Introduction

On February 25, 2023, barring any alteration in the election timetable, Nigerians will elect a new President and Commander in Chief. The 2023 elections will test the resolve of Nigerians, especially the youths, to defend (the)ir hard-won democracy amidst worsening living conditions and growing national insecurity.

For youths who constitute the majority of the voters and most of whom have had a raw deal from the Nigerian state, their participation in this election comes from a place between deep frustrations and high expectations. This essay analyzes the challenges facing the youth and how they are defying the odds to remain actively optimistic by voting to advance Nigeria’s democratic project.

The Odds against Youths’ Active Participation in Nigeria’s 2023 Election

According to the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a total of 93.5 million voters will participate in the Nigerian 2023 elections, with young people between the ages of 18 and 34 making up the highest percentage (39.65 percent) of all registered voters.1Adedayo Akinwale, “Will more youth voters make any difference in 2023 polls?” This Day, 2023, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/01/18/will-more-youth-voters-make-any-difference–in-2023-polls/

Nevertheless, Nigerian youths continue to face what Johan Galtung describes as structural and direct violence manifesting as political marginalization, exclusion, and low representation in government due to factors such as the high cost of elections, socio-legal hindrances, institutional barriers, exclusionary legal framework, and the stereotypical narrative of young people as being politically immature and perpetrators of political violence. These challenges are further compounded by the limited financial resources available to many young people due to other structural factors like unemployment, poverty, and the lack of sustainable sources of livelihood.2Nextier, “How youth population can make or mar Nigeria’s 2023 polls,” https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2023/01/14/nextier-how-youth-population-can-make-or-mar-nigerias-2023-polls/

Nigerian Youths’ Resistance to Structural Violence in the Fourth Republic 

Despite social and state-imposed structural violence against their active participation in the political process, Nigerian youths have not given up, but have instead continuously adapted to the harsh social conditions and adopted tactics of engagement, defiance, and confrontation, which have yielded remarkable gains. Recent initiatives like the Not Too Young To Run (NTYTR) movement, which led to the passing of the bill into law, and acts of resistance like the 2020 #EndSARS protest have revealed Nigerian youths’ capacity to mobilize themselves and make demands on the state, using their agency to cause socio-political disruptions.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, several efforts have been made to enhance the active participation of Nigerian youths in the entire gamut of the electoral process. Such efforts have been mostly led by civil society organizations. Organizations like the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation (BBFORPEACE), YIAGA Africa, YMonitor, Peace Education and Practice Network (PEPNET), Youth Hub Africa, Centre for Peace Advocacy and Sustainable Development (CEPASD), and the Ladies Empowerment Goals and Support Initiative (LEGASI) have been building and strengthening the capacities of young people towards the prevention of electoral violence. These organizations, among several others, have organized trainings, campaigns, grassroots advocacy, multi-stakeholder dialogues, community mobilization, and sensitization workshops to address voter apathy and raise awareness of the need for meaningful youth participation in the political and electoral processes.

They have also been harnessing the power of social media to mobilize citizens for peaceful elections, expand the frontiers for youth political participation, and express themselves in the political space. With projects such as YIAGA Africa’s #WatchingTheVote, young people are also using technology and data for election monitoring and observation, all of which are aimed at increasing the citizenry’s trust in the electoral processes as well as guaranteeing credible and peaceful elections.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Notwithstanding the obstacles blocking youths’ active participation in politics especially in seeking elected offices, they have remained defiant and consistent in pushing back and recording incremental gains, some of which have been highlighted in this essay.

Thus, as the 2023 elections draw to a close, there is a need for youths to stay engaged and contribute actively to the consolidation of democracy. Young people must continue to create awareness of the importance of violence-free and peaceful elections for good governance and democratic consolidation in Nigeria. Furthermore, youths must refrain from being used as tools of political violence by rejecting all forms of provocation, including vote buying, snatching of ballot boxes, hate speech, fake news, as well as physical violence before, during, and after the 2023 elections because this will negatively shape the outcome of the election. Vote-buying and other electoral irregularities threaten the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections, which can in turn hinder the people’s effort at electing competent and accountable leaders to govern the affairs of the country.

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