2023: The countdown begins — Opinion – Guardian Nigeria

When the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, told the world that the 2023 elections in Nigeria may be postponed or cancelled, we all felt depressed. Many people must have wondered what may happen next?
Will the Buhari government and the governments of the states get an unconstitutional extension of their tenure? Will there be a call for the military to take over the reins of government and bring stability to the country? All kinds of permutations were running through the heads of Nigerians.
That announcement became a major talking point at various places where people gather to run their mouths. But Yakubu is not to blame. He was not making a false alarm. He was simply expressing his feelings on the state of affairs concerning INEC and the elections. Before now he had been assuring Nigerians of INEC’s preparedness for the elections. That was before some unknown but unpatriotic persons started bombing INEC’s offices and destroying its assets.
These activities were obviously embarked upon by people who, for whatever reason, want chaos. These fellows also took the fight to the police by attacking their stations and killing some policemen.
Even though Yakubu has reversed his earlier statement it is wise for us, especially the security agencies, not to drop our guards. There must be more fortification of INEC offices and other places where strategic election assets are warehoused. Nigerians generally must watch out for these anarchists and report any strange movements to the security agencies. All hands must be on deck if we want to have successful elections. This must be regarded as the responsibility of all Nigerians who want our democracy to thrive and the country to survive.
As part of its readiness for the elections INEC has extended the last date for the collection of PVCs to the end of this month. It has also released the final list of registered voters for the 2023 elections. It is also making a big push for those who are yet to collect their PVCs to do so before the end of the month. It is also taking the PVCs to places that are closer to the registered persons. The media and INEC should mount a multi-media enlightenment campaign for the collection of PVCs. It is a bit baffling to me why anyone would take the trouble to go out and register but would refuse to go and pick up his PVC, which is his passport to the election.
The latest list of registered voters released by INEC is quite comprehensive. It shows the voting strength of each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. It also provides other interesting demographics such as men 49.5 million; women 44.4 million which brings the total number of registered voters to 93, 469,008. There is a further breakdown of the figures into age categories and professional groups. The youths, 18 to 34 years are 37, 060,399 (39.65%); middle aged persons, 35 to 49 years 17, 700,270 or 18.94%; elderly persons, 50 to 69 years of age 17, 700,270 or 18.94%; senior citizens, 70 years and above 5, 294,748 or 5.66%; students 26, 027,481 or 27.8%. The breakdown includes other professional groups such as traders, business professionals, civil and public servants as well as artisans.
Perhaps the public’s attention is likely to be focused more on youths and women than on any other group. The youths in particular have taken this election seriously especially because one of the political parties, the Labour Party (LP), has been urging them to take over their country. Other parties are also pointedly going for the youths because they have the numbers and they seem to be more seriously affected by the poor state of the economy, which has increased the number of the poor and the unemployed.
Youths in the age bracket 18 to 34 constitute 39.65% of the registered voters, while middle-aged persons 35 to 49 years of age constitute 18.94% of the registered voters. The two groups taken together constitute about 58.59% of the registered voters. The large portion of the 133 million persons that are regarded as multi-dimensionally poor appears to come from these two groups. They are the educated but unemployed; the uneducated and unemployed; the educated and underemployed.
Unemployment leads to poverty so most of the poor people come from the pool of the unemployed. So the election is largely about them and their future. That is the japa generation, the generation of Nigerians who are going abroad in search of greener pastures.
There are two sectors that are badly hit by this migration bug, the health and education sectors. There is a worrisome depletion of the available manpower in those two vital sectors. These are the sectors that have had to brawl with the Federal Government for improved service conditions. The doctors have gone on strike from time to time and they are still threatening to have more work stoppages in this vital sector.
The university lecturers represented by their trade union, ASUU, have shut down the universities for eight straight months, something that has never happened in the history of this country. Even though they have now called off the strike the matter is still hanging fire because the government has refused to pay them for the period they were on strike. They are threatening to take the matter up in court. These disgruntled groups are likely to show more than ordinary interest in what the various parties are saying during the campaigns. In particular, they would like to know how each party intends to treat their professional group.
The youths generally seem to be showing a higher level of participation in the campaigns than they had shown in past elections. This is because a lot of things had gone awry in the country, which has affected the youths. The closure of the universities meant that the students were idle. At a point they decided to camp in the streets of Abuja with pots and pans to draw the attention of the government to their plight. That is why many of the young people are leaders in the organisation of political rallies in the different states.
Political campaigns used to be organised largely by the politicians but in this election cycle a lot has changed. The youths are vigorously involved in what they have come to describe as a movement. In almost every state the youths are involved in the mobilisation of other youths to participate in their undertaking. This movement was initiated by youths in the Labour Party but it is now an affair of all the major parties. They all have realised that the youths have the numbers and are likely to be a major force in this election.
This election is not only about today. It is also about tomorrow. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari will go away on May 29 leaving a huge debt of about N77 trillion for the government that is to take over. That means that Nigeria’s future is mortgaged.
That should worry everybody because other statistics such as corruption, misery index, inflation, security etc. are nothing to thrill anybody. That is what makes whatever decision the voters make in casting their votes absolutely important. Of course, voting is a gamble based on what the voter hears or knows but what he hears may turn out to be false at the end of the day. What he knows may also turn out to be irrelevant. Every politician who makes promises during campaigns does so without having a full knowledge of the state of affairs in the office he wants to occupy. He is campaigning on guesswork. It is only when he gets into office that the full picture of the state of affairs will be unveiled to him. That information may make his campaign promises unimplementable. In that case, the people had been fooled into voting for something unachievable.
Now with the demographics released by INEC the campaigns are likely to be focused more on groups such as youths and women that have a huge voting power. They are also likely to pay more attention to the states that have considerable voting strength such as Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Rivers, Katsina, Delta and Oyo. But no state will be ignored because every vote will count in this election particularly because there are now three strong parties namely APC, PDP and LP. Other minor parties are likely in the days to come to look for alliances with these big three.
Based on the information put in the public space by INEC it is likely that the people who are categorised as youths and middle age are likely to be the major determinants of the outcome of the elections, all things being equal, simply because they constitute the majority of the voting population. But that depends on (a) whether they have collected their PVCs and (b) whether they will actually go out to vote.
For the elections to succeed the security agencies must be apolitical and professional as Buhari has instructed them. INEC must be professional, independent and impartial and the voters must be respected by all concerned. This election is one that can make or mar our country. The choice is ours to make.
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