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Nigerian Presidential Candidates Campaign for Youth Vote

The frontrunners in Nigeria's presidential election are both seeking the country's considerable youth vote.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is 52 years old. His main rival for the Nigerian presidency, retired general Ibrahim Babangida, is 69.

Yet both men say they understand the needs of the younger generation and are actively campaigning for the youth vote in a country with more than 45 million people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Mr. Babangida says there is a disconnect between the government and young Nigerians.

"The plight of the young man and woman who together can safeguard our future must engage our collective attention. I worry about the large army of youths and women who are unemployed. They are our countries most critical resources," he said.

President Jonathan says he has passed laws to make foreign oil and gas companies source more of their goods and services locally, which he says will make more jobs for young people.

But his biggest campaign appeal to the youth vote appears to come in the telling of his life as a child in the Niger Delta - little money, no electricity, no shoes for school, some days only one meal. And yet he says he never despaired.

"If I could make it, you can make it, and nothing will inhibit you. My story is a story of a young Nigerian whose access to education opens up vast opportunities that enabled me to attain my present position," he said.

So what do young people think about the two candidates?

Bunmi Oladipo says she prefers President Jonathan, in part, because he is younger.

"Some of the things he has done, for me as a Nigerian, I think it portrays that he means well," said Oladipo. "He is insisting on credible elections. And he is insisting on one man one vote and all that. I believe that he has something to offer. We should give him a chance."

Oladipo agrees that Mr. Babangida has more experience than President Jonathan. But she says Mr. Babangida's experience is nothing Nigerians would ever want to live through again.

"No matter how he wants to wish away those incidents that happened - the annulment of June 12th [elections], the crisis in our financial sector, proscription of media houses, students going on strike for a long time - all those things. There is no way he can wish away those things. Nigerians will always remember those years he ruled," she said.

Student Shehu Musa says Mr. Babangida has every reason to be proud of his legacy.

"What Babangida did when he was the president, most of the structures he put in place are still the structures we are using today," said Musa. "Successive governments have not been able to improve on such structures. If you are telling me that Jonathan has changed the economy, I don't believe that is what happened. He has just consolidated on what he inherited from the former president."

President Jonathan's candidacy disrupts an informal agreement in the ruling party that rotates power between north and south. That deal says the next Nigerian president should be from the north to finish out what would have been the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's second term instead of continuing on with President Jonathan, who is from the south.

Musa says the deal, though unofficial, should be respected. So he is backing Mr. Babangida, who is known popularly by his initials IBB.

"I will go for IBB because power is in the north presently. And if we are going to abide by the PDP arrangement, it is going to give us peace in the country," he said.

Both candidates must now carry on a far longer campaign with the postponement of ruling party primaries because the electoral commission is asking that the vote itself be put back from January to April.