So, 3.5 million young people, mostly students, won’t be allowed to vote? Crazy, strange things just happen in Nigeria. That is why some people are no longer shocked when some things happen here. Remember the old joke: “Nigeria, na Charly Boy Show. Anything can happen.”
The much talked about 2023 General Elections will hold in less than 30 days, giving young people who got registered, their first opportunity to participate in deciding who will be the next political leaders at the federal and state levels. However, the major snag is that the only instrument that will enable them to vote, PVC, the permanent voters card, is yet to be distributed to them.
And the reason for the snag: the 2022 strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, which lingered for about eight months forced young people to register while at home, in polling units in cities and states where their campuses are not located. After the prolonged strike became a monumental national and global embarrassment to the Federal Government led by the All Progressives Congress (APC), efforts were intensified by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to broker a resolution that would encourage ASUU to suspend the strike and allow academic activities to resume.
Fortunately, ASUU heeded the call and suspended the strike. Pronto, students returned to their various schools. When it was time to collect PVCs, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, set a very tight schedule for the collection of PVCs. With millions of PVCs uncollected, statesmen and other stakeholders prevailed on INEC to extend the time for collection of PVCs.
Today, as the countdown to the presidential election continues, over 3.5 million young people, the bulk of them being students in tertiary institutions, are facing the very real prospect of being excluded from voting because the dates for the Presidential/National Assembly and Governorship/State Assembly elections will be while they are still in school.
In the even that the universities do not grant a special break, it simply means that students who struggled to register and obtain their PVCs will be disenfranchised and prevented from performing their civic duty of participating to elect the political leaders. Compelling students to choose between going to vote and their academic work is a clear act of bad governance, that is condemnable.
Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, revealed in October during the 2022 third quarterly meeting with political parties in Abuja, that students accounted for 40 per cent of the 9,518,188 new voters registered in the country for the 2023 polls. He, therefore, likened the election as one meant for the youths. For the first time, educated Nigerian youths were fired up to truly to participate in the electoral process, in the process to rescue the nation and pull it back from the brink of destruction and collapse. Why then should these youths not be given some days break to travel and cast their votes? Certainly, 40 per cent of 9.5 million is a very significant number that can tip the scales in the elections.
Now, if we all agree that a vote is a kind of prayer for the kind of world we want to live in, then the young people within the 18-30 age bracket already know the kind of world they want to live in. They want live in a world where a leader would assure them good governance. Popular Instagram influencer, Tunde Ednut, who is also a youth rightly put it this way: “We just want to be happy; we have suffered enough, we can see through the characters and behaviours of the presidential candidates already. We know who good for us and who no good for us.”
For the fact that every deep and incisive mind cherishes nobility of character, cherishes a leader who seems to have that majesty of character, those sterling, peculiar, distinctive traits that all admire. A leader with a great level of integrity, a confounding humility despite staggering achievements, Ednut believes other youths like him and Nigerians as free-thinking people, owe themselves and this bruised nation the truth that acknowledges the fact of all the candidates, only one is truly presidential.
Therefore, the seeming game plan to disenfranchise students and prevent them from the process of electing their preferred national and state leaders is a vicious blow and technical knock-out as seen in boxing.
Evidently, the authorities with the power to determine the academic calendar, do not know the power of ‘just one vote’. In 1649, it was just one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed. In 1654, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell the control of England. In 1776, one vote gave America the English Language instead of German Language. In 1839, one vote elected Marcus Morton the governor of the state of Massachusetts. Again, in 1945, one vote brought Texas into the American union. In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment, and I875, one vote changed France from a monarchy into a Republic and in 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B Hayes the president of the United states. In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler the leadership of Nazi Party. In 1941, one vote preserved the selective service system just 12 weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1960, Richard Nixon lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy by less than one vote per precinct in the United States and the list is endless.
Now, imagine a situation where over 3 million votes of the youths of this country are excluded from the 2023 general elections. The votes of the young population will make a great difference in the outcome of the election. Nigerian students are eager and ready to vote for their preferred candidate, but the powers that be are energetically pulling strings here and there to prevent them from doing so. That brings the big question: who is afraid of the students and what their votes can do? What if the students shun the university authorities and travel home in en masse to vote? Can the authorities not see that preventing over 3 million young people from voting amounts to laying a foundation for a worse #EndSARS civil unrest that may consume the next unpopular and corrupt administration that will emerge from the tainted 2023 election? The massive turnout of students and youths who struggled, slept at registrations centres, lost sleep just to get to PVC collection centres by 5.00am and waited almost whole days to obtain their PVCs all signal that new things are about to happen in the history of Nigeria’s general elections. Somehow, the spell cast on young people who through past decades disregarded participation in elections has been lifted, causing a sudden reawakening and realization by young people that their votes can truly bring about positive change. After all they had been hearing the assurance that INEC will make the people’s votes count. To this end, it has demonstrated it determination to deliver electronic transmission of results from polling boots/polling stations across the country direct to the INEC server in Abuja and the use of BVAS machine (bi-modal voter authentification system), which rattled the All Progressives Congress national chairman so much that he strongly lobbied for the exclusion of BVAS on the ground that the country still has faulty telecommunication infrastructure. Yet, politicians are able to make GSM calls from their rural areas and use mobile Apps to transfer money from the same rural areas.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, and one of America’s revered presidents, whose bust was carved into Mount Rushmore once said that the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Agreed that a bullet can destroy or kill, but a ballot turns things around. A responsible vote can change lives, produce good governance orchestrated by solid ideas. Therefore, one’s vote is power, and casting that vote hindered is a life changing opportunity because a voter might not be able to control who walks into his or her life, but can control which window they could be thrown out. If students have nothing at stake in this election, I am sure they will not forget in a hurry all the losses they incurred during eight months 2022 ASUU strike. I believe students want the horrendous losses of ASUU strike caused by unresolved disagreements between the lecturers union and the APC federal administration government never to happen again. They want to be free from oppression, nepotism, tribalism and other manifestations of asphyxiating demonstration of power.
To this end, I join the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) in strongly calling on the relevant authorities to grant students break, to go home and vote. The right decision made today will prevent troubles tomorrow and preserve the peace of universities and ensure stable academic calendar.