Young Nigerians crave change but new president inspires little optimism

While seeking reassurances about the legitimacy of Bola Tinubu’s election victory, young people want solutions to the problems blighting their hopes

This week, Nigeria elected a new president following a chaotic and disputed election. Ruling party candidate Bola Tinubu (70) secured nearly 8.8 million votes, putting him well ahead of the other leading candidates, amid complaints about delays and technical problems that prevented huge numbers of Nigerians from voting.

The west African country of more than 200 million people is the continent’s most populous, as well as its biggest economy.

Some 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population are under the age of 30. The country has a high level of unemployment. In recent years, it has also seen youth-led protests against police brutality that were violently suppressed by the state.

Hours after Tinubu was announced as the country’s new president, “japa” started trending on Twitter. The Yoruba word means to run away, and has become a term for young Nigerians to say they’re moving abroad. A survey from the Africa Polling institute last year found that nearly 70 per cent of Nigerians would like to leave the country if they had the chance. An ongoing brain drain sees, for example, about 50 doctors leave the country every week, according to the Nigeria Medical Association.


Speaking to The Irish Times, young people said that their biggest concerns were insecurity, the economy, failing infrastructure, unemployment, corruption and general disillusionment with political elites.

Ebenezar Wikina (30), a public policy specialist from the Niger Delta, said firstly those with complaints about last Saturday’s elections needed to be given fair hearings. His next priority was to see the incoming president find ways to unify the country, uniting people around a common vision, while appointing a cabinet quickly so he could “hit the ground running”.

Wikina is the founder of Policy Shapers, a civic tech organisation that empowers young people with knowledge and skills to be engaged citizens. He said his work, including a “hackathon” last year that brought together 200 young people, gave him an awareness of the problems of unemployment and underemployment. “More than half of the working population cannot find jobs or they are mostly caught up in the informal sector, paid really, really low… Your education, your degree is not a guarantee that you will find a job, and that’s really sad.”

Quality education was needed, he said. He would like to see government spending on education double to the Unesco-recommended 16 to 20 per cent of public expenditure. “We’re not investing in human capital enough,” he said. “Education is one of the sectors that really, really need attention.”

Tackling insecurity was also key. It “has affected agricultural productivity”, he noted, along with causing displacement and general fear among the population.

He said Nigeria was a wealthy country in terms of natural resources “that we’re not processing…We need to move from consuming to producing.”

And he’d like to see foreign debt reduced. A 2021 investigation by Nigerian newspaper the Premium Times found that outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had accumulated $21.27 billion in foreign debt – three times the combined amount of all other governments since 1999. Wikina said he did not understand where this money had gone. “We’ve had two recessions… The prices of everything have tripled.”

“Unifying the country should be the top prerogative,” said Paradise A Agbodi, a 33-year-old supporter of Tinubu based in Edo State. He would like to see the size of the security forces doubled, and said the economy should be a priority, with good policy introduced by means of tax incentives.

Developing infrastructure was also vital, while increasing agricultural production and exploring how to use natural resources for the benefit of Nigerians. And, like many others, he was fed up with the erratic power supply, which young Nigerians say affects job opportunities, stymies entrepreneurship and generally prevents economic growth. More investment in this was key to achieving everything else, Agbodi said.

Emitomo Tobi Nimisire, a 26-year-old communications strategist and writer in Abuja, said before she could think about what she wanted the next president to do, she needed to believe that the election was democratic. “Let us actually see that this election was free, fair and authentic… Its results have been contested by everybody.”