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2023 Elections And Increasing Youth Participation
Published Mar 23, 2023 IN Editorial,
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SINCE its return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy, the first such lengthy period since the country’s independence in 1960. In democracies around the world, one of their distinct hallmarks is the conduct of periodic elections and on February 25, 2023, Nigeria had its seventh successive general elections which were keenly observed by sister nations across the globe as Africa’s largest democracy went into the process of selecting another set of leaders. While the 2023 Presidential nad National Assembly (NASS) elections have come and gone, leaving in its trail controversies of disputations, with the gubernatorial elections which would take place over the weekend, first-hand observation and participation in the polling electoral process showed that for arguably the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history, Nigerians are slightly moving away from political lethargy and apathy to active participation in an electoral process. Voter apathy in the past had been one of the factors mitigating the country’s fledgeling democracy, as citizens of voting age, for one reason or another, stayed away from the polling process, thereby enabling a small percentage of eligible voters to make electoral decisions for the larger whole. There has always been a worrying trend of public disinterest in, or indifference towards, the electoral and democratic processes. This lack of interest is a major factor influencing lower voter turnout in elections where voting is optional. Historical data indicate low citizen participation in the voting process since Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999. The data reveal that while Nigerians consistently participate in voter registration, they are less enthusiastic about casting their votes on Election Days. Data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on past elections show that only a small percentage of Nigeria’s voting population votes on Election Days. Unfortunately, this voting behaviour is a challenge to democracy and effective, forward-thinking governance as election results might not accurately reflect the public’s choice. 

In the election held some two weeks ago, while data revealed that the election was in fact the lowest in terms of voter participation when compared with the number of people who collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), observations show that it was the election that had the highest number of new participants and voters coming mainly from the youth segment of the nation’s population, who are the future leaders. aside of the benefit osf sheer numbers, the high turnout of youths also ensured that there was a paradigm shift in voting patterns across the country as the elections produced new entrants, especially in the NASS elections. Hitherto, this segment of the demography stayed away from the polls due to the incessant irregularities and other flaws, such as inflated figures and pockets of violence, which became a constant feature in the electoral exercise. 

While we applaud the newfound interest of the youth population in the political decision-making process of the country, we also applaud the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), for making visible steps to midwife credible elections with some innovative thinking. 

The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Electoral Act 2022 were some key ingredients that lured the youth segment that usually preferred to sit on the sidelines to become frontline participants in the entire process.

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