Presidential election in Nigeria: youth yearn for a reset

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NOS News
  • Ellen van Gelder

    correspondent Africa

Africa’s most populous country elects a new president today. It is the most uncertain and tense democratic ballot in Nigerian history. Especially since young people no longer want to watch old corrupt politicians rule the country.

Every day there are long queues in front of banks in Nigeria. Nigerians are trying to get their hands on cash because there isn’t enough of it. Last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria thought it would be a good idea to replace low-value banknotes (up to 2.04 euros) with new ones. But that went very wrong. There is so little in circulation that people no longer have money to take the bus home or to go to the market.

It puts these elections on edge in a country that is already plagued by a wide variety of problems: insecurity from criminals and jihadists, a major shortage of electricity, skyrocketing unemployment, conflicts between livestock farmers and arable farmers, a resurgent independence movement and endemic corruption.

More and more problems

Problems that have been there for a long time, but keep increasing. Because while outgoing President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party promised to tackle corruption and insecurity, things only got worse under his two terms. Buhari is not a candidate now.

Bola Tinubu (70), former governor of Lagos, is on the ballot for his party. Another contender is Atiku Abubakar (76), former vice president, who is running for the sixth time for the People’s Democratic Party.

But both are known to be corrupt and old. Young people are looking for innovation. There is only one candidate for this group, Peter Obi, slightly younger at 61, from the Labor Party. Obi is a wealthy but modest businessman from the southeastern state of Anambra who also served as governor there.

His name does appear in the Pandora Papers, an investigation into politicians who funneled money to tax havens, but he denies having done anything wrong. Moreover, this case is nothing compared to the corruption of which his opponents are accused.

Obi presents himself as ‘anti-system’ and anti-corruption and advocates for good governance. He is supported by some prominent Nigerians such as former president Olusegun Obasanjo and the famous author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In an open letter, Obasanjo writes that youth has the opportunity to change history. 40 percent of the 93 million voters are under the age of 35.

Record number of voters

In the past, many young people in Nigeria did not vote. But now a record number of about ten million new voters have registered. A large part of the youth has awakened politically in recent years. It started three years ago when young people took to the streets en masse to demand an end to brutal police violence. It culminated in a broader movement against the government and for change.

Obi’s candidacy gives youth hope for a safer country, with jobs and opportunities for young people. But the question is whether he can really win. Obi is ahead in the polls, but they are not very reliable. In the north, outside the cities, and in the Islamic part of the country, support for Obi is limited.

He is Christian and the other candidates are Muslim; this also plays an important role in voting behaviour. In addition, the other candidates have a well-oiled machine behind them, just like a lot of wealth from the treasury. And money talks.

Not only can they stick their picture in many more places on the street, but there are also allegations every election of vote buying, spreading fake news and hiring people to intimidate voters.

The country is also so large that only a fraction of all polling stations can be monitored by observers. There is, however, a system in which voters are identified on the basis of biometric data and the results are uploaded digitally.

Important for the entire region

What happens in Nigeria matters to the entire region. Not only does the country, with an estimated 220 million people, have a huge population, it is also the largest oil exporter on the continent. The country is the largest democracy in Africa. Because although a lot goes wrong in the political system, Nigeria is more stable than many other countries in West Africa, where there have been coups.

So the whole continent is watching today. And especially the many young people in other African countries, who would like to see if it is possible to deal with the older, corrupt guard.

  • Abroad

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