The Power of the Millennials
That this current 2015 pre-election build-up is one of the most thrilling of its kind since Nigeria’s independence goes without saying- at least, among those whose memories do not really stretch that far back, and who, incidentally, happen to be in the majority. Between the premium quality sixth-rate campaign strategies executed across the board and the continued churning out of farces of, well, Nigerian proportions by the government (a certain election postponement comes to mind, amongst other shocking plot twists), this campaign season is worthy of its own Telenovela slot. Throw in the new ingredients of endless missives containing the two cents of virtually every intellectual (assumed or otherwise) or scorned ex-government official, and video clips of screaming pastors who are convinced that they are the second coming of Herbert Macaulay, and you have yourself a script Charles Novia will be proud to call his own.
However, there is an ingredient in this melting pot which, though once known, has undergone a seismic shift which rearranged its chemical composition and may exhibit new, dynamic-changing characteristics, which may or may not bode well for each presidential aspirant. This ingredient is the actual battleground that ideally needs to be taken for victory to be assured, and each candidate is taking no prisoners in this war to claim the not-so-secret weapon. This Chemical X is known by laymen as Millennials or Generation Y, and by unimpressed laymen as The Entitled Generation, and is basically composed of those who currently fall between the ages of 0-35, or for the purpose of this piece about people who can actually vote, 18-35. If you’re 36 and reading this, it is safe to say that you are reading in the capacity of a spectator.
Never before in the history of elections has the internet played such a huge and pivotal role in shaping the conversation typical of pre-election campaigning. While it is true that elections are not won online, we cannot refute the fact that politics as we once knew it has changed forever with the advent of social media. The intended role of actual elected Representatives in the House is threatened by how easy it is for a 17 year old kid with an irreverent sense of humour to directly address a serving senator in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and ask said senator terribly embarrassing questions on Facebook. The attorney-general cannot sleep with both eyes closed- one eye stays fixed on his job, because enterprising vigilant citizens thoroughly cross-examine suspects daily in the hallowed courtrooms of Twitter. Literacy rates have increased across the nation, surprisingly, and this is shifting the focus of the pre-election campaign from “I will buy you bags of rice and build a shoe factory!” to people asking more complex, critical and salient questions. Even the online declarations about how you could not care less about politics counts as political commentary. The ripple effect of all this is that the quality of the conversation has been raised exceedingly, and Millennials are majorly responsible for this achievement.
According to a BBC report in 2011 after the elections of that year, President Goodluck Jonathan is the first President to ever declare his intention to run for office via his Facebook page. Every politician serious about his career in Nigeria these days must outfit himself with a webpage, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a gutsy aide with a Twitter account and a cutting-edge stylish daughter to hold things down for him with the materialistic youth through her Instagram page. They have keyed into the important fact that everyone with access to the internet can now weigh into the conversation in real time, unlike days past when citizens raged futilely at their transistor radios whenever their Governor/President/Minister made a bumbling speech.
The Enough Is Enough website claims that about 70% of Nigerians are below the age of 30. A cursory look at the last census figures on the NPC website shows that this figure is roughly correct. Therefore, it logically follows that millennials are a very important demographic in swinging the vote either way. However, this is IF and only if young people come out to vote. Millennials have a notorious history, around the world, of not showing up to the polls. In countries where voting is made piecemeal-easy, it is difficult to drag the young voters away from their phones and into the voting booth. How much more in Nigeria where we have the hurdles of insecurity, ignorance and the sheer distance from one’s home to where one is registered to vote to scale. Add that to the perennial problem of poor PVC distribution and the bare fact that young people, largely unfettered by the historical ethnic and religious bias of their parents, have absolutely no faith in either candidate and thus no reason to pitch their tent on either side, and you have yourself a potential trickle of Millennial voters. Enough obstacles, you might think, but it does not end there. Many people feel that their vote will not count, and who can blame them? In a country where total votes counted almost always exceeds the total number of people who actually registered to vote, it is understandable if one is slightly concerned about credibility. Some people go to the polls without a clue of who they are voting for until they see whose face is on the 5kg bag of rice pressed into their eager hands at the gate of the voting center. There is, also, the lesser issue that a large chunk of eligible Millennials will be tucked in a school/office somewhere in the diaspora, not serving the motherland, defending her unity and upholding her honor and glory, etc, on election day.
The good news is that things are definitely changing with this generation of youths. Social media has made it such that awareness is shoved down every throat, whether you are interested or not. Different tactics have been used to spur people to take pride in the power of the vote. Between trending topics like #TwitpicYourPVC and scorching online debates that can only only be rivalled in ferocity by footage of gladiators in Roman amphitheatres, the peer-pressure effect is in full swing with nobody wanting to be left out, regardless of what side of the street you are walking on.
The truth of the matter is that Millennials in Nigeria are fed up with politics as usual. There is a part of this which is the subconscious association of politics with boredom and old people,true, but it is mostly because they are now old enough to reject the inadequate status quo. Generation Y has the real potential to become the most revolutionary generation in Nigeria since Awolowo and Azikiwe’s one. Never has a generation had this much access to information and feedback, and progress depends on that realization and taking advantage of these opportunities. Sadly, though,the number of Nigerian Millennials who actually are interested in the future of their nation and understand how this directly influences their future lives are far outweighed by the sophists and the abject clueless.
This is the main reason why Millennials are fair game. Uncharted territory, a blank canvas, if you will. The average-thinking Millennial is dissatisfied with the presented options, party-wise, so the onus is on the individual candidates to sell themselves as best as they can. This year, the candidates for all major political posts are going above and beyond to engage the youths past the renovated promises of building sports centres. They have spotted the opportunity to win the swing vote and they are seizing it with both hands on their keyboards.The ball is, therefore, in the Generation Y court.
There is an odd but not uncommon mix of disillusionment and hope among the youth. There is no time like the present to rebuild the patriotic pride. We may have ragged edges as a nation, but elections are a symbol of hope and change, change for the better. For Millennials to properly take their place as the most powerful demographic which can spark change, they need to be aware of this power and come out to vote with of a sense of responsibility to themselves and their future. Victory may just be more dependent on who didn’t turn out to vote than who did.