The Nigerian Voter is a series that seeks to understand the motivations that drive the voting decisions of Nigerians — why they vote, how they choose their candidates, why some have never voted, and their wildest stories around elections.
This week’s subject of The Nigerian Voter is Tolu*, a 200-level Mass Communication student in his early twenties schooling at the Federal University of Technology, Minna. He is passionate about voting, but with exams clashing with the elections, he and 26,000 other students at his school can’t travel home. He tells us of his frustrations with the educational system, his desire to vote and who he hopes can win this election.
When did you first enter university, and how many strikes have you experienced?
I got admission in 2019 but resumed in 2020. I was in school from January to March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown started.
I was at home from March to December 2020 due to COVID-19 and a strike from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). 2021 was the only year that I had a full session. In 2022, I was in school from January to March before the eight-month strike that ended in October. That is two strikes already in three years.
Wow. How would you say the strikes have affected you?
By now, I’m supposed to be in my final year (400 level), but I’m still in the second semester of my second year. I’ve not even written exams.
I’ve not been able to make progress with my goals in life. There were so many things I planned and put in place.
For instance, I had a summer job shortly before I entered university. The manager there liked me and promised I could return and work there in my 300 level for Industrial Training (IT). Now the manager that promised that opportunity was transferred last year. If there were no strikes, I’d have worked there by now. Now I can no longer do it there, and my chances of working at the firm in future have been cut short.
It has also affected my grades too. When I returned from the 2020 strike, some lecturers claimed that they had misplaced all the test scripts we had written before the strike. Hence, they gave people random scores and the “random score” I got wasn’t so favourable and it brought down my Grade Point Average (GPA).
Also, this has affected me mentally because I’m slowly but surely losing hope in the educational system. It makes me wonder if having an education is worth it or not.
Who do you think is the cause of the strikes?
Well, I can’t say lecturers for sure because my parents are also in the educational system. It is not easy to teach endlessly and not have your salaries paid monthly. A politician can’t be there taking your money, and you don’t do anything about it. So I’d say a larger portion of the blame goes to the politicians.
But I’d also like the lecturers to have compassion for us. We understand their plight, but it is also our future that they are using to fight for their rights.
Since the recent strike was called off in October 2022, how have you coped with your academics?
We had it rough for the first three weeks with back-to-back classes and tests, but now we’ve adjusted. I have classes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Even though it is stressful, I like it in a way because it is helping us to meet up with the school calendar. We are far behind because of these strikes. We have no option.
Is the schedule by any chance clashing with the elections?
Firstly, I should say that it almost affected my collecting my Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). We closed for the holidays three days to Christmas Day. If I didn’t make up my mind to collect it before resumption, I’m not sure I’d have ever been able to collect it again.
As to how it’s clashing with the elections, my exams start on February 20. I also have exams on February 24, which is the day before the presidential elections.
How does this affect you?
My residence is in Kogi state, a 7-hour drive from Minna. I cannot finish exams by 2 p.m. and then make a 7-hour drive to Kogi state just to vote. My parents will not support that, with the insecurity on that route.
I also have exams after February 25 as well. If I go back home, there is no way I’d be able to prepare that weekend (being election weekend). Only people from Niger state can go back home, and even then, it’s a five-hour drive at best. People from far distances like mine can’t go back. FUTMINNA has to realise that they are disenfranchising the rights of over 26,000 students in this school to vote.
I’ve been following the news in other schools too, and I’ve seen that 7,000 students have raised their grievances on this issue on social media platforms. I’m very sure that if universities decide to give a one-week break before the elections, I can bet that at least 10,000 students would use the opportunity to vote.
Why do you have so much passion for voting?
It’s because I’m very much concerned about the country’s well-being. The well-being of this country ultimately affects my future. There have been occasions when I was in my room, and I shed tears just because of the state of this country. And the only way I can change things is by voting.
But now I can’t even do that anymore. How can I be preparing since June 2022 to vote and now that the elections are almost here in 2023, I can’t vote? It hurts me a lot. The 2023 elections are possibly the only chance I’d have to rewrite the story of my country and my educational future. And now I’m about to lose that because of my school. If the presidency falls into the wrong hands, I will lose 8 years of my life. And eight years plus my current age is a lot. I might probably have had children by then. I don’t want my kids to live in a destabilised country.
Right now, public universities are talking about how to increase school fees. The current fee we pay here at FUTMINNA is N39,000. Even then, the money took a lot of work for most people. Some had to go on social media and open GoFundMe accounts to raise money for their tuition. How would things be if they increased it to N80,000, for instance? If you have a good country, the school fees would be regulated. I know how much my parents spend on my fees and well-being in this school, and I know they don’t have savings at the end of the month. Voting in this election is my only chance of making things right and ensuring that affliction doesn’t prevail a second time.
What are your plans going forward with the elections? Have you accepted your fate?
If it’s the will of God, I’ll vote. I’m being optimistic that things could change between now and election day.
Who would you vote for if you were able to, and why?
I’d vote for someone with competence and charisma. I’d vote for someone who I can hold accountable. I’d vote for who has a track record, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) is that person.
What about the other candidates?
I may not be old enough to have been around when the other candidates were at the peak of their political careers, but I’ve read books and watched their presidential town halls. Who has presented the most sensible points to us? Who can we look at his antecedents, at his past and say that he is a bit capable of rebuilding Nigeria?
I have been to Anambra state and I see what he did with the road network and it’s worthy of commendation.
In terms of education, what do you think Peter Obi would do for you if he became president?
When he came to Niger state, he assured us that our four years course would be four years. He also promised us SME skills for entrepreneurs. He will also give people small-scale loans for students who wish to do business while in school. He also promised to teach people online and technical skills.
Even though you might not be able to vote, are you mobilising others to exercise their rights?
Well, I know my parents and siblings are going to vote. Before I saw my exam schedules, people in my state planned to rent buses to transport people to polling units to vote.
Even in school, I make sure that I reach out to people back home to remind them to vote on February 25. My friends and I do the same thing here at school to anyone willing to listen.
Nonetheless, there are still a few of us who have enough passion and can put our lives on the line to go out there and vote.
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