Preparatory to Nigeria’s February/March 2019 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently released the register of voters to the various political parties. Specifically, the Commission said it had registered over 84 million voters. The group between the ages of 18 and 35 recorded 42,938,458 voters, representing 51.11 percent of the eligible voting population.
Assuming voters in this group decide to vote en bloc for the presidential candidate of a particular political party, that candidate and the sponsoring party are as good as emerging victorious in the election. Even if about 40 percent of the 51.11 percent voters go in a direction, that direction becomes critical and far-reaching to the election outcome.
Viewed from any angle, 51.11 percent is huge enough to alter electoral calculations and outcomes. Therefore, the group of young Nigerian voters is a potential game changer in the forthcoming elections, most especially the presidential poll. National chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had harped on the importance of the group of young voters during a courtesy visit to the management of Bayero University Kano (BUK) on August 7, 2018.
The management of BUK had hosted the INEC Youth Votes Count Campus Outreach Initiative, holding on campuses of universities, under the sponsorship of the European Union (EU). Yakubu said, “From what we are seeing so far in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration, 2019 is going to be the year of the youth. Quite a large number of those that have registered to vote are the youth, meaning the young boys and girls between the ages of 18 and 35.”
Indeed, INEC’s statistics had placed in the second place, voters between ages 36 and 50 who are 25,176,144, representing 29.9 percent, while those between 51 and 70 years are 12,788,511, representing 15.22 percent. Those aged 70 and above are 3, 100, 971, representing 3.6 percent of the voting-eligible population.
Interestingly, members of the group that accounts for the highest percentage population of voters are largely not card-carrying members of the registered political parties. Yet the fates of the political parties and their candidates are in the hands of members of this group of voters who hold the key to unlocking the wining potentialities of candidates.
The 2019 presidential election, in particular, will be determined by members of this group who constitute the silent majority of Nigeria’s eligible voters. These are students, employed and unemployed youth, artisans and famers who are active in social media engagements. Ironically, members of this powerful, but unorganised bloc do not seem to appreciate the magnitude of their influence in determining the outcome of the February 16 presidential poll.
This is because they lack the superintending influence of a strategic body that serves as a counterpoise to both the ruling and the opposition parties, especially the leading opposition party. And for that reason, a structured and collective voting decision has always become difficult to achieve. Consequently, they had traditionally acted in previous presidential elections on sheer whims.
Rather than prudently exercise their civic voting rights to elect good candidates into office; they had, over the years, chosen to pick the elections in which they would vote, without necessarily insisting on the election of the best candidate(s). Besides, that disposition had largely resulted in a discounted voter turnout, which had conversely resulted in low votes scored by both winners and losers of presidential polls in recent years.
In 2015, for instance, INEC registered about 70 million eligible voters; but combined votes of about 30 million produced the winner and losers of the presidential election. While Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) scored 15,424,921 votes to clinch victory, Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scored 12,583,162 votes.
The logical question is: where were the other registered voters who constituted more than a half of the entire voting-eligible population? Did they stay away on the mindset that votes in the presidential election would not always count as the political elite had already predetermined the outcome? In the circumstance, it would appear needless to invest effort, which might be futile in determining the custodian of their sacred mandate.
In 2019, there seem to be clear indications of new political thinking and electoral behaviours that have combined to present and project a people who are ready to climb on the bandwagon of political re-engineering through popular participation in election and governance processes. There are also various considerations that would shape voting behaviours this time round. The issues of security, economy, employment, corruption, hunger, poverty, etc., will influence voter decisions across the demographics.
The election outcome will reflect a voting pattern that ramifies the entire election process. It will be clear whether or not related existential issues played a role in shaping how the voters eventually cast their votes. Although the APC and the PDP are most visible in terms of history, pedigree, structures in the nooks and crannies of the country, it is moot whether or not they presently enjoy the usual wide acceptability by Nigerians, including the silent majority.
The issue remains the age of ideas of the old guards as typified by the PDP and APC. This is the point where the APC and the PDP will have to align their ideas with current realities in order to win public support. Contending with the other mostly new political parties for votes is inevitable in the race for the soul of Nigeria. Even among the new parties that boast digital ideas, there is competition to emerge as the most credible and acceptable alternative to the APC and the PDP in the three-horse race the impending presidential election is expected to typify.
People’s Trust (PT), under the national chair of Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has justifiably laid claim to being the third force. It is in a pole position with the sedate but highly fecund Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim as its presidential standard bearer. Olawepo-Hashim shares the same history of pro-democracy activism with Agbakoba and a host of other leaders of the party, including Dr. Arthur Nwankwo and Comrade Wale Okunniyi, et al. In fact, the Agbakoba-led National Intervention Movement (NIM) provided the ideological footing on which the PT was moulded.
Significantly, the PT has the record of fielding the next highest number of candidates in the forthcoming general election after both the APC and the PDP. The number of candidates the PT has sponsored for the election is reportedly higher than those of Professor Kingsley Moghalu’s Young Progressives Party, Mr. Omoyele Sowore’s African Action Congress, Oby Ezekwesili’s Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Fela Durotoye’s Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) put together.
Besides, it is instructive that Olawepo-Hashim enjoys most engagements in the social media, especially the Facebook, where the silent majority of Nigerian young voters drive their national conversations, overtaking Buhari and Atiku in early December 2018. He has since maintained a strong lead in the final push towards the presidential election.
The PT and Olawepo-Hashim have also enjoyed critical support and endorsements by prominent Nigerians and groups. Apart from the support by former presidential aspirants and candidates, the influential Middle Belt Forum recently endorsed his candidature as the candidate for the region. Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd.) led other members of the group to announce the endorsement.
Furthermore, the PT has structures in at least 28 states and boasts of prominent political gladiators including former minister of state for Transport in the Second Republic, Alhaji Habu Fari and the son of the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Jahlil Balewa, among others. The PT’s Olawepo-Hashim has continued to assure of his trustworthiness to custody the votes and mandate of the silent majority in the impeding three-horse race for the presidential prize.
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