Although young people constitute over 70% of Nigerians of voting age, the number that actually votes in elections is abysmally low. This low participation of youths in elections, according to the EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Samuela Isopi, has posed a potent challenge to democracy in Nigeria. A mega musical concert targeted at the Youths was organised in Abuja – capital city of Nigeria and Lagos – the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria to get millions of youths who are not captured in the voters register to go out and register, collect their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and, in particular, go out on the day of election and vote for candidates of their choice.
Besides diminishing the principle of representativeness as an irreducible feature of democracy, this apathy also runs negates the EU’s twin principles of inclusiveness and youth mainstreaming that underlie all of its actions in the country and elsewhere.
To reverse this trend, the EU and its partners, including the election management body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), hosted two major concerts in Lagos and Abuja recently, with the aim of arousing the interest of the youths in the electoral process. The idea is to get millions of youths who are not captured in the voters register to go out and register, collect their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and, in particular, go out on the day of election and vote for candidates of their choice.
The Youth Vote Count 2:0 Mega Concert was organised within the framework of the EU’s flagship funding support to Nigeria’s democracy tagged EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria, EU-SDGN for short.
Each of the concerts was preceded by a weeklong voters’ registration exercise at the venues. With some of the best-known names in Nigeria’s music and entertainment industry on the card to perform at the concerts, youths, who were yet to were motivated to do so ahead of the shows since a show of the voter’s card was made a condition for admission into the concert venue. INEC also deployed its personnel and equipment to the venues five days ahead of each concert to carry out registration of prospective voters.
On a live television interview on the night of the second concert, Ambassador Isopi said addressing voter apathy was one of the key points in the recommendations of the EU Electoral Observation Mission to Nigeria’s most recent election. “When you have a population that is composed of 70%-80% young people and their interest in election is very low, that means there is problem,” she said.
The EU, therefore, reached out to INEC and its civil society partners, including YIAGA Africa. That was how this campaign came about. And Ms Isopi thinks the idea is yielding the desired results: “We see that the number of people coming out to register, especially the young people, is increasing. We are leveraging pop music to raise awareness among the young people. This is, for sure, something that works. I think we should be satisfied and happy with what we are seeing right now.”
The celebrities, during the concerts lent their influential voices to the call for the youths to seize the moment and make their overwhelming number count on the election day. The celebrities, and influencers are followed all over the country, and Ambassador Isopi believes their messages would re-vibrate across the country.
At Lagos, Ambassador Isopi charged the youth to take their future in their own hands. She said: “Go out, vote, challenge your leaders, hold them accountable and stand for your values, and for your position. This is the way to build democracy; this is the way to get a better governance, a better Nigeria and a better future.”
She noted that with the reforms, changes, technologies and innovations introduced by INEC elections would become more transparent and credible, adding that the changes have also made it possible for the Commission to protect the votes of every Nigerian.
She repeated the message in Abuja two weeks later, reminding the youths that selling their votes to politicians would amount to selling their future. “The message to the youths is to remain engaged, and most importantly, they have to vote on the days of elections. This is the message today: don’t sell your vote,” she told Arise Television.
Of course, registration is the first step. But the young people have to to pick up their cards, and most importantly, they have to go out the day of the election and vote. “This is part of the civic education that will continue until the day of the election,” she said.
Ambassador Isopi said Nigeria must get the 2023 elections right considering the effect it would have on the West African region, especially at a time when the political development in a number of ECOWAS countries is not good.
“We want Nigeria to get it right. Nigeria, according to the latest figures I got from INEC, has over 80 million registered voters. This is more than all the voters in other countries of West Africa combined. So people will look at elections in Nigeria. Maybe they will not be perfect, but it is important that these elections are good, peaceful credible and transparent,” she said
The EU has been supporting Nigerian democracy since return to democratic rule in 1999. Under the EU-SDGN, the EU provides support to various stakeholders in the political process, including the political parties, INEC, the National Peace Committee, the civil society, the media and the National Assembly.
The EU has also deployed an Election Observation Mission to during each electoral cycle since 1999, and according to the EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Samuela Isopi, the EOM “has always produced useful recommendations that have been used by INEC and other stakeholders to make the improvements that we are seeing right now in the electoral process.”
The chair of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who attended both events with his Commissioners, promised that the elections will be credible, and urged the youths to register and vote on election day.