Local Government Elections: the EndSARS Youth Disappeared into Thin Air

Elections were held in Lagos on Saturday 24 July 2021 to choose new leaders for the 57 Councils in the State; the Councils comprise of 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). The polls were however met with widespread voter apathy and extremely low turn-out, with many Lagosians only aware of the exercise a few days to the elections. Their knowledge came via the announcement of restrictions on vehicular movements and commercial activities that were put in place because of the elections.

The elections were held, and the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), which served as the umpire for the election later announced that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State lost only two councillorship seats in the election, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Young Progressive Party (YPP) winning one ward apiece. Summarily, the APC won 375 out of the 377 councillorship seats spread across the 20 LGAs and 37 LCDAs in the State. The ruling party also won all the chairmanship seats in all the 20 LGAs and 37 LCDAs in the State.

The elections which were contested by 15 political parties witnessed isolated instances of logistical hitches and pockets of violence, but were adjudged to be relatively peaceful across the State. Security apparatuses were adequately deployed across the polling areas in the metropolis to ensure the safety of lives and property of citizens. They were seen moving in convoy patrolling some areas throughout the election period.

Local government elections in Nigeria have a rather unpleasant history of extreme voter apathy and the worrisome trend manifested glaringly again in Lagos. The state with an estimated population of 20 million people has the highest number of registered voters in the country; a total of 6,570,291 registered voters as at 2019 across 13,323 polling units in the20 LGAs and 37 LCDAs. But the total number of voters that took part in the exercise across the state were considerably less than 100,000 with some wards having a total registered voter size of 500-700 people witnessing turnout of only 20-40 people.

The little importance and attention that political parties, the media, the electorate, and other critical stakeholders give to local government elections and administration have been a long-standing and unresolved phenomenon in Nigeria. Being the tier of government with the closest proximity and accessibility to the citizenry, it is expected that people will show more interest in choosing their local and municipal representatives with a chance to engender good governance from the grassroots. But most Lagosians did not even know the names, pedigrees and identities of majority of the candidates representing the different parties in their wards in the elections, let alone campaigning or voting for them. They were simply disinterested and nonchalant about the exercise in its entirety.

Since the Jonathan days when social media platforms started gaining traction and wide usage for political campaigns, analyses and debates, and up to the 2019 general elections when President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected for a second term in office till date, dissatisfaction and consternation have heightened in the country about apparent failures of government especially in the areas of security, economic management and the surging wave of ethno-religious tensions. Young Nigerians mostly within the age range of 20-40 have been at the forefront of these crusades and protests. Utilising the potent tool of various social media platforms, consciousness is being raised to the deficit in governance and maladministration patterns evident in many spheres of government control.

Recently, one of the social crusades culminated in the famous EndSARS protests that swept through the country in October 2020. It was a massive assemblage of young Nigerians who spoke in unison to protest against the illegalities and unprofessionalism that have eaten deep into the operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police. The protests were a watershed in the history of youth activities in the country especially post-1999. They were legitimate and laudable, sparking talks of the youths awaking from their slumber and demanding the basic requirements of a normal and decent society. Young people in their hundreds of thousands sustained the social protests for more than a week in highly organised manners that astounded the political class and forced them to intervene.

The epicenter of the protests in Lagos witnessed the attendance of the State Governor at some point. He attempted to identify with the genuine concerns raised. He proceeded to submit the request of the protesters to the President in Abuja all to douse the tensions and force the protests to discontinue, partly because of the protest’s impact on transport, economic activities and the risk of the activity being infiltrated by hoodlums to perpetrate criminalities in the State. The protests eventually took an ugly dimension as it was later hijacked by politically-motivated activists; miscreants in Lagos seized the opportunity to embark on violent looting and arson on government and private properties. The wave culminated in series of distasteful events including the use of military force against the protesters on 20 October 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate, one of the major venues of the protests. That effectively marked the end of the protests.

It became evident that protests can only do as much as make government reconsider some of its policies and actions. But the real actionable powers of state lie with the elected leaders who operate at all levels of government and have the constitutional authority to enforce reforms, or otherwise. An alternative theory therefore emerged, that instead of using the social media platform to organise protests and persistently bemoan the country’s myriad of leadership failures, perhaps the same platform can be used to galvanise and mobilise people towards enthroning a new trajectory of political leadership.

For a brief period, the crusaders including social activists, popular social media influencers and showbiz celebrities embarked on a massive social media campaign to get more young people involved in the political process. Novel ideas and all sorts of political strategies and mechanisms were being analysed on how best to expunge the current seemingly dysfunctional political structure and instill a new order of youth-driven political leadership in the country.

Suggestions of establishing a formidable Youth Party of Nigeria (YPN) or other political variants with similar cognomens were being discussed, as well as nationwide and community sensitisation exercises to politically capture the country’s massive youth population, and use their numerical strength to troop out en-masse to vote for choice candidates at various levels on election days. It was heartwarming seeing the young people trying to take control of their destiny through a people-oriented recalibration of the political space. The existing political establishment was apparently disturbed at the new surging threat to their dominance.

Unfortunately, the initiative could not be effectively harmonized, nor properly coordinated to yield solid results. The various arrowheads of the protests could not come together and use the opportunity of the nationwide momentum to champion this cause in a united manner. No party was formed, no strategy was created, the voter registration sensitisation campaign was not sustained, and the whole newly-bred cause ebbed into oblivion only after few weeks. The preference of the youth was for various social media distractions of entertainment, showbiz, sports and the typical ethno-religious colorations of national events. These ‘distractions’, as they are, soon pushed the initiative into a fatal nosedive.

The Lagos local council polls showed that indeed, the youth are not ready to embrace political-driven reforms. Many Lagosians on social media have said they did not participate in the just concluded elections because “of COVID” and because “the ruling party will surely win as usual and our votes don’t count”. It becomes more baffling and worrisome when the realisation sets in that the number of young people who believed in “My vote doesn’t count” run into tens of millions across the country. Ironical, these same set of non-participatory individuals complain the most about governance failure on social media.

If the youth have been able to walk the talk and present a political party of their own as proposed, or even adopt a non-mainstream party in the meantime if the registration process of their party is yet to be certified; if they had used the Lagos council polls as an acid test, while also mobilizing support for such candidates and trooping out in their large numbers as they did during the October protests; the results announced may have been completely different and the youths may actually have a workable blueprint to take over the nation from the current political players. But it was the opposite that happened; majority were not aware of the election, while the few who were aware left their voters card relaxing in the comfort of their homes and refreshing their social media pages to monitor and comment on the elections! Eye-witness reports reveal that in most of the wards, the few voters who turned up belonged to the age bracket of 40 and above. The socially vibrant “20-40-year-olds” were missing in action when it mattered most.

This begs the question: what sort of strategy do the young people have to better their lot as the 2023 election draws closer? The existing political establishment is working overtime with its scheming and counter-scheming to consolidate its grip on power. The train would most likely have left the station again at the time the young people are waking up, and they will be left with no option than to continue to invade the social media space condemning and demonising the candidates presented by the two dominant political parties who will nonetheless proceed to win the elections.

The issue can be further illustrated from an academic perspective. Every model has two major components: the independent variable and the dependent variable. The behavior of the dependent variable is based on the result or disposition of the independent variable. The independent variable, in this case, is the electoral process which culminates in elections; while the dependent variable is the governance system enforced by the winners of such election. Most Nigerian youths want to influence the dependent variable without recourse to the independent variable. They want good governance but are not ready to be involved in the electoral process.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is currently capturing eligible voters in the online pre-registration exercise. The exercise which started on 28 June 2021 was geared towards enfranchising many people as the 2023 general election draws closer. A recent report indicated that the volume of registration has reached the 1 million mark and a further breakdown reveal that 73% of the registrants are young Nigerians between ages of 18-34. Instead of dissipating all energy on lambasting politicians on social media, many youths should take part in the process, encourage friends and neighbours to partake in it while also sustaining advocacy for it to build up the number of young voters in the country.

Protests, civil crusades, social media outreach and the likes are only potent tools when used rightly to enthrone leaders and not just to dethrone them. Nigeria’s dense young population should stop the dreamy hope that a miracle will happen out of nowhere in 2023, and accept the biting reality that only when they are fully involved and wholeheartedly committed to the electoral process can they take control of the country’s political destiny. 

With a majority of the youths having unsteady confidence in the two main national political parties, the APC and the PDP, it is not too late to form a political party or identify with one of the various non-mainstream parties and start making widespread advocacies both on social media, the traditional mass media and nationwide community-based outreach. These would be in addition to making informed consultations and institutionalizing a robust and credible process to present and prepare candidates for the State Assemblies, National Assembly, Gubernatorial and perhaps even the Presidential elections. 

During the EndSARS protests, millions of naira were raised through donations and gifts from the circle of youths and sympathisers of the causes both within and outside Nigeria. There is no reason why a similar financing model cannot be encouraged again to make the formed parties fully operational if there is to be any inkling of hope for a paradigm shift in the next political cycle. But as it is, the EndSARS youth and those that stirred the protests to unpalatable dimensions have all gone missing.

Categories: Features, Nation, Politics

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