By: Habeeb Abdul
Iyanuoluwa, a 400-level student of the Faculty of Law almost did not vote on the 25th of February, 2023. The polling unit she had chosen turned out to be farther from her home than she thought. But when she eventually found her way by foot to the location, the thrill of being a first-time voter kicked in. Iyanu’s experience likely mirrors that of millions of other young people across the country. Online campaigns, backed by a grim economic situation, motivated many Nigerians to secure their Permanent Voter’s Cards.
In the University of Ibadan, particularly, student-led organizations like Project Secure PVC, spearheaded the charge of making collection easier. Besides leveraging indigenous languages to connect with communities far outside the institution, they also brought the process closer to learners within it.
Speaking on a three-day programme that saw University of Ibadan students head to a much closer registration centre at Bodija, Nafisat Ogunsesan, Director of Programmes at the organization, stated, “the intention was to do a PVC rally in the UI community or use something like SUB and have people register, but we realized that, one, the bureaucratic system in UI is very crazy and there would be a lot of processes to actually go through before that could be done. We were not ready for the stress that comes with the UI management system.”
The team’s decision to choose a convenient area around Ibadan North Local Government led to the registration of up to 3,500 students from the university. That number brought the total registrants through the organization to 20,000, a figure that cumulatively includes students from other institutions.
But calls to register did not always fit the civil picture painted by these organizations. Across social media were cases of cyberbullying, a trend that mutated in the months closer to the election. Supporters of less popular candidates were viciously criticized on social media. A clear instance of the gravity of sympathy in whatever form to the incumbents is the response of the Student Union leader, Adewole Adeyinka, popularly known as ‘Mascot,’ to reactions trailing his endorsement of the APC. Concluding his response to Indy Press’s request for comment, he stated, “personally, I’ll vote for Peter Obi.”
For Oloruntegbe Opeyemi, current president of the Faculty of Technology and an outspoken member of the APC, cyberbullying was an occupational risk. He described social media attacks on his person, recalling an instance when students from the College of Medicine took to Twitter to insult him. Opeyemi claims he was unaffected by the aggression but regrets the intolerance of UItes to divergent political opinions.
Asked what he thinks the impact of supporting the incumbent political party might be on student leaders in the coming SU elections, Opeyemi stated that he expects it to be used to score points against them. He admonished student leaders to stand firm in their beliefs as that is the bedrock of a democratic system.
Bello Ruqayyah, a 200-level student of the department of Biomedical Laboratory Science, might well be the embodiment of that stoicism. For her, voting for the APC candidate was based on a perception that “he stood out.” She cited receipts of untoward comments from people on her contact list before the election and how her refusal to engage makes it less damaging to the relationships. While she feels that students were certainly more energetic, she lamented the preference of snide remarks against her choice of candidates over actual criticism of the opposition.
Still, student-backers of Peter Obi’s candidacy may not simply have always followed the herd. Iyanuoluwa explored the impacts of the election on her interest in the political scene and how it prompted her to look closely into each candidate. “I wanted to be informed and able to engage in conversations and, of course, that meant I have to be informed about the elections and the candidates. And, yes, definitely, it has improved my consciousness of national issues.”
For Kareem Ogbodo, a 200-level law student and member of the Lord Tedder Hall Representative Council, being politically conscious was a part of growing up. He remembers being the child who engaged in newspaper articles and looking forward to when he could finally exercise his franchise. “But this election was different,” he told Indy Press, “it felt like a revolution and I held my PVC with hopes of achieving the seemingly impossible goal of taking back power from the incumbent.”
On how the pre-election rhetoric on campus has shaped his view of student leaders, he stated bluntly, “many people showed they only care about their stomachs and they acted to that effect. Even after the election, the continued glorification of cases of electoral misconduct and packaged tyranny proves to be more disgusting. Stealing is not a master strategy and I expected more from the politically conscious.” He advised students to shun gaslighters as they are not worthy of leadership and value feasibility over lavish manifestoes.
Echo though his words might be, it remains unclear how the election will have a direct impact on the university’s. While students like Ruqayyah may have grown up debating politics and like, Haneefah, a 400-level law student who could not obtain her PVC, even rate their consciousness an eight out of ten due to the elections, it is probable that it all ends there. In the 2021 Student Union elections, a total of 3,532 students voted out of a total of 8,931. That number not only falls below the over 4,200 students who matriculated in 2022, but it also represents a small percentage of the estimated population of undergraduates in the university.