2023 and voting in anger quagmire By JEROME-MARIO UTOMI

When millions of people are cheated for too long, restitution becomes not just a costly process but substantial in financial and human terms; inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, poor healthcare facilities-Martin Luther King Jr.

It is not only a barefaced truth that Nigeria’s youngest citizens have crawled out of their shells to make a demand that their elected government treat them with dignity and protect their constitutional rights and democratic freedoms, Rather, what is in some ways newsy and apparent is that the youths grouse against the ruling party enjoys the support of well meaning Nigerians of diverse background, profession, religion and tribe.

It was a similar feeling that partially explains the recent admonition by Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing, during the sixth edition of the annual ‘BRF GABFEST’, held recently in Lagos and had as its theme, ‘What Am I Voting For?’, to advise Nigerians to vote in the 2023 polls based on track record.

‘Emotions should not be the primary drive for making choices of quality leaders who will address the challenges of the country. We might wonder how to get candidates to address these issues. One way is to look at what their manifestos present and what their political parties profess. The other way is to attend rallies they organize. I urge you to vote by holding debates and town halls where you put questions to the candidates to test their abilities. “I urge you to vote by looking at what the candidates have done before, this is like asking for the referees during an interview or talking to a previous employer. This is how to recruit an employee. Not by anger.”

Indeed, the insight given by the Minister remains credible, and should be encouraged.

But beyond this peripheral consideration, there exists torrents of reasons why many young Nigerians who were not of age in 2015 will get the chance to vote for the first time, and those who voted last time out will want to activate their dreams in another call for change; this time for the better.

Aside from the fact that the new orientation would be shaped by recent fiscal, sociological, political and communal happenings in the country; coupled with the pockets of ethno-religious upheavals and misgivings from one region against another or powerful personalities against each other, the present movement and ‘youth’s revolt’ is majorly a fight against deformed leadership, resource mismanagement and perennial egotism, and fired by the reality that the oppressed cannot remain oppressed forever. After about eight years of unfulfilled change, the electorate should be excused if they enter 2019 with a new dream on their minds, and head to the polls with a different mentality from what they had in 2015 and 2019 respectively.

There are countless examples of how gov­ernment daily discon­nects from the people, but perhaps, under­standably the first one that comes to mind is their inability to rec­ognize that public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes and prosperity is not the nat­ural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attentions from an honest and ef­fective government that the people elect.

This piece is not alone in this line of belief.

In 2018, for instance, Former President Obasanjo in his personal but open letter to President Muhammadu, complained about ‘lice of poor performance in government- poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed-if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality’’

Today, such fears expressed by the Obasanjo cannot be described as unfounded.

On the issue of petrol pump price and electricity tariff hike, I recall now with nostalgia that one of the popular demands during the fuel subsidy removal protest in January, 2012, under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration, was that the federal government should take measures to strengthen corporate governance in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, as well as in the oil and gas sector as a whole. This is because of the belief that weak structures made it possible for the endemic corruption in the management of both the downstream and upstream sectors of the oil and gas industry.

Eight years after such demand was made and Jonathan gone, the three government-owned refineries in the country have not been able to function at full capacity as promised by the present administration for a myriad of reasons that revolve around corruption.

Today, if there is anything that Nigerians wish that the FG should accomplish quickly, it is getting the refineries to function optimally as well as make the NNPC more accountable to the people. As what happened under president Jonathan has become a child’s play when compared with the present happenings in Nigeria’s oil/gas and electricity sectors.

Under this condition, the question may be asked; why won’t the youth revolt that Nigeria at independence was tipped by Global economic experts, following a study of its strides, to emerge as the most successful black nation because of its purpose-driven population and with an unbridled hunger to succeed, but today, contrary to that prediction, crawls at the base of the world’s economic pyramid? Why won’t the youths protest in a country that was in the 1960s/70 laced with splendid agriculture, immense natural resources, a fantastic GDR, a strong infrastructure, world class Universities, an awe inspiring telecommunication system, a foremost and far reaching television station, an excellent sport, a vibrant and formidable military, but today, ranks as the world poverty capital stripped of infrastructures? Why can’t the masses revolt in a country that has so many outstanding people in all fields of scholarship, but has for yet to be identified reasons allowed the high standards the British left them to be lowered?

This development becomes even more painful when one remembers that presently in the country, going by the national bureau of statistics reports, 27.1 per cent of the nation’s workforce is unemployed, 40.8 per cent of young people aged 15-24 and 30.8 percent of 25-34 years are out of work.

If Nigeria’s unemployed youth were its own country, says a report, it would be larger than Tunisia or Belgium.

Looking at this legion of challenges, one thing stands out. This piece is of the views that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that does not give opportunities to its young people even when it is globally noted that youths have in the past rescued societies.

However, from what the youths are saying, it appears they have suddenly realized that the Constitution gave sovereignty to the people. That every citizen is expected to hold Government stakeholders to account for the use of the resources entrusted into their care. They have remembered that the outlook is bleak and have decided to use their innovative prowess to change the narrative. Particularly as ‘the failure of the government to improve economic conditions and expand opportunities for its youngest citizens has been worsened by President Muhammadu Buhari who has presided over two recessions.

Indeed, while it is relevant for all to take hope in the youths’ capacity to enthrone a nation where we can coexist harmoniously irrespective of tribe or ethnical inclination and truly establish the egalitarian society that we have been deprived of, our leaders must not fail to remember that what the youths currently demands is good governance, and someone to nurture their potential for innovation, creativity, and self-confidence in leadership. Leaders must also recognize that ‘those who lead from the top of the pyramid end up leading only those on top, which is not how development exercise should be carried out’.

To win therefore, the youth must be guided by the time-honoured saying that courage faces fear and masters it while cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose their zest for living even though their life situation is restless, but cowardly men overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live’. This is not the time to show apathy or complacency but a period to work passionately and indefatigably to right the wrong.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), A Lagos-Based Non Governmental Organization (NGO).And could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com /08032725374.

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