Nigerian Canadians in Manitoba say youthful voters can bring big change in weekend election
They're 'taking the bull by the horns': president of Nigerian Association of Manitoba
With a presidential election around the corner, many Nigerian youth are backing an unlikely candidate who hopes to ease the nation's growing insecurity.
"They are tired of the same old story again and again. They want new things, they want change," said Wilson Akinwale, president of the Nigerian Association of Manitoba.
On Saturday, Nigerian voters will choose among 18 candidates to replace incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who has spent the past eight years in office.
Amid high unemployment, extremist violence and an economic crisis from currency reform, three candidates have emerged as frontrunners in what Akinwale believes is a critical election for Nigerians.
"People are frustrated," Akinwale said. "This election will determine how serious the country is."
One of these frontrunners, Peter Obi, has gained particular popularity among young Nigerian voters, promising jobs and change in hopes of giving youth who have fled the country a reason to return.
Obi, from the Labour Party, is either ahead of or slightly behind the two other candidates — Bola Tinubu of the All Progressive Congress, and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, most polls suggest.
Both Tinubu and Abubakar are well-known political figures in Nigeria. Tinubu has served as governor of Lagos, Nigeria's economic hub, and Abubakar has served as Nigeria's vice president.
However, Obi's social media appeal and connection with young people has made him stand out.
"The youths are now like taking the bull by the horns and saying, 'No, look, it is time for us. It is time for us to be part of this,'" Akinwale said.
With a population of more than 210 million people, Nigeria has at least 93 million registered voters, of whom almost 40 per cent are under 35.
Segun Oke, a Nigerian living in Winnipeg, says young people are clamouring for change, either looking for a new face or someone with a solid track record to step up.
"Many young Nigerians are angry. They're seeking retribution against the political oligarchs," he said.
'The most crucial election'
Voter turnout has been low in recent elections. In 2019, only 34 per cent of registered voters cast their ballot.
This election might be different, though. Registration rates are surging, Nigerians are lining up to collect voter cards, and they're showing enthusiasm online and in rallies.
"This election is crucial because Nigeria is either on the brink of fail or pass," said Oke. "[It] could probably be the most crucial election in … the history of Nigeria."
For Nigerians in diaspora such as Oke and Akinwale, hearing about the insecurity in the country is concerning.
"I get calls daily from, you know, parents, siblings, friends telling me [about the] situation in the country," said Oke. "It's painful, it's pathetic."
The violence and economic crisis has caused many to leave the country.
"Everything is so chaotic, it's so difficult," Akinwale said.
To get those people to come back, Akinwale says, it's vital that the new president makes Nigeria safer.
"If the … security situation in the country is not fixed, then we have a challenge," he said "If that can be reduced or even stop completely, that will encourage people to come," he said.
'It's too close to call'
Come election day, Akinwale hopes Nigerians will follow the voting process safely and fairly.
"The [whole] world is watching, and it is very important for us to do this and get this done properly," he said. "[Any] anti-political process … should be avoided completely.
"If you want a good and just and equitable society, do your own part if you want that change. That change begins with you doing the right thing."
With the economic instability, it's possible some people might try to buy votes.
"I still feel like a lot of people in this election will still be easily manipulated," Oke said.
But Oke says he's still not sure who will come out on top.
"I honestly feel like it's too close to call," he said.
With files from Abimbola Oduniyi and The Associated Press