According to Reuters/IPSOS exit poll on the election of the 2012 US presidential poll, first-time US voters were supporting President Barack Obama by a two-to-one margin. And according to ABC News in 2008, first-time voters favored Obama over John McCain by 47 points. Four years earlier, first-timers backed Democratic nominee John Kerry by just 7 points. First-timers were not big determinants in the 2016 elections and there is currently no widespread discussion about them regarding the upcoming 2023 elections.
For the first time in a long time, I recently watched a Nigerian on Channels TV discuss politics and the impact first-time voters can have on the 2023 and 2027 elections. And I was pleasantly flabbergasted because this is a good political strategy that Nigeria’s political class and technocrats rarely discuss publicly. The speaker was Debo Onifade, the author of a Nigerian politics book with foreword by the highly respected Femi Falana SAN – Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country. He spoke very differently from the typical Nigerian elites, technocrats and social media champions who are often theoretical and aloof from Nigeria’s political realities. I have included the video in this article for your viewing pleasure.
I later read some of Debo Onifade’s articles on national newspapers and foreign websites, and admired that they were always focused on political and policy solutions, rather than problem analysis as is typical of our government critics in Nigeria. A few examples are Corvid-19: Nigeria must prioritize homegrown strategies published by The Nation newspaper and MarketWatch, Corvid-19: It’s time to discuss universal free healthcare for all Nigerians published by Vanguard newspaper and Revolution in Nigeria: Let’s face reality, published by Nigerian Political Online Forum: Liberating Nigeria, Pulse.ng and other websites.
According to a CNN on-air contributor and US White House reporter, Tolu Olorunnipa, “Liberating Nigeria is an apt title for this tour-de-force, a no-holds-barred analytical probe of the ills that have long plagued Africa’s most populous and most potential-gifted nation. Debo Onifade does a masterful job of dissecting many of the country’s problems, and showing how its political leadership could rise to address them. This book is useful for those at all levels of expertise and familiarity with Nigerian politics, from the neophyte to the seasoned political hand. Global in scope, comparing and contrasting Nigeria’s political system to those in China, the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere – revealing sharp differences, similarities and areas for improvement and evolution.”
Tolu further said and I quote: “Liberating Nigeria is more than analysis – it is also about action. It is full of well-researched and well-described prescriptions for boosting Nigeria’s young but stunted democratic systems, and promoting good governance. Readers of Liberating Nigeria, young and old, will be treated to a vision for what one of the world’s fastest growing nations could be if its political system better reflected the ingenuity and compassion of its people. Such a ‘people’s government,’ as described by Onifade, would not only propel Nigeria to fulfilling its potential as Africa’s most populous country. Solutions for longstanding problems in Nigeria’s electricity, education, health care, security, business and other sectors are methodically and thoroughly presented in this book. Nigeria’s leaders – and everyday citizens – could benefit greatly from reading Liberating Nigeria.“
I have read the book and personally view it as currently the number one book on Nigerian politics. Though I don’t share the same optimism about Nigeria like Debo Onifade as I believe the country requires either a radical restructuring or revolution in order to get liberated, I fully agree with him that first time voters can greatly influence election results from 2023. And I believe this should be a core strategy for all upcoming Nigerian politicians that genuinely seek change. They should start making efforts to prepare those fifteen to seventeen-year old kids that will be eligible to vote in 2023 to start following politics and plan to vote for the right people.
It is my opinion that majority of the current generation of voters are already sold-out and they will not likely change their voting pattern in 2023. Some will continue to vote purely based on ethnic and religious sentiments, while others will vote based on the gifts and money received from politicians a few days before election. Unless a new politician wants to offer more money for votes, it is extremely difficult or impossible for that politician to get a voter that is used to ‘vote-selling’ to vote differently in 2023. And if many of us agree that the new politicians should not engage in ‘vote-buying’ in 2023, then the only commonsense action for them is to start wooing first-term voters from now.
I think most Nigerians believe that the country is headed for destruction if we stay on our current path. The change we clamored for in 2015 has eluded us so far. There is enormous voter apathy because people do not believe in the current crop of politicians. We are indeed a sleeping giant of Africa. We brag that we are the largest economy in Africa, but it is a shame that we are also the poverty capital of the world. Despite the disgraceful elections Nigeria conducted recently in Kogi and Bayelsa states that show how much we have regressed in recent years, some of our politicians still do not accept that Nigeria is not yet working for the common man. When the statistics seems good, they will tout it, but when it is bad, they will blame the source.
The Oronsaye report that would have helped to reduce government costs and enhance efficiency is being considered by our current government after almost five years in power. Did we have to wait for COVID-19 and consequent crash in oil prices to consider such good report? I am sure we don’t need a Harvard or Cambridge degree to answer this question. If the government were genuinely serious about cutting costs, they would not wait until this crisis period to act on the report. Unfortunately, Oronsaye report technically includes sacking some people – is it fair to fire staff at this COVID-19 period when alternative opportunities are greatly limited? I leave our government officials to answer that.
According to Debo Onifade, “Nigerians have complained about and analyzed their problems long enough. It is now time for young people and new-breed politicians to elevate the discussion from mere rhetoric, sensationalism and fantasy to apt understanding of smart politics and solutions.” 2023 is around the corner. Any new politician that is serious about his or her ambition needs to start engaging and talking to potential first-time voters across Nigeria as soon as COVID-19 is over. We need to take our destiny in our own hands and work hard to win some elections from 2023. Talking and social media rants will not solve our problems. And no new politician can match the old ones in terms of violence and rigging, so the best option is to follow a peaceful and smart strategy as Debo Onifade highlights in his writings.
Finally, as I pray for Nigeria to overcome COVID-19 quickly, I appeal to young people to be resolute about registering and collecting their voter’s cards, as well as voting and defending their votes on election days. COVID-19 has shown clearly that no matter how rich or comfortable you are, as long as you are resident in Nigeria, this is indeed the only country you can truly call your own. This crisis has also brought us together and it will be nice if we can sustain this unity as we work hard to revive Nigeria.