2023 Elections: The push and pull factors influencing youth civic participation

Mayowa Olajide Akinleye

Impacts and Communications Assistant, PROMAD

Ahead of the 2023 elections, INEC registered a total of 9.5 million new voters. 76.5% of them are young people between 18-34 years. The percentage of young people eligible to vote is about half of the over 93 million people registered to vote in Nigeria.

One would naturally expect that whoever will win the 2023 presidential election must be the favorite of the youth population. Political pundits confidently mock this expectation and assert that this population is active only on social media and will not do the real work of mobilizing, supporting, and voting for a candidate they believe in. 

Mobilize, support, vote are all verbs that are ascribed to an active citizen. Active citizens are members of a society who are inspired, motivated, and empowered to make a difference. According to these pundits, roughly 45 million eligible young voters are not active citizens.

A successful democracy relies on the everyday actions of citizens that help each other and society. Sometimes this can mean fundraising for important social issues, organizing a protest against a government policy, participating in elections, engaging representatives, obeying laws and paying taxes. Other times, this means making your community better through constructive engagements and by treating each other fairly and equally.

Civic participation, that is the involvement of individual constituents or communities in local, state, and national government is the bedrock of a succeeding democracy. Civic involvement can include voting, political activism, volunteering, and community engagement. 

In this article, we will explore the push and pull factors that influence this reality for young people and the lessons we can learn and escalate as we daily draw closer to the 2023 general elections in February. 

The pull and push factors

Pull factors are positive influences and realities that encourage and make it easier for young people in Nigeria to effectively participate in her democratic process. Push factors on the other hand are negative influences that hinder the effective civic participation of young people in the country. 

These push and pull factors can be grouped into two categories:

A. Category by source 

B. Category by nature

A. Categorised by source 

  • Internal pull/push factors
  • External pull/push factors 

Internal factors – These are the realities within the locus of control of the individual. They are usually internal to the individual. It originates from an individual’s understanding of their place in society and loyalty to that society. 

Citizens who see civic participation as a path to economic empowerment, born into politically active/influential households, or have a strong sense of responsibility and activism to better their communities usually have a deeper sense of inspiration and motivation to be active citizens despite external pull/push factors. 

In the same vein, some people will never be civically active in their communities no matter how much they are influenced and encouraged. 

External factors – These are the realities outside the locus of control of the individual. They are usually external to the individual. 

Factors such as political violence, electoral malpractices, poor governance, social inequalities, and poor civic education are powerful push factors that limit participation. 

B. Categorised by nature

  • Socio-cultural factors
  • Financial factors
  • Economic factors
  • Political factors

Socio-cultural factors – These are factors that are based on norms, trends, and tipping points existent in the realities of the community. This factor has one of the biggest influences on how members of a community relate with each other, the community itself, and the governance structures and laws they would prioritize.

The ENDSARS protest that rocked Nigeria in 2020 caused the biggest culture shift in how young people interact with power and its government since the transition to democracy in 1999. This is evident in the vigorous political consciousness the ‘Obidient‘ movement exudes and the high percentage of young people registered to vote in 2023. Other factors such as gerontocracy, and a culture of respect are also noteworthy.

Financial factors – These are the push/pull factors around money and the economic power of young people. The rise of money politics as the primary form of effective political socialization in the country is making the climb steeper for young people.

The practice of very high nomination forms, outrageously expensive campaign spending and vote-buying practices tend to make political participation too expensive for young people running for elective positions. YIAGA Africa noted a 6% drop in youth candidacy from 2019 to 28%. 

Economic factors – These are the factors that influence the ability of members of the society to enjoy quality living conditions, access good nutrition and healthcare, education, and enjoy opportunities for social and economic mobility.

Economic condition/status is closely linked to apathy, poor, and/or optimal participation. Before exercising civic rights and obligations, people must first acquire the psychology of political thinking, consciousness, and rationality.

This will enable them to assert their rights, and participate meaningfully. The vast majority of young people in Nigeria are impoverished and unemployed. This has made them vulnerable to negative activities such as thuggery, vote buying, political bootlicking, cynicism, and money politicking. A lot more others have become politically apathetic as a result of their primary struggle to even survive.

Political factors-  These are factors that revolve around the activities, laws, and policies of the government and how political power is gotten, wielded, and distributed.

Nigerian politics and political culture are based on patron-clientelism, in which those in power or with influence over the status quo will go to any length to maintain access, hold onto, and consolidate economic and political power. This is done through the deliberate formation of a pyramid of loyalists, with them sitting comfortably at the top. This practice limits good governance.

Other factors such as unclear political ideology and orientation, absence of internal democracy within Nigerian political parties, and political oligarchy stifle effective participation for Nigeria’s young population.

There are three key preconditions for civil participation among young people. They are;

  • Inspiration 
  • Motivation
  • Empowerment 

The effect that pushes and pull factors have on civic participation among young people is measured by the way it impacts any or all of the three preconditions. 

As we draw closer to the elections, it is critical that stakeholders (candidates, political parties, Government, Media, INEC, NGOs, etc.) engage and prioritize activities that inspire, motivate and create the optimal conditions for the social and economic empowerment of young people in the country. Only this way can we begin to build the Nigeria we want. 

Contributors: Ebenezer Wikina, Founder of Policy Shapers; Godbless Otubure, Global President of ReadyToLeadAfrica; and Sarah Egbo, Policy Lead at Gender Mobile Initiative 

This article is an excerpt from the first of a six-part series of a public conversation on youth civic participation under the  “Accelerating Youth Civic Participation in the FCT”. A project by PROMAD Foundation, supported by LEAP Africa and funded by Ford Foundation and Macarthur Foundation.

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