2023 General Elections in Nigeria and the Roles of Students’ Union
By Comrade Bello Abdulwaheed-Onikanhun
It is a truism the most fundamental aspect of constitutional democracy is periodic elections. With just about 86 days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the most populous black nations on Earth-Nigeria. Attention, throughout the world would now be shifted to Nigeria with keen local and international observers watching closely with the high hopes that 2023 general elections will be a watershed in the fragile democratic journey of Nigeria.
Indeed, what essentially drove Abraham Lincoln to define democracy as government of the people by the people and for the people are the periodic quality elections and sufficient democratic dividends deliverable to the populace.
Sadly, Nigeria appears to still be suffering from Electoral kwashiorkor culminating into rigged elections, voter apathy and other undesirable factors which have led to the enthronement of terrible leaders who couldn’t take the country to her deserved sustainable development stage but rather succeeded in throwing 133 million Nigerians into Perpetual Multi-Dimensional Poverty (NBS Statistics).
Nigerian Students Voting Apathy together with purposeless participation in Elections and Politics have combined to engender incompetent leaders in Nigeria Political System in Nigeria and 2023 General Elections present another golden opportunity that must not be missed.
The Benchmark of Elections
Elections are the central institution of democratic representative government. Why? Because, in a democracy, the authority of the government derives solely from the consent of the governed.
The principal mechanism for translating that consent into governmental authority is the holding of free and fair elections.
All modern democracies hold elections, but not all elections are democratic.
Right-Wing dictatorships, Marxist regimes, and single-party governments also stage elections to give their rule the aura of legitimacy. In such Elections, there may be only one candidate or a list of candidates for each office, but ensure through intimidation or rigging that only the government approved candidate is chosen. Other elections may offer genuine choices-but only within the incumbent party. These are not democratic elections.
Jeane Kirkpatrick, Scholar and former U. S Ambassador to the United Nations has offered a succinct definition: “Democratic elections are not merely symbolic………..They are competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive elections in which the chief decision-maker in a government are selected by citizens who enjoy broad freedom to criticize government to publish their criticism and to present alternative”.
Elections in Nigeria
Elections in Nigeria are forms of choosing representatives to the federal government of Nigeria and the various states in the fourth Republic Nigeria. Elections in Nigeria started since 1959 with different Political Parties. It’s a method of choosing leaders where the citizens have right to vote and to be voted for.
General Elections will be held in Nigeria on 25th February, 2023 to elect the President and Vice President and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Subsequently, the 2023 Nigerian Gubernatorial Elections will be held for the State Governors in Thirty-one (31) states and Kwara is certainly one of these states.
Cambridge Dictionary of Contemporary English defines a student as a person who is learning at a College or University. In Nigeria context, a student is a person who is studying in secondary school or higher.
THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA AND THE ROLES OF STUDENTS UNION
Students is an important factor in the decision making room of the politicians only when the election is approaching. This is not by accident, it’s purely due to the age bracket and strong numerical advantage of the Students, but the Nigerian students never realized this great strength and instead bargain for peanuts from the Politicians. For more than Eight Months (8) Months, Public Universities were render useless by the Politicians while they have their Sons and Daughters studying in some of the best oversees universities. As if this is not enough, our erudite scholars, the shinning stars in our ivory towers were been subjected to a debilitating and embarrassing in-humane treatment, lecturers were being casualized, the time to change this evil practice is now, and this can be done through, effective and purposeful students participation in the entirety of electoral process.
Effective Studentship is relevant for building a peaceful, and inclusive society through their involvement in electoral practices that is capable of engendering good democratic practice, equal access to good governance and sustainable development.
Nigeria is a nation blessed with abundant human and material resources with highly resourceful students.
However, the country appears to still be suffering from chronic disease of her “acquired students” voter apathy which manifest in the 2019 General Elections and the previous ones.
In the build up to 2019 general elections which has 84, 004, 084 Million Registered Voters in INEC Register, 22, 320, 990 Million were students representing 26.57% of the entire voters, the highest by any occupation category which distantly followed by 13,630,216 (16.23%) representing Farmers/Fishermen, (INEC Voter Analysis, 2019).
Regrettably, Elections came and only about 6,125,000 Voters came out to vote on the Elections day! Abraham Lincoln, the world acclaimed father of democracy once said, BALLOT IS STRONGER THAN THE BULLET.
This terrible trend must be halted by students’ leaders here present, those who may wish to go through this address later and indeed every Responsible student in Nigeria. It appears that without getting our elections right, we cannot get the Nigeria society right.
It’s pertinent to emphasize at this juncture that in Nigeria political ecosystem, Students, due to their numerical advantage and age bracket are important factor in the conduct of democratic elections.
Corroborating this fact, in October 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) posits that Students account for the 40% of newly registered voters. The implication of the recent surge in Students turnout for the recently concluded Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise may be an indication of the fact that the status quo will not remain the same, that’s only if the registration strength of the students is translated to voting and not just voting but voting for the best candidates across various political parties.
Conclusions and Recommendations
I wish to state unambiguously that voting is our absolute right to elect credible leaders for the overall development of Nigeria just as one of the penalties for refusing to vote is that you end being governed by your inferiors.
I also dutifully wish to challenge the Nigerian Students to wake up from it’s slumber and demand from politicians, INEC and other critical stakeholders in our electoral process what’s rightfully due to them.
How do we understand a situation whereby Students constituting about 40% of voting strength of the country, yet students are not properly incorporated into the decision making arm of our democratic process?
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has 23 Youths Ambassadors and none is a Student; and I therefore recommend that INEC should as a matter of necessity appoint at least one student ambassador from the 36 states and FCT.
INEC has engaged for the forthcoming 2023 General Elections, if not all, so many critical stakeholders, but Students have not at the highest level: it’s my recommendation that INEC should begin to engage the students union for the entirety of electoral process, starting with 2023 General Elections.
Local and International Observers have been accredited for 2023 General Elections, but Students body has not been accredited: INEC should mandate it upon all the Residential Electoral Commissioners (RECs) to accredit Students’ Union as important Elections Observers to ensure inclusiveness.
The list can go on and on but for the brevity of time and space, permit me to pause here and hope for another great privilege to speak in a similar gathering of intellectuals like this and to also allow our distinguished guest lecturer teach us better so that we can all go back to our various destinations with superior information and knowledge.