Two years after he was shot in the leg during a peaceful protest in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos, Samuel Ashola is waiting for the time to express himself at the ballot box, like many other angry youths.
“I have blood boiling,” says the 30-year-old unemployed artist, as the campaign for the February 2023 presidential election begins this month…”
“…I come from the ghetto, the slum, the gutter (…) and I can tell you that Nigerians are really upset. The way our government is handling things, with all that has happened… I want to get it all out,” he said.
Many young Nigerians who took part in the biggest protests in the country’s modern history were traumatised by the killings in Lagos state in October 2020, when security forces violently dispersed crowds demanding better governance.
The anti-government protests began as a protest against police brutality, a movement dubbed #EndSARS (“end SARS”), named after a special police unit accused for years of racketeering, torture and even murder.
The movement ended when the army and police opened fire on 20 October 2020 at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, the protesters’ iconic gathering place.
Amnesty International claimed that at least ten peaceful protesters were killed at the toll plaza, a claim the federal government denies.
In late 2021, an independent commission of enquiry concluded that the crackdown on the evening of 20 October 2020 in Lagos amounted to a “massacre”.
For all those present that day, and the many others who followed the events on the internet, it was a moment of political awareness, which could be reflected in the outcome of the presidential election.
“We stopped fighting because we knew we had a chance to change people at the top (of the state) in 2023,” says Esther Jonathan, 27. “We are waiting for that moment.
Since 2020, the economy has worsened, insecurity has increased and public universities have been closed for eight months due to strikes, further motivating supporters for change in Africa’s most populous country.
– “Elan” –
To replace President Muhammadu Buhari, who is not seeking re-election after his two constitutional terms, two rival candidates: Atiku Abubakar, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
But outsiders Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) and the popular Peter Obi of the Labour Party could benefit from an emerging protest vote.
Turnout in Nigeria is generally low (33% in the 2019 presidential election) and young people are not considered the most active voters.
But “there has been a positive shift since 2015” in interest in politics, says Udo Jude Ilo, an analyst at Thoughts and Mace Advisory.
The Electoral Commission said last month that about 70% of new registrants were aged 18 to 34.
“The 2023 elections are not going to be like the previous ones,” says 26-year-old Akinwunmi Ibrahim Adebanjo. “This time, we will go out so that the country is no longer in the hands of thieves.
Odunayo Eweniyi, a member of the Feminist Coalition, a key group behind the 2020 movement, says the protests have inspired those who did not directly support them.
“Whether you were for it or against it, change has happened, and voices have been heard,” says the 28-year-old. “And by realising that it is possible to be heard, wherever you are in Nigeria, people are building on that momentum,” she adds.
– Time for youth? –
Of seven protesters AFP interviewed in Lagos and the political capital Abuja, five said they would vote for Obi. At 61, his age is one of his attractions, with Abubakar and Ahmed being 75 and 70 respectively.
“Since independence, we have only been governed by old” politicians, asserts Anita Izato, 27. “I think it’s time to see if a young person can do better.
Obi, who switched to the lesser-known Labour Party from the PDP, has managed to present himself as an anti-establishment candidate.
But observers point out that his chances are limited, partly because his party does not control any of the country’s 36 states or governorships, indicators are seen as necessary to garner votes.
Political apathy and vote buying are also difficult to combat in a country where 80 million people live below the poverty line.