Africa’s most populous nation will head to the polls to elect its new president today.
This is a crucial time for Nigerians as the new incumbent will be face a complex and exhausting list of challenges from inflation, a lingering security crisis, increased migration of human capital to Europe and North America, mismanagement of the economy, unemployment, fuel shortages, failed governance, corruption, and widespread poverty, violence and killings.
Currently, Nigeria’s population stands at more than 200 million people, with youth accounting for 70%. In Houston, the city has one of the largest populations of Nigerians in the nation. According to the U.S. Census, between 2010 and 2021, the area’s Nigerian population grew from over 21,000 people to nearly 64,000 people, and whatever happens in the elections could impact residents and their families.
Nigerian courts have since dismissed a lawsuit to allow the diaspora to vote [unless they travel to Nigeria], so Nigerians across the world are pushing for a fair and free election process and are encouraging everyone including young Nigerians who have the demographic advantage to redefine the future of Nigeria.
Voter turnout in the country has been on a steady decline in the last two decades. In previous elections, there have been reports of politicians rigging the polls through violence to scare frightened voters from exercising their rights or stealing ballot boxes and stuffing them.
Recently, there has been signs of hope. There has been a high enthusiasm of the political process among young people since the EndSARS Movement in 2020. They’ve since seize the narrative and use social media as a tool to discuss the critical issues plaguing Nigeria.
Only time will tell if these efforts will make an impact, however, the Defender spoke to Charles Onugou, President of the Ndi Ichie Cultural Club, Yemi Koyejo, President of the Nigerian American Multicultural Center, DayeAbasi Amkpa, founder of DayeAbasi & Co., and Ayo Sopitan, CEO of Metalex Commodities Inc., to express their personal thoughts on the Nigerian elections.
Listen to audio interview with DayeAbasi Amkpa Below
Defender: Why do you feel this election season is important for Nigerians to participate in?
Onugou: It is very important because the country has been mismanaged by the political class for a long time and needs to change direction. The country cannot afford to continue on the current part and expect a different result. With the introduction of the New Electoral Act signed by the current President, there is a renewed hope that the votes will count and the will of the people will prevail.
Koyejo:It is important for Nigerians to participate in this election because Nigeria has not met its development potential. Nigerians are frustrated with insecurity, unemployment, and corruption. This has led to a massive brain drain, where talented young Nigerians are doing all that is possible to immigrate and seek opportunities outside Nigeria. The only way to reverse this trend is to elect a government that is competent, responsive, and dedicated to the needs of the Nigerian people. This is the first election, where there is a credible 3rd party disrupting the political orthodoxy.
Sopitan: This election is existential for Nigeria. Low turnout makes it easier for the perpetrators of election irregularities to achieve their ends. If turnout is high, it is more likely that the will of the people will be done.
Defender: As a Nigerian in the diaspora, what does it feel like not being able to vote?
Onugou: It is really very frustrating that Nigerians in diaspora could not vote in this election even when it is established that they contribute immensely to the Nigerian economy. Nigerians in diaspora is estimated to have remitted more than 20 billion dollars back to the country in 2021. It is hoped that the next congress will consider a bill that would allow diaspora votes in Nigerian elections.
Koyejo: It is disappointing not to participate in the election, but Nigeria has issues with in-country voting, so diaspora voting is not the highest priority for free and fair elections. In the future, technology, processes, and competence could open ballot access for Nigerians in the diaspora.
Sopitan: The process to vote in any elections in Nigeria as a non-resident citizen is friction-laden. It feels like we in the diaspora are being deprived of the opportunity to have our voices be heard. We are stakeholders in the well being of Nigeria too as the country is home to our families, friends and business interests. Whomever wins the elections, we hope the issue of diaspora voting is addressed.
Defender: What about the Nigerian election process concerns you the most?
Onugou: Vote Buying, Over Voting, Judicial Rascality and Violence at the polling units are the most concerns for me. If the tenets of the new Electoral Laws are followed judiciously, some of these problems will be mitigated.
Koyejo: The most concerning issue is the potential for political violence. Political parties have used violence to intimidate and disenfranchise opposition voters on election day. Also, post-election violence has occurred, fostered by disinformation posted on social media. We pray for a peaceful, free, and fair election, where no one is intimidated and the vote reflects the will of the people.
Sopitan: The process is actually pretty well defined. It is the implementation that leaves a lot of room for improvement. If the process is adhered to, the integrity of the results can be assured. If people sell their PVCs [Permanent voters card] as it has been alleged, then turn out will be affected.
Defender: With all the on-going challenges in Nigeria, do you have hope that there will be a free and fair election process?
Onugou: I am cautiously optimistic that the election will be somewhat free and fair. After the election, what the judiciary do with the contested cases will determine if the overall process will be acceptable.
Koyejo: Overall, there has been progress in the conduct of federal and state elections. Opposition parties have won and on average there has been a material reduction in electoral violence. We hope that INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, will have the support and courage to conduct a free and fair election. I am optimistic but we will have to wait and see.
Sopitan: The chaos around the scarcity gasoline and diesel and other similar products might nudge things in the wrong direction. I was fairly confident in a relatively calm election until recent events. Now I’m not sure.
Defender: Do you think Nigerians in the diaspora should be more engaged in the political process?
Onugou: Most Nigerians living abroad would prefer to retire and return home if the condition in the country is right. Some would like to return and invest in the economy with improved security and infrastructures. It is to their best interest to be engaged in the political process.
Koyejo: I think the Nigerian Diaspora can play a positive role in the political process, as candidates, supporters, and voters. The voice of the Diaspora is heard loudest on social media platforms, but the digital energy needs to be channeled into tangible impact in-country. The Nigerian Diaspora is talented, passionate, and accomplished, which when properly channeled, will be a positive force in Nigerian elections.
Sopitan: We need to at the very least, support our own candidates financially. We also need to chime into the conversation by hosting candidates and letting our voice be heard. Cities like Houston especially with our strong Nigerian population need to chime into the conversation.
Defender: What issues should be top priority on the list of Nigeria’s new president?
Onugou: The new President should first form a unity government, tackle Insecurity, cut cost of Governance where possible, tackle corruption in high places, invest in the energy sector (improved electricity), then other things will follow.
Koyejo: The new President should have a two-point agenda: Security and Economic Development. Rural Nigerians are suffering from terrorist attacks and urban Nigerians from violent crime. Nigerians want to be able to conduct their daily activities without fear of violence from state and non-state actors. Insecurity has knock-on impacts on the economy, the standard of living, education, and all aspects of our lives.
Nigeria’s economy has underperformed, creating the breeding grounds for crime and destitution. We have a young, talented, and vibrant population that succeeds everywhere but Nigeria. We are the most educated immigrant group in the USA with high educational and economic achievements. The people are not the issue but the lack of an enabling environment for the private sector to invest and create jobs, which has led to high unemployment and economic hardship.
Sopitan: Security. Electricity. Infrastructure.