Lessons from the Nigerian 2015 Elections: Youth Engagement

Written by Georgina Sowemimo

I remember how I first became interested back in 1997. I was at the age of seven, having grown up watching BBC and CNN news every morning with my parents.  It was the day Tony Blair had been announced as the new Prime Minister, and at school no one seemed interested that the opposition party had just won election, which to me, was a pretty big deal.

My interest in politics further grew was further influenced by my faith. The verse in Isaiah 54:14 says ‘You will be secure under a government that is just and fair. Your enemies will stay far away. You will live in peace, and your terror will not come near’ really stood out for me.  This verse stands out because it encourages me as a Christian to go out and vote. The only way to be secure under a government that is just and fair is by making our voices heard, and affect change.The Nigerian general election in March 2015 was the fifth quadrennial election to be held since the end of military rule in 1999. It is also the election that saw the highest number of young voters ever in the country.

What made this year so different? Prior to these elections, the percentage of young Nigerians interested in politics was terribly low. This time however, more people below the age of 35 got involved in politics. Whilst statistics are unavailable to give precise data, my Twitter and Instagram feeds were filled with friends who live in Nigeria using hashtags (#NigeriaDecides, #Changeishere, #APCChange), announcing their alliance to political parties and attending rallies.In particular, the opposition party All Progressives Congress party (APC) ran a PR campaign that had the President-Elect, General Buhari as the face of change, the face for young people. He was always found to be meeting with young people at community groups and interactive sessions. His campaign management team were made up of people barely in their thirties.Thousands of young people gave up their time and resources attending rallies, donating various amounts to the campaign, or having a fun day out volunteering to campaign and effectively helped Buhari win the elections. Although the percentage is still quite low, it is now obvious that the young population have now realised the importance of politics, and are willing to get involved to make a difference by making their votes count.Here in the UK, turnout among 18 to 24 year olds has fallen from over 60% in the early 1990s to an average of 40% over the last three general elections (before the last). Research finds that the youth turnout rate in the UK is the lowest of all the 15 members of the old European Union. The turnout for voters aged 18 to 24 in Sweden was double the rate of their peers in the UK.

[1]According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a survey of 40,000 households were questioned and found that 31% of 16 to 24 year olds were “fairly” or “very interested” in politics, so why doesn’t this translate in the polls?Many young people were becoming involved in politics in more informal ways, such as social media campaigns, but Will Brett, head of media at the Electoral Reform Society said: “We need to find ways of getting them more interested in our system of representative democracy. It’s extremely precious.” [2]I think the issue in the UK is that young people switch off when political engagement serves more as political advertising than genuine interest.Maybe politicians in the UK need to hire Buhari’s PR Company.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/feb/25/political-parties-are-neglecting-young-people-its-time-for-unis-to-step-in%5B2%5D http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26271935

The original article can be found here on http://wearecurrent.co.uk/

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