ADAMAWA, NIGERIA: Hajara Zakari resides in Nassarawo ward, Yola North Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
On February 25, 2023, Hajara Zakari and her friends were excited as they voted for the first time during the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Fueled by optimism, they believed that their choices at the ballot box would pave the way for a rejuvenated and revitalised Nigeria, and they promised themselves that that day was the beginning of more political participation.
“We should continue making every effort to contribute completely to the process," Zakari told her friends at the polling unit.
Having been guided through the electoral process by a local youth organisation, Zakari and her companions were both registered and enlightened about the workings of the election.
For the young women, it was a remarkable sight to witness the substantial number of men, women, and fellow youths who secured their Permanent Voter's Cards (PVCs) between the months of July 2022 and January 2023.
Expressing her appreciation, Zakari conveyed to Prime Progress, “I feel good to be a beneficiary of this youth group's project which has provided us with easy access to voter registration and PVCs collection,” Zakari told Prime Progress.
Adamawa is a state in Northeast Nigeria, characterised by its diverse ethnic tapestry and home to a populace exceeding 4 million residents.
Data provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the preceding 2019 general elections indicates that the state had registered 1.973 million voters. Among this tally, 187,017 hailed from Yola North, 136,520 from Yola South, and 74,783 from Girei.
These numbers have risen significantly after the activities of youth groups like this and other efforts by the electoral umpire during the 2023 general elections. Specifically, Yola North's registered voters have ascended to 206,785, Yola South to 158,089, and Girei to 88,154.
Filling In The Gap
Jabir Yahya, a passionate young activist in the Nigerian civic space, couldn't hide his excitement on the night of May 25, 2022, when he received the email confirming his selection as one of the PowerOf18 Champions, a challenge organised by YIAGA Africa through its #SixtyPercentOfUs project.
#SixtyPercentOfUs was a project launched by YIAGA Africa, a non-profit committed to promoting democratic governance, human rights, and civic engagement. The project aimed to increase in the 2023 general elections.
A challenge was initiated to accomplish this ambitious goal, spanning states nationwide. The project devised a mechanism through which victors were selected. These winners were entrusted with the responsibility of galvanising at least 60% of the eligible youth populace to undertake the steps of registration, getting their PVCs, and actively participating in the 2023 elections. The strategy encompassed a blend of conventional and innovative methods for political mobilisation.
Yahya was selected as the winner for Adamawa State alongside 14 other champions from 14 States. Each of them was given a one million naira grant for the project.
24-year-old Yahya used this grant to launch a Continued Voters Registration (CVR) project to fill the low voter registration gap and participation in his state.
The project's first phase was carried out between June and July 2022. This phase focused on mobilising people in their respective communities to go out and register for their PVCs.
The first essential step of the project was securing a collaboration with the INEC.
“We make the process easier by taking the INEC officials to the locations of our targeted people and getting them registered,” Jabir says. “The factors we tried to overcome with the project are poor voter education, mistrust in the political process, and challenges in voter registration. So, we created awareness, telling them they must be involved for change to happen.”
During the project's first phase, the group visited Damare ward in Girei Local Government Area, where 20-year-old Nasiru Umar resides.
He said he would never forget to appreciate the youth group's efforts in pushing for a better Nigeria through an effective democratic process.
“To be honest, I have struggled to register for the PVC. I have gone to a voter registration centre far from where I reside. Where I wasted N500 in transport expenses three times but still couldn't register,” Umar said on the challenges he faced during the voter registration exercise.
Then someone told him that the youth group had brought INEC officials down to his area in Damare so the community members could get registered quickly.
“I was so happy about it when they registered me. I don't know what might happen if this group didn't come because I have begun to lose hope about the process,” Umar told Prime Progress.
The youth group led by Yahya was influenced by the belief that young people have the power to drive the desired change they want. It's just that they couldn't realise the power. Through the project, they make them discover their strengths in deriving the desired change.
Through utilising social and traditional media and advocacy campaigns in schools and markets–in partnership with Civil Society Organizations, Community-Based Organisations, youth groups, and religious institutions- the group expanded the project's scope by reaching out to many audiences.
“The implementation has recorded direct beneficiaries of 5,264 people (2,629 males and 2,635 females), of which 70% are between 18 to 25. With the online and offline advocacy from street campaigns, radio programs, and social media campaigns, we were able to reach out to more than 30,000 Nigerians,” Yahya explained to Prime Progress.
18-year-old Abubakar Sadiq Tanimu was also among the beneficiaries. He was earlier advised to go and participate in the voter registration, but he refused. He felt there was nothing special about the whole election process.
But when he came to understand that there's a youth group visiting his community, creating awareness on why people should go out and register for the 2023 elections because it's a medium to move the country forward. It gave him a mind shift to go and write in one of the registration centres organised by the youth group at Modire ward in Yola South Local Government Area.
“Some weeks later, I heard on the radio that the same youth group was calling on people to go and collect their PVCs as they were out. I was happy to see my name as part of those eligible to collect their PVCs. I went ahead and collected it and even exercised my franchise at the 2023 general elections,” Tanimu told Prime Progress.
According to the group, limited finance means they could only work within specific areas.
Also, there was a time when the group got frustrated by INEC- the commission didn't produce all the PVCs and at some point, that stood as a challenge to convincing new voters.
Also, INEC officials were not able to get to some locations due to insecurity.
Additionally, Yahya told Prime Progress that it was difficult to control the process in some communities due to the long queues and pressure from the residents—as they didn't want to follow the proper guidelines in getting registered.
But despite the challenges, Yahya said he is fired to spread the campaign to other local governments in the coming election cycle and that his group would start early, seeing that many young people would soon become of voting age.
“Through tailored voter education programs, we aim to elevate young citizens' understanding of the electoral process, encouraging them to participate actively and responsibly. We will not only work to see that they make informed electoral choices but also empower them to initiate and manage projects that address societal issues comprehensively,” he concluded.