Nigeria Election: Undergrads And The 2015 Elections

After the postponement of the February 14 elections, I made out time to again engage undergraduates – through the phone and physically – to further gauge their understanding and positions on our unique politics and how they intend to vote on Saturday, March 28. What came out of my four weeks of interaction was how sharply divided the students were – like our society is today. However, I am glad that the level of interests now expressed in politics by previously uninterested students is healthy for the polity and has beamed the searchlight on leadership at all levels.

While working on a project two years ago, I observed that one can clearly distinguish those who schooled within the country and those who schooled outside our shores. How was I able to do this? It is quite simple. Many of those who schooled at home have the propensity of reasoning like your ordinary man on the street, sometimes without facts. They dwell more on rumours, no matter how preposterous the rumour may sound. There is however a small minority now developing who are trying to tackle entrenched retrogressive stereotypes.

On the other hand, the foreign schooled undergraduates and graduates often anchors their positions on questioning theories, character, manifesto, track record and other measurement metrics. They would question assumptions, ask critical questions and demand straight forward answers. They are particular about issues like the economy, job creation and long term development. It doesn’t take long to see that their environment plays a key role in conditioning them to demand answers and results because they’re expected to be part of providing solutions.

I’m glad perception has really changed with our home schooled undergraduates and graduates now developing a political culture that is in tune with the present. The level of awareness of the 2015 elections supersedes any of the elections held in Nigeria. The rescheduled polls will be the first real election we have had since 1999, according to most of them. By that, they mean that the ensuing election has generated enough consciousness and awareness as to lead the citizenry to make a right choice on who leads them from May 29, 2015.

Implicit in that reading also is that the features and processes the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had put in place – especially the card readers and permanent voters’ card – have imbued much confidence in the undergraduates that for the first time since our fruitless expedition in a mismanaged democracy, Nigerian votes may come to count in this election. This accounts for their active participation on social media platforms and lately the town hall meetings of the two leading parties.

This ray of hope – if I may call it that – has increased interests and passion in the election where Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan are set to clash. Equally, the concerns and backlash traceable to the election are felt even beyond the borders of Nigeria. They reached a feverish pitch as it is apparent that there might not be any postponement and the election will hold as scheduled. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State has visited Nigeria so was Kofi Anan and former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Buhari and Jonathan on the need for free and fair elections starting on Saturday. In a very rare instance, President Barack Obama sent a special message to Nigerians to ensure they vote peacefully. Such is the attention this election has generated.

The bottom-line is that the storyline of election may be changing for good – I believe. For the first time, no one can say with certainty that an incumbent will be returned. The opposition parties have coalesced and pulled their resources to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has presence in virtually all states of the federation. The result is a formidable opposition taking on an equally formidable ruling party.

The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan started the race early with his friends in the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and continued thereafter with a multi-media blitz and rallies across the federation. Quite unlike the 2011 presidential election when Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) could not muster the resources to campaign in all states of the federation and mount a reasonable challenge to the incumbent, the APC presidential candidate has now not only organised campaigns and rallies in every state of the federation but has gone a second round after the postponement of the polls to organise town hall meetings, dinners and second time rallies.

Although President Jonathan seems to have more resources at his disposal to mount huge electronic and print media campaigns, billboards and other reach-out, there is a clear case of a real contest where the candidates are campaigning for votes until the final minute. Our students are in the thick of it as factions of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) have gone ahead to endorse Jonathan, however, other factions condemned the act as an act of some desperate individuals that are not real students.

Nonetheless, the candidates have presented their ideas of governance and made all manner of promises to Nigerians on what they intend to do should they be entrusted with presidential power in the next four years. It has not been easy in terms of time and resource commitments.

I must say I was impressed by the level of depth by our students, especially the foreign ones. One asked whether Nigerians in the past six weeks after the postponement have come to change their perception of the six years of Jonathan as a colossal waste that informed the Buhari popularity surge.

Another wants to know if Nigerians have in six weeks suddenly forgotten the corruption scandals that defined and still continue to define Jonathan’s stewardship. Have they forgotten and forgiven the state of insecurity in the past four years? Have they now accepted the fact that our worsening state of infrastructure is the best we can have? Have they now accepted the international contempt, ridicule and scorn the present government brought on the country as a result of its awkward mishandling of issues and policies? Are they comfortable with the epileptic electricity situation in the country?

On the other hand we had students who believed that Jonathan “is the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria.” They cited the new varsities built and upgraded infrastructure as some of the reasons why they believe the President deserves another term.

In my opinion, I believe the APC, especially its presidential flag bearer General Muhammadu Buhari, is one the best thing that has happened in our nascent democracy because a strong opposition is directly proportional to the seriousness a ruling party attaches to its role as the party in government. Not a few Nigerians would have noticed how the president personally took his destiny in his hands by campaigning these past six weeks. In the process, there were stories of his doling out dollars to traditional rulers, all manner of ‘elders’ and ‘stakeholders’ and attending unscheduled meetings with political actors. All this would not have happened if a vibrant opposition is not in place.

It is instructive to note that by his actions, Buhari has stood conventional political wisdom in Nigeria on its head. The poor flock to him in a way we have not seen since perhaps when late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the champion of the talakwa, Malam Aminu Kano, championed their cause. They know he has no money and did not come into the race with a war chest bulging with crisp dollars, pounds and naira.

So, instead of asking him for money, there are reports they contribute to his campaigns. By this he became a politician funded by the people. I am made to understand that hundreds of the young men and women – including students – who work in the Buhari campaign at national and state levels, are volunteers. Perhaps, they’re working for free because they believe that the lack of money should not debar him or anyone from his or her noble national pursuit.

 

Source: The Nation Newspaper