Sometime in September, the posters of a young man began to appear on social media and attracted largely condescending and derisive reactions. His age, then, was unstated but it was easy to tell that he was in the age bracket of citizens still possessed by the anxiety of university matriculation examinations and the ASUU dilemma. But he wasn’t running for a position in the students’ union government. He was advertising his interest to serve as National Youth Leader of what was once marketed as the largest political party on the continent. Most of us discovered young Mohammed Kadade Suleiman on those viral posters.
But the joke didn’t end well, at least for the band of pessimists that had laughed off Mohammed’s unusual ambition. They stopped laughing after he was declared winner at the national convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja on October 30. His emergence suddenly became a material for boring motivational speeches and vastly cited to taunt the Internet-intoxicated, self-glorifying demographic that had either written off youth inclusion in Nigerian politics or waiting to earn power on a platter.
But power is never given, and that’s the case even in the freest democracy. It has to be taken. Mohammed, a 25-year-old, knew this book better than the older and more educated “youths” parroting the self-sabotaging “politics is a dirty game” anthem on social media and elsewhere. He built a network of political backers and visited communities and his party’s influencers to market himself. But because he wasn’t visible in virtual spaces, his aim was perceived as a cruel joke and he was mocked by young people who declared their support for contenders with no presence or structure offline. The actual joke manifested afterwards.
Our mathematical equation of opposing the political class and forbidding engagements with them is one built on a formula that will never provide the desired answer. Power is a product of struggle, and the privilege desired to facilitate the struggle can’t be harnessed by preferring our echo chamber to practical efforts to take part in the political process. Boycotting political figures, parties and causes with the aim of hurting them is a futile attempt at neutralizing their might—and that’s exactly what they need to remain in office.
Since last week, a segment of comedians who majorly practise their trade on social media have been under blazing fire for simply honoring the invitation of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. They were demonised by a mob that accused them of fraternizing with the enemy, and one after the other, a few of them shared a cocktail of epistles to address what transpired. It was not a clarification, it was an outright apology. They were apologizing for engaging a public office designed to serve them. But the comedians were not really apologizing to their bullies, they were apologizing to their sources of income. Their relevance revolves around the approval of these bullying fans, most of whom seem politically insular. This is the tyranny called “cancel culture,” being forced to sacrifice your sincere free will simply to appeal to mob thinking.
What’s being lost in this naïveté is that more and more incompetent but ill-intentioned citizens get closer to power as the self-righteous youths debate the morality of engaging in the processes of taking or earning power. The path to power is still unclear to them, and so is their realization that whoever intends to make a real-life difference in 2027 must embrace a political cause or join a political party and embark on the journey up. It’s already too late to strive for 2023. The civic space will thrive with or without any “youth activist” as it had in the past, and the model country we seek can’t be delivered by CNN or Amnesty International.
The marginalization of the Nigerian youth isn’t a myth but merely expressing this reality isn’t a solution. It is a similar case, for example, with the question of Igbo presidency, which is a sincere quest, hasn’t materialized because political parties seem to be frightened by the possibility of apathy among the Igbo even with their kinsman as candidate. The outcomes of past elections are a testimony to this, so much that even when Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu—who once attempted to lead the Igbo to his promised land—ran for President, he lost to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in the southeast, his political stronghold.
This fear must’ve inspired Osita Chidoka, the former head of Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), former Minister of Aviation and PDP stalwart to cry out from the convention venue, “At the PDP convention Atiku, Tambuwal, Bala Mohammed, Kwankwaso, Saraki dominated the Arena with Presidential posters (sic),” he wrote. “No Igboman even shared leaflet.” Even though he was eventually informed of two Igbo politicians who had their posters at the event, this outrage plays up the essence of participation and, very significantly, political bankability.
Based on the party’s current political standings, and in acknowledging past antecedents, including outcomes of the 2019 presidential election, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, remains the most bankable politician in the PDP. The idealists on social media and the politically apathetic may wallow in theorizing about the ranking technocrats they wish to see as pesident, but what matters to the major parties are the practicality of taking power. They know what tickets would yield the most votes or get them to retake Aso Rock, and fielding some politically inconsequential person for simply appearing in the Time magazine or the youth refusing to join the party and soil their hands isn’t a bankable option.
So, Chidoka’s apprehension is a definite acknowledgement of this fear of the price of apathy by his kinsmen, a price Nigerian youths have been paying heavily. The election of former president of the Senate, Iyorchia Ayu, a Christian from the North Central—where polarizing politicians are quick to identify as non-northerners—as National Chairman of the party, is a perfect excuse for the PDP to keep their presidential ticket open for their most bankable option in 2023, whether southerner or northerner, and only the active groups will be visible in this fog gathering upon the power-sharing table.