A few months ago, this online magazine asked for an article on the then (still) upcoming Nigerian elections, which were held on March 28. I accepted, but failed to deliver. Looking back, I now consider that my failure had something to do with being in the arena of my life within my country’s history, in the sense of the famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt.1 It was difficult to write about a complex, a monster, a phenomenon that I was facing while I was engaged with it. I remember writing an errant paragraph or two. The theme was rejuvenation, second acts. The central idea was of young people teaming up with their grandfathers to fight against their fathers.
The chair of the Independent Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, announced the final results just hours shy of April Fools’ Day. The winner of the presidential contest was retired Major General Muhamadu Buhari, who had ruled for twenty months at the head of a junta in the 1980s, whose All Progressive Congress (APC) political party beat the incumbent Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been in power for all of the sixteen years since Nigeria returned to democratic rule. Buhari achieved his win with a margin of well over two million votes. (The APC also wrested control of the upper legislative house from the PDP.)
With only the results from just one state, Borno in the northeast ravaged unchecked by the Boko Haram Islamist sect, awaiting final counting, Jonathan conceded defeat. My first thought was of my passport; I felt suddenly that I was a citizen of a great country and a feeling of great, great pride washed over me. The entire country broke into carnival-like celebrations, with young people thronging the streets waving brooms—the symbol of the APC–doing stunts on motorbikes and wearing out car tires—even in the cities where Buhari lost. It was as if all Nigeria’s youth had been holding our breath ever so long and suddenly all our fears suddenly disappeared, that evening, so we found ourselves at the periphery of a social paradigm we had collectively shifted.
In parts of south western Nigeria, there exists a tradition where living subjects force tyrannical kings to drink a bowl of camwood and join the company of their great ancestors. These kids in the street had forced a president out of office in a similar manner.
The Dawn of a New Era
Dynamics change when social forces align. Since civil crises, such as those in my hometown, Jos, in central Nigeria. Regardless of outlet or the preference of the opining party, the common thread to interpretations of what Nigeria is have far too often been through divisive ethnic or religious paradigms. The events of the last two months have shown that whatever justification these interpretations are based on are no longer tenable; the national dynamic has changed. This election necessarily changes the very basis by which Nigeria is assessed, just as it will change the way the country is run.we need to note that the two things that fuelled those two million excess votes were a new Integrative Politics and a Post-Ethnic Youth. Nigeria is considered Africa’s stunted giant and Nigerians, battling an absence of basic infrastructure such as energy and health, are aware of this. Nigeria’s inability to solve its internal problems, let alone make its power felt abroad, has become the subject of international attention in media and in the academy. The Nigerian problem is often interpreted in such international analysis as centred on the country’s being based on irreconcilable socio-ethnic differences, on it having a “predominantly Muslim north” and “largely Christian and animist south.” Slightly less lazy pundits and journalists have spoken of the middle of the country where everything mixes—religion, ethnicity, history, and worldviews— but usually only in the context of
The integrative politics I speak of is in the unprecedented political alliance between northwest and southwest Nigeria. The northeast, ravaged by Boko Haram, has been considered a fringe area by the Jonathan administration. It was Jonathan, after all, who had tellingly failed to act for two weeks after the Chibok girls were kidnapped. His administration only slightly edited and republished the same press release with each outrage committed by a sect they had been elected to deal with; a sect that at one time maintained control of an enclave the size of Belgium. So, it was expected the north east would vote against the incumbent political party. A fourth geopolitical zone, the north central, is the diverse center of the country and played the deciding role in the outcome of the election. Only the South East, core territory of the defunct 1960s secessionist Biafran State, which bears a difficult-to-understand republican grudge against the rest of the country, and the deep south, where President Jonathan hails from, held for the PDP party and the continuation of the status quo. In this way, a complex electoral coalition was integrated under the APC’s mantra of CHANGE, one that cut across religion and ethnicity.
The World Bank estimates Nigeria’s ratio of people within the active ages of 15-64 at 53% of the population of 173.6 million, making it a country with one of the highest numbers of young people in the world. Most of these are under 45 and nearly 50% of the general population (which has a median age of 18) is urban. The dependency ratio, measuring people between the ages 1-14 and 65 above against the active population, is 89.2% according to indexmundi.com and the urbanizing tendency was assessed at 3.75% over the period 2010 to 2015. Interpreting these data reveals the rise of a segment of Nigeria’s youth population who are urban and largely cosmopolitan. This demographic lacks the ethnic or religious worldviews of their parents that provide a slim basis for generalizations. They are active citizens who do not think in the traditional binaries and moulds in which Nigeria is understood and interpreted. This population has increasingly been interested in how the government affects them both individually and collectively. They are the Post Ethnic Youth. One of the fatal errors of the Jonathan administration was in failing to realize their arrival on the national stage.
Nigeria's Youth Rising
In December 2012, the government said it had removed a non-existent fuel subsidy on the price of petrol. This maneuver sparked the #OccupyNigeria protests, led by young people who saw that the Jonathan administration had merely raided their bank accounts and stolen half the value of the little money there. For two weeks, these brave youth held Nigeria hostage with sit-ins in major cities across the country. #OccupyNigeria was kept alive by the democratic power of the Internet and the sense of a broadly shared outrage. The open-end platform the columnist and blogger Gimba Kakanda and I put up on Facebook, the Nationwide Anti-Fuel Subsidy Removal: Strategies and Protests, became a crowd-sourced information clearing house for the protests, seeing several thousand new members every day and reaching 50,000 members at the height of the protests. With little administrative coordination, young people gathered themselves to stage peaceful protests in Lagos, Kano, Minna, and elsewhere, despite woeful coverage of our activities by international mainstream media while the actual protests were ongoing. But we had Twitter, and we had Facebook.
Two weeks after it started, #OccupyNigeria ran out of steam and was betrayed by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), who had winged in on it to extract concessions from the state. This betrayal was in the form of workers in the petroleum industry not joining in the protests at the time they should have. I went into hibernation in the disillusion that followed, the NAFSR page became a more general board and for the intrepid researcher willing to wade through posts, an archive of those times. Yet, following #OccupyNigeria, there sprung up many other Internet-based, youth-driven campaigns, including the outrage over the #ALUU4, Nigerian students in the southern part of the country who had been horrifically killed by a community in the style of jungle justice. The most powerful of these social movements, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, was a response to the disconnection of the Jonathan administration following the kidnapping of well over 200 girls from Chibok in the north east. This was backed by a dogged daily sit-in at the Unity Fountain opposite the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, led by Oby Ezekwesili and others, including Dr. Emman Usman Shehu and many younger people. These activists are the finest of Nigeria’s Post-Ethnic Youth; these are, finally, after nearly sixty years of independence, The Nigerians.
The 2015 campaign of General Buhari, who picked a Pentecostal pastor and seasoned lawyer and administrator Yemi Osinbajo as his deputy, understood this shift in dynamic and tapped into it. The Jonathan team failed to grasp the situation. When they vaguely began to, they resorted to an uncultured Internet campaign that only further alienated the Post-Ethnic Youth. The Buhari organization used the hashtag #FeBuhari, playing on the candidates name and the month in which the election was originally to be held; the Jonathan administration responded with #FailBuhari, which conceded definitiveness to Buhari. #FeBuhari placed candidate Buhari at the centre of the political arena, and #FailBuhari, coined by his opponents, placed Buhari at the centre of the political arena just as well. With the elections being shifted by six weeks, the Buhari organization promptly came up with #March4Buhari. The Goodluck Jonathan campaign responded with #MatchBuhari (in the sense of trampling him underfoot) and then #BringBackJonathan2015. Both responses failed quite miserably and the Post-Ethnic Youth slowly but steadily coalesced behind General Muhamadu Buhari.
General angst—bolstered by Jonathan’s government delivering a fresh financial scandal just about every few weeks at a time of extremely high oil prices—has brought us here. The young people of Nigeria have seemingly caused a sort of regicide, rejecting the decadence of their immediate father (Jonathan) and aligning instead with their grandfather (Buhari). The aspiration is to a time of greater certainties, where good and evil are clearly delineated.
A Driving Spirit
There is a realization that Goodluck Jonathan was a victim of a corrupt system and his blame lay only in being unable, as a product and beneficiary of it, to put up a fight against administrative systems so corrupt they simply malfunctioned. When the president-elect , in his February 11 interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour, stated—“If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” it resonated with the youth and we saw, in this stern retired General and ex-dictator, a person who would shock our dysfunctional systems in the way a defibrillator shocks a heart into beating again. In this way, the grandfather became the basket of our hopes in a way our fathers could not be. When the outgoing president said during his February 11 Media Chat that, “There is no corruption but mere stealing [of public funds by officials] in Nigeria,” he concretized all that was wrong with Nigeria. It is this error of perception that set the ideological divisions between fathers and children in stone. When systems continue to dysfunction, the philosophy of administration becomes the very opposite of what set up these systems in the first place. The diagnosis of such insanity is to be found in the ruling elite’s rhetoric.
More than anything else, it is this fight for the soul of Nigeria, for structure and meaning, that has seen the APC party’s mantra of change—for certainty—gain the great electoral sympathy it has achieved.
The elections have also been a victory for the youth in another sense, in the sense of digital technology and the brutal transparency it can offer being seen as a province of the young. The introduction of electronic voting cards by the Independent National Elector Commission (INEC) stymied ballot stuffing, because the statistics of registered voters were available and because, before the elections proper, the actual number of accredited voters in each polling unit had been determined. Even before the official collation of results, the youth were already tweeting the returns of their own polling units, making it that more difficult to manufacture votes as in previous elections.
The election of Muhamadu Buhari and the concession of Goodluck Jonathan puts us at the start of a new Nigerian history. We are at the start of the Age of Buhari, we have inaugurated this Age over the bodies of our beloved but wrong fathers. Its driving spirit will be the restoration of structure to the country for the purpose of rejuvenating our administrative systems, clearing the clog of blatant corruption. Also expected will be greater roles for the youth and the appointment of structure minded technocrats and political appointees to deliver on development. The private sector will see an injection of entrepreneurial enthusiasm and there will be crucial reforms in the banking and petroleum industries. The youth of Nigeria are at the cusp of the Age of Buhari, having fought to express ourselves over the last three years and now, led by our grandfather, we are ready for the new battles ahead, including the threat of renewed restiveness in the Niger Delta and inculcating a national identity, including countrymen and even some youth still burdened with centuries of cynicism still clinging to the old divisions.
- 1. "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man. stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - From a speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910.