Given that most of the users of social media are young people, the big concern is if the strong social media support and engagement will translate to a strong voter turnout for young people on election day.
The “Not Too Young to Run” Act sought to reduce the age of contestants for elective offices to accommodate young people. The quest to get the bill signed into an act of Parliament in 2018 was led by young people, who sought inclusiveness in elective offices. Now, that is for those seeking elective offices. However, to vote, a Nigerian just needs to be 18 years and older, and a registered voter. Thus, with a median age of about 18 years, the 2023 general elections in Nigeria will test the will of the youth in Nigeria (who constitute the majority in the country) to cast more votes.
Social media has been agog with support for different candidates (especially presidential candidates). Without doubt, the candidates whose supporters have been most vociferous are the supporters of former governors Peter Obi, and Bola Tinubu, and the supporters of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Given that most of the users of social media are young people, the big concern is if the strong social media support and engagement will translate to a strong voter turnout for young people on election day. If we go by previous electoral results and statistics of participation by young people, the answer to that question will be no.
Compared to the general elections in 2011 (where 56.4% turned out to cast their ballot) and 2015 (where 46.8% cast their vote), the 2019 general elections (which saw only 39.09% voter turnout) recorded the lowest turnout. A lot of factors have been adduced to why voter turnout declined continuously from 2015; factors such as lack of trust in the democratic process and insecurity have been blamed for voter apathy and the falling voter turnout. In the 2019 general elections, about 46.3% of young, registered voters turned out to vote, meanwhile, young people represented about 51.1% of total registered voters in 2019, according to a report by readytorun. While this is larger than the national value, it is still not up to half of the registered young voters at the time.
A few events may point to a renewed interest in the democratic process and the resolve of young people in Nigeria to turnout in greater numbers in the 2023 general elections. One of such events is the #EndSARS protest that rocked the nation in October 2020. It was the first time in recent history that young people would come out in large numbers to protest against the government in power. While the protest was primarily called to protest police brutality on young people (particularly the brutality of the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad – SARS), it quickly morphed into a protest against ills like corruption, unemployment and general perceived bad governance. The protest ended ingloriously, but not without young people demonstrating they have the ability to organize and get the government to listen to their grievances.
Another pointer to the possible participation of young people in the forthcoming 2023 general election is in the number that has been recorded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and reported on their twitter handle as “Fresh Registrants” (as at June 2022 when registration for the election ended). The total number of fresh registrants when registration ended in June this year stood at 10,487,972. Meanwhile, of the fresh registrants, young people accounted for 6,081,456, which is more than half of the fresh registrants.
While these numbers are impressive, they will amount to nothing if young people decide not to show up on election day. Young people will either translate their huge social media activities into votes cast on election day in 2023 or end up being casted – a street lingo in Nigeria that can be translated to being disappointing or being failures.
For several years, the youth in Nigeria have casted on election days. They are usually found wanting while the more elderly and aged are found on the queues waiting for their turn to vote – under favourable or unfavourable conditions. However, if the statistics from INEC is anything to go by, if the buzz on social media is to be taken seriously, and if #EndSARS was more substance than farce, then it is expected that the 2023 general elections will witness the youth in Nigeria casting their votes and not being casted.