Interviews Opinion

We make the law, we break the law (part 1)

Photo credit: “Man holding a Flag of Nigeria” by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu

After the 2023 presidential elections, Make It Plain asked four young Nigerians to share their thoughts and opinions about the political situation, their fellow country-people and their nation. Let’s read and hear what the first two interviewees had to say.

Djeneba Deby Bagayoko: We navigate many moments in life on auto-pilot. Study, work, pay bills. Rinse and repeat. But there are moments that require us to be more conscious, attentive, intentional. Before starting, we’d like you to take a moment to synch and tune in with your spirit, sit in the moment and ask yourself how you feel about the elections, Nigeria and Nigerians?  

Tobi Idowu: It would be quite impossible to talk about the elections and Nigeria without talking about Nigerians.

Nigerians are strong-willed people who are resilient, tenacious and highly resourceful. I consider Nigerians as highly skilled, and problem-solving oriented. Nigeria is a country that needs to live up to its hype: The Giant of Africa. There is, however, much to do in terms of maximising natural and human resources. We haven’t been so lucky on that front with responsive and responsible governments: from the small units (local councils) to state governors and at the federal level. Nigeria is long due for a high degree of transformation. With time, we hope to get there. 

Ibrahim Faleye Hero: I feel that the 2023 election was a one of a kind, especially the presidency election. It was really a race. There are strategies to win elections in Nigeria. We knew that Northern Nigeria is one power house of votes. You need their support to actually win a presidential race. Many southerners and easterner didn’t really understand that logic. You can have a very good candidate but most of the times regions will vote for regions,. This can be altered but it will still come out play. To win a presidential election in Nigeria, you need support from all the regions. And it played out in the last election.

DDB: You probably have witnessed a couple of elections before. Does the 2023 election differ from those of the past or is there a trend you notice?  

TI: Regarding elections, the 2023 elections greatly differ from the previous ones. The 2023 elections were quite disruptive. There used to be two formidable parties and it seemed like a two-party system. We now had a disruption from a third group: the Labour Party. The predictions that the 3rd party would have a good outing were dispelled. It was wrongly assumed that people active on social media don’t vote, but they came out en masse to vote. There was large voter sensitization. The independent national electoral commission (INEC) spearheaded voter registration. Extensions were put in place to allow people, especially first-time voters, to obtain their electoral cards. New voters signed up. People who changed residence could also transfer their voter’s register to their new location. The two major parties didn’t have the foresight and didn’t analyze what the new inflow of voters could’ve meant to them. Other factors that spurred new voters to come out en masse: 

  • fuel scarcity since November/December 2022 which caused great discomfort to the average Nigerian 
  • the introduction of new Naira notes which inconvenienced people. This economic policy didn’t even favor the government in place as far as candidate retention was concerned 

We can dub these elections “protest votes”. Because there was a protest against the two major parties, and the third party benefited from these “protest votes”. 

It was a new chapter in politics: some of the strong people weren’t able to gain or retain power. A lot of governors couldn’t get into the senate house that has hitherto served as a political-retirement home for ex-governors.

IFH: Yes, there was a huge differences. Power shift from the north was one thing that made the election different. In the history of Nigerian elections, a ruling party has never lost states the way the ruling party did during this election. Almost 15 governors lost their senatorial bids which usually would have been an easy win for them. Plus there were 3 major contenders when it’s usually 2, and we witnessed more participation.

DDB: There’s a saying in Nigeria that goes “we make the law, we break the law”. Do you think it is applicable in this context, too?  

TI: I don’t think that has happened because there was more consciousness on the citizens’ part. A lot of public servants couldn’t get away with breaking laws as citizens were actively involved in the processes and were raising on-the-spot noise and reportings of malpractices and wrongdoings. 

IFH: I don’t really think it’s applicable. Like I said earlier in  the history of Nigerian elections, a ruling party has never lost states the way the ruling party did, and almost 15 governors lost their senatorial bids. Sometimes we really need to understand the laws. A case study to win a presidential election is the following: the candidate must win 25% in ⅓ of the states in Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory. Many got it wrong. That statement affirms that the FCT should be treated as a state, so it can be added to the ⅓ states. Many thought that you had to win the FCT too to become president.

DDB: Afrikan presidents and generally politicians are often referred to as dinosaurs. They may have more life experience due to their age and we give them respect because they’re elders. But when the median age of the population is 18 years don’t they risk being out of touch with local and popular reality? Do you feel heard and valued as young people of Nigeria?  

TI: It’s worrisome that, as young people, we don’t feel heard and valued. There has been a conscious movement amongst the youth to get actively involved in political processes. The message that the youth has numbers has resonated with the major political parties. When they consistently participate actively they will outnumber the older generation. However, some of us think getting involved isn’t enough. Involvement with the right competences is needed and necessary. Politically, we don’t feel sufficiently and adequately valued in Nigeria. 

IFH: I’ll say this is not an Afrikan thing. The global majority of the world leaders are of older age, examples of this are the USA, the UK, Russia and so on. It is also important to note that experience matters a lot, especially in governance. Also let’s not forget most of the “oldies” started somewhere, this brings us back to the grassroots. For someone who is about 18 years, they must go through educational and academic aspects of life, especially the university. This might expose them to some kind of leadership skill, serving in the student union government for instance. Outside the spheres of school, a young person can start from the grassroots too. There are political offices like councillor, local government representative offices and so on. Experience is highly needed in governance.

DDB: Elections also show people’s true colors and attitudes towards other religious affiliations and ethnicities. Do you feel that younger generations care less about those differences or are they still as sectarian as their parents and grand-parents?  

TI: It wouldn’t be safe and accurate to say that as young people we care less about religious and ethnic affiliations. From what we have experienced in the last elections a considerable number of youth went down the path of ethnic and religious divide. We’re not totally different from our parents and grandparents. There was a belief that things would be handled differently, but in practice that didn’t manifest.

IFH: Using the 2023 election as a case study it’s still the same. It was glaring. Religious leaders even preached about voting for candidates based on the religion.

Stay tuned for more in part 2.

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