Youth, ENDSARS, 2023 Elections And Lost Opportunities

By Rommy Mom Esq

It has been very interesting watching Nigerian youth go out in droves to register towards voting in the next elections. There is this infectious optimism that they can effect a change at the national level by electing a President of their choice.

This President is of course the “Obidient” Peter Obi, who is charismatic, says the right things and is energizing or is being energized by Nigeria’s young population.

The goal and thinking of the youth is clear and very commendable: they are out to enthrone a government of their choice within the ambit of the law. This is what democracy is about.

Peter Obi, their choice, is contesting on the platform of the Labour Party, that, in political parlance, is said to be a party that currently has “no structures.”

The term “structures” here is taken to mean physical party offices across the 774 LGAs in Nigeria; membership across the 774 LGAs in Nigeria; and a fair spread of elective office holders.

These structures or machinery are deployed to ensure that the party has champions who can drive votes at the local level, protect these votes through party agents and sometimes use state resources and influence, even though illegally, in swaying issues at critical times to favor the party. The question is whether the Labour Party with very little of all of this, can win a presidential election which translates to receiving a majority of the vote and over and 25% of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states.

The Labour Party in truth is therefore a party without structures, fielding a Presidential candidate who appeals to ideals, passion, discontent in the land etc.

The youth and admirers of Peter Obi, presently an internet sensation pulling vociferous youth support, refer to themselves as his political structure.

In a recent Facebook poll by the writer, the question was posed as to what is more important in winning elections between ideals and party structures. The reason for the poll was not stated to ensure unadulterated responses. 20% of respondents’ said ideals were superior, while 80% went for structure and the remaining 20% insisted on both. Interestingly the youth formed 90% of the respondents.

Analysis of the responses evidenced that structures are critical to winning elections, especially when the magnitude of the election is the presidency. This singular reason gives room for some reflection as to where the youths currently stand with regard to installing a president in Nigeria in 2023. Can they do it? Will they?

EndSARS if anything, evidenced the power of the youth in mobilization, creativity, and discipline when they are focused on certain objectives. In the early days of the movement, yes, the author views ENDSARS as a movement, before it became ungovernable, Nigeria witnessed the youth set up a parallel government that was effective and efficient. We saw the youth organize themselves across the country, carrying out peaceful protests for days; ensuring the supply of water and food to thousands on the streets and sharing same with police officers. Resources that were channeled by groups and individuals both at home and abroad in support of the protest appeared to be properly managed with no complaints of embezzlement etc.

NOTE: this author is referencing the early days of EndSARS. It is quite unfortunate that the movement was eventually hijacked and ultimately degenerated into lawlessness evidenced in the killing of law enforcement officers, arson, and destruction of public properties.

The EndSARS protests therefore ended in ignominy and can safely be categorized as a riot. So, did the youth miss anything that would have had a positive, telling effect going forward? The answer is an emphatic YES! With the EndSARS gone bad, the youth missed a golden opportunity of building sustainable planks that could have been built upon and galvanized into installing a national government in Nigeria by 2023. What they missed is what is today referred to as structures, which it is argued, might make their intention of installing the next President, a bit of a fantasy.

It is the author’s considered opinion that the youth wasted a golden opportunity to set up structures in the wake of the ENDSARS owing to a lack of coordination and a display of passion not tempered by reason.At the height of the EndSARS protests, government invited the youth for a round table discussion asking the youth to send in their leaders.

The youth flatly rejected this offer, insisting they had no leaders. This was very strange as any organized assembly must have a spokesperson. The refusal and or reluctance of the youth to present spokespersons that would dialogue with the government denied them the opportunity of planting that seed that could have grown into some form of structure at the national level, or at least a figure to build the semblance of a structure around. As if this was not enough, government then set up state investigative panels with clearly defined ToRs towards some remedial measures on the cause of the protest, and invited the youth to go to the states and table their grievances.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the youth to have organized themselves at the state level into some form of structure, alongside the issues of SARS. Such a structure would have links to the national arm, towards alignment of positions on the issues.

These efforts would have entailed setting up structures, which, no matter how porous, structures yet would have been. Again, the youth spurned this opportunity. This would have been one of the lasting legacies of EndSARS where there would have been a structured movement of Nigerian youth powering social change.

One might argue that social media has empowered the youth and can make them organize themselves within the shortest possible time. While this is true to an extent, this would be much more potent and effective if it was wrapped around federal and state structures. This is where the gap in the support for Peter Obi becomes evident.

Labor Party has no structures, fact. The youth have no structures, fact. No matter the frenzy and passion of support, it is very unlikely that it might result in the election of a new President. Those who argue that social media frenzy doesn’t translate to anything significant in the absence of structures, point to the recently concluded Ekiti state gubernatorial elections held a few weeks ago.

The youth population in votes cast stood at 18% for Ekiti and is projected to be less in Osun, notwithstanding the excitement exhibited in registration and collection of PVCs.

One can only hope that Peter Obi and the youth movement show the critical need for organizing, understanding, facilitating and building a base for coordinated actions, which a structure affords any movement or organization.

This cannot be ignored as to win, a candidate requires 25 percent of votes cast in 24 of the 36 states of the federation. Undoubtedly, the power of the internet and social media can do wonders and magic, as it did for Barack Obama and President Buhari in the past, yet these two figures had structures (political parties) that the social media wove itself into. Make no mistake though… Peter Obi will cause uncomfortable moments and stir desperation in the old order. He will handsomely shift electoral gains around in several states and upend many theories as to winners in several constituencies.

This too is some win for the youth. What is happening is beautiful and this writer prays, the youth do not miss the present opportunity to do what is necessary which for now is for the youth to seize the moment and use the Peter Obi candidacy to start creating and sustain structures, powered by the youth across Nigeria. If they can successfully do this, then they will have a big say come 2027. Failure to so do will be another lost opportunity like that of the EndSARS.

Yet, you never know, despite all odds the youth just might do it…install a President in May 2023. It may not be a bridge too far after all.

Rommy Mom Esq is a human rights activist and President of Lawyers Alert Nigeria, a human rights body.

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