Sometime in December 2018, we were thinking about the elections and how things might turn out. We – the team, including two undergraduates – were discussing a question: what do Nigerians students across the country think about the elections?
We knew that if we were going to useful feedback, we’d have to speak to actual students.
There’s a lot of talk about what the student demographic thinks, what motivates them, and what they care about. What we hardly ever see, is one where they actually get to talk about what they care about.
To avoid the trap, we worked with the students on the team and came up with a bunch of questions that might give us a big picture. Then we sent out a survey to student communities everywhere.
While it is important to note that this might not be a clear representation of every Nigerian student (or even the mass of Nigerian students), this attempts to give a broad sense of how people might be feel about the entire process.
First, we tried to make this as diverse as possible.
While it wasn’t as evenly distributed as we’d have loved, we found students in every geopolitical zone.
The first question we asked, as you’d expect in election season is the PVC question –the haves and have-nots. 52% of the students we spoke to said they’ve gotten theirs.
This could mean political apathy among students could be lower than the general average. A number of factors could be at play here; like education, the work of student communities to constantly sensitise their peers, and access to information. But it gets more interesting; the older students generally showed more enthusiasm about getting their PVCs.
Sometimes, age isn’t just a number. For most of these young students, this is the first election where they’ll be eligible to vote. But there’s a small difference. We have a four-year election cycle, so odds are students aged 20 and above were on the cusp of being eligible to vote in the 2015 elections.
One could say they would have become considerably interested in governance and elections since then. And after the heralded change of power.
Perhaps, they also looked forward to casting their first vote too.
But what about those who didn’t bother with the first step: registering to vote?
“Why don’t you have a PVC?”
A ton of reasons. Some were too young, others just didn’t care but more than anything else, the stress that goes into getting a PVC is the leading reason people don’t have theirs.
That’s a sentiment that’s shared by many older people as well.
And about apathy, there’s something to see there too. Most of the apathy was found in the younger students.
It’s not surprising. We live in a gerontocracy, and many of these younger students are getting the impression that politics and governance are old men’s games.
What’s worse – there is no frame of reference for them.
So they are more than eager to turn their attention and effort to other interests.
So, who has your vote?
First of all, it appears that there’s not enough love to go round for the Big Two; Buhari and Atiku. The 3rd force, on the other hand, got the most love from the students. To think there was supposed to be an actual coalition.
So, what does this all mean?
For a start, it means we need to make governance more accessible to young people, particularly students. Remember when we had students’ unions?
Once upon a time, they were training grounds for commentators, future technocrats and politicians. Reviving unionism on campuses would be a good place to start.
Beyond grooming the future, students’ unions also get students acquainted with the political process from their first day on campus.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s way too hard to participate as a member of the Nigerian electorate. If it was easier to register, fewer of the students we surveyed would have stayed away from getting their PVCs. Now, imagine how many students stayed away across the nation.
So there it is; Many of them won’t vote this year because they were not been catered to, in rhetoric or actuality. It’s scary because that’s a large part of the electorate. If nothing else, what our students helped us understand is that students can care about politics and voting.
They just face the same problems as the rest of the people. There’s a lot to fix, certainly. We can fairly say things would be a lot different if the student vote counted.e