A young man holds up his voter’s card in Nigeria, where presidential elections will be held on March 28. Photo by: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / CC BY-SA

With about 63 percent of Nigeria’s 177 million inhabitants aged under 24, it will be the young people who hold the decisive vote when the country goes to the polls March 28 to choose the nation’s next president.

First scheduled for Feb. 14, the country’s electoral commission postponed voting by six weeks due to ongoing insurgency by the Boko Haram group in the northeastern part of the country. The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, will be seeking a second and final term in office.

With so much power in the hands of young people, Devex spoke to one of the country’s prominent youth leaders about what young people want from the elections.

Ahmed Adamu, 30, is chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council, which represents the views of 1.2 billion young people to the leaders of Commonwealth countries. He is also the founder of the League for Democratic Youths in Nigeria — a 500,000-member nongovernmental organization that educates young people on their civic rights and organizes public debates on national issues across the country.

Read on for more about a campaign to keep Nigeria’s elections peaceful, and how young people at the local level are holding leaders to account to ensure they do not renege on election promises.

How important are young people in the upcoming elections?

Young people are a major determinant of the outcome of the election because more than 60 percent of Nigerian voters are young people. Every political party leader’s attention is on them. As a result, we’re telling young people to use this opportunity to enhance their bargaining power to hold the politicians responsible during the electioneering campaign.

Every politician should inform young people what plan they have for them. We’re also asking them to sign an agreement that they will deliver on their promises for youth. That gives young people the basis to hold the politicians responsible.

Are the party leaders listening to young people?

Yes! And they must listen to them because if any politician is looking for votes, they know young people have the vote. They can determine who becomes the winner. In the past, during election campaigns, politicians have listened to the youth but afterward they do nothing.

So this year we have said, let us sign an agreement with political leaders. If you said you have a certain plan, you will do it. If you don’t do it, we can hold you responsible for failing to do what you committed to.

What role are young people playing in these elections?

Youth across the country are currently campaigning for peaceful elections. In 2003, more than 100 young people were killed from violence associated with that year’s election. In 2007, 300 were killed. And in the last election in 2011, more than 800 were killed and more than 65,000 people were displaced. In this year’s election, we don’t want to see any sort of violence.

In February, the Commonwealth Youth Council brought together young people from Nigeria’s 36 states to agree to be agents of peace. Youth leaders representing youth faith groups, civil society and youth development organizations met in [the Nigerian capital] Abuja on Feb. 3 and signed the Abuja Youth Peace Accord.

What peace-promotion activities are you currently working on?

Right now, the youth campaign against election violence is taking place in every local government in the country. I have just come back to the United Kingdom where I’m a student, following 30 days campaigning in Nigeria. The campaigning is now being carried out by marshals. We appointed five in every state, who are responsible for implementing the campaign at grass-roots level.

They will organize youth volunteers to develop awareness-raising activities, including street rallies, social and cultural events, workshops and media appearances, to persuade young people to shun violence at election time. We gave them funds, campaign materials like T-shirts, caps and other things. We trained them how to advocate for peaceful elections in their community and how to engage with politicians and other stakeholders who are responsible for ensuring peaceful elections.

We also tried to reach out to politicians. I met with the Nigerian president, major political party leaders, people in government, former heads of state, business people and security personnel. We tried to extend a message of peace to them and explained how they can ensure peaceful elections in the country.

What do young people in Nigeria want party leaders to deliver?

We are affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, which is one of the greatest threats we have ever faced as a nation. The two other major issues affecting young people are unemployment and lack of quality education.

You have a situation where young people will come out of school without a job and become frustrated. You have another set of young people who cannot afford to go to school. They might decide to start a small business, but doing that with no patronage or profit, they become frustrated.

So whichever direction a young person takes, you find that they become frustrated. The coming together of so many frustrated young people will yield nothing but bad circumstances.

What are your future plans for the Youth Campaign Against Election Violence?

The Youth Council is viewing this campaign as a pilot. Afterward, we want to take the model to other Commonwealth countries.

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.

About the author

  • Gabriella Jóźwiak

    Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.