By DOREEN ASASIRA
LAGOS, Nigeria [SHIFTMEDIA] With just hours for Africa’s most populated nation to go into polls, the race is between three ‘Giants’: Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi, and Bola Tinubu.
Young Nigerians have turned Saturday’s presidential election into the most competitive since the end of military rule in 1999, with many backing a third-party candidate to take on the country’s two main political machines and bring change to the country after years of stagnation, corruption and insecurity in Africa’s most populous nation.
Spurred on by the 2020 EndSars anti-police brutality protests that morphed into calls for good governance, millions of young people have registered as first-time voters.
“If Nigeria continues on this downhill, it will be disastrous, so yes, it’s a defining moment,” said Rinu Oduala, a 24-year-old woman who was among the protesters who camped outside the governor’s office in Lagos for weeks, two years ago.
Though the protests were brutally halted by the army, the disbandment of the Sars police unit notorious for profiling young people was considered a success.
That seems to have galvanized frustrated young Nigerians and now they are targeting the highest office in the land.
The man many are backing, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, is not that young at 61. Nor is he really a new broom in Nigerian politics as he has previously been the vice-presidential candidate for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But he is considered an outlier because of his accessibility, simplicity and his record of prudence with public funds when he was Anambra state governor.
“I should be in the peak of my life right now, balling financially and physically, but there is no money and there are kidnappers everywhere,” said Ovie Esan, a 25-year-old man in Lagos.
Many accuse President Muhammadu Buhari, who is stepping down after two terms, of mismanaging the economy and overseeing the most insecure period in the country since the 1967-1970 civil war.
Under his watch, young middle-class Nigerians have seen their finances battered by record levels of inflation.
One in three of them cannot find a job, students have experienced incessant strikes by lecturers and many of Nigeria’s finest are desperate to leave the country.
On top of this, widespread insecurity has seen armed groups kill more than 10,000 people and abduct more than 5,000 last year alone, according to the International Crisis Group.
Offering hope of a new era, Mr Obi is going up against the twin behemoths of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP who have alternated in power since the end of military rule in 1999. Their candidates are both in their 70s in a country where a third of Nigeria’s 210 million people are aged below 35.
Ethnic and religious factors also influence the choice of many voters.
Mr Obi has been openly supported by Nigeria’s huge evangelical Christian movement in the south, and can also rely on the votes of Christians who feel persecuted in the mainly Muslim north.
Mr Obi is an Igbo from the east, the only major ethnic group yet to supply a Nigerian president. While some back the idea it is their turn to be in power, the APC and PDP candidates will enjoy the backing of many in their home areas – the south-west and north respectively.
Victory for Obi is far from guaranteed.
The BBC writes that APC and PDP have the advantage of countrywide name recognition, which the Labour Party seems to struggle with, especially in vote-rich rural areas in the north.
Despite having vast oil and gas riches, Nigeria has been held back by widespread corruption since independence in 1960.
The ruling class, whether military or civilian, has been unable to provide basics like stable electricity, pipe-borne water or jobs for the huge young population.
Now, many seem to have had enough in what the head of the electoral commission has described as the “election of young people”. A record 93 million people have registered to vote, 40% of whom are under 35.
If they turn out to vote in large numbers, it could prove to be a watershed in the country’s history – a time to reset and begin anew.