. Unlike their predecessors, the younger generation is resilient and outspoken, earning them the name "Sọ̀rọ̀ Sóke" generation, which translates to "Speak up" in Yoruba. They have seen through the tactics and gimmicks of politicians to manipulate voters with money, religion, and ethnicity to gain favor. The new consciousness stands against everything Nigeria's political culture stood for.
They are aware that it isn’t going to be an easy fight, and it is far from being a fair one. However, they are resilient. There is no indication that they plan on throwing in the towel. In fact, after realizing their strength in effecting change, even though it was primarily frustrated by the current government, they are more resilient and confident.
Thanks to the young generation, Nigerians are entering the future with optimism and hope, a luxury they couldn’t afford until now.
Politics being a means to an end is more pronounced in Nigeria’s political atmosphere. In addition, the nation's political culture is incompatible with democracy and its institutions, resulting in poor economic outcomes and state inefficiency.
However, a ray of hope is shining on the country in the birth of a new political consciousness among a demographic fighting hard to change the political culture. Without giving up hope on the country, the young generation is immensely participating in the political processes and exercising their civic rights.
Their involvement is moving the needle of change an inch in the right direction. However, it will not be an easy or fair fight against the current system and governance. Their faith and resolve will be tested, and their efforts frustrated. The fight against the system isn’t a battle but a war, and there is no better-equipped generation to win it currently than the young one.
With the youth, there is reason to be optimistic about the future. They don’t need a structure to effect change. They will serve as the much-needed opposition in the absence of a real one in the country’s political scene; they will be the ones to be accountable to. Their unified voice gives them the strength to change corrupt and inept public servants.
In conclusion, the generation is vigilant and does not forget or overlook the past deeds of politicians. Upon realizing their power and strength, they thirst for change and will not stop until their dreams are realized. Looking beyond corrupt politicians and older generations, they are putting their future into their hands, and the future generations should rejoice.
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