Nigeria, the often-dubbed giant of Africa, is at a critical moment since achieving independence in 1960. Following a tense couple of years, marred by the 2020 Lekki Toll Gate massacre, authorised by the government in response to the #EndSARS protests (which began as a call to end police brutality and extrajudicial killings that have become endemic in Nigeria), many citizens are now called to elect the new leader and president.
In the past, Nigerians have often been dismissive or disillusioned with their presidential candidates, as they believed that little to no change would ensue across the country and the economic divide would further widen. However, this time, many young people have realised the power they hold and how social media platforms can help to amplify their voices and put them in the driving seat to choose their next president. Additionally, many young people have expressed a desperate yearning for change and they intend to use this moment to vote on the basis of social issues and elect like-minded leaders. If they do so, they can issue a warning to the older generation about a shift in the paradigm of power.
It is remarkable to note how pre-independence and independence leaders have been depicted in Nigeria’s history as being relatively youthful. Nonetheless, despite the alleged ‘youth bulge’ and recent legislation to lower the age of political candidates, youth representation in politics hardly reaches 2 per cent. When studying and analysing the three main candidates put forward by parties for the 2023 General Elections in February, the youngest of the three is Peter Obi, 61. The other two are Atiku Abubakar, who will be 76 when the election is held, and Bola Tinubu, 70.
Young people are turning to former governor Peter Obi, whose candidacy under the Labour Party is fast turning into an impressive third force. Strengthened and amplified by the use of social media, the awareness of his strengths and capabilities are fully on display for people to judge and a large group of supporters are now mobilising to ensure that Obi, nicknamed “Okwute,” or “the rock” in Igbo, can be elected and repair the failing economy and improve the socio-economic livelihood of Nigerians. The ‘Obidients’, Peter Obi’s supporters and fans, have taken over streets, malls and squares to display the formidable power of collective action.
Peter Obi, a wealthy businessman and former governor of Anambra, is Igbo, one of Nigeria’s major tribes, and his possible victory will make him the first Igbo candidate to hold presidential power since 1966. According to many western media outlets, such as BBC and Bloomberg News, Obi is currently the top choice among young voters going into the elections.
Propelled by young people leaving the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and running under the banner of the Labour Party, Obi has become a surprisingly strong electoral force, despite not having yet outlined any concrete strategies to create new job opportunities and enable Nigeria’s full economic recovery.
The Labour Party candidate represents a touch of fresh air compared to the other flagbearers of the other two major parties, who are longstanding officials of Nigeria’s fourth republic and whose input and impact have been so abysmal that Obidients are often heard chanting the slogan “Obidience is better than a sack of rice”. This shows how many young people will not be bought by other empty and ephemeral promises, but instead, believe that Obi can be responsible for successfully fixing the country’s security and socio-economic concerns due to his background in banking and his reputation for frugal spending. According to the Economist, more than 65 per cent named Obi as the candidate best able to improve the economy, tackle corruption, and reduce insecurity.
Obi’s campaign budget pales in comparison to that of the other two major party candidates, Tinubu and Abubakar, but what he lacks in large in budgetary terms, Obidients make up for him by functioning as his foot soldiers and amplifiers. They make it a point of daily commitment to showcase their support for him and gain new people to their side. Many political analysts believe that Obi can emulate H.E Hakainde Hichilema, who came to power in Zambia thanks to the surging youth vote in 2021.
The #EndSARS movement against police brutality has made the Soro Soke (meaning ‘speak up’) generation visible, while social media networks have contributed to the promotion of political accountability by providing online spaces and debates for young people to engage with politicians. Presidential candidate Peter Obi should continue to use these tools to outline policies and be a true change for agent, addressing the nation’s discontent and ameliorating living conditions for the next generation.