From social media to Aso Rock Peter Obi and quest of youth for hope
Ghana is poised to make political history in 2024. A former President has declared his intentions to run for the country’s 2024 Presidential elections, as the incumbent New Patriotic Party anticipates an unprecedented third consecutive term in Government.
About 1,300 kilometers away, Africa’s most populous country is hours away from its general elections. Nigeria goes to the polls on Saturday February 23, 2023, in what political analysts and observers have described as an election too close to call.
Demands of Youth
Young people are demanding a say in their governance. This phenomenon is manifesting in many ways across the world. If the trends and recent events in Africa are anything to go by, the status quo in Nigeria may not remain so for much longer.
In 2020, Nigeria witnessed the EndSARS protests, a decentralized social movement, and series of mass protests against police brutality and extrajudicial killings by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It led to a confrontation with security services and killing of over fifty civilians at the Lekki toll gate shooting incident.
The movement, which ignited on social media before manifesting into physical protests, galvanized over 28 million tweets for the #EndSARS hashtag on Twitter alone . The period saw some iconic moments in a show of defiance to authority.
Similarly, in 2021 the Nigerian Government officially banned the social network Twitter for seven months in retaliation to removal of a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.
British firm Top10 VPN estimates that the ban affected more than 100 million internet users, presumably youth, and cost the country around $366.9 million in lost revenue. In defiance to this directive the youth of Nigeria resorted to using VPNs to access the platform
In 2022, in a coincidence of wants, a presidential candidate in search of an audience found some on a platform in search of legitimacy from the authorities. Twitter and other social networks witnessed the convergence of the anti-establishment rants of the youth of Nigeria both home and abroad and the vibrant torch of hope which emerged in the form of the candidacy of Peter Gregory Obi.
The governing class of Nigeria initially dismissed the virtual rallying of these two, being likely oblivious of the endless reach of digital platforms that they are yet to comprehend.
Peter Obi, a former Senator of Anambra State, is considered a political outsider, a novice, and the candidate of a structureless political party. Just nine months back, he was tagged the “social media candidate” to mock his digital campaign strategy.
Many had dismissed it as an exuberant group of bored fingers urging on a naive Presidential aspirant. However, the Peter Obi candidacy would soon earn validation by converting these virtual followers into one massive crowd after another everywhere he went to campaign across Nigeria.
The EndSARS protests, Lekki toll gate shootings, twitter ban, the hoarding of palliatives during the COVID19 pandemic, all amidst widespread reports of corruption and insecurity, have bred contempt and mistrust among the youth for the current political class. This situation made it conducive for this massive support base to resonate with a candidate other than the coterie who have captured the country for decades leading to the impoverishment of more than 60 per cent of the population. What policy alternatives an “OBIdient” government would implement to curb corruption, revive an ailing economy, create jobs, and tackle the growing insecurity and violent extremism is almost not as important as the renewed hope the Obi candidacy has brought to the youth of Nigeria and across the continent. A win for the Labour Party signify a new dawn for Nigeria, an opportunity to try again and hopefully get it right this time.
Nigeria’s traditional political establishment would rather see the visibly frail 70-year-old candidate of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, emerge as winner of Saturday’s election. The reason is simple. It is his time. Senator Tinubu’s catch-phrase “Emi lo kan” – Yoruba for “It’s my turn” speaks aptly to this. The youth of Nigeria are having none of it.
News of the killing of a Labour Party senatorial candidate for Enugu East Senatorial District, Oyibo Chukwu and five others, days to the polls, among several other violent attacks on members and supporters, raises serious security concerns. These targeted political killings may well be confirming the position by Bloomberg and other opinion polls that the outsider candidate has become the front-runner. Whatever the reason, security must take center stage to safeguard the democracy of the “Giant of Africa.”
It remains to be seen how far this inspirational story will end. Will the social media following and recent rally crowds translate into a win to upset the political landscape of Nigeria? Only time will tell.
E. Maaweh Tanga is a Development Communication Professional
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